The best Linux distro of 2011!

Distros

Fedora, Mint, Arch, Ubuntu, Debian and OpenSUSE go head-to-head - we've dropped the six most popular Linux distributions of the day into a cage fight for your affections. Read on to discover which distro comes up top for installation ease, customisation, performance, security and more. Which flavour of Linux gets the gold medal? You might very well be surprised, so read on for all the juicy details...

In the beginning, Linus created the kernel. The kernel worked (sort of) and was good. Then, in an ever-spiralling Babelesque explosion of code, the world got umpty-ump different Linux distributions, some of which seem to differ from each other only in the colour of their desktop screens.

Choosing a distro can be confusing, time consuming and too much hard work, which is why many Linux users don't stray far from updating the one they know best.

Such laziness is commendable, but as the distros vie with each other on different fronts, you may be missing out on one that would suit your needs better. Are you more interested in getting the very latest free software, or do you care more about security? Would you rather run a Gnome desktop or KDE? Do you want your distro to choose all your software for you or do you relish the prospect of installing every package by hand?

The answers to these questions, and the few thousand that naturally follow, have taken shape in the form of the next seven pages of comparison. There are a lot of things to weigh up, and a lot of distros to plop on the scales, so if you wanted to compare them yourself, you would have to spend at least two weeks of little sleep and mind-poundingly painful headaches to draw up some kind of summary of how they measure up. But don't bother, because here's one we prepared earlier. With diagrams and charts.

Installation

The first hurdle for any distro is to enable users to actually, well, use it.

Fedora's default installation is from DVD

Fedora's default installation is from DVD

Unlike Windows and Mac OS, users actually have to install the OS from scratch, which certainly used to be a barrier to entry. In the earlier days of installs, users needed to know lots of detailed technical information about their systems, but thankfully even the most primitive distro is easy to install these days.

That said, the text-only install method for Arch Linux and Debian are sure to disquiet some users. The installers are still asking the same questions, pretty much, but both could probably do better when it comes to partitioning up a hard drive. Even an experienced user might balk at being dropped to a shell to prep a drive from the command line. Debian does have a graphical installer (text is still the default) which works well - it may ask a few more questions than the others, but it isn't difficult to navigate - don't try it without a network connection though.

Mint and Ubuntu are naturally very similar since they both use the Ubiquity installer, albeit in slightly different ways. This is designed to be run from a running version of the OS, so both rely on a custom live distro to install. This might not be obvious with Ubuntu, because on booting it comes up with a menu so you can choose between running a live version or going straight to the install.

Ubiquity has gone through a lot of changes in recent years, and is certainly more friendly and reliable than before. It can auto-partition your drive for you and asks the minimum of questions whilst simultaneously copying files across. Naturally, Mint is the same with a different colour scheme.

OpenSUSE's installer is a calming green colour, but you may need calming. At first glance it may seem over-complicated, as the installer gives various options for screenmodes and kernel parameters right from the start. In fact this makes it less likely you will run into a problem that you can't solve because of an uncommon graphics card or a strange storage setup.

The installer is just as friendly, but more detailed. Like Fedora, the default method is from DVD, with a host of software that can be installed straight away. The downside of this is that, unless you want to spend hours selecting each package, you will almost certainly install things from groups that you will never use, or possibly, even know are there.

In terms of install time, Debian and Arch are the quickest, but it isn't really a fair test as both, particularly Arch, install a bare-bones setup.

Fedora Wins! 1. Fedora
2. Ubuntu
3. OpenSUSE

Fedora wins for ease-of-use, reliability and friendliness.


Hardware Support

How does your distro get on with platforms and peripherals?

There are several ways of looking at hardware support. The two fundamental ones are platform support (your processor/motherboard/monitor etc) and peripheral support (printer/webcam/wi-fi). The whole issue of platform support has changed a lot. Whereas once distros used to provide a lot of the third-party drivers, these days the kernel team has caught up a lot - many of the things which used to be an issue are now just another module for the vanilla kernel.

In terms of platforms, it is hard to beat Debian, mainly because it is pretty much the only distro you can install on a Power PC (eg old Macs), an S390 mainframe and mostly everything in between.

One continuing area of difficulty for all distributions though is laptops, where components are often not replaceable, and there are significant variations to their desktop counterparts.

Ubuntu leads the field here, mainly due to popularity - many manufacturers who dabble with Linux (Dell, Acer, etc) have more or less standardised on Ubuntu, so it (and by proxy Mint) probably has a better chance of running on any given laptop. Credit has to go to Ubuntu and SUSE for at least trying to maintain some sort of compatibility list, a task which Fedora gave up on long ago.

Ubuntu Wins! 1. Ubuntu
2. Mint
3. Debian

Ubuntu wins mainly for its laptop compatibility.


Desktop

One of the most important aspects of Linux is obviously the desktop.

For desktop users, how your chosen distro chooses to implement it is crucial. Choice is good - certainly there should be negative points for distros that don't make it easy to choose a different way of doing things. But also important is good integration - there isn't much point in being able to use LXDE for example, if you are left with a system where you can no longer select a printer. Major upheavals in popular desktop systems make this a particularly interesting area at the moment.

Arch

Arch Linux doesn't make any presumptions about what sort of system you want to run. In fact, if you take the path of least resistance through the installer, you will end up with no graphical desktop at all - the base packages simply don't include anything. So it lacks a default desktop, erm, by default. Although this might not be terribly newbie friendly, it does make Arch more customisable for different purposes - setting up a headless media player or a server, for example.

Of course, you can install a desktop if you want! You might want to set up a user first though. Oh, and you'd best install X.org too. And some graphics drivers. You will benefit from being able to install the system of your choice though - KDE, LXDE, Gnome, Xfce, Enlightenment. Then all you need to do is install some applications to run on it. You'll need to open a terminal to install anything though.

Debian

Debian third Although the Debian philosophy is to remain agnostic about a lot of things, it does make some choices. Although there are great and well-supported versions of Xfce, LXDE and KDE, the default desktop environment is currently Gnome 2. This ships with a default Debian theme, but to be honest the Debian touch is quite light compared to others, so it is pretty much the vanilla Gnome experience you are signing up for.

The default install also doesn't include some of the features you might expect of the modern desktop and Debian isn't big on providing its own configuration tools although, to be fair, the standard desktops now handle a lot of this themselves. You can obviously install a completely different desktop or window manager with a high expectation of it working without too much trouble.

Fedora

The default desktop for Fedora is now Gnome 3 or the Gnome Shell. This is a major shift for the Gnome desktop, which was once considered to be boring but safe. There are certainly lots of exciting new features in the new version, which seems to have come up with a few new ideas about how users might want to interact with their computer. Unfortunately, new can often mean confusing, especially to people who were familiar with the old way of doing things. To be fair, activities (which launch software) and workspaces (for switching between running tasks) don't have to be used, but there is an underlying presumption that people will be focused on one task at a time, which may annoy power-users.

KDE4 SC is officially supported for Fedora, but it plays second fiddle to Gnome in terms of customisation. It probably isn't fair to press the failings of both desktops as, at the time of writing, Fedora 15 has only just been released.

Linux Mint

Mint second This simple and straightforward desktop could well be a convenient safe haven to shelter from the tumultuous changes wrought by Unity, on Ubuntu, and Gnome 3 on Fedora and elsewhere. Mint is already a very popular derivative of Ubuntu and may well now see an influx of new recruits. Although Mint is based on Ubuntu, the next release (11, “Katya”) will not copy the shift to Unity, and there are no plans to any time in the future - the goal is currently to make the best Gnome 2 desktop possible.

This distro really took off because it was very close to Ubuntu, but installed all the proprietary stuff (Flash, Java, graphics drivers) that were usually a post-install chore for many other distros. But it does much more than that now and is, in many ways, simpler and more friendly than Ubuntu.

OpenSUSE

SUSE first OpenSUSE is the only distro here that chooses KDE as the default desktop, although it will run Gnome 2 equally happily (and far better than, for example, Fedora can run KDE). Whilst it is easy to be a leader in a field of one, you have to give credit to the package maintainers for the fact that SUSE is such a great advert for the joys of KDE.

If you've tried KDE and didn't like it, it was probably on a distro which didn't give it as much love and attention as OpenSUSE does. It's hard to fault, even if you do have to put up with the complicated monstrousness of Yast to install more software. The default KDE apps are every bit as competent as their Gnome counterparts, though of course you can install Rythmbox instead of Amarok and such.

Ubuntu

For a long time Gnome was the only game in town as far as Ubuntu was concerned, but all that has changed. The default desktop is now Unity - a swish but minimal experience which features a wide side-panel which is effectively a launcher for popular apps and a way to switch between workspaces. There has been some negative feedback and it goes beyond simple fear of change. There are issues with Unity that go beyond some users not liking it, and no doubt the developers will be hard at work squashing bugs. There are functional problems too. How do you adjust the size of the dock? Where is the system monitor widget? You can of course choose to run in “standard” Gnome, but there is no option to try Gnome 3. It seems that 'Unity' is exactly what there won't be on the Ubuntu desktop, at least not for the moment.

Customisation

Freedom as a mechanism of choice is what Linux is all about

A rough measure of the extent of how simple it is to customise the setup you have been given is how many different desktops are easily available - ie, can be set up from install time. Here the less structured projects, Arch and Debian stand out - although there is more effort involved, it is perfectly easy to set up any existing desktop with no lack of functionality.

Some distros support other options but in Fedora, for example, all the administration tools are set up for Gnome, so you may find integrating a sane system quite difficult. Ubuntu doesn't even officially support a KDE-based desktop, while OpenSUSE has a good go at Gnome and a few others.

If Arch and Debian are more flexible (after all, it is simple to set them up for even a text-only install), another factor that comes into play is what you can actually customise systems with. The big distros have the largest selection of packages, with Ubuntu and Linux Mint leeching off the gargantuan Debian repository, which even in its official free list manages more than 28,000 packages before the net is cast wider to various non-free or non-free dependent sources.

Debian Wins! 1. Debian
2. Arch
3. openSUSE




Community

Gathering metrics on Linux usage is trickier than you might think.

A Google trends analysis of news and searches would suggest Ubuntu is by far the most talked about distro.

A Google trends analysis of news and searches would suggest Ubuntu is by far the most talked about distro.

Whatever way you try and measure it, there is always a sufficient uncertainty about the validity of data to render it practically useless. So, should we count downloads? Registered users on Linux Counter? Registered users on the main forum? Number of relevant posts to LinuxQuestions? All of these will give different results - some wildly different.

Whatever metric you decide to use, though, one thing is strikingly clear - most of the traffic points to Ubuntu as eclipsing everything else in terms of a user base.

It is hardly surprising, one might conclude, given that Ubuntu is practically the only version of Linux you can find pre-installed on anything.

It's also prominently featured in magazines - most of the mainstream computing press seem to think that Ubuntu and Linux are synonymous, so it shouldn't be a surprise if users do too.

But is a simple number of users reflective of a 'community'? One could argue, with some persuasion, that users of Debian, Fedora and OpenSUSE are more active in many ways, including contributing code, documentation and help. This is borne out by some real-world figures. In the distro-specific forums of LinuxQuestions.org, the most number of posts are in the Debian section, closely followed by Fedora, with Ubuntu languishing in fourth place behind SUSE.

This isn't really an indication of anything other than that people who go to that website are more likely to run, or at least talk about, Debian than Ubuntu, but it is quite remarkable given that Ubuntu is reckoned to be so far ahead in market share.

Running a Google trends analysis of web searches or news about our clutch of distros might lead you to conclude that Ubuntu is used more than all the other distros put together.

So what can we conclude? In terms of desktop users, everything points to Ubuntu having far more than anyone else. In terms of active community members, it seems that a greater proportion of those Ubuntu users are just users, and don't actively take part in a 'community'. That isn't much of a surprise, as Ubuntu is the path of least resistance, from media coverage to availability. If you define community as a ratio of active users to all users, the less used distros do a lot better.

Debian Wins! 1. Debian
2. Ubuntu
3. Fedora

There's more to a Linux community than just numbers.


Performance

We can do far more now than we ever imagined.

Our table shows OpenSUSE was the fastest at startup.

Our table shows OpenSUSE was the fastest at startup.

Somehow squeezing every spare clock cycle out of your CPU doesn't seem to be as important any more. The phenomenal clock speeds and multi-core nature of the modern processor mean that 90% of the time they aren't even working flat out (more than 90% of the time at LXF Towers).

However, no matter how fast computers get, you still seem to spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for them to do things, which seems a bit crazy. Any former Amiga users out there? It had a clock speed of 7MHz. Today the average CPU manages about 3GHz, and more often than not includes two cores, which means the modern computer is 800 times faster! But it still seems to take as long waiting for things to load.

In terms of application speed, there is precious little difference between distros. Some, like Fedora, may have heavily tweaked kernels, but the speed-ups involved only become apparent on a large scale. Some are thin and light, like Arch, which means with less stuff running, they appear to be faster.

The key difference really is in startup speeds, for which we have compiled a table. We also ran some simple benchmarks but really, the timings are all within a margin of error.

To be brutally honest, your choice of desktop, graphics driver, and amount of available RAM is going to make far more difference to perceived speed than your choice of distro, unless you are building a high-performance cluster.

Debian Wins! 1. Debian
2. Arch
3. Fedora

It's a tough call but Debian just edges into the lead here.


Package Management

Ah, was there ever an issue so thorny?

RPM may have a long venerable history, but Debian has more packages.

RPM may have a long venerable history, but Debian has more packages.

The first thing you should know about package management is that nobody really agrees on how best to do it. Once upon a time, the whole debate about Deb (Debian's package format) versus RPM (Red Hat's package management system) was as contentious as KDE vs Gnome, especially after the Linux Standards Base settled on RPM as the official format of choice.

Arch is the odd one out in this section because it uses its own packages and the command-line only pacman tool to deploy them. Very similar to Slackware packages, these are usually nothing more than a binary file and an install script, but this simplicity belies the power of a system where it is easy to add your own sources (where packages don't exist) without messing up the dependency system. You do have to pay attention though, as many packages require post-configuration to work properly.

Both Fedora and OpenSUSE use RPM. Package management in OpenSUSE is now done through Zypper, which does get the job done, and works from the command line just as well.

Fedora has a multi-pronged approach to packages. Although it relies on RPMs and you can use the RPM tools, that tends to mess things up. Yum is the official tool for installing packages, which tracks dependencies, handles options and uses delta packages to reduce download times for updates. In the past it has (fairly) been criticised for a lack of speed, an issue which has not been completely addressed, but it does work. Unfortunately, RPM is not such a standard that ones designed for SUSE will necessarily work on Fedora, and vice versa. All the other three distros on test use Debian. With a simple but powerful command-line tool and a choice of graphical front-ends, this seems to meet most needs, and the wealth of packages available is amazing. Thanks to the popularity of Ubuntu these days, it will probably stay that way.

Kudos has to go to Linux Mint which attempts to hide things from users if they don't really need them. You will have to jump through hoops to install something that hasn't been thoroughly tested.

Whether you see it as a development silo or not, the Launchpad service for Ubuntu offers an easy-to-use way of installing additional packages, although this might take some extra effort (and nerves!) to accomplish. In a similar vein, credit has to go to OpenSUSE for the build service, which makes it possible and easier for developers to roll out any type of package from their source code.

Ubuntu Wins! 1. Ubuntu
2. Debian
3. OpenSUSE

Ubuntu's Launchpad just pips Debian to the post.


Cutting Edge

When it comes to software, there are several approaches.

Fedora is really a test-bed for Red Hat's technology.

Fedora is really a test-bed for Red Hat's technology.

Attitudes to software are very different: some distros set out to have the very latest, some believe in not including anything until it has been thoroughly tested. And others try to make it possible to choose.

Linux Mint is certainly very cautious when it comes to new software and upgrades - it actively discourages you from installing software and non-critical updates, and you need to change a few preferences before you can even see all the packages available.

Debian follows a philosophy of choice, with a range of package repositories that reflect different levels of risk and reward - if you choose to update from 'Sid' (the permanent moniker of the 'unstable' release) you should know what to expect. Similarly, if you enable the 'rawhide' repositories in Fedora or Arch, you might be in for an interesting time.

There are different levels of failure of course. It may be that you just can't get the very latest version of something to run properly, or it may be that by pulling in all its dependencies, you break something fundamental. Needless to say it is not recommended to try on a machine that you need working.

Fedora has 'First' as one of its mottos, and indeed it is quick off the mark for most technology, particularly storage and virtualisation stuff. Arch can't be beaten in this respect - its rolling release schedule means that packages are delivered quickly and, for the most part, safely. It might not have every base covered, but it's probably faster than building everything yourself.

Arch Wins! 1. Arch
2. Fedora
3. Debian

Its rolling release schedule means Arch can't be beaten.


Security

Reassuringly, it's pretty much a level playing field.

There is good news and bad news on the security front. The good news is that, as far as really important packages go, all the distros are very prompt and have updates ready as soon as the offending code has been patched at source.

The bad news is that this makes it very difficult for us to determine which is the most secure (at least in terms of updated software).

As an example we looked at recent security alerts around Apache, Asterisk and, just to prove we got to the end of the alphabet, xpdf.

For the most part, all the vulnerabilities we looked at were patched, fixed and updated on the same day - mainly because quite often the packagers for various distros are closely connected with the developers of the original software. Due to its rolling release, Arch has often updated packages before holes were found in the old version - not that that makes it more secure necessarily, just because new vulnerabilities haven't yet been found.

The situation is slightly different for minor security issues in less mainstream software, and really it depends which packages you are interested in. SUSE and Fedora are both very quick to react and, of course, when Debian includes an update it also filters through to Ubuntu and Mint.

While it certainly is the case that the bigger distros and those with some sort of business incentive are generally quicker to release updates, it is reassuring to know that as long as you apply the updates, you are pretty secure no matter what system you run.

Statistics

How they all fared

Arch Linux vs Debian vs Fedora vs Linux Mint vs OpenSUSE vs Ubuntu

Arch Linux vs Debian vs Fedora vs Linux Mint vs OpenSUSE vs Ubuntu

The Verdict

Debian proclaims itself to be the universal OS, and on the basis of our tests, it's a fantastic all-rounder.

Debian proclaims itself to be the universal OS, and on the basis of our tests, it's a fantastic all-rounder.

Whilst no scientific stone has been left unsubjected to a transformation matrix, bear in mind that their isn't any science known to man or penguin that can accurately quantify a lot of the qualities we look for in a version of Linux.

A lot of it will be completely subjective, depending on the wants and needs of the individual user. For one thing, when we totted up the medal table to produce the result, we were assuming that all categories were equal. This is very unlikely to be the case, to be honest - if it was, everyone would be using the same distro.

Instead people choose the software that best reflects their needs. For some people, having the very latest software outweighs any consideration about how hard it is to install, so they settle for Arch or Fedora. Some people may simply want the easiest and best way to get a KDE desktop and consequently they install OpenSUSE.

Ubuntu probably has the most users, so you would think its mix was just about right. Interestingly though, many of the properties that make it great stem from it being based on Debian. There is also the Unity factor. While it is brave and bold to stick up for an idea you believe in, herding people towards a new desktop concept is bound to have repercussions, which Mint might be best placed to capitalise on.

Debian makes a good case for best all-round distro. In some ways it is still practically neolithic, and installing it could certainly be made a bit easier, which is a shame because it gives people who have difficulty with that step a bad impresssion of the system as a whole. Also, it pretty much expects a constant network connection, and may not be quite so suitable in its vanilla form for netbooks or off-line installs.

However, package management and flexibility are all top notch, and there is a wide and active community here that provides support, documentation, packages and plenty of opinions too. It certainly won't suit everyone, but if you have never tried it, it should be top of your TO DO list.

If you're after simplicity and ease-of-use, Linux Mint and Ubuntu are worthy inheritors of the Debian codebase, Fedora and Arch are great for cutting edge software and OpenSUSE provides a great all-round KDE desktop experience.

Debian Wins! 1. Debian
Surprised? You shouldn't be. A great community ethic and effort deliver all-round Linux greatness.

Ubuntu silver 2. Ubuntu
Can millions of users be wrong? Yes, but not when it comes to the frabjous joy of running Ubuntu.

Fedora bronze 3. Fedora
Cutting edge with more than a bit of flair, Fedora is just about spot on in a lot of areas.


Runner Up: OpenSUSE
The only sensible choice if you want a bang up-to-date and expertly integrated KDE desktop.

And the rest...

There are of course, other distros to choose from. Don't feel aggrieved that yours wasn't here, they were merely selected on the basis of current popularity. One that does deserve a mention is the unrestrained brilliance of Slackware. It is anything but slack, and has a simplicity which belies the power of an almost pure Linux experience.

For those keen on doing even more themselves, both Gentoo and its derivative Sabayon are worth investigating. And whatever happened to Mandriva? The Linux world is an ever-changing and exciting one. And let's not forget the countless hordes of specific distros, designed to do one thing very well - Jolicloud/ JoliOS for netbooks, Knoppix for a great live distro, CentOS for businesses who don't want to pay Red Hat and many, many, more.

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Your comments

openSuSE #1 for desktop, nice!

That's what I've been saying for a long time. It has its faults (a less than straight-forward installer), but give it a little love and geeko will reward you with a beautiful desktop. openSuSE: FTW!

Fedora is the best for

Fedora is the best for installing? Ha! What a joke! Anaconda is a steaming pile of shit. Even Arch is easier and faster to install. Ubiquity is by far the most advanced installer that any distro has to offer. It is quick, requires very little input, but the options are there for advanced users if need be.

LMDE

Linux Mint Debian Edition: the fastest Gnome-based distro I've ever used! And I'm sticking with it.

Puppy Linux is best

I think personally that Puppy Linux would beat these distros (in its various guises - Lucid, Dpup, Rexpup) hands down.

Also it isn't as bloated and works on lots of different hardware. Smaller download.

Please give more attention to Puppy Linux it is a full Distro.

+1 for Arch

Yes, Arch is not a newbie friendly distro, but for those with a modicum of linux experience and a hunger for learning more, Arch is the way to go.

Most people equate cutting edge with unstable and vice versa. I don't believe this holds true with Arch. Of course I can only speak from personal experience, but my 3 systems running Arch are very stable.

So my plusses for Arch:
1. Clean and stable - you only have installed what you need and use (no bloat).
2. Best package management - cli only, yes, but just so simple and fast.
3. Cutting edge - rolling release, so you can expect a package almost as soon as upstream has released.
4. Educational - in the sense that in the time I have been using Arch, I have learned so much more about Linux and how it works, than I ever did in my time using other distros.
5. Community - the most friendly and helpful community I have come across, and (this applies to all distros) if you ever want to find out how to do anything with your linux box, you can be sure there is a page on the Arch Wiki with the answers.

Cheers.

Horses for courses, the tool for the job

On my desktop I have Mint, because it's a no-brainer easy-install distro: I've pushed it at a few friends and relations, and I can offer remote support because I know where everything is.

On my netbook I have Crunchbang, because it's small, quick, and no-nonsense; I have only what I use, and everything's easily accessible.

On my desert-island laptop I have Arch; because on a desert island I hope I'll have the time finally to understand it.

I hope you know there are

I hope you know there are graphical frontends available for pacman.

A Sonnet (I Love My OS)

Who doesn't love affirmation for what one already believed? I have tried to stray, but I keep coming back to my true love. It's you. It's always been you. I don't see myself with any other....than Debian.

MEPIS

MEPIS IS THE BEST !!!!!! and I have try them all

Linux Mint Debian Edition is

Linux Mint Debian Edition is just simply superb!

Debian's a champ

I don't know that the "wealth of packages" available for Debian has anything to do with Ubuntu's popularity. Quite the opposite, I reckon! It's the tireless work of Debian Developers, not Ubuntu developers, that result in 30,000 programs being packed for Debian (and Ubuntu), not the other way around. If you're referring to .deb files made by proprietary software vendors like Skype or Spotify, that's a fair point.

At any rate, I certainly agree with your conclusion, but I'd like to say one thing to the people who are upset their distro of choice wasn't yours. Let's just remember this isn't a zero-sum game: we're a community, and we all benefit from every improvement.

unfair

You presented Ubuntu, debian and Mint, that are very similar, but not presented easy of use distribution like sabayon or chakra that are relatives to Gentoo and Arch, other big parents in the contest. Gentoo was completely forgotten.

@ Aditya

Hi Aditya,

Yes, we certainly know there are pacman GUIs available, but they are not "official" and generally lacking in the feature rich functionality of pacman.

I personally do not see the point of having a GUI for something that, despite it's comprehensive option list, is just so much faster and easier to use from the command line.

Having said that, a GUI that simply allowed config and use of all of pacman's options (with a sensible default - from what I understand, SOME of the GUIs in the wild actually default to some dangerous options for the uninformed) would be welcomed by many.

Cheers.

none of the above

none of the above, :-D
No Really ,
nah just pulling your leg,

doing some house cleaning , Trashing all my .ISO files i have download over the 2years from external drives.

deleting my hell projects!..

Plus, i just Finished formating my HHD1(fedora) HDD2(Arch) HDD3(pentest) settled back to Ubuntu just seem to work better for me.

Now settled for HDD1(Ubuntu) HDD2(centOS6) HDD3 (Blank)

__"extra love"___
Potable love goes to tiny-core linux and clonezilla ,

OpenSUSE

I was unable to install BOINC grid computing with OpenSUSE, therefore,I dumped it promptly including all DVD's.
Red Hat Fedora or paid service Red Hat, and Mint are better choices for grid computing.

Debian Squeeze Live CD

Oh man! Debian install from live cd ;--D
I've now got a seriously pimped out Debian Xfce4.8 system with mixtures of software up to experimental (DKMS Nvidia beta/current anyone?).

Gentle, progressive 'apt-get update'(ing) and I'm there.
Thanks Debian, you've really stepped it up. :D

Tumbleweed for OpenSuse

OpenSuse not being cutting edge? In Tumbleweed, the community-based, yet officially recognised repositories, kernel 3.0 was introduced less than a week after release, KDE 4.7 repositories are available for openSuse 11.4, etc. It cannot beat Arch, but it beats pretty much anything else.

The first thing cutting etch about Debian I have yet to see, which is also what you show in the statistics part.

Flamebait! But Good Analysis

Omygoodness, you surely knew when you wrote this that you were inviting a rush of flamebait, lol. But your comparison seems very unbiased and thorough. Nicely done.

My distro of choice isn't among those listed, but suffice it to say that in Linux, it's possible to mix and match some of the factors in your comparison, such as desktop environments, theming, etc. I love Ubuntu's vast repositories and community, but the default desktop is too resource-hungry for my old hand-me-down hardware. Easy enough to fix, though, just switch to Xfce, LXDE, Openbox, etc.

Among the factos that can NOT be changed, such as package menagement, I agree with your findings - giving Ubuntu higher marks than Debian because of the amazing extra repositories, and the effortless installation process.

Well done!

A gentoo base for new users?

@speedyx

Arch linux is already in the article. And recommending a gentoo based distro for brand new users means you're not thinking straight.

What seems simple to you is probably not simple for others. A system base on the principle of compiling source code for everything doesn't sound like it has "new user" stamped on it.

Debian forever

Debian is #1! Yes, I knew it. The prophetic 'I ching' was just right!

Several including the One-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named

Debian's always been good to me.
Linux Mint on CD is awesome on my high-end machines!
Arch and Slackware plus their variants for superb high-honed performance.

The One-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named is Puppy Linux.
PUPPY... heh heh heh!
Super fast and flexible.... too bad that it wasn't mentioned here.

Ubuntu works okay, though they've included a bunch of weird stuff like Unity while Canonical managers have managed to short-shrift input from community users like me.

OTOH, OpenSUSE and Fedora seem to me they're something like the Open and Free extensions of their parent companies Attachmate/Novell Inc. and Red Hat Inc. (just my own sense on this.)

FreeBSD - A Real Man's (or Woman's) Operating System.

Yeah baby, when you outgrow your distro, jump on the bus to BSDville, and you won't be needing that return ticket.

Not sure about installation

in that I think ubuntu is way easier than fedora to install (cd versus dvd, some of the options even had me scratching my head! - I'll give it that you can install it, and then give it someone else to complete the installation with username etc etc).

I wonder if we'll ever get a computer like the Amiga again - maybe there's a place for a completely custom computer?

D

Debian IS offline friendly!

Debian has all* the software on multiple CDs or DVDs or a single BluRay Disc!, How on earth could this not be suitable for offline users?

The ONLY other distro which follows this principle is Slackware(as far as I know).

all* = excluding non-free and contrib repos...

And regarding hardware support, if you play in the field of open hardware, where the appropriate drivers are available then the need of binary blobs is redundant.. and almost "any" linux distro will run well on such a system. So start supporting the companies which support Open Systems..

And regarding stability and efficiency.. that's why I left Ubuntu and moved to Debian, I felt both Ubuntu and Linux Mint to be buggy and both had small annoyances and used more RAM (which is contrary to what Linux stands for), moreover Debian is the base for Ubuntu and has the software center and other tools which were there in Ubuntu, and almost any new software has a Debian package and the support is great, since it has a large user base.

so I had little issues when moving to Debian, like configuring it and making it look like Ubuntu!

My advice-If you want software which should just work AND are you are ok with old software.. then try Debian Stable, else try Debian Testing which has fairly new software, or for Bleeding edge- Debian Sid or Aptosid. (In virtualbox first)

CentOS is the best (as desktop too)

-rock solid & secure
-great repositories + tarballs for what's not there
-10 years of support!
-RH is great for all they give to Linux

side note: OpenSuse is an evil distro bc they are in bed with M$ which is disgusting. It deserves a death sentence.

I Agree with Padfoot, Arch

I Agree with Padfoot,

Arch has a different aproach than Debian/Ubuntu/Mint/Fedora/OpenSuse

I used Debian for a while and stand with Ubuntu... for lazyness. Now I'm using Arch and I love the performance and the "install just what i want" feeling :)

But well... you all are free to choose.

P.S. You should have used ArchBang for tests

Throw them all...

Just throw them all away and shift to FreeBSD. Seriously.

Thanks for this article, just what I needed...

I have started testing a few other distros. I've been on Ubuntu since they started, but I've grown tired of them breaking things all the time. So I'm just testing on virtual machines at the moment so I can redo my system with something else. I still believe I'm still learning the linux system but I'm looking for more stability. I like ubuntu, but just can't take different things getting broken because of some update almost every time right before they make a new release. I haven't tried too many distros, but at least you gave me a good idea of what some of the others have. This makes it a bit easier. Thanks.

Debian Live

I am a big fan of a lot of distros especially my home base Debian. You should try the Debian live DVD/USB. I can install a system in under ten minutes with no net connection. ^_^

I agree they could make the default setup of KDE/XFCE/LXDE a bit more friendly by adding a GUI package manager by default.

Arch Linux Scored Way Too Low in Documents

I am not an Arch Linux user, but I think it is unfair how long your final statistics score this distro in docs. The ArchWiki is easily one of the best Linux resources on the web today.

That alone should give it a nearly perfect documents score IMO.

~Jeff Hoogland

Debian Or Ubuntu

When I first started to use Linux. I was stuck in between Debian and Ubuntu. Since I am a newbie I choose Ubuntu because of its user friendly. Now that I am more familiar with Linux. I might give Debian a go.

As a writer & regular user, I love Mepis best

I'm what I'd call a "non-technical" user: I'm comfortable with the commandline, but learned just enough programming in college to know I'm better off sticking with writing fiction. I've used all of the major distros extensively and a bunch of others over the last 3 years...

What I value most in a distro at this point is:
-- GUI package manager's ease of use
-- how easy it is to get packages outside regular repos
-- forum & dev attitudes towards non-technical users (are we to shut up & feel grateful? are there ways for us to contribute? do reasonable questions get nasty replies?)
-- stability vs. how current the packages are
-- packages I need/want, not tons of stuff I don't

Right now, the one distro I'm really happy with is SimplyMepis, which is like a much friendlier, more polished KDE-specific form of Debian; it's particularly great if I add on the Trinity (aka KDE 3) Desktop.

OpenSuSE falls in next, but their repositories drive me totally batty. If packages I wanted weren't in the main repos, I had to search their web-based repos, hope someone had a current version that didn't depend on files that were so old as to conflict with current versions.

Fedora was in the running for a long time, but when the devs pulled a Canonical with their handling of forcing an early switch to Gnome 3 despite huge signs it's not ready, rejecting community outcry & artwork, I ditched it.

Special mention goes to Samity (aka Sam) and Kororaa. If you have work to get done but are easily distracted, just buy a ten-year-old laptop for $70 and put one of those on. They use lightweight but easy-to-use desktops, so even a 700MHz/256MB computer can run LibreOffice plus Pidgin plus Audacious at comfortable speeds.

I've been running Debian

I've been running Debian since potato and I always thought it was the best :). I do agree with the above that arch has a great wiki though, You can apply a lot of the stuff to almost any distro. I've troubleshooted issues in debian with it.

Also, Foresight, Gentoo, CentOS, and Slackware should have been thrown in to the survey just to give some variety I think ;).

LMDE! LMDE! LMDE!

For me, the first thing I want to know about a distro is whether it is a rolling update, or will I have to reinstall it in a few months!

And of the rolling distros, LMDE is by far the best!

what is the point ...

... of trying a head-to-head competitive comparison on such different distros? Each of these will make someone happy, but almost certainly not the same people.

For example, Arch is not intended for people who are not happy with using the command line, but will reward experienced Linuxers who know exactly what they want. Fedora is a superb piece of engineering but (as you rightly point out) it sails closer than most to the bleeding edge when it come to software.

For myself, I admire the Mint approach - very good graphical configuration tools and general 'good looks' combined with access to the vast ocean of packages offered by Ubuntu and Debian. However, I have had good experiences with several other distros. PCLinuxOS is superb, for example.

Your slightly ambiguous statement that Mint 'actively discourages you from installing software and non-critical updates' will mislead some readers - this statement only applies to packages in Debian and Ubuntu's unstable repositories - you do have to jump through hoops to give yourself a chance to install experimental stuff. However, there are thousands of packages to install and try out without leaving tested territory!

Linux is all about niche distros

I like seeing comparisons like this, but I hope people keep them in context --- as some comments above suggest. The beauty of "linux" (as a family of OSes) is that there are so many distros, most of which are aimed at small niches and really excel in their areas. Gentoo is at the bottom of the list when it comes to installers, but it has top notch security. The hardened toolchain has SSP, PIE and FORTIFY_SOURCE=2. The hardened kernel has PaX and GRSEC. Along with RBAC or selinux, you get a pretty good arsenal of security layers, excellent for servers. Its not general purpose, but if this is what you're looking for, then Gentoo gets a gold.

The Shifting Desktop Landscape

Debian and Arch won't be at the top of the table for the desktop segment in the future. Gnome Shell and Unity will ensure that the old favourites Ubuntu and Fedora will regain their place at the top of the Linux tree, especially in the era of multitouch.

OpenSUSE w/GENOME is my Linux home.

I've been using OpenSUSE with GENOME for almost three years and in three different versions (11.1, 11.3, and 11.4) and I find it a very stable and user friendly combination for users with novice to intermediate skills. I tried KDE when I upgraded from OpenSUSE 11.1 to 11.2 and while I did like some of the bells and whistles, there was a lot that just didn't work for me. I've also tried Ubuntu and Mint and a couple others, but I just keep coming back to OpenSUSE.

Conficting statements

Your "Speed" graph has the statement.
"Our table shows OpenSUSE was the fastest at startup."

but then you contradict yourself in the writeup and placement.

I am aggrieved that mine wasn't here...

Kudos for using "frabjous" - one of my favourite words, in a sentence, but I disagree.

Ubuntu WAS the best distro ever. In fact, every time I boot into Maverick, I recall that part in The Matrix where they speak of the height of man's society being the late 1990's, just before its inevitable downfall. Before Gnome 3 and Unity, it was, and still remains, the absolute apex of the Linux experience, bar none. Unity however, is simply abysmal. I will never like it, and I have tried.

Having switched to Xubuntu as my main desktop though, I can say that it is not far behind the old Ubuntu, though I wonder if it is going to continue, as I have yet to see an Oneiric build of it, and they used to keep up with the release cycles.

I regret that Puppy and Jolicloud were not even in this camp, as they represent the best of their class. Ubuntu, Gnome, Microsoft, Apple, and Google should ALL take a very long and hard look at Jolicloud (OK, JoliOS now, but I have used it for so long that it is a hard habit to break).

When it comes to the new, revised Desktop that is designed to run as well on tablets as it does on a desktop, JoliOS stands alone as the singular operating system that just totally nailed it, and got it right from top to bottom.

Debian is excellent, but only as a base. Mint should change its name to "terrorist Linux" and be done with it (I would rather run Windows ME then support that distro), Fedora has never worked well for me, I find it boring, and I hate RPMs, and SUSE is entirely too green.

So MY top distros are Xubuntu, Puppy, and JoliOS, though I am waiting to see if Liquid Lemur ever gets out of beta and goes gold, as it shows some amazing promise, despite its own excessive use of the color green...

I'd rather have one Linux

I'd rather have one Linux distro accepted by a lot of people over anything else. The more the better. That means companies will start to notice Linux in general then we could get the goodies only Windows or Mac have. I'm sick and tired of using wine for games and other hacks to run things (been using Linux since 2000). No offense to Wine devs because Wine just rocks!

However, something that just runs out of the box and runs natively is great. Perhaps I've gone past beyond the point where distro don't mean sh*t to me. LOL!

Customisation

Whataaaafuuuck?! Arch is second in customisation?! Yeah Debian is nice, yeah you can run netinstall and build from bottom up (sort of) but it's Debian for Christ's sake! You have freedom/openness problems for desktop users (e.g. graphics driver firmware need to be downloaded explicitly otherwise there is no 3D acceleration on open source drivers), trade marks issuess like iceweasel/icedove, packages on stable are old like hell (on testing not so much up-to-date either), skype/flash issues on x86_64, nvidia-kernel-xorg compatibility... oh and my favorite: repository maze! for every piece of software you need to add another repositories (yes, yes debian have jillions of packages but not very comprehensive for desktop usage)

Arch is definitely not for everybody but is more customizable than Debian.

- Debian is awesome (for some particular usage/users)
- Arch is awesome (for some particular usage/users)
- and so on...

I wouldn't install Arch on my father's PC and wouldn't install Debian on my laptop, so there shouldn't be a general ranking as every distro has its own advantages and disadvantages

I would make final verdict something like that:

ARCH:

+ best distro of 2011 for semi/pro users (and learners),
+ cutting edge (still not in beta state like fedora),
+ customizable like hell,
+ good selection of packages in repository
+ easy access to exotic packages via AUR
+ packages are not patched to the ground
+ best KDE4 distro of 2011 (THE fastest updates of KDE, splitted packages, kde-unstable repo for testers and so on),
+ THE best wiki in the universe! (and not only for Arch users)

+/- system upgrades needs attention, possible minor breakage need user attention (nothing critical though from my long term experience)

- not for everybody, not for casual users, definitely not for lazy users (no gui for installation, no gui wizards, no dedicated gui package manager)

DEBIAN:

+ best distro of 2011 for semi/advanced/pro users
+ stable release is stable like hell
+ lots of tutorials, big community

+/- enormous repos but not very comprehensive for desktop usage
+/- freedom/openness

- stable release is old like hell
- repos maze
- wiki is not very good

UBUNTU:

- in 2011 there was only one release which is not very usable so it shouldn't be in the ranking - 11.04 is simply not enough to be in "best 2011 distros"

MINT:

+ polished (in theory) and multimedia enabled version of Ubuntu
+ no unity/gnome3

- in 2011 there was only one release (Katya) which is not very good either (e.g. "panel widgets crashed blah blah")
- application selection is a mess

FEDORA:

+ bleeding edge (new technologies)
+ something else... (don't have big fedora experience)

- bleeding edge (to the blood!)
- permanent beta state
- something else... (don't have big fedora experience)

Debian was great...

But I spent about 10 hours trying to get streaming videos to play. Some played but alot of the ones I wanted to see didn't. so unfortunately I had to abandon Debian and have switched to OpenSUSE which doesn't have any issues as far as I can tell. Newbie that I am.

Debian is tight...

...but FreeBSD is right.

I really hate Unity...and other wild ramblings

I hate Unity, therefore I've gone from the latest Ubuntu to Mint 11 which I'm still using and enjoying. I had codec problems with Debian 6 and while I really wanted to use it exclusively, I got fed up and bailed. My kids love Puppy Linux, probably because it's got 'puppy' in the title, but they use it with great success.

Did I mention that I hate Unity? Otherwise I'd probably still be using Ubuntu. I still do, however, greatly appreciate earlier versions. Ubuntu 10.04 seems to be the only fully-loaded GUI Linux that works on one of my older PCs. Anything newer and it freezes utterly, completely, and for eternity.

Lastly, I must mention Tiny Core. Yes, it's probably for super-geeks only, but I've found it quite useful and fun. Doesn't really belong in this conversation I know, but I still wanted to give it a shout out.

Gosh, I really don't like Unity though. Did I already say that? 'cause I don't like it. Actually, I just realized it works pretty well on my eeepc netbook. (how embarrassing, right?) I ported Ubuntu Netbook Remix to it and blasted Windoz 7 into oblivion in the process. So I guess Unity is okay for a small, underpowered netbook, but for the desktop, or even a decent laptop, Unity... well, sucks, and I really did try to like it. I will never use it. Destroy. sudo kill -9 unity. I want my Gnome.

Lazy Man Approach.

I like lazy man approach.

The distributions are meant for help of lazy man. Otherwise we have linux-from-scratch project.

The distributions are there to ease out the thing and should give out-of-box experience. No doubt, customization is a need, but should be GUI / Web based.

At this point , discussion regarding, which distribution is best etc ... should arise, only if every distribution works on above principles. It is for the expert user to customize and make it for his own choice.

In the beginning ....

... there was GNU.

Seems the Archers are butthurt... again

Seriously, these guys never give up, do they?

For the record, I have 3 systems, one runs Debian (mixed Sid/Experimental sources), one runs Arch, and one runs OpenBSD.

Arch and Community

So far, I agree with most of what you said, and anyway, it depends on the individual. I use Arch myself, and some Debian Lenny on servers.

But I'm sorry to hear nothing about Arch's community. The Arch Wiki is arguably one of the best resources for Linux on the internet, and Ubuntu Wiki pales in comparison (outdated, only scratches the surface of things, ...). The users are really friendly and ready to help you if they can.

Of course, it's not for the first-timers, but I think these resources are at least worth mentionning.

Very subjective

All of the rankings in this article seem very subjective, with the only piece of accurately measured data being startup times. On the other hand that data seems to be negligible to the rankings in the performance section. More facts could be included, and certainly many of the rankings could be better justified.

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