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

why people hate fedora?

This is a nice assesment of all the strengths and shortcomings of all the 6 distros considered .. i think the final verdict is spot on!

here(infact everywhere other than fedora/redhat sites) people despise fedora.. i don't get it! I mean it gives u the cutting edge free/libre software with a nice desktop feel (next only to ubuntu) and (reasonable stability) without having to go through "madness" of arch installation, It certainly deserves number 3. I say fedora "cutting-edge distro a non-power user can install and use".
*fedora-is-not-beta* is more stable than arch,as stable as ubuntu,mint.

and yeah opensuse means Novell,M$ so i would never try it out and hence would never comment about it

I liked ubuntu till 10.10 untill the madness of Unity hit me!
they should have stick with gnome 2 till 11.10 and switched to gnome 3 after it got stabilized... I heck like Gnome 3 it is just like "floating in shallow water" more keyboard less mouse!,it needs time to stabilize and improve but its lot better than Unity,people dislike Gnome 3 because it isn't like "boring but safe" Gnome 2 its disruptive , disruptive changes needs to address resistance I hope Gnome team will address them in gnome 3.2 and further

Arch all the way.

1) Ease of install is a moot point in case of Arch Linux at least. You do it once or twice in the life of a computer with Arch Linux. Get a print out of either the Beginner's guide or the official install guide. That's all you need. ( hell those documents are good even if you are not using Arch )

2) Upgrading - That is something that every Linux user has to go through, and Arch WINS this one. NO sucky upgrades. There is always an upgrade path from any point in the life of an Arch Linux system. Ubuntu has an upgrade path, but let's just admit that if you skip an upgrade once, its going to be a pain in the rear.

3) Wiki and Forums - The best. Hands down.

4) Package management - Seriously ? Is there anyone who tried pacman and then goes back to apt or worse, yum ? Lack of GUI maybe a problem, but hey that's why the wiki is there.

5) I have a two year old arch install. I just update my system and BAM its current. I know people with 5 year old Arch systems with not one re installation. Heck my home computer has pacman running as a cron job every two weeks and my parents don't even need to know about the "updates".

At least 10

I use Debian and therefore quite agree with the final verdict ;-). However, to be entirely fair I feel you are mixing apples and oranges here.

To start with, I would classify the distros according to their goals. In my opinion these are the big guys:

1.- The serious guys: Debian, RedHat, Slackware, FreeBSD.
2.- The beginners: Ubuntu, Sabayon, PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, openSUSE.
3.- The live on the edge guys: Fedora, Gentoo, Arch.
4.- The small guys: Puppy.

Of course, one should also mention the most relevant re-spins and derivatives in each case (Mint, CentOS, Scientific Linux, PC-BSD, MEPIS, Mageia).

This would more or less leave us with the top 20 ;-). I have not mentioned the "do it yourself" guys...

people should really try the new unity more

I understand there was bad memories of the old unity that was slow and boring… and i aknowledge the new one has some shortcomings and bugs, but it should be regarded for its own merits, and he get a lot of things rights!

- The dash it really the right mix between a menu and a shell, everything is two keystroke away!
- the dock is very nice to organise your apps, and to get your application one clic away (two if you have more than one of the same kind started) be it started already or not
- keyboard use is really cool, the <super>+number is incredibly efficient to jump directly to an application wherever it is!

in fact, unity made me jump back from wmii, a very nerdy WM, tiling on top on that.

btw, unity provide some tiling with the grid plugin, use ctrl-alt-numpad and rejoice! nearly sane windows management!

"""I liked ubuntu till 10.10 untill the madness of Unity hit me!
they should have stick with gnome 2 till 11.10 and switched to gnome 3 after it got stabilized... I heck like Gnome 3 it is just like "floating in shallow water" more keyboard less mouse!,it needs time to stabilize and improve but its lot better than Unity,people dislike Gnome 3 because it isn't like "boring but safe" Gnome 2 its disruptive , disruptive changes needs to address resistance I hope Gnome team will address them in gnome 3.2 and further"""
on that, gnome3 and unity should be judged on the same accounts, both are disruptive, and brings inovations, i believe unity brings a better and more efficient experience!

Also, i agree with Jrivany, most comparisions up there are not based on facts, and rewards are mostly non justified by the text before them… only the "installation" part is remotly revelent…

+1 for OpenSUSE

because it actively maintains KDE3.5!!
Also there's Suse Studio for you to roll out your own custom distros quite easily.

Ubuntu is still the best

In case of the installation,security,package management and hardware support no one can beat Ubuntu but in case of performance i would like to say sorry to ubuntu . And in my opinion these ratings are very accurate.But this is the beginning for ubuntu the organisation should not focus only on new packages but also on its performance and i think one day it will be at the top.

Pc-BSD go up

now i like Pc-BSD

Ubuntu doesn't even officially support a KDE-based desktop?

What? Haven't you guys heard of Kubuntu? The official KDE-centric variant and sister-product of Ubuntu? How about the easily-installable official metapackage "kubuntu-desktop"? What could it possibly take to make it any more official? All you have to do is download Kubuntu from the start or just install a normal Ubuntu, install kubuntu-desktop, log off, pick KDE from the menu, log back in, and done. I "dual-boot" between that and Unity on my desktop at whim, and run KDE full-time on my laptop, both systems initially installed with the GNOME version of the Ubuntu series.

And really, the KDE support for Kubuntu is Not That Bad. It should now even come with a special GTK theme that strongly mimics (and inherits settings from) Oxygen and makes for a quite nearly seamless integration of GNOME and KDE apps, and has an optional install called "Colibri" that replaces the KDE notification system for applications with lib-notify style passive notifications designed by one of the Atayana guys. It even features Ubuntu One and Gwibber integration via the Message Indicator applet, though those two apps may not be installed by default on Kubuntu but are of course a mere apt-get away. Point being, I really don't understand the reasoning for that remark.

Mageia

Debian? Ubuntu? Arch (my intimate ennemy)? Mwahaha. For me, the 2011 distro is Mageia. Mageia *is* the big news for 2011.

truth

first of all this post is as someone already said, flamebait but im gonna take my small bite on it too.

First of all it is a shame for me to see so few distros, some "families" were forgotten and too much debian but thats just me.

@shamil
Well I hate to disagree with you I have tried a few distros before I started getting used to linux, been with fedora, suse, debian and a few others I cant remember, guess where I ended up? Gentoo it was the first distro I felt like I was learning and doing something any other was installed only for a few days, after that I was like ok linux is different but now what? What can I learn? So I kept trying and well here I am now at gentoo.

Now I also confess something, for everyday use my job requires me to use windows and before you hit me (developing windows software outside windows even if possible is plain stupid) the other way can sort of be done but its not a good idea either, that will depend on what language you develop etc etc etc and thats way out of the scope of this post.

That is all

Arch has great documentation

Arch may not have as many users as Ubuntu, but Arch Wiki is full of well-written instructions. If you want to learn Linux, all you need is to go through Arch Wiki pages.

Slackware should have been #1

Give a man Fedora and he will learn Fedora,
give a man Ubuntu and he will learn Ubuntu,
give a man OpenSUSE and he will learn OpenSUSE,
but give a man Slackware and he will learn Linux.

It's not about the automation, colorful graphics, or ease of usage that should matter for a distribution. It's about having a system that requires some learning, trial and error, and reading the documentation, as well as adhering being the most UNIX-like.

If you want automated packaging systems that manage everything for you, colorful graphics, and not learning everything you can about Linux and what it's all about and does... go back to Windows!

Where Is Slackware In This Fight?

To include Arch, but not Slackware shows the choices for this "showdown" were nearly, in not completely, arbitrary.
A serious flawed and misleading "comparison" and, at best, a waste of ink.

this car is for people to learn mecanic…

@ReaperX: don't get me wrong, learning linux is great and fun and all, but if you use a distribution for the unique purpose of learning so use linux… you won't do a lot of useful things… but maybe linux is only a toy/distraction for you…

for me it's both a toy and a work environnement, thus i expect it to work with minimal effort… hence i use ubuntu…

Fedor$hit installer better one that Ubuntu's one? WHAT!?

CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPPPPPPPPPPPPP, this "contest" is nothing more than CRAP.

So you really say Fedora installer is better than Ubuntu Natty one? ARE YOU SERIOUS???? Ubuntu have the _BEST_ graphical installer ever coded, way better than win$hit or MacOS!

See ya loosers
(by the way, I'm a former Arch fan)

I concur

Having tried RH, Fedora, PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu, Peppermint OS, DSL, Vector, Crunchbang, even Arch, Canaima, Pure OS, and a few others, I stick with Debian.

I am sometimes tempted to try something like Linux Mint Debian, but I think, a lot of these forks and derivatives, while based on good ideas, etc., arise and fade away, while Debian remains. Best to just stay on the mothership. :D

I use Stable. I do a net install on new machines and only install what I want (as one would do with Arch), and once installed, it's perpetually updated/upgraded over aptitude & apt, a breeze to maintain, secure, stable, and has never once given me problems (unlike fedora, ubuntu, and others, on which stuff would break).

In the beginning +2

In the beginning ....
... there was GNU. +2

Re: History reminder

Here's a corrected version for you.

In the beginning there was GNU. It cobbled together a few utilities and a C compiler which was alright, but nothing special.

Then Linus Torvalds and many other people produced a much bigger, more important set of code that actually made a machine run. People loved it, and then companies such as Red Hat emerged, turning GCC from an average compiler into a big powerful tool. Reminder: LINUX companies did all this work.

Later, Richard Stallman comes back whining because the handful of code he wrote was turned into something much bigger by Linux companies, and he now wants the credit.

PROTIP: When Linux switches to LLVM/Clang, replacing the only significant 'GNU' part of the system, the story is over. Yes, GNU zealots will talk about how it should be GNU/Linux because it uses GNU textutils or some such nonsense, but everyone else will have moved on.

The end.

@tshirtman

The main reason so many newbies to Linux feel intimidated is because learning the OS is such a chore, many feel like they have too many options of where to turn. Debian, Fedora, and SUSE all have automated tools to do everything for you, but as stated, you aren't learning the underlying core functions of the system. You are learning the fundamentals of that distribution and it's derivatives only, not Linux and the GNU OS.

Automation has it's uses and good points, but for learning how your system does works, what to do, what not to do, and things that can help you in a pinch aren't covered outside of most documentation supplied with various distributions.

The GNU OS w/ Linux isn't Windows. It was never designed to be like Windows. Yes certain functionality similarities do exist, but for all intensive purposes, Debian, Fedora, and SUSE are attempting to do things the wrong way by making their distribution behave exactly like Windows with point, click, go, and forget it.

If anything Slackware is possibly the easiest to use of all the distributions. Yes, it's minimalist in design, but minimalistic purposes promote easier usage by eliminating bulk, redundancy, and the problem of too many packages that serve zero purpose and usage.

Example: SDL

Ubuntu has at least 2 to 5 packages just for SDL. Slackware has just 1 package which has everything in it. You install SDL, it installs everything, not just parts of a whole.

Is a dummy package really needed? Is a separate developer package really needed? Is a how-to manual really needed? That's not simple, that's complex beyond reason.

Honestly, it's harder to learn a system, when everything is so automated when it comes down to knowing what you need that you have no idea what to do when automation fails you, and a how-to quide is not available.

I used Red Hat long before it was Fedora and I never learned the system because it was too aggravating, same with SUSE, Mandrake, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Debian, Gentoo, and several others.

The first time I used Slackware, the manual was easy to read, the operating system was easy to install, easy to use, and even easy to work with because there was not a clutter of programs that had no purpose.

Horses for courses, yes

I still class myself as a beginner (even after 10 linux years). My preference is PCLinuxOS although I have, temporarily, given that up for Mint 11 because of graphic card difficulties with my new Acer M3920. PCLOS gets used on my Zoostorm netbook. I just want a distro that's easy to install and will recognise a range of WiFi cards without the need to use an RJ45 connection at the start. I still have to use Windows for some video, OCR and amateur radio applications. Puppy gets used on my older stuff. Slackware is great for playing linux! Gnome 2 is preferred.

RPMs

"Unfortunately, RPM is not such a standard that ones designed for SUSE will necessarily work on Fedora, and vice versa."

Eh? I've regularly installed SuSE RPMS on Fedora (and vv) and I've often installed Fedora RPMS on Mandriva, without any problems at all.

All RPMs are not the same.

Fedora and SUSE may both use RPMs, but SUSE uses different directories and profiling than Fedora does. You can install Fedora RPMs on SUSE but installing a SUSE RPM on a Fedora system can usually have some problems, from past experiences.

As for Mandriva, Mandriva is based on Mandrake which was based on Red Hat upon which Fedora is based. They use the same profiling and directory system and structuring.

Many Choices

I have a hard time making up my mind..
So many good choices.
I run Debian for 15 years but also Gentoo, Slackware, Kubuntu and a Parade of BSDs..
FreeBSD & variants like PCbsd are Great if you like to Tinker (less so for PCbsd). BSDs are not broad stroke in available WiFi, Multimedia and other Toys. Great for Servers However.

I agree that one of the Slackware Distros maybe Salix should have been included.

My ranking

1.- Debian
2.- Arch
3.- Slackware

;)

Arch Linux and Security

Does Arch use signed packages yet?

I am kinda surprised that no mention was made of this in the security discussion.

This was an Unusually informative article, Thanks!

To all people who talk about "learning Linux"

I'm sorry but a common user does not care about "learning Linux". And he/she is right. A common user wants his/her work done. He/she wants to be able to surf on the web, make his/her e-mails, read and maybe work his/her photos and videos etc He/she wants a system which works. Period. The rest is for you, dear geeks. :D (with no offense guys)

Poor security section

You have a dedicated section for security and you didn't mention that Arch doesn't use signed packages?

Ubuntu wins by default!

Ubuntu is the only real innovator on the desktop and with the backing of a company who cares about developing a desktop distro as their main priority!

When testing performance bootup speed isn't about performance. Sure Ubuntu may not be the fastest to bootup anymore but after logging in, performance is beastly!

Cutting edge you say, whatup PPA! Running the Unity 2D PPA and getting updates per COMMIT. Yeah thats right, I get an update after every change in the Unity 2D codebase.. not cutting edge enough??

Do you seriously think Fedora has the best installer?? Ye must be having a laugh... Ubuntu has the best installer known to mankind! Fedora sucks overall as a desktop experience... its just a thrown together desktop.. no attention to detail.

Nice verdict

Debian yes, agree. Mostly because it runs well on not that advanced hardware for a retired poor guy like me.
I also think Kubuntu is getting better for every release.
But sticking with debian..

Good discussion

Nicely written , a must-read for the beginners( like me ), congrats !! :))

Debian is the king

Debian is the best.

To fight ignorance

@shamil and other interested

Sabayon even if is based on Gentoo don't require everlasting life to be used. It has its own package manager that download already compiled packages. Gentoo is its base but you can ignore that!

-----------
The Freedom Technologies Are Available!
I love KDE!

That's why I always love

That's why I always love Debian GNU/Linux. I always use Debian. Viva Debian

Debian / Rules

That's all I have to say

Debian yes, but arguments are flawed.

Of course Debian rules, but...

how you actually measured "Performance", and "Hardware compatibility"? Maybe Debian boots quickly, but it is probably because default installation have only few services installed. You should install all distributions on about dozen laptops to actually conclude something about compatibility. Hardware support in distributions and kernel, changes very quickly, so drawing conclusions from old reviews isn't best way. By the way, Debian squeeze have now upgraded installer with support for more hardware. Some experienced people use Debian also because of its quiet stable testing and unstable distributions, which can be effectively used as constantly rolling releases, which very rarely actually break anything.

What I mostly hate, is that many vendors and developers, even when release some binary package for Linux, they do this only for Ubuntu! Men, what the problem compiling it for Debian also? Is it so hard to have few virtual machines for releases, or use already existing services exactly for this task?

Printers & Scanners!

Printers & Scanner didn't get much of a mention! And they are the main reason that I have not yet gone over to Linux even though I've dabbled for several years (Suse 10, PCLinuxOS and latterly Mint). I've just purchased a new all-in-one (Epson this time after having given up waiting for Canon to get Linux-friendly) so we'll see if I have better luck this time.

Any Idea about Debian on

Any Idea about Debian on production.For example
to use it as Database server, web server, application server,VPN etc ....

As some people here, I think

As some people here, I think Debian is actually a winner, but with even more points.

The Cutting Edge part isn't quite right, for Debian at least.

> 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.

That's not true! Integration of packages in Debian Sid is part of the automated test process, and packages almost never break (in a year running Debian Sid I never have anything going wrong). Debian Experimental is the flavor where packages are tested and might break your system, and people are strongly discouraged to use it except for very rare situations.

> Its rolling release schedule means Arch can't be beaten.
That's exactly what Debian Sid is about! It's a rolling release as well. And you have updates every days. Maybe not the day the upstream is released, and maybe not for big parts like Gnome3 for example, because these will require much more work to avoid breaking the system, but almost.

Anyway, Debian and its people are wonderful.

Zorin OS

I am surprised, none of you have ever tried Zorin OS, it is best for newbies and is very user friendly.

Try it , You will love it !!

Arch GUI for package management

Though I don't use it on a regular basis, there is a pacman backend for PackageKit, with UIs for both GNOME and KDE.

My new friend is Pinguy OS 11.04

I am just a bit disappointed that Pinguy OS in particular Pinguy OS 11.04 was not included in this list. After all, it makes for the perfect desktop experience particularly for a person new to Linux.

Keep rocking Pinguy

Sorry peeps,but I just want that out-the-box,just landed from"Hate all things Mac/M$ Planet!" experience.Us noobs need a home and we found it in Pinguy OS,It does everything that it states on the cereal box and comes in Mini Pinguy form as well.Many complain that its bloated but,you know,dont be lazy,uninstall all the stuff you dont need.Simple.

What about PCLinuxOS?

While we are discussing Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora and others, PCLinuxOS has made some cosmetic as well as functional improvements to its distribution. What other distribution combines RPM with Synaptic, or has an online and downloadable publication, or has the friendly user forums? Also, the LiveCDs have support for more hardware "out of the box".

Arch Linux

Arch Linux has the best package management. Never break the system, never!

PCLinuxOS does it for me

I keep distro jumping at new releases, but keep reinstalling PCLinuxOS. It has codecs, and NVidia, and no problem with my monitor being 1366 X 769. . . but I may try BSD

No anger.

There are people that use Linux with anger, and to use your time, this article is only a vision of a human being. I think the Mint deserved better grade in the category; installation.

greetings to all.

less blot is slack

all current jazzy linux distros are good for beginers, however as per my experience over the time, all these including ubuntu shows the same symptoms as windows; slowing down, so many redundant packages etc...
slackware scores in this aspect

Why is Sabayon or Gentoo not in this?

These are great competitors! I hate the way debian and ubuntu have their packages! why must I have 20 packages for one program when the program itself has no dependencies? Because Debian package management busts up one program into 20 pieces! Exaggerated yes, but its still an issue.

While these two do have the leg up on how long they have been in existence to Sabayon, but Sabayon is growing rapidly and is maturing that way as well. Sabayon is flexible, allowing all to use it from the linux n00bs to the linux elite. Allowing the option to use portage and compile your applications your way, or just using entropy and the pre-built binaries.

Fedora and Redhat are nice, but remind me too much of windows and has plenty of experimental software (technically not for computer n00bs in general, you know, like your mother or grandma who rarely uses one for example).

Debian and Ubuntu just have ugly package management and keeping up with all the crap can be irritating for someone trying to keep a handle on what all is on the machine. Knowing I have K3b installed is easier than knowing "I have all 5 packages that pertain to K3b installed!". Its ludicrous.

4 Drives, 4 Distros and

4 Drives, 4 Distros and Puppy Linux on a 16 Gig thumb drive.

Ta Da!

OpenSuse #1

i started to use Linux in 2006 when i installed ubuntu, but the updates of it kept breaking my installation and the xorg server kept crashing, so in 2008 i move to a more stable distro, Debian, only to find out how old and unmaintained it was, i couldn't install any new versions of any new programs because of the old outdated libs, then i tried to install fedora, but the installer was incompatible to my both computers (old pc and hp laptop), so never actually tried, then i installed freeBSD, but i could not install any decent programs, nothing was available, so, in 2010 i moved to OpenSuse and never looked back, unlike what some people say the, opensuse OS installer is easy, so is yast and zypper, not to mention the complete and updated repository at their website, i have no hardware incompatibilities, it is fast and looks clean, easy to maintain and manage/customize. some people criticize opensuse because it is developed by Novell , but actually i think that Novell is what makes opensuse great, it is more professional and well-maintained than many other distros including ubuntu and debian.

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