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

Developer's Delight

Please note that I'm not really into popular entertainment, and man pages do more for me than any other medium. For the last 5 years or so, I have enjoyed OpenBSD, cwm, xterm, apache 1.3x, mysql, and php on a variety of boxes, workstations, servers, and notebooks, all x86 architectures from an old pentium iii 333MHz with 640Mb ram and whopping 20 Gb 3600 rpm hard drive that was rescued from dumpster oblivion for use as a "server" (hasn't skipped a beat in 4 years!) to my latest acquisition from DFS Direct Sales for only $351.66 including tax and shipping: a dell m4300 workstation with an intel core 2 2.2GHz processor, 2Gb ram, 80Gb 7200 rpm hard drive, bluetooth, wireless card, 256Mb nvidia graphics, and wonderful 1920x1200 wuxga 15.4" screen. Granted, nvidia is NOT supported by OpenBSD, but X "just works" out of the box at 1920x1200. I have tried every window manager that OpenBSD offers in precompiled packages (there are over 30 I think), and without a doubt, cwm (calm window manager) is my absolute favorite, but I've never seen it offered on any other system (fvwm, twm, and cwm are in OpenBSD core.) I have loaded OpenBSD countless times, and I have "played" with all of the linux distributions reviewed above in solo or dual boot configurations with OpenBSD. OpenBSD is not only the most secure operating system on the planet, it's also the fastest and easiest to install (for me) in comparison to other systems, package management is a joy, and OpenBSD is a DEVELOPER'S DELIGHT. I'm sure you can find your coding language and platform on OpenBSD. Currently on my dell m4300, I have OpenBSD installed on my hard drive for development using vi (sometimes vim) on cwm and a LMDE live dvd in my optical drive for getting a live internet connection at home through my droidx. The slickest "trick" up linux's sleeve is the Network Manager and recognition of the bluetooth on my dell m4300. OpenBSD doesn't see my bluetooth, and I don't have internet access at home apart from my droidx, but I can boot up LMDE live, configure it to use my droidx, install lynx, and happily grab whatever I need from the net at about 120kb or so on a "real" display, all without tethering on an unlimited data plan. I can accomplish this as easily using some other linux distribution as well.

It's all about freedom and flexibility to do what you want to do in whatever way makes you happy. I sure hope all of you enjoy your operating system as much as I enjoy mine. A HEARTY THANK YOU to Theo de Raadt and all of the hard-working developers who make this possible.

Cheers,
Gilbert

Hello Headphones? Mint 11/Ubuntu Natty

I Started using Ubuntu Last year with my XP computer. Worked perfect. After the hard drive finally died on that 6 year old computer, Got a new Gateway with WIN7 of course. I first put Natty on with a dual boot. The Headphones didn't work. Only sound DID come out the PC speakers. Plugging in headphones doesn't cut out the sound AND there is no sound in Headphones. So, since I used "Wubi-installer" decided maybe that had something to do with it. I Installed MINT 11 off the Live CD and did the whole partition thing. SAME thing happens. No headphone sound. Oh well, I like Linux, but if I want to use a headphone/mic on Skype or listen to Music somewhere public, I have to go to Windows 7 side. I tried all the "code" experiments on forums. None worked. I just gave up and accepted it. What do ya want for FREE? This is one example why they have like 3% of the Market.

SUSE is the best

what makes suse is the best and the easiest linux is : YaST
YaST makes suse even easier to administer than windows 7 control panel

There is no best.

First of all let me say that each and every linux distro has an idea behind it that attracts different kind of users. That being said i have to say the my distro of choice is Arch Linux.

Sure it's not newb friendly as others but it gives you so much power over your system.

Package manager: Pacman, you will NEVER EVER say that apt or yum are even close to this little thingy it's as good as they get. it doesn't have a gui but who needs it when you can just type 2 commands for everything you need.

Documentation: Wow, just wow. I've tried out a ton of different distros but never have i seen such a great wiki and forum as with Arch. Seeing its low Docs score here makes me question the credibility of the author.

Arch is a clean slate you can make it everything you like and take the best out of all distros you like. The amount of customization possible is beyond all limits, so for all power users Arch is the system of choice. As for newbs, meh who cares, how should they even be informed enough to make a choice of the best when they know so little.

Arch Linux - best of the breed

Tried all possible distros in Linux land and still keep trying :-(, (unfortunately have to kick off this habit as i'm wasting precious time of my life) and found Arch to be quite good in all aspects, just pacman/yaourt alone should pull this distro right at the top. You've to use it to experience it. If Arch installer scares you, try archbang or ctkarch and you're right into Arch minus the palpitations during install.

Another worthwhile mention is Bodhi, though based off Ubuntu still does a good job in being lightweight and fast, currently my desktop of choice.

Linux mint Debian

i try on a regualar basis new distros on my laptop. so far linux mint debian is the only one that is fast, has a cool gui en supports bluetooth A2DP and supports my usb wlan.

So...Mint debian rules!

Yah Right

I can see people hating distros and representing theirs. Well, I want you to understand that there are different kinds of people reading this article with different experiences. Some are new to Linux, some are enthusiast, some are pro and some are guru. I mean, why would you present FreeBSD to a newbie? or why does guru still uses Ubuntu? My point is, use the distro you like -- you are comfortable with.

In my case, I am using Puppy Linux because it is portable. Then Back|Track Linux for fun only...

Re: Arch comments

I haven't deleted all comments about Arch. I've just deleted the ridiculous, terribly written butthurt rage from Arch zealots who attack the author and have absolutely nothing valuable to say. You're making your distro look terrible. Try getting out more.

the best ever distro

PCLinuxOS 2011.06, the greatest combination and ease of use!!!
Compared only to sabayon 6, if you are an advanced user...
Cheers!

arch linux the best

Arch linux the best!

archer!

used fedora for sometime,but after using arch i felt more complete and i love arch.

Each distro has a design principle and each one fits the people who needs it but, to me my way is the "ARCH WAY"!

Arch low on docs...

seriously ?

when you say arch is low on Docs on the graphs,i stopped to read any more of your article.

no one can beat the arch wiki yet!
how could you not know this and publish an article like this.

Yeah right, do you know any

Yeah right, do you know any banks that uses for example ubuntu in their production systems? WTF! - RHEL rules and most trusted in the industry!

Upgrading Ubuntu Has Always Been A Nightmare

I thought Unity was OK. But after using Ubuntu for 4 years I'm thinking of a change. Every time I upgrade everything goes to hell. The last upgrade for me to Oneric Oncelot was a complete failure so far and I don't know if I'll give it another chance. Everything, from stalling during the install to the Internet and mouse not working, is awry. Even the damn password doesn't work. Are the Ubuntu elves so busy working on their software center and Unity that they can't be bothered with making sure it just works? I can't believe I am the only one with these problems. I am writing this via an old disc from two years ago. (Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala) and a lot of things actually work better than 11.4. But then there are many little irritations which is why I upgraded in the 1st place. (Eg. The mic on 9.10 does not work on Skype)

Upgrading Ubuntu Always A Nightmare--But Nightmare is over

Actually I was too harsh with my last comment. The upgrade stalled and completely failed. But to reinstall it I used the USB stick image writer included with Ubuntu Karmic Koala and I think that program failed to write the image correctly. So I used another program to write the image to the USB stick and here I am using Ubuntu Oneric Ocelot. It is surely an improvement. And I appreciate the work all the Linux elves do. However there are still little bugs. Eg if I click on the trash the music player comes up---which also works poorly. (Ryth. Box works better than the default Banshee.) It will take a nerd to fix these little stupid things. I used to wonder why Linux was not more popular. But most people do not want to screw with these things. They want stuff to just work. Hopefully Linux will get there one day.

Back to something more debian again

Useful comments and confirmed what I guess I knew all along.

God I HATE Unity, hate the imposition, and lack of choice. Wish they had spent more time on getting printers & scanners & other toys that normal users want to play with working cos I'm fed up with showing people linux only to be stuffed when they say 'does it work with this or that ?' No use looking all funky when it can't actually OPERATE anything or print a bloody page.

Sorry. Did I forget to mention I HATE Unity ? Have Ubuntu got sponsorhip from Toys R Us on this one ? Yuck yuckety yuck yuck yuck.

Anyway, now they've gone kiddies toy factory on me, I'm looking for something I can work with & rely on. 10.04 will be my last Ubuntu. Already sorted one Oneiric heart attack mid upgrade. No more. Sad really. Had a lotta fun on the way.

The rest of the Ubuntu users might be stupid, can only use one app at a time etc etc. But I like my dual screens full of blinking, flashing, whirring bits of code & crap.

Still, I can't find anything in Vista or 7 either, so I guess all hope is lost on me with fancy new Carlos FanDangled whizzy desktops.

Unity. For people who can only do one thing at a time....

Get with the program boys. People want apps they can use with hardware that is recognised and works - they understand menus, just don't recognise some of the names of programs. I'm fortunate and know the hardware that works, or can be fixed. I don't care. But lots of people do.

XP going EOL soon would be a great opportunity for increasing linux usage, but I can't see anyone having the hardware support (even on some of the old junk still floating around) to jump in there. What a waste.

Me ? I guess LMDE will be a starting point. But I'm going to set up a test Arch box for fun as well. Back to the distro merrygoround...............

Ubuntu

Ubuntu doesn't work the only thing it manages to do is
to boot and complain.
The unity desktop froze.
I could'nt even turn it off or reboot to Windows with command line.
But when I tried with gnome, I couldn't even open firefox or
open ubuntu sofware center.
I am so fed up with Ubuntu that I am going to take my uncle's advice and switch to opensuse or ferdora.

+1 for OpenSuSE

I've been using OpenSuSE since version 7.1 when it was called just "SuSE". I migrated from what was then called "ManDrake" due to frustration with their releases. I know SuSE and it's love of KDE catch a lot of grief from you guys on the 09 and 10 podast seasons at least. However, user should not rule it out because some folks don't particularly like it. We are all individuals and all have differing tastes, and likes. I find the YAST utility makes it easy to configure systems and fully featured. Also for the advanced users the commandline is always an option. Files are placed in more standard locations (IE: init scripts in /etc/init.d) and less strewn about the filesystem. I Like the SuSe love of KDE but it does also offer a current gnome option (Which I've taken to using as of late) for those that prefer it, as well as other managers. I recommend OpenSuSE to people interested in trying Linux for the first time who are experienced Windows users. I do play about with other distros on virtual machines and this article will, no doubt, fuel my distro sampling. I must close by expressing my gratitude for your articles, and the podcasts which I have recently discovered and playing 6 or 7 per day to catch up :-)

TTFN
-PLG

LMDE Rocks!

It's Linux Mint Debian Edition which rocks.

Installers

Someone didn't like Anaconda and said Ubiquity is the most advanced installer. In my limited experience, Ubiquity was difficult to use for loading a multiboot system, and it should have LVM2 support if it is the most advanced.

Too Many choices..

I think Ubuntu is the only choice as they are the only one who put efforts to try a new theme (i.e. Unity).

Everyone should put effort to produce an acceptable Linux otherwise users may as well continue with M$ windows or Mac.

good overview, thanks

I love the star plot graphs showing the scores for each of the distros.. What did you use to create these?

arch-bashing much?

first off: not a fanboy of any particular distro or even linux and i hop around all sorts constantly

but why does arch do so bad here in the community and docs?

the arch wiki is the go-to place for ANY linux related problem: and the forums are amazingly helpful.
moreover arch does a good job of getting people to help maintain their own choice of distro in the way of the AUR and the forums/wiki

the same issue comes up with mints installer: why does it do worse than ubuntu's which the writer proffessed to be the same?

poorly done

i was sent here by a friend and he's been poorly miselead by this to go and try out debian quoting its customizeability and community: not good for a linux newbie to do!

Totally Agree 100%

Debian is great, and its the base of most distros for a reason. I love you debian dont ever change. (:

wonderful!

I really like your analysis. Since 3 year I had been trying a lot of gnu/linux distros, like Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenSuse, Linux Mint, Mandriva and Puppy linux. Certanly niether I am an expert nor a newbie, but I like Fedora. I might try Debian someday. Best regards for the blog!, you have a new reader.

NICE!!!

I have Debian Squeeze 6.0.3. x64. BEST LINUX DISTRO!!! DEBIAN= GOLD MEDAL!!! AWESOME!!!!

Scientific Linux rocks...

Scientific Linux is the best. It's a RHEL base put together by the national labs and CERN. I've tried most distros, but this is, IMHO, the best all around.

I do also have OpenSUSE and Puppy linux on two computers and several Puppys on Virtual Box.

Arch linux rules!

use arch linux.the joy of computing is more experienced while using arch.

if you really consider linux , arch is the ultimate distro to try!

Come on now

I like Debian and Ubunu and think they have thier diffences, but really included Mint in there? I think it was a low blow that squashed out Fedora. Also, when it comes to community or ethics, where is the discussion about the kernel blobs?

You All Losers....

I bet, most of the people opened this website on a Windows PC!

You All Losers....

I bet, most of the people watched this website on a Windows PC!

Our table shows OpenSUSE was the fastest at startup.

Forgive me if what I am about to point out has already been covered, but after reading the entire article I really didn't feel like reading all of the comments posted. :) So to clarify, is OpenSUSE the fastest at start up or is it Debian? Because according to your chart the amount of seconds for OpenSUSE to start up reach nearly 50! Excellent article BTW. These articles ALWAYS bring out the fanaticism in people, so to throw mine in... ARCH LINUX WINS ! ! ! NO CONTEST ! ! :P

All distros are equal, but some are more equal than others.

I find that identical compilers work quite equally throughout all the distributions on the same hardware and with the same options in force. It's up to the user what is started at boot and what remains of the processes when execution terminates.

\Linux whaaaaaa ?

Yeah Linux can be " fun " and makes a superb way of helping out " dummeeee " windows users when their systems crash and they re all ffreaking out cuz they trhink they ve lost all of their DATA ! ..... but ...... I must say that win 8 developer s preview is well worth the look see :)
carry on BOOTERS !

What to do?

I am Linux newbie and after reading all of that I got really confused. I use Linux mostly for running my servers, so I need MySQL, Java and fast IO. I do not need UI, let say I am fine with terminal only but I need fonts becasue I generate graphical content. I use to deal with Fedora 8 on Amazon services, but it is old, what should I try then?

I have laptop also whe I have Ubuntu, but after 11.10 lot good stuff was broken, so I need OS for laptop as well. My laptop is Dell D610. So I appreciate recomendations for server and laptop Linux.

Diamond in the rough

I would have to say in my experience PLinuxOS rules in all categories!

New Unity

The new unity has improved to a state where it is better than the gmome 3. everything works perfectly. no crashes. no slowdowns. Dont let the propaganda people make decisions, use unity for a week and then use gnome3 for another. i know you will come back to the current unity which is getting better day by day. Ubuntu is right.

+1 voted for Debian

Voted for Debian + Fluxbox + Lynx & BitchX. ohya, *BSD too. #kelaslinux.com

Linux

sir,i want the linux os -(Fedora 16,Ubuntu)
my email ID:sgnanavel91@yahoo.com
send me to email-information

I tried a few distros but....

Been using Ubuntu on dual boot with Win7 since version 8.04 as a newbie to the linux world and never had any major problems and am currently still using 10.04 LTS which is probably Canonical's best release and works great even on my 3 yr old Samsung NC10 atom netbook and 5 yr old Asus laptop on which I use Ubuntu the most. As for Unity I tried it with Ubuntu 11.10 and it looks nice but multitasking and usability is a bit of a pain which led me to try out a few more distros.

Mint was the buzz of the day but I found it to be overrated, plain and bloated and in looking for something with less bloat I tried Arch Linux but found the installation a bit over my head partly cause I did not have much time and partly being too lazy to read even though I find Arch wikis to be top notch.

Then I discovered ArchBang which is a lighter version of Arch and much easier to install for the lazier and immediately I got pulled into the Arch world. The speed, the customization options and the minimalistic approach have captured me, I just love it. Now with more time on my hands over the holidays I am learning about linux like never before with this lighter Arch distro. I still use Ubuntu but am slowly going to migrate all my machines to Arch. It rocks!

For newbies and those that just want to get things done, I would still recommend Ubuntu as its a rock solid distro out of the box with the least amount of issues in recognizing your hardware. If you want to learn a bit more about how linux works and have greater control over your machine then Arch is the way to go.

DebianRulez

Debian ~ #

Ubuntu ~ $
Mint ~ $
Mepis ~ $

Lord

Where the hell is Hanna Montana Linux!

got magnetised by gnome 3

I use fedora since core one, before that was using redhat since RH6.

a. RPM works
b. YUM works
c. My laptop runs preupgrade from fedora 11 (i.e. from fedora 11 to fedora 16 I upgraded no clean reinstall).
d. LOVE - LOVE - LOVE Gnome 3, were I to design a desktop, I'd make GNOME SHELL. Basically, love using the keyboard shortcuts on everything and the CLEAN look.
e. all my hardware was always supported. Don't know how it works, but if a like a piece, Fedora likes it too, and the hardware is supported, it's a "syncing of minds" I guess.

What I miss?
a. SAGE
b. Freecad

I would put debian for this reason alone. But then, I'd throw 12 years of Red Hat experience in the bin.

I will wait!

Waited for SciLab :)

BTW, GNOME 3 gives you this Androidy feel. LOVE IT!

Fedora? ubuntu? Debian?

NO way, LinuxMINT is the best ever distro, just check the rank at distrowatch.com, mint is no.1. Whenever i go, what ever i do, if i got the chance to repair someone else PC / notebook, i'll make LINUXmint is their 2nd or firs OS, happy new year 2012!
LINUXmintlover from MALAYSIA

Iraqi Linux User

As a 3 years Linux user. I have tried many major distros. I must say that Arch has been my choice of Linux.
Documentation is awesome.
Pacman makes a wonderful Linux.
Cutting edge all the way.

For people who are new to Linux. they just need a bit understanding of the system structure and they should be good.

The Unity Factor...

You say, "There is also the Unity factor", but have you noticed how this Unity factor inspiring users, and young minds? There is a young chap 15 years old, Luis Iván Cuende, who is making another DE incorporating Unity! Its called Asturix On. Have look.

What?

Debian is best distro? No way,it is oldest,buggiest and not complete distro I ever tried.Real stats:
1.Arch
2.PCLinuxOS
3.Ubuntu

I'd agree with the article

I'd agree with the article that Debian is best (I've not broken it yet)! Arch and Slackware are both really great too.

Still, Linux is about your choice, so whatever distro you prefer, I suppose, necessarily, is the best.

Mandriva?

How come you did not include Mandriva Linux which I find to be a really good, easy to use and hardware compatible distro especially for desktop plus it has so many built-in applications????

Student

I want opensuse CD for OS instalation free !
How can i get Please tell me !
Thanks in advance !

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