Choosing a Linux Distro

When you first start using Linux, it is easy to go for the most popular distributions such as Mint, but there are other Linux distributions out there to try. In truth there are thousands of Linux distros available to download and install, so which one should you decide on to use?

Which Distro1

Distro Hopping

Distro hopping is a term used by the community for people who never stick to a single distribution. Instead, they hop from one to the other and back again, testing each, using them, then moving on to another or a newly released distro.

There’s nothing wrong with distro hopping, as it’s a good way to get to grips with what’s out there and discover the elements of one distro over another that may or may not appeal to your tastes. The problem of course is which one do you use overall?

While distro hopping is a good thing, it’s not exactly a stable way to enjoy Linux and get the most from it. We’re not saying you should stick to one distro and never look elsewhere, as you would be missing a lot of great content out there, but instead we recommend you find a handful and slowly progress through them based on your increasing Linux skills.

For example, Linux Mint is an ideal starting place. It’s an easy to install and use distro, has all the software you would normally use on a day-to-day basis already installed out-of-the-box and gently eases you into the unique world of Linux and how it works and performs.

Ubuntu offers much the same experience but it does this in a slightly different way. There’s generally less preinstalled with Ubuntu than with Linux Mint, so you would need to manually install it yourself. Another point worth considering is the sheer volume of content and help pages dedicated to Ubuntu users when using Linux. If you get stuck, you’re never too far from a solution to the problem.

Moving on, as you begin to grow more confident with Linux, you may test out the likes of openSUSE, Fedora or Debian. These are all excellent distros and each offers the user a slightly different perspective on how the system runs. Some are more demanding, in terms of Linux skills, than others, but essentially they each have some valuable lessons to learn for the user.

You may find yourself moving to a particular distro because it offers something radically different from the norm. Tails Linux, for example, is a distro that’s designed purely for online anonymity. It contains complex and military grade encryption tools as well as tools and browsers designed to help you browse the web without ever being detected, traced or monitored. Kali Linux is designed for security professionals and contains many different kinds of ethical hacking tools preinstalled, that a user can run for penetration testing against their network. There was once even a Hannah Montana Linux distribution but the less we talk about that the better. The point being, there’s a distro out there for you.

Needless to say, once you’ve mastered Linux to a relatively high degree, probably a power user ability, then you will want to expand your skills and begin to build your own Linux distro based on Arch, Debian or one of the many other distros available. Doing so involves a lot of command line knowledge, as well as knowledge on how the Linux system works and interacts with the hardware in the computer. You will need to partition your own hard drive, install a desktop environment and eventually install the apps and programs you want. Doing so takes time and again there are a lot of skills you’re going to need to learn.

Eventually you can consider yourself a technical Linux user but never consider yourself an expert, after all we’re always learning something new. You can build your own distro from scratch, help other Linux users out with problems, maybe even contribute to the improvement of a distro during its testing phase or build. Where next then?

Oddly enough, most higher-end technical users find themselves back at square one, using a distro like Linux Mint. The main reason is usually because it’s an easy option, and it’s a stable environment. Just because you know the system inside and out, doesn’t mean you always want to be fixing potential issues. Most of us would prefer the easy life, especially where technology is concerned, so the logical choice would be to choose a distro that’s simple, yet still powerful enough to do everything you want it to do, hence Linux Mint.

However, in the end, it’s purely down to choice, your own personal choice. You may find that after going through the tutorials in this title you don’t like Linux Mint or the Cinnamon desktop. Fine, you may prefer Ubuntu, Debian or openSUSE: that’s the beauty of Linux. The freedom to change what you want, to distro hop from one to another without being penalised by cost or lack of access.

The answer to the question, which distro is: any which one you like! It can be as complex or easy as you need it to be, as long as it does what you want it to do, then it’s perfect.

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David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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