5 Linux Distros You Should Watch Out For in 2013

As we welcome in a new year that many are saying will finally be “the year of the Linux desktop,” we want to take a look at some of the up-and-coming Linux distros for 2013. The mainstream tech media has already covered distro giants like Mint and Ubuntu in great depth and breadth, so we won’t reiterate what you’ve already heard a kazillion times. Read on to learn about some newer distros that we expect to continue rising in popularity, maybe even to the level of stardom, over the year.

Note: This list of Linux distros is not in any particular order, and it is not intended to be exhaustive. If you want an exhaustive list of popular new distros, check out DistroWatch for the latest news and stats.

Desktop Environment(s): KDE
DistroWatch Rank (last 30 days): 14
Version Tested: ROSA Desktop Fresh 2012

distros-ROSA

While the commercially driven Mandriva has been struggling over the past few years, two new Mandriva-based distros have been on the rise. ROSA is one of them. It is a general-purpose distro from Russia that uses a customized take on KDE and many other modifications to improve the end-user experience. It is becoming known for both its “Desktop Fresh” edition and its server edition, ROSA Enterprise Linux Server, which is based on Red Hat rather than Mandriva.

ROSA 2012, released in December, brings back much of the code of Mandriva 2011. It has a friendly, colorful theme with chunky icons, making it appealing to those who care about aesthetics in a desktop. One of its interesting customizations of KDE is the large, GNOME-like pop-up menu shown in the screenshot above. The menu has three tabs, “Welcome,” “Applications,” and “TimeFrame.” TimeFrame lets you log into your social networks, though it appears to only support two right now.

distros-ROSA-timeframe

I managed to log in to Facebook with TimeFrame, but the Facebook app itself wouldn’t load. I love the idea, though; if ROSA added some more social networks and fixed the bugs, this would be a great feature.

Desktop Environment(s): KDE, GNOME
DistroWatch Rank (last 30 days): 2
Version Tested: Mageia 3 Beta 1 KDE

distros-mageia

Mageia is the other Mandriva fork that’s been doing great – really great, in fact. It has already surpassed Ubuntu in popularity on DistroWatch. Mageia is essentially a non-profit, community-driven variation of Mandriva. Mageia 2 is the stable version, but I decided to test the beta for Mageia 3.

I was pleased to see that Mageia provides more advanced graphics and audio applications than most general-purpose distros, including GIMP and Ardour. The look and feel is fairly typical of KDE’s Oxygen. Mageia features its own Control Center in addition to the standard KDE System Settings.

Desktop Environment(s): Xfce, KDE, Cinnamon, MATE
DistroWatch Rank (last 30 days): 16
Version Tested: Manjaro 0.83 Xfce

distros-manjaro

Manjaro is an Arch-based, desktop-oriented distribution that aims to make Arch more approachable while operating under the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle. Manjaro is light and fast and 100% compatible with Arch, though Manjaro also uses its own repository called BoxIt.

I tried the Xfce edition, which is the most widely used, and my experience was great. The slick Greenbird theme goes well with the Faenza icon set, and the green desktop colors are pleasing to the eye. Manjaro comes with two graphical applications for browsing packages. While it doesn’t provide an office suite, it does come with an installer for LibreOffice.

Desktop Environment(s): Xfce, KDE, MATE, LXDE, E17, Awesome
DistroWatch Rank (last 30 days): 27
Version Tested: Sabayon 10 Xfce

distros-sabayon

Like Manjaro, Sabayon‘s goal is to create a user-friendly distro on top of an advanced distro’s base. In this case, Sabayon is based on Gentoo, with the main difference, other than the fact that Sabayon has an installer, being that Sabayon uses the binary package manager Entropy to compile all packages from source instead of the portage package manager. You can use portage in Sabayon too, but mixing portage and Entropy is not recommended unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing.

Sabayon includes a fast graphical frontend for Entropy called Rigo Application Browser. You can also install packages with the equo command, but Rigo is a nice addition that makes the distro more beginner-friendly. I have used Sabayon for years and am increasingly impressed with every release.

Desktop Environment(s): E17
DistroWatch Rank (last 30 days): 25
Version Tested: Bodhi 2.1.0

distros-bodhi

Bodhi is a lightweight, minimal desktop distro known as “The Enlightened Linux Distribution” because it runs the Enlightenment (E17) desktop environment. It is based on Ubuntu. If you haven’t tried E17 before, I highly recommend giving it a go with Bodhi. Bodhi has streamlined the experience very nicely. When you first boot up into the live edition, you’ll get a dialog asking you to choose a theme:

distros-bodhi-01

Bodhi is quite stable, as each release is based on a corresponding LTS (long-term support) Ubuntu release. The latest, Bodhi 2.1.0, is based on Ubuntu 12.04. It doesn’t come with a whole lot of preinstalled software; rather, Bodhi aims to give the user control over installing the software they want. For this reason, it might not be the best choice for someone who has never used Linux before, but for other use cases, Bodhi is a fine choice.

There are so many interesting, nascent Linux distros that it would be impossible to cover all of the best ones in a short article like this. I can at least testify that I played around with each of the distros described here and found them all very solid. I don’t necessarily expect any of them to surpass Mint in popularity in 2013, but do keep an eye on them. ROSA, Mageia, Manjaro, Sabayon, and Bodhi are all in active development and steadily improving.

Have you tried any of these Linux distros? Which up-and-coming distros would you recommend to us?

12 comments

  1. Great list, and Kudos for Manjaro…

    … but not including Elementary OS doesn’t make any sense at all, IMVHO.

  2. What hardware did you run these distros on? Everyone seems to leave this important bit of information out. Everytime I boot a LiveCD of virtually any distro, something doesn’t work. The only success I ever have is on older laptops (c.2008) and even then, some things like hibernation, the WiFi just dying (requiring a reboot) and other issues pop-up.

    Linux (whatever this is) and the “distros” that break it (ie, 400 distros require 400 ways to package an app) relegate these 5 suggestions into the hobby category. When Firefox comes out with version 200.0.34.1903 of their browser available for “Linux” and distros support only version 9.01, the entire distro-business is flawed.

    Linux needs a central software rep for all distros. It also needs to recommend laptops and other devices that are 100% compatible. After a gazillion years of talk, it’s time to recognize this.

    • Not that Linux is wrong but i totally agree with John here. As a user of linux, basically a beginner, i find that a repository for every type linux out there would be great because you have the open source community and such that could support it. Isn’t this why there are universities that support the distros with their servers? Also computer manufacturers need to offer more selection of linux laptops and typically, new systems with the option of no OS installed! Linux is catching ground with Microsoft and i am afraid they know it! Please push forward with the momentum and make microsoft earn there money!

      • What you and John are asking for basically is akin to having Windows (pick your flavor), OS X, Linux, and Android have a central repository together where you can pick and choose your programs. What you view as a weakness is also the main strength of the Linux OS. The distros of various flavors have developed because some aspect of what is available doesn’t fit into a particular use, so the community rolls their own that makes them happy. In some cases these ‘roll your owns’ gain popularity and spawn other offshoots that further narrow down the user base to more suit a particular need. In the end because of the ‘openness’ of the Linux philosophy you can make it do whatever you want it to do on just about any piece of computing hardware you can get your hands on. If you have some strange piece of metal chances are somewhere others have had it too and have learned to adapt the OS to deal with it.

      • @Bill:
        Universities only provide mirror sites to download distros from. They do not provide technical support for the distros.

        “Also computer manufacturers need to offer more selection of linux laptops and typically, new systems with the option of no OS installed! ”
        I agree with you 100%. However, there is a small company in Redmond, Washington that strenuously objects to this idea. Over the years, through the use of restrictive contracts, threats and intimidation, Microsoft has forced PC makers into installing only Windows. Safe Boot is only the latest attempt at making sure Windows is the only O/S running on desktops/laptops.

        Dell and HP will sell you a system with Linux installed but you have to special order it from them. System 76 is the only company that I can think of on the spur of the moment that sells laptops with Linux pre-loaded. But, again, these computers are not available in stores, only from System 76 directly.

    • “Linux needs a central software rep for all distros.”
      Linux should be different than Windows but be organized the same?

      “It also needs to recommend laptops and other devices that are 100% compatible.”
      Just laptops? FYI, Linux is better at recognizing hardware than Windows. Just check any help site on the ‘Net. Windows users are forever searching for and installing drivers that work and uninstallig those that don’t.

  3. For new users I will recommend Netrunner it is the best linux on KDE. Just install ant you will have everything you need.

  4. I have an old Gateway laptop( not that old, but old enough to a headache), and Bohdi is the only distro without problems.

  5. Always reviews of resipn or derived distros. When someone will do an original site that tests
    tiny, newborn and unknown distros ??

  6. I would recommend antiX. I find it much more configurable than the five distros mentioned in the article. antiX comes in three flavors: Core, Base and Full.
    Core version is a basic command line system with no GUI or apps. The users has to install those himself with the use of “apt-get”. The advantage of this is that the user chooses what is installed, not the distro developer. User can choose from at least 10 desktop environments and window managers, and from over 30,000 application packages.
    Basic version is just that, basic. It comes with IceWM GUI and few apps. Again, the user installs only the apps that (s)he wants.
    Full version is a turnkey system. It comes with IceWM GUI and all the apps that a user might need.
    Anybody can install and use the Full version. Core and Basic versions require some familiarity with Linux.

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