How to Choose a Linux Distro (Without Trying them All)

With so many Linux distros it might be hard, or at least time consuming, to choose the distro that suits you most. While it’s best to test drive a distro for a week or so to see how it matches your needs, this is unrealistic, even if you had all the time in the world. Here are some common factors to consider when narrowing your selection of distros to try.

The most important factor when choosing a Linux distro is what you need it for – e.g. work, fun, occasional browsing, enhanced security, multimedia, etc. There are distros for each of these purposes and many more. If you want to check what distros are available for a particular purpose, the place to do it is on DistroWatch.

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A very important factor in your choice of a distro to run is your skill level. I am talking about computer skills in general and your Linux expertise in particular. Obviously, if you are new to both computers and Linux, you will want the easiest-to-use distro, such as Ubuntu. On the contrary, if you have good computer skills and have some idea of Linux, you can go with a more powerful distro, such as Debian or Slackware.

If your computer is new and has good parameters, then you can run almost any distro you like, but if it is old, this could limit your choices. Depending on its age and parameters, e.g. if your computer is like 7 or 8 and more years old, your choice might boil down to just a dozen of distros made especially for old computers. Typically these distros for old computers are lightweight and don’t offer everything you can think of but are still a decent choice for most everyday tasks and beyond.

One of the greatest things about Linux is that there are so many different distros to choose from. However, if you choose a niche distro, this could mean it comes with no support, frequent updates, or active community. This might be more of an issue if you are a beginner in Linux, but even for experienced users this is a factor. You need to decide if the perks of a particular niche distro are worth the tradeoffs. Still, this doesn’t mean there are no niche distros with regular updates and active community to assist you when you have a problem.

Before you waste days or weeks on downloading and burning install media for the dozens of distros that still match your requirements, it won’t hurt to check what other users have to say. You don’t have to believe everything you read, but still user opinions can give you an idea if your choice is good or not so much. The best place to get information is the forum of the distro if it has a dedicated forum.

If you still have many doubts which distro(s) to try first, there are tools to help you with this. For instance, Distrochooser offers a checklist to narrow down your choices, but as with any attempt at automation, expect good distros omitted while not so relevant ones included. In a nutshell, don’t trust the results of the test blindly.

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In any case, I’d recommend to stick with live distros at first. After you pick a distro you like, consider installing it on a hard drive. And remember, you might need to try dozens of distros and flavors before you find the best one for you. So if the first few distros you try are not what you expect, don’t give up. Try a few more. Yeah, this is pretty time-consuming, but the reward is worth it!

Image credit: Word “linux” with bright yellow color before an electric current background by jivacore/Shutterstock

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