How to Choose a Linux Distro Without Trying All of Them

Choose Linux Distro Feature

With many hundreds of Linux distros available, it’s often a challenge for a new user to find the distro that best suits their needs. Which one is best for gaming? Office and productivity? Hardware compatibility? Servers? Homemade routers? Well today, we’ll be walking through some important considerations and discussing how to choose a Linux distro without trying them all.

1. What Do You Need the Distro for?

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 which distros are available for a particular purpose, the place to do so is on DistroWatch.

Choose Linux Distro Distrowatch

Navigate to the “Distribution Category” search filter. There are quite a few good options available to you, so if you have a very specific use case, that’s a great place to look.

2. What Kind of Software Will You Be Using?

This is essentially your use case. If you have a specific piece of software that you’ll be using that you need a particular version of, that will influence your distro choice. If you’re a standard desktop user, you’ll probably want regular updates to get new versions of things like Firefox and Chrome. If you’re a gamer, you’ll probably want the latest and greatest kernel to get access to better hardware compatibility. If you’re just using basic software like OpenSSH or Nginx for a server, you’ll probably not mind having older versions of that software – as long as it doesn’t get too many updates and move slowly.

3. What Kind of Hardware Will You Be Using?

If your computer is more powerful and has newer hardware, then you can run almost any distro you like. However, if it is old, this could limit your choices. Depending on its age and specs, your choice may boil down to just a dozen 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.

Choose Linux Distro Motherboard

4. How Much Experience With Computers Do You Have?

This may seem obvious, but it’s very important. If you have tons of experience with computers from a technician perspective, you’d be a better fit for a different distro than someone who has very surface-level experience with computers. Additionally, if you have a lot of experience with one particular platform or another, you may want to look at a distro that mimics that workflow. A great example is that as a former macOS user, elementaryOS looks and feels very comfortable and familiar for me.

5. What Kind of Community Are You Looking For?

There are a few constants across different communities, but each community has something different. For example, if you’re looking for a boostraps, rugged, do-it-yourself kind of community, you might look at Arch Linux. If you’re looking for fierce pragmatism, I’d suggest Ubuntu. If you’re looking for a small-but-mighty free software community, you might look at Fedora. It’s fairly simple to find out what kind of community a distro has surrounding it by going to its respective Subreddit and reading through posts and comments. Every community is helpful, but they’re all helpful in different ways.

Choose Linux Distro Community

I hope that’s all helpful information in your quest to find your forever distro (or at least the distro that holds you for a little while). Make sure to check out some of our distro reviews to get started, like openSUSE, MX Linux, Clear Linux, GhostBSD, and EndeavourOS.

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John Perkins John Perkins

John is a young technical professional with a passion for educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering topics ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.

22 comments

  1. I met a computer guy who knew Linux, and after I expressed unhappiness with Windows and a desire to try Linux he set me up with a Windows/Mint Mate dual boot. I never went back to Windows. Since then he’s put other dual boots on my computer and now I have a triple boot, all Linux. I’ve tried Mint, Manjaro, SwagArch, Ubuntu and PCLinuxOS, with Mint and PCLOS being my favorites. Yes, I pay him for it, but it’s pretty cheap compared to trial-and-error with my totally unremarkable computer skills.

  2. I love the Mate Desktop myself, and it can be easy to learn for people coming from Windows. In my early experiments I tried PC Linux with the old gnome desktop and Zorin. I then tried the Old Solus with the gnome desktop. I loved Synaptic which all three systems offered, but became sold on .deb files, and the option of gdebi. I also tried Point Linux. What I learned was you will probably stick with a distro with the first package manager you learn. Smaller distros can disappear in an instant, and LTS distros beat re-installing all the time or the problems I personally encountered with rolling releases. I finally settled on Ubuntu and Debian. I do clean installs when the next LTS release comes out.

  3. I have an old Dell Optiplex 745 and decided to install and learn Linux. I have tried many of the Linux distros and my favorites are Mint and Ubuntu. For newbies, I recommend Linux Mint. It is easy to install and learn using the cinnamon desktop. I have about 11/2 years learning and experimenting and find Mint has many features and is supported with a lot of information on the web. IE, Makeuseof.com provides a lot of information about Linux. A dedicated learning curve is required, coming from Windows, but after being with Windows since the beginning, it is a worthwhile experience and something I have really enjoyed. It keeps the (79 years) old brain active and you can learn it.

  4. I started with Mint seven years ago because it just worked, and I’m a retired vacuum tube engineer with minimal computer smarts. I since dabbled in Bodhi, Puppy, Zorin, several xBuntus (depending on the hardware), Manjaro, openSuSE, and GalliumOS on my Chromebook. All I can say is, they’re all good but some are better for a particular circumstance. Most newbies I set up with Kubuntu.

    I went back to Mint on my main PC because it just works.

    1. Ah… but have you tried Linux Lite? While not using it myself… I need some specific Windows software for stuff I do, others have commented that it is a lot like Windows in how it works and is easy to change to if you are currently a Windows user. My only bugbear is the default desktop is just plain megafugly.

      1. Yeah, I talked my brother through installing it. Difficulty: he was in Holland, always used a Mac, and was putting it on an old laptop with a German keyboard that had some bad keys. But he got it to work.

        “It’s a lot like Windows” is not my idea of a good attribute, but I know what you mean. Lite uses xfce, which GalliumOS uses on my chromebook. It’s fast and light, and you can put different backgrounds on each desktop, but after that . ….. ugly.

        1. You are right – same experience, try time to time some distros but anyway come back to mint because it just work as I need.

          1. I’m using MX-KDE on my desktop now because it’s fast, and KDE is now midweight yet still fun. I put Mint on my wife’s new-refurb PC because she’s coming from Windows 7. Kubuntu on my Chromebook (after flashing new bios per GalliumOS instructions).

            I put Puppy on a laptop for a kid for schoolwork.It originally had Windows 2000 and 256M RAM. It ran, ahh,leisurely, but OK.

            The big omission from this article is a discussion of your desktop choices.

  5. I always suggest Mint Cinnamon to newbies wanting to try Linux. I think they really do a good job of covering all the normal bases for a general user out of the box and looks good. Being a LTS it is stable. Being based on Ubuntu it has all the packages you’ll ever need. Feels a lot like Windows 7 (familiar menu button in left/bottom), so again, most users would feel right at home. I have Mint installed on our general purpose home computer and our mobile Dell Laptop. I use LUbuntu on my development box because it is minimal and all I need to run/build applications. I have one Windoze box left (doesn’t get used much) and when it dies, it goes away for good. If I ever feel the need for Windows, I’ll load a VM.

  6. For me, there are two requirements before I even look at any distro. It had to be Debian based, and have a KDE variant available (if KDE is not the default).

  7. Thanks to MTE member dragonmouth he sold me on PC Linux. I have been using it since. It’s very simple to use and works fantastic on my laptop. Once again huge thanks dragonmouth. Hope you see this.

  8. To be fair the evaluation process for me also includes the “feel”, not just a fit for hardware specs. Some distros just feel faster than others regardless of memory footprint.

  9. I see most of you stick to Ubuntu or varieties. This is hardly surprising, though honestly it’s a bit sad there is no more competition in the distros for beginners.

    1. ” it’s a bit sad there is no more competition in the distros for beginners.”
      I think there are basically two reasons for that.
      1) Ubuntu and Mint are the two distros most touted by just about everybody. To read the PC press and blogs, Ubuntu and Mint ARE Linux. Every once in a great while a writer will mention Fedora. Coming from people supposedly “in the know” (tech writers and bloggers) it is a very strong recommendation that neophytes take seriously.

      2) Most computer users do not want to get their hands dirty by mucking around under the hood of an O/S. Windows, OS/X, Ubuntu, Mint allow those users to run the apps they want without interacting with the O/S.

      There actually is a third reason that Linux does not have a wider acceptance.. Linux was born as a hobbyist O/S and, thanks to Microsoft and the Window Fans and their FUD, it has not been allowed to shake the reputation of being only for geeks and nerds. Whenever one reads an article about switching from Windows to Linux, the difficulty in learning a new O/S is prominently pointed out. Interestingly, the same people who point out the difficulty of learning Linux, say nothing about the ease or difficulty of learning Android or iOS.

      In the last ten years, there have been dozens of newbie-friendly distros (besides the Ubuntu-based ones) developed. MX, PCLinuxOS, various Puppies, Sparky Linux readily come to mind. The biggest stumbling block to using Linux by newbies was the install process. However, with the development of GUI installers, that process has been made very easy. All one has to do is to answer a few, easy questions, wait 10-15 minutes and reboot the system once, and one has a fully operational system with the most commonly apps installed. GUI installers have made most of Linux distros newbie-friendly.

  10. First, I’m not tech savvy, not even considered a novice & I do not know computer or internet terminology. This tells you I get lost in discussions quickly & easily. The only machine or computer I own is an Android. My typing consists of Huntin & Peckin with 1 finger. I used a laptop, Windows, 7 or 8 years ago. Don’t remember anything else about it. Now, I would really like to get a laptop and put Ubuntu along with Tails for security. Does this sound like I might be asking for too much tech stuff? I’m 64 and I’ve been told I will probably be around for about 30 more years, my Lord willing. I was thinking I could after I purchase these things, take this equipment to a storefront computer store to put this package together and then I would have 20-30 years to work on my new hobby. I’m security conscious. Someone could write my email & tell me if I’m too far off base in my thinking. I enjoy reading some of the articles in maketecheasier. Doesn’t mean I understand everything I’m reading but I do believe that everything you all write, You understand. Thank you all for your patience with my long-windedness. God bless each & every one of you all. RJ Stacy

    1. There should be no need for you to go to a storefront computer store. You can purchase a laptop with Ubuntu already installed on it from a that sells Linux laptops. Here are two articles with the names of Linux laptop sellers:
      https://linuxpreloaded.com/
      https://www.cyberciti.biz/hardware/laptop-computers-with-linux-installed-or-preloaded/

      Tails runs from a USB stick or from a DVD. Either one can be purchased from OSDisc.com I supposed one could install Tails to a hard drive but that would defeat its entire purpose of security.

      Unfortunately, this setup would not last you anywhere near 30 years. You would have to update both Ubuntu and Tails to a more up to date version every year or two. If you were to do the update yourself, it would cost you nothing except the the time it takes. If you were to have a computer store do the updates, they certainly would charge you for doing the update. And, you would have to find a store that is knowledgeable in Linux and is willing to do mess with Linux. Most storefront computer stores deal only with Windows and maybe Apple. They don’t know and don’t want to know Linux.

    2. I am 62 and was not tech savvy at all when I started Linux. If I was you I would try Ubuntu Mate or Mint with the Mate or Cinnamon desktop. Ubuntu and Mint (which uses the Ubuntu installer) pretty much install themselves. Mate and Cinnamon would be very familiar desktops for you. I have no idea about Tails. There are a lot of sites like this, with many how to tutorials. I usually copy and paste to do things and have a bookmark folder just for how to tutorials. Ubuntu Mate also has a nice Forum where people will help you. I am sure Mint has one too, but not sure how helpful people will be for you. Stay away from OS’s like Debian if you need help, they can be very rude to newbies. One suggestion would be go and purchase an older refurbished Win 7 Laptop, relatively inexpensive, and play with that first, then move on to better hardware when you are more confident. Hope that helps you.

    3. @Rich Try with live CDs first and then consider installing it permanently. If you decide to install, it’s really best to do it first on a computer where you have no valuable data – or backup all valuable data before you start the install. Ubuntu installation is pretty straightforward but better be safe than sorry. Just for the record, a friend of my mother was in her mid 70s when a couple of years ago she sold a small piece of land to buy a computer and she had gone long way since. She sticks mainly to Windows, though, no matter how hard I try to convince her to ditch it. One of her grandsons helps her from time to time but she progresses mostly on her own.

  11. Oh, and look for a LTS (long Term Service) version. Otherwise you will be reinstalling every year.

    Ubuntu 18.4 current LTS End of life 2021-04
    https://ubuntu-mate.org/download/

    Mint Tara 19 End of Life 2023-04
    https://linuxmint.com/download.php

  12. Good news! You no longer need to download and burn distros to DVDs or USB sticks just to try them. You can go to:
    DistroTest – https://distrotest.net/index.php
    or
    OnWorks – https://www.onworks.net/
    to test drive distros online. No need to mess around with partitioning and dual-booting.

    These two sites may not have all the distros in Distrowatch database but they do have a large enough selection to give anyone a good taste of what Linux is all about.

  13. Unlike some other commenters, here, I was fortunate enough to find Linux quite easy to learn (I’m 67). I was a Windows fan till Windows 10 came along and had to which to Linux as Windows 10 was totally unusable. My primary “must-have” in an OS is that, once installed, it must be invisible and out-of-the-way. I turned to Mint/Cinnamon. It four years I have never had an issue (unlike the daily issues with Windows).

    1. ” I was fortunate enough to find Linux quite easy to learn (I’m 67).”
      The problem is not that Linux is hard to learn, it is that Windows is hard to UNLEARN for many people. Many users who switch want Linux to look, feel and work exactly like Windows. They want Windows but not from Redmond. When Linux doesn’t behave like Windows, they claim it’s “hard to learn” or it is “not ready for prime time” or some such malarkey. They are just not ready and willing to let go of their Windows habits.

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