The most commonly asked question by new Linux users is often “Which Linux distribution is the best for me?”. With hundreds, possibly thousands of different Linux distros out there, it is really a tough job deciding which is the one for you. If you are contemplating a switch to Linux from Windows/Mac and are overwhelmed by the great list of Linux distro, here is a guide to help you filter down the list and select the distro that is best suited for you.
1. Your hardware specification
Before you choose any distro, first take a look at your hardware specification. If you are using a new or recent computer that are less than one year old, you should not have any issue with any of the distros. However, if you are still using the Pentium 2 PC that you bought 5 years back, selecting a lightweight Linux distro is the best choice you got. A good thing about a lightweight distro is that it is small, fast and yet in no way inferior to those mainstream bulky distros. Even though it is small in size, it still contains a full range of software that you can use, including office suites, browser, media players etc. You might even be surprised by some of the stunning graphical effects that you never thought your Pentium 2 PC can handle.
If you are using a low-end PC, one of the lightweight distros that you can consider is PuppyLinux
2. Your usage pattern
The next step is to find out your usage pattern. Are you intending to build a home theater system or a personal video recorder (PVR) for your house? Do you need to do a lot of multimedia stuff on your computer? Do you want to play game like there is no tomorrow? For whatever you want to do, there is certainly a specific distro that can fulfill your needs.
If you just need a operating system that allows you to do mundane stuffs like writing docs, read email, surf the Web and listen to songs, any of the mainstream distros (such as Ubuntu or Fedora) will be able to fulfill your needs.
3. Support community
When choosing a Linux distro, it is best to choose one that has plenty of support resources. It can be in the form of forums, wiki or even a community of people that are willing to help you when you need technical support. Most popular distro such as Ubuntu, OpenSuse have their own communities. In fact, when I have issues with my Ubuntu, the first place that I head to is UbuntuForums. That is by far, the best place to get free technical support.
To determine if the distro is really the right one for you, the best way is to test-drive it in your computer. All you need to do is to download the LiveCD iso file and burn it into a bootable CD (or USB thumbdrive if your computer allows booting from USB). You can then boot up the CD and run it in your computer. There is no installation required. If you don’t like it, simply discard the CD and proceed on with another distro.
Alternatively, you can make use of virtualization software such as Vmware and Virtualbox to create a virtual machine with your favorite distro. You can then test-drive it on your local operating system without having to waste any CD. If you are not satisfied with the distro, simply delete the virtual machine.
There is nothing difficult about choosing a Linux distribution. You just need to know what you want and you will be able to find the right distro. A great site that I strongly recommend new Linux users to visit is DistroWatch.com. This is a site that provides general information and news about the various Linux distribution.