Which Linux Version Is Right For Me?

Category: Linux

I understand there are many variations on the Linux theme. I want to try Linux as a free alternative to Windows, but I feel like I'm in a diner with too many options on the menu. Can you give me a quick guide to selecting a Linux that meets my needs?

Which Linux Version?

Choosing a Linux Version

Give a free, open-source operating system to thousands of geeks who love to tinker, and you end up with more versions of that operating system than there are brands of toothpaste. There is a Linux distribution package, for every kind of computer user. Here are some popular Linux "distros" in each class:

Linux for Joe or Jane Sixpack

The typical home user who's comfortable with Windows will probaly fare best with a Linux that looks familiar and speaks plain English, or at least Microsoft-ese. If you want a free drop-in replacement for Windows that looks and acts the same, you're out of luck. But if you just want a friendly non-Microsoft graphical interface to your programs, and you're willing to explore a bit, there are several good Linux options.

Ubuntu Linux is highly recommended for Linux beginners with Windows experience. Linux Mint is an Ubuntu spinoff with Windows-like user interface, even has a "Start" button in the lower left corner of the screen to get you going. Xandros Linux is likewise Windows-like, and it comes in desktop and server editions for consumer and business users. Most importantly, all of these distros have large communities of users and developers to help you and make free applications for you.

Linux for Pete The Programmer

Programmer types often go for Debian Linux. Its developers and support community assume you know geek and want more geek, not "family entertainment". The main Debian distro comes with over 25,000 "packages" of pre-compiled software, what non-Linux geeks call applications. Debian's support community is very large and speaks many languages; you'll find a Debian distro in your native tongue, most likely.

Another option, Gentoo is often used by developers of Perl and PHP web applications. It can be tweaked to your taste, like an ergonomic chair.

Linux for Older Computers

Slimmed-down Linux distros turn obsolete, low-powered computers into lightfooted dancing partners again. There are dozens of such "lite Linux" packages, and they're so small it's easy and fast to download several, try them all, and find one that suits you. The One Laptop Per Child Project maintains a list of links to lite Linux sources.

DeLi Linux is a good example of how lite it can get. DeLi is intended for old Intel CPUs, from 80486 to Pentium III. Its entire installation package takes only 750 MB of hard disk space; megabytes, not gigabytes! The test platform used to develop DeLi improvements has only 64 MB of RAM! Yet it comes with an email client; a graphical Web browser; an office productivity suite including word processor and spreadsheet, and many other applications. Be advised, however, that DeLi aims for speed and utility, not fancy user interface. PuppyLinux and Damn Small Linux are other popular choices in the Linux Lite arena.

Some people collect stamps or minerals; others collect Linux distros, of which there are at least as many varieties and variations on each variety. "Try distros until you find one you like" is the usual advice to beginners. Here are a couple of places to find lots of distros to try:

  • Distrowatch.com - an online community buzzing with news of new distros, new versions of popular distros, help, etc.
  • Linux-watch.com - by the publishers of eWeek, DesktopLinux.com, LinuxDevices.com, mainly for software developers, geek spoken here.

If you want to read more about Linux history, Linux programming, or running Linux on a Mac or Windows computer, see the list of related articles below. And feel free to post a comment, if you want to recommend your favorite version of Linux to others here...

 
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Posted by on 5 Oct 2009


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Most recent comments on "Which Linux Version Is Right For Me?"

Posted by:

Edward Wigle
05 Oct 2009

Sorry Bob but I think I will stick with Windows. I used Linux since Red Hat 5. Never could get it to work all the apps on the internet that I like. In fact I thought Windows 2000 and Xp were more stable than Linux. Vista feels more like Windows 98 but I am waiting on lucky 7, hope it is a good as you say. Cheers - Edward


Posted by:

Jorge Herrera
05 Oct 2009

I´ve just installed Ubuntu package.
It seems to work fine, but I cannot use my Nvidia graphics card with two monitors.
There are a lot of tips of how to do this but they didn´t work.
So I´m a little disappointed...


Posted by:

Danny
06 Oct 2009

Don't forget the BSD options:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_BSD_operating_systems


Posted by:

John Genzano
06 Oct 2009

I've tried to install Ubuntu on an MS Virtual Machine for at least the last three releases, and it just will not install. Ubuntu's solution to the problem? "Use VMWare". Sorry, but that does not solve the problem!


Posted by:

Iverylm
06 Oct 2009

VirtualBox for Windows works best on Windows having Ubuntu as a virtual system. MS does not want you to use any other OS with there VM. Only windows OS allowed. I might be Wrong.

I had no problem installing Windows or Ubuntu as a VM.

IVERYLM
in GA
Computer Tech


Posted by:

sg
07 Oct 2009

Try Ms virtual pc 2007 (free download) to run Ubuntu 810 or 904. I had success with both on 2 XP computers. My main is a dual core Amd and spare is Intel P3. Good way to experiment with Linux. It's bewildering at first, but visit the Ubuntu forums for tips on running commands in terminals and updating video and sound card drivers. And Open Office is included in distro.


Posted by:

Rick
08 Oct 2009

I use Ubuntu. You can go to google and search for solutions to most every problem that anyone has using Ubuntu and find them. Also there are tons of tutorials available all over the place to teach you how to use Ubuntu. Ubuntuforums.org also offers solutions to most problems anyone will run into. I visit http://popurls.com often. That site has a feature that allows you to sort the news listed there under topics. One of the topics you can put at the top of the list is Linux. It will show you popular linux related sites and news articles many of which are related to Ubuntu. Linuxtoday.com is a good resource for Linux related news. There are lots of programs available for Linux from the Synaptic Package Manager in Ubuntu. Linux Mint seems to have all of Ubuntu's packages from Synaptic and more. I chose Ubuntu over Linux Mint though because Ubuntu works with http://www.allmyapps.com which makes reinstalling packages easier (even if you forget what you had installed) after reinstalling Ubuntu especially if you use aptoncd and install the packages from a disk backup. See how this works at http://nerdmess.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/allmyapps-com-aptoncd-quick-ubuntu-reinstall/ if you are interested. This is just one example of the many tutorials applicable to Ubuntu Linux. Even if you don't choose Ubuntu you should probably at least try it, because it is that good. If you install Ubuntu be sure to check out the package ubuntu-restricted-extras and the free ubuntu docs under the support section of http://www.ubuntu.com to find out how to get started with Ubuntu and how to play encrypted DVDs and stuff. Good luck with your quest.


Posted by:

DVandy
09 Oct 2009

I have tried several Linux flavors. I have a dual boot Linux/Windows on my laptop (Linux Ubuntu/Windows Vista Home Basic), and rarely boot into the Vista partition.

I really like Linux Mint. I also have a P3 computer that I am going to put Phoenix OS on when the new version comes out, which should be any time. If you don't know about Phoenix OS, as I understand, it is the free version of what used to be called "Lindows". This OS looks very promising. You may want to check out the website at http://www.phoenixos.org/. NO, I am not in any way connected to this project, other than it looks like it may be a winner. I have tried an older version and was very impressed.

I am fairly good with computers, but am a newbie with Linux. I had a question about PhoenixOS and asked them on the forum and received a very quick and courteous reply.


Posted by:

Ken
13 Oct 2009

"Puppy" is the easiest to install & use and very good for a small distro. Still not Win-dows though!


Posted by:

Grandma
14 Oct 2009

Why isn't VectorLinux mentioned? It is FAST; according to Ubuntu refugees on the VectorLinux user support forum, VectorLinux is notably faster than Ubuntu and its derivatives. The entire distribution fits on one CD. It comes completely set up with programs most users need for browsing, e-mail, multimedia (codecs included), photo management, word processing, spreadsheets. Many additional programs are available in the distro's repositories and if you can't find what you want, you can request it on the user support forum and a packager will probably try to create a package for it.

VectorLinux is very easy to use and the forum is newbie-friendly and knowledgeable. There are numerous how-to videos available at www.opensourcebistro.com that show how to do everything from installing the OS to creating packages. VL is based on Slackware and comes in three versions: VL 6 Standard uses XFce as its default desktop (and yes, it comes with a Start button equivalent, as do most desktops for Linux); VL6 Light, which is set up to be friendly to old, slow hardware but is excellent for providing a base for building whatever kind of system you want and comes with IceWM as its desktop; and VL SOHO, version 6 of which is currently in beta and uses KDE 4 (5.9 is available).

Check them out at
http://vectorlinux.com/downloads


Posted by:

Papa Ken
14 Oct 2009

Have tried other flavors before selecting ubuntu. I like the ease of installation + smooth operation. Config is dual boot winxp/linux. I'm old, a great grampa, so it took a bit longer but now I'm quite comfortable with Q ubuntu.


Posted by:

Kimy
30 Oct 2009

I'm curious: If I switch from Windows Vista to Unbuntu or some other Linus OS, would any of my files and/or programs be affected by the switch? Would I have to reinstall anything?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't really care to quote John Lennon, but it's just like starting over. Linux is a completely different operating system, so your Windows programs will not work there. That said, there are some solutions that let you run Windows (or Windows programs) on a Linux desktop. See http://askbobrankin.com/running_windows_on_linux.html


Posted by:

Sue
06 Nov 2009

I was wondering, can you still use the standard games that you buy for Windows computers on a Linux system?

The reason I ask is that I'm really wanting to switch over but my husband really likes his games so if I change to Linux will he want to shoot me or something??


Posted by:

Somewhat Reticent
05 Jan 2013

This is badly out of date, and of dubious benefit even for vintage 2009.

DebIan is deliberately obscure and best left to 'developers', Ubuntu is only marginally less so, Xandros seems stuck in 2009, trying to catch up to Canonical's Ubuntu, Novell's OpenSUSE or RedHat's RHEL/CentOS/Fedora - as these all see Linux as a basis for selling paid support.

Currently (2013/01) Zorin may come closest to friendly to people accustomed to Windows, still with a wide gap; no Linux or Unix system is particularly comprehensible to them. Linux Mint is also a step in the friendly direction; the gap remains wide. Mageia holds promise, as does SolusOS, Fuduntu, and several others.

DistroWatch is still around, and a good place to start searching. PenDriveLinux provides good tools (YUMI and UUI) for (somewhat more safely) trying out many Linux systems. Another try-before-you-buy tool is Rufus (at rufus.akeo.ie). (Of course, if you're already a Linux geek, there's unetbootin.)

The Deli Linux link goes to a page in German with no English apparent. Linux-watch has become linuxfordevices and is for hardware geeks. The OLPC project survives; their wiki page points to several Linux systems a developer might use on older hardware.

But really, doesn't this all deserve a rewrite and update?


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