So, you're new to Linux? Welcome to our community!
You probably ask yourself
"Where should I start?"
and feel a bit overwhelmed right now.
In this guide, I will show you how to choose your first Linux distro.
This is part of my "New to Linux?"-series, where I will guide you through your first weeks.
TL;DR: If you don't care about this at all, just go for Linux Mint.
As you've probably already heard, "Linux" isn't just an operating system by itself, it's just the engine of it.
You need stuff built around that to get a working desktop. That "stuff" is packaged and distributed, hence the name "distro" (distribution).
Everyone can package this stuff themselfes and make their own operating system.
There are literally hundreds or thousands of different Linux-based OSs out there, and as a newcomer, this choice can be very overwhelming.
This is why you've already came here and asked for advice.
Don't worry, we've all been there!
You can find the "right" one for you if you follow the flow chart.
The flow chart is complementary to the text here. The diagram is for the choice, while the text is more for general information about each distro.
Every distro of the following recommended ones meets all of these criteria:
- Easy to understand and intuitive to use
- You don't have to use the command line
- Works reliable
- Supports Nvidia-GPUs
Choosing the DE
Before you choose your distro, you should choose your prefered desktop environment (DE).
The DE is what defines the user interface and some core apps, so, basically, what you interact with.
Don't mainly choose the distro because of its' DE, you can change that later too if you really want.
The two main DEs (Gnome and KDE) are listed in the flow chart.
- is very modular and configurable, you can turn it into whatever you want.
- has pretty much everything you can imagine already built in
- Is more opinionated, but if you don't like its' unique workflow, you can turn it into a "classic" desktop with minimize/ maximize buttons, task bar, and more, too.
- You can use the
Gnome Tweaks for doing that or getting other functionalities like smartphone integration for example.
If you like certain aspects of one, but others from the "competitor", you can more or less turn one into the other. You have maximum freedom!
#Differences between distros
**Choose your distro based on the following key points: **
- Release schedule: Some get new features very often, some only once a few years. We refer this as stagnation as "stability" (not to conflict with reliability!)
- Philosophy: What are key values of the distro? (e.g. just providing a well functioning set of software, no matter if it's proprietary; conservative vs. innovative; etc.)
- Base: Many distros are based on other ones. A very common base is Debian or Ubuntu, where many newcomer-guides are based on. It mainly determines what package manager you use in the command line. I personally think that's not as important, since you will use the Software Center anyway most of the time to download apps and updates.
- All other things, like big community, good track record, hardware support, etc., were already taken care of by me.
So, here's the list of every distro shown in the flow chart, with a short description on why it is included.
It's THE recommendation for every newcomer, no matter where you look. Not without reason:
- Very sane defaults
- Works, just out-of-the-box
- Not too many, but just the right amount of pre-installed apps to get in touch with the Linux app ecosystem
- Simple, yet highly functional
- Hides all "advanced" features in a reasonable way
- Huge userbase, especially for beginners. More experienced users still use Mint, and are always there to help newcomers.
- Doesn't change much, only gets more polished. New features arrive occasionally, but they usually don't change your workflow radically.
- Feels very familiar when you came from Windows, which most people do.
It is the main "competitor" of Mint right now.
The big difference between Mint and it is how the desktop looks. While Mint is more old-fashioned in how it looks, Zorin wants to be an eye pleaser by looking more modern. With it, you can choose between different "styles", that mimic the looks of Windows 7, Windows 11, MacOS, and more, depending on what you feel the most comfortable with.
It has a slow release schedule of ~3 years, with some minor polishes in between, which is great if you don't like change.
Don't worry about the "Pro" and "Light" versions. This is not like a freeware app with ads and stuff.
- "Pro" refers to the paid version, that only differs in some extra styles you can choose from. With the payment you get some extra tech assistance and support the developers.
- "Light" is a lightweight version, that is made for old devices to give them a second life and make them perform better than before, while still looking good.
This one is also very promising. It has the same philosophy as Mint, but implements it differently.
It works a bit different under the hood and ensures an always working system you can't brick. If you still fucked up something, or got a bad update somehow, you can just roll back in seconds.
It also updates itself in the background and applies the updates without the user noticing on the next reboot, without any waiting time (unlike the forced Windows updates).
If you become more advanced and experienced over time, you can turn to the terminal and have access to literally any app that was ever made for Linux. Especially if you start using Linux as developer, this is very handy.
Even if you aren't a developer, no, even if you aren't techy at all, VanillaOS is a very good choice if you prefer the simplicity and ease of use of Mint, but want something more modern!
[Disclaimer: The new release, VanillaOS 2 Orchid, is currently under very high developement and still in beta. Consider waiting until the new version is officially released for a garanteed smooth experience.]
This one is not exactly (but comparably) as beginner oriented as the above are, but still, a very good choice for new users. Fedora is often considered "the new Ubuntu", and is one of the most used distros out there with a gigantic community.
It is community-owned, but supported by the money and development power of the biggest player in the commercial Linux world.
- Comes with any major DE you want + huge software availability
- Balanced desktop release schedule of 6 months. This ensures both a modern and reliable desktop system
- Everything is pretty vanilla (no theming, etc.) and has very sane defaults
- No big collection of pre-installed software (e.g. Office), bit it is installable with one click in the software center.
- Future-oriented: as soon as a new promising technology is reliable enough, it will adopt it.
Fedora Atomic is a variant of Fedora that works different under the hood, while behaving the same on the surface as the regular Fedora does. I don't want to get too technical here, but the pros are the same as the ones from VanillaOS (unbrickable, better security, no half applied updates, etc.).
I'm not sure if I would recommend it over the normal Fedora right now, as due to the other inner workings, you might have the chance to encounter issues when trying to get things working, e.g. an install script you found online.
If you are leaning bit more towards a tech-savy-person and have no problem searching a small thing here and there (only when you need non-ordinary stuff), then definitely check it out. Especially if you already came from another distro and feel dissatisfied.
BUT, keep following in mind:
- If you are just a casual user, you don't need the terminal for this distro. If you want to really make full use of it tho, you might have to use it from time to time.
- On the surface, it looks and behaves exactly like the normal Fedora.
- Compatibility is not fully given, due to the double edged nature of the said new technology.
- Those potential issues or cons sound more dramatic than they are. If you are a normal user, you won't encounter these. Even I never had any compatibility-issues and always got everything working.
One of the coolest things about it, apart from the pros mentioned above, are:
- Most "hidden" parts of the OS are irrelevant now to you if you want to change something -> simpler structure
- You can "swap out" the OS with something different any time you want, while also keeping your data (pictures, games, etc.). If you want to switch your DE for example later on, you can do that very easily by just changing the selected spin. This even works in the extend of rebasing to almost another distro!
If you are interested now, then check out UniversalBlue instead of the "official" Silverblue or Kinoite. uBlue offers:
- Many different variants of this distro, but with some quality-of-life changes included.
- Custom builds for special hardware, e.g. Microsoft Surface devices, ASUS ROG, etc., which come working OOTB, are very reliable and don't require tinkering.
- And also special variants for different tastes and use cases, e.g. a security-enhanced variant, as well as
which is one of the biggest and "best" example in how awesome uBlue can be.
It's derived from it and is a gaming-focused distro. With it, you get many optimization tweaks and tools for gaming included out of the box, like some performance enhancements for example.
You don't need a gaming distro to play games at all, but if that's what you mostly do with your PC, then maybe consider that.
Arch and NixOS
Those two are in the "pain" category. I would never recommend them to anyone starting with Linux, for example because they're fed up with Windows.
Both Arch and NixOS are known to be "for experts only", meaning, they're
- high demanding
- hard to set up and use
- requiring the user to be skilled and to know what he's doing
- don't hold the users' hand
- and don't tolerate user error well.
Why did I still decide to include them in my noob-recommended list anyway?
Well, because not everyone wants to start Linux expecting an easy road. There are some people who want to tinker and challenge themselfes, and some birds learn flying the best when kicked out of the nest.
Don't get me wrong! Both Arch and NixOS are fantastic choices and very powerful. They can be fun to use and very rewarding.
What makes them great?
- Minimalism: they come with basically nothing out of the box and require the user to set up everything themselfes. If you've done that, you have an OS that's truly yours!
- Skilled community and great wiki. Especially the Arch-wiki is the number-one-ressource for any Linux thing, and by the point you installed Arch or NixOS the hard way, you got a good understanding in the inner workings of Linux.
- Rolling release: as soon as packages are released, you get them, no big release versions
- Biggest package repositories ever, with many inofficial ones too, created by the user base
- Great package manager
If those pro-points of Arch and NixOS are appealing to you, but sound too hard to get for your taste, here are some alternatives you may consider instead. They aren't my top pick, but still very popular in the community.
- Debian: One of the oldest distros ever out there. It's what a lot of other distros, including Mint, Ubuntu, Zorin, and more, are based on. It's stable (the normal version at least), very flexible (supports many CPU architectures) and minimalist (if you want).
- OpenSuse Tumbleweed/ Slowroll: Rolling release like Arch, but with a bigger safety net behind
- EndeavourOS: Very sane Arch-distro that's already set up for you
Other honorable mentions
Also gets recommended often. A popular distro for everyone who likes the coherence of Gnome, but doesn't like the opinionated workflow and more features like tiling. Good Ubuntu alternative, especially for gaming.
- Made by a hardware manufacturer.
- Based on Ubuntu/ Debian.
- Currently a bit outdated. The devs are focusing on their self-developed new DE that's coming soon. I would go for Fedora (general use) or Bazzite (gaming) and add the tweaks myself via extensions when needed.
Still a viable option.
- Great for older devices with non-optimal performance.
- Best Debian/ Ubuntu-based distro with KDE.
- Also made by a hardware manufacturer.