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The 10 Best Linux Distributions

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(khess)
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I've had several people ask me what I think the best, top, most user friendly, ultimate, and so on distribution is--so now I'm publishing my Top 10 Linux Distributions in reverse order of preference. Ease of installation, commercial support, community support, updates, administrative tools, stability, performance, and to a lesser extent--their ranking on DistroWatch.com.

10. SuSE (SLED, OpenSuSE, etc.) - This bottom spot belongs to Novell's Linux offerings mostly due to the commercial version's lackluster performance and overall updatedness (if that's a word). SuSE Linux seems to be a bit behind the curve for updated hardware drivers. Though it's community-supported OpenSuSE is quite up to date, SuSE takes this last place position with flying colors. Novell's sleeping with the enemy status also helps drop it into the Linux distribution dregs.

9. Slackware - This one is really hard for me to put this low in the list because it was my first Linux love and the oldest Linux distribution (1993). I installed it using 3.5" floppy disks on a Compaq desktop PC in the fall of 1995 leaving out the almost impossible to configure X Window system (would have been 2 more boxes of diskettes). Slackware's Patrick Volkerding and his loyal following have done a great job over the years in keeping the distribution alive but sadly I haven't used it in years due to its lagging development and infrequent releases. It is also only developed for the i386 platform.

8. Mandriva (Mandrake Linux, Connectiva, Lycoris) - Though wildly popular in other countries, I never really caught on to this one. In fact, I even turned down doing an article for a european magazine that was focusing on Mandriva. I am not repulsed by Mandriva but have just never found a reason to embrace it for myself or recommend it to others as an option. The reason for its placement higher than either SuSE or Slackware is its popularity in Europe and South America. Mandriva has made significant inroads in converting many european cities and companies to it--so for that alone it deserves higher than average marks.

7. Fedora - I used Red Hat Linux from version 4.0 up to version 9.0 when Red Hat, Inc. stopped creating and supporting it. Fedora grew out of that original Red Hat Linux project. Once Red Hat, Inc. made that decision, I fired off a scathing email to them criticizing their abandonment of a huge and loyal following. Fedora has never lived up to the same quality or stability of Red Hat Linux whose pinnacle was the 7.3 distribution. I tried using Fedora for a couple of years but have totally removed it from my arsenal of available and recommended distributions. Its popularity is the only reason it is included in this position or this list at all.

6. Gentoo - This is where it gets really tough for me because I'm including this distribution in a relatively high place though I don't care for it at all. So, why the high status? Gentoo is a source-based distribution that offers extreme performance, has some of the best developers and community in the world, and it uses the FreeBSD-like Portage for updates. Gentoo has an extremely loyal and religious following--who I'm sure I'll hear from because of its 'bottom 5' positioning. Hey, it's at the top of the bottom 5, if that's any consolation. Gentoo is not a distribution for casual users but if you're really into Linux and like to create something awesome, you should give it a try. Personally, I just don't have the time.

5. Knoppix - Knoppix is the original Live Linux CD and is still the force to be reckoned with in that area. Almost all other Live Linux CDs use Knoppix as a starting point. It is Debian-based and has absolutely never failed me. It is the best equipped Live CD I've seen to date and takes the top spot amongst all its competitors. If you want to use a Live Linux distribution, this is the one to choose.

4. Red Hat - Red Hat, Inc. is the top commercial Linux company in the world. Like it or not, companies that use Linux in the Enterprise, use Red Hat Linux--it's that good. Red Hat is perhaps only second to Debian in spawning new and interesting distributions and projects. Red Hat now focuses on Enterprise Linux and recently acquired Qumranet to bolster its position into the virtualization realm.

3. CentOS - Community ENTerprise Operating System is my personal Linux distribution of choice. Once I abandoned Fedora Linux, I needed another distribution that had a true Enterprise capability without the costs associated with that level of performance and stability. I chose CentOS. CentOS developers use SRPMS (Source Packages) from Red Hat to build this distribution so basically I'm getting the latest incarnation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux for free. By License (GPL), Red Hat must make the distribution available for free. The CentOS developers and community receive my highest praise for their efforts and I hope they keep it up for years to come. If you haven't tried CentOS, you should--I highly recommend it and use it daily.

2. Debian - For years, I shunned Debian as the outsider in the Linux World. To me, it was kind of the ugly puppy that you want to give away first so that you aren't stuck with it. It takes this coveted second place because of several factors: It has the largest worldwide community of volunteers who support it, it's one of the oldest distributions, it supports more platforms and languages than any other distribution, and has spawned more distributions and projects than all other distributions put together. I see Debian as more of a tool than as an end user distribution. To me, it's for developers and creative types to use as a base for other projects, distributions, and systems. On its own, it's quite capable but as a distribution base, it's limitless in scope. I recommend it to all those who want to build and distribute your own Linux flavor.

1. Ubuntu - You knew it didn't you? Ubuntu is the obvious choice for many reasons: It's Debian-based, has top-notch commercial support from Canonical, it's free, has frequent updates (twice per year for major releases), and its founder and benefactor Mark Shuttleworth is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet--who gives freely of his time, money, and energy to a myriad of causes--Ubuntu being only one. Ubuntu employees also appear to be the happiest of any I've ever met. They are congenial, inviting, engaging, and are truly excited about what they do.
Ubuntu offers a second-to-none Desktop Edition and a hard-to-beat Server Edition. Currently at 8.04 (April 2008), its fans patiently await the 8.10 release which happens in just over two weeks from now. Get Ubuntu and free yourself from doing Windows.

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handydan918
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very strongly agree with giving Debian a high spot! Also agree with Suse's position. I find the package manager to be the single most important facet of a distro, and I just don't think you can beat Debian.
Mepis is now (again!) based on pured Debian stable, with version 8 in beta right now, and based on Lenny. Mepis is still one of the greatest "just works" distros out there.
I don't care for the Ubu development/upgrade model.
I also want to be root if I want to be root.
"I got yer sudo swingin'."

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scru
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I've only tried Suse, Fedora, Ubuntu and Debian on that list, and I strongly agree with the order in which they are ranked.

I didn't care much for Fedora, less so for Suse, but Debian, mainly because of its package manager managed to stop me from turning sour. Ubuntu, however, was the distro that drove me to convert from Windows.

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glyj
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Mandriva is my first choice, because all the code written by mandriva is under GPL, as always, unlike Ubuntu for example with launchpad.
The mandriva Control center is the best tool of that kind around here. (with for example the parental control tool )
Mandriva is a small company, and grew from nothing. Despite of that, they chose a development model in respect of the free software philosphy. They changed of strategy sometimes because of financial problems but all the code written remained under GPL.
Now, I think they found a good recipe. Everything is free, the wiki, forums, ftp acess, One CD ISOs, free DVDs ISOs, except powerpack edition that is including non free software.
With the little money they earn, they pay some devs to contribute to free software they like. It's a kind of "thank you" to the community.

Despite the size of the company, they contribute more to the linux kernel than Ubuntu/canonical does...

If you want to contribute and help the company you can do it with:
-bying the powerpack edition (~ 50$)
-building packages, solve bugs : you are often rewarded with a free powerpack access.

I feel it stange that mandriva is so bad rated among the linux distros. Though, www.distrowatch.com thought that mandriva 2008 spring was once again the best linux around here.
link : http://distrowatch.com/weekly.php?issue=20080707

I agree with you about Suse.
The distros I like are: Mandriva of course, Debian, slackware,Damnsmall.

regards,
glyj

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macemoneta
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I have essentially the same list, but I reverse the order of Fedora and Ubuntu, for several reasons (that may not be important for many end-users).

1. Security. Fedora is at the leading edge of security on Linux: http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Security/Features
Most Linux distributions, including Ubuntu forgo most or all of these features.

2. Device support. Because Fedora is a leading edge distribution, it runs very close to upstream. This means that it has the latest kernel, and thus the latest device drivers. Fedora 9 currently has a 2.6.26.6 based kernel, while the upcoming Fedora 10 has a 2.6.27.rc9 based kernel.

3. All packages are kept as close to upstream as possible, not just the kernel. that means that the latest functionality is available as soon as possible.

4. Upstream support. Fedora is a leader in feeding maintenance to upstream projects, so all Linux distributions benefit. Ubuntu has a poor track record on that account.

Yes, there is some increased instability as a result of running close to the edge, but Fedora 8 is still supported and is very stable. You can effectively choose the level of stability (as with most distributions) by positioning yourself within the range of supported releases.

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fstephens
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Not a bad list, but since everyone has their favorites I'm sure many will disagree. I have tried all of them except Slack (but I have used derivatives) and CentOS.
I made an attempt at recommending distro's for new users on my blog:
http://linuxlatitude.blogspot.com/2008/03/which-linux.html

I also shun Suse because of the M$ association, slowness and package manager chaos. Dropped Red Hat at version 9 also, when they stopped desktop editions for average users.
I think Mandriva may be worth another look now. I used it in the past and found it buggy.
I would disagree about Knoppix. It was great at first, but I hear it is no so up to date anymore. I always found it's menus way too cluttered. Today with all the live CD's out there I seldom find I need it. But, maybe I'm just picky, since I am building my own system rescue & data recovery CD with just the apps I want:
http://linuxlatitude.blogspot.com/2008/10/rescue-cds.html

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Aia
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Best distribution is the one I am using right now. After that your list is perfectly fine.

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Sephi
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I would have placed Debian on the #1 position if Sidux didn't exist. Sidux is a Debian-based distro which uses packages from Debian Sid with their own stability-security-whatever-patches, which makes it a very usable, very stable, and up-to-date OS. I've been running Ubuntu for 1 year and a half and then I switched to Sidux "just to try" and after a couple of months I realized I'd never go back. Sidux is just perfect.

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skidaddy
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nice list but i think i would have left Slackware and Gentoo off since they are much harder to use and require more knowledge to set up this makes them unsuitable for casual use. I would have added Puppy which is a small linux distro that seems to work well. and even on the live cd is fastand powerfull.

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carolinason
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I couldn't agree more, except centos as my primary.

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txtechdog
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While I think your article is ok, there is a glaring error in your description of Slackware.

Slackware was not the first distribution by any stretch of the imagination. Slackware was predated by many distributions, including the MCC (Manchester Computing Center) distribution, SLS (Softlanding Systems) distribution, and the TAMU (Texas A&M) distributions, just to name a few. In fact, some people claimed at the time of it's initial release that the name Slackware came from the fact that it was designed to pick up the "slack" where SLS left off. I know this because I have been using Linux since the 0.11 kernel release, when all that was distributed was a boot and a root floppy and you had to build the rest yourself. In fact, one distribution I used as the time was HJ Lu's mini distro, which you had to install manually (ie. no fancy installation script) and once installed, build everything not included with the distro (which included just enough of a development system to build the rest).

While Slackware was an early distribution, it wasn't the first.

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khess
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To txtechdog:

You're right. I should have said oldest "active" distribution. Having attended TAMU, myself, I knew that one came out very early. Sorry for the omission.

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loyeyoung
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This is a shameless plug for a new distro released by my company, Isaac & Young Computer Company. http://www.iycc.net The distro is called IYCC. It's a Debian-based fork of Ubuntu and will gradually migrate towards importing packages directly from Debian. We created the IYCC Distro to support the computers we manufacture, but others will find it useful as well.

We believe that the out-of-the-box desktop experience of our computers is better than any other computer with any other operating system in the world, without exaggeration.

The repository itself is located at http://archive.iycc.net/iycc/. Download the sources.list from http://mirror.iycc.net/apt-lists/sources.list. An automated script to convert to the IYCC repository is found at http://mirror.iycc.net/apt-lists/grab-key.sh.

The best desktop experience is gained by installing the cuadrado-gnome-desktop, if you have an ATI graphics card that can run compiz effects and a widescreen LCD.

If you find bugs or have suggestions for improvement, please let us know at http://bugs.iycc.net.

Happy Trails,


Loye Young
Isaac & Young Computer Company
Laredo, Texas
http://www.iycc.net

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khess
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It looks and sounds interesting although I think I'd update it to use OO.org 3.0. I may download it have a look. If it's cool, I'll do a review of it.

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sipewa
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Debian tops it all, second Knoppix, Opensuse third and the other giant-wannabes follow the lead. I have downloaded & tested out almost all the versions listed above and none have the number of software packages knoppix has. Its hardware detection is unbeatable, just try out Knoppix 5.31 DVD or better Knoppix 6.2 DVD.

For Debian its quite a hectic downloading all the 4 or 5 DVDs just to get all the softwares but all the same its good.

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frank_leopard
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opensuse has hung after complete installation.
It is just Not starting up. after all the process is complete.

I m too frustrated... any suggestions plzz...!!!
sadiq59@gmail.com

AlexDDDddDD
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Arch must be -hands down- at the top three [currently], so must be Mint.

Edit: WTF! this is a forum? Sorry for the thread necromancy...

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Climber Ty
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Ubuntu as #1? I am just not a fan of Unity, it is so resource heavy when it comes to less powerful devices. Xubuntu is the best for that, infact I think the look and feel of Xubuntu tops Ubuntu by far. But this is just my opinion because I'd rather have efficiency over looks.

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metalized
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i think this list is irrelevant now. ;)

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eldergeek
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This list is a little dated but Ubuntu (or, more accurately, whichever-buntu) is still number one. A current list would probably put Mint in the #2 slot and it'd become a matter of personal preference after that. For example, I'd follow Mint with Mepis, Debian, Slax and Slitaz and I'm quite certain that I don't know anyone who'd agree with my choices.

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