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.