Linux is a wonderful thing. There are so many options available when you start looking for Linux Operating systems (Linux Distributions). It is a good thing as you have so many choices, but for beginners, it can get a bit hard as they don’t know where to start from.
Here in this post, I have tried to cove the best Linux distributions for beginners to get started with.
So, what is a beginner Linux distribution? In my opinion a beginner Linux Distribution is one that is easy to install, is easy to operate, and has all the necessary software that one might need, either pre-installed or easily available.
Before we get started with the list, here are the meanings of some common Linux terminology that you are going to see written across this article.
Linux Distribution/Distro : It is basically an operating system, composed of the Linux Kernel, and a mix of programs and utilities.
Desktop Environment: The Graphical Environment or GUI/skin that you are going to interact with.
Package: A software/program.
Repos/Repository: A place where you find the necessary info to install/update software. Basically it is a group/store of packages. For example Ubuntu’s software repo or Debian’s software repo or repo of a single software developer such as Mozilla.
Now let’s get started with the list.
1. Linux Mint
First on the list is Linux Mint, an Ubuntu based Linux distro. It was also one of the first Linux based computer OS that I had ever used.
Linux Mint is easy to install and requires no complex set up or anything. It is a very beginner-friendly distribution and the Cinnamon version of it provides a very clean and easy to understand interface.
Linux Mint already comes pre-installed with many essential apps that new Linux users are going to love. Utilities such as Timeshift (system restore), GIMP for photo editing, & LibreOffice for spreadsheets, presentations, databases, word, etc, already come pre-installed.
Mint is also a good choice as an operating system if you are looking to install it for someone else. It should work nicely for them if you set up the system backs (timeshift) and automatic updates.
Next on the list we have Pop!_OS. This distribution was created by system76, a Linux computer manufacturer and comes pre installed with their lineup of Linux desktops and Laptops. Pop!_OS is based on Ubuntu and features the Gnome Desktop Environment.
The reason why people like Pop!_OS is because they have simplified the video driver installation process by providing two download options, one for AMD/Intel graphics (opensource), and the other one for Nvidia (proprietary).
This makes things much easier for people who want to do any graphic intensive work on their systems without having to worry about video drivers and installing certain packages required to handle video-processing workload.
Pop_OS! is for people who want the stability and community support of Ubuntu, but don’t want to deal with graphic drivers. It is one of the best Linux distro for beginners who want to play games or use graphics intensive applications without any performance loss.
Elementary OS is a Stable based on Ubuntu LTS (Long Term Support). The thing that I really like about Elementary OS how beautifully things integrate with the operating system. Every app that you use does not feel like it is separate from the system, but it feels like it is part of OS itself.
If you are coming from a macOS machine to Linux, Elementary OS is probably the best option for you, especially if you are a Linux newbie. The interface will feel much more familiar to you and you will be able to easily navigate around the operating system.
Elementary OS also has a great app store that features quite a bit of application that new users will find useful. Overall, Elementary OS is a fantastic beginner Linux OS with great features, neatly designed apps, & a simple layout.
Even people who are new to Linux might already have heard about this Distribution. Some even know Ubuntu as ‘the Linux distribution’ as it one of the most popular Linux distribution out there. Most new-to-linux Linux people don’t yet know that there are other Linux distributions out there.
Ubuntu is a Linux based operating system by Canonical Ltd. It features the iconic Gnome desktop, first time users will need to adjust to the environment (if coming from windows) but it is fairly easy to use after you get a hang of it.
It provides a superb out-of-the-box experience and also has a large user base so you can easily find answers to all your questions & queries.
Finding an application that works for you is also very easy in Ubuntu. You can either use their software center and fetch programs from their official repositories. You can also add external repos (or ppa’s) to get access to more software.
Fedora is a Linux distribution that provides one of the purest Linux, & opensource experience.
It is a good, stable, community-driven Linux distribution sponsored by Redhat, a BIG name when it comes to Linux enterprise world.
Gnome is the desktop environment that fedora comes with. And along with it, only a few, essential apps come pre-installed by default. Meaning less amount of ‘bloat’ on your system and low resource usage.
While I would not recommend fedora to a complete novice, New Linux enthusiasts and beginners who are interested in Linux or opensource software will definitely enjoy the simplicity and ‘true’ Linux feel of Fedora.
Solus is a Linux Distribution that has been build from the ground up. It has its very own package management system. It does limit the number of packages/software that you have access to. However, it also increases the stability of the system. Also, some popular non-opensource programs such as Spotify, Google Chrome, Skype, Slack, etc are available to install via their app store.
Solus is a rolling release distribution, meaning there is no need to do a fresh install when a new version of the OS gets released. You will get all the future updates indefinitely on your existing installation.
Solus is currently available with many desktop environment options. You can get Solus with Gnome, Mate, Plasma, & their very own in house DE, Budgie. I would recommend that you go with the Budgie edition. Budgie, along with its clean looks, it is very easy to use and control.
ZorinOS was specifically created for people who want an experience similar to Windows on Linux. It is very beginner-friendly and is based on the LTS branch of Ubuntu.
ZorinOS core comes preinstalled with some office tools (libreoffice), web browser, other useful utilities, and also wine. As you may already know, wine is a compatibility ‘tool’ used to run Windows applications in Linux.
While the base setup of Wine that Zorin OS provides, won’t be able to run all the popular Win apps or games, it should be able to run a few simple EXE programs that you might have.
Zorin is currently available in 4 different Editions. The Ultimate edition (paid) , Core edition, Lite edition & Education edition. I would recommend the Core edition, or the lite edition if you have an ancient system.
8. KDE Neon
KDE Neon is a Linux distro that uses Ubuntu Stable, LTS releases as a base and the KDE Plasma as a DE, resulting in a very stable but beautiful operating system. Unlike Gnome DE, KDE Plasma provides very Windows-like desktop experience which some might find useful.
One of the best things about the KDE Plasma desktop is the level of customization it provides. You can easily change the looks of your system via the Appearance section in the settings. In addition, countless themes, plugins, and widgets are available for the Plasma Desktop.
If you want a Linux Distribution with a great-looking interface, long-term support & customizability, KDE Neon is the way to go.
9. MX Linux
MX Linux is a Debian based Linux distribution. It describes itself as “Midweight Simple Stable Desktop OS”.
Mx Linux comes with a lot of preinstalled apps and utilities. Which, people who are new to Linux and people who want a system that ‘just works’ for them will find helpful.
The installation process is very easy, with a few clicks you can be done with it and proceed to use your system. As of now, MX Linux is available with XFCE, KDE, & Fluxbox as desktop environments.
I would recommend you go with XFCE version. XFCE is a lightweight desktop environment with a very easy-to-use interface.
10. Arch Linux
To some people who are familiar with Linux distributions or Linux in general, this may seem like a joke, but it is not. Arch Linux is a rolling release distribution, meaning the updates keep coming as there is no EOL (End of Life) period or such.
But the reason I have mentions Arch Linux is that during the installation process, you learn so much about Linux and the command line interface. You have total control of what you want to install what not to.
For example, you can choose what desktop environment you want; What packages/utilities/libraries/drivers you want to install along with it.
Now I would not recommend Arch Linux for a total Linux newbie who just wants a functional, free and open source operating system. But for people who are interested in Linux and its workings, Arch Linux is the way to go.
If Arch Linux and the rolling release model is not for you but you still want to “build your own OS”, give Debian a try. There is also Gentoo which is a tad bit hard to install than Arch Linux or Debian.
This concludes my article on the Best Linux Distributions for Beginners. Looking to read some other interesting stuff to get started on Linux? Don’t worry I have written many other posts on topics like:
Linux Gaming : All you need to know about getting started with gaming in your Linux based system.
Running Windows apps in Linux: This covers how you can run Windows based application in Linux. While not everything-Windows will work, you can still get some popular apps that people are constantly working on to pot, or apps which are simple in nature to run on Linux.