What is the best Linux distribution for beginners

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
One of the questions I see the most in forums and sites like Yahoo Answers is : "What is the best Linux distribution for beginners?" or "What is the easiest Linux distribution?" Well, unlike what you may think these questions are not that easy to answer, as the easiest Linux distribution is not necessarily the best for all beginners because other factors like the availability of support and commercial applications availability have to be taken into account.

For the title of easiest Linux distribution for a beginner I would suggest Linux Mint.

Linux Mint is actually based on Ubuntu Linux, but simplified for users coming from Windows. The user interface has been tweaked to look and behave more like Windows. Most common applications like the flash pligina as well as video and audio decoders come pre-installed with the base distribution, meaning less things to configure for the beginner user. Linux Mint has a very polished software installer where hundreds of applications can be downloaded and installed in one click. You can also view a screenshot of the application that you are about install so that you can see what the application is about. Furthermore all free Ubuntu applications can also be installed on Linux Mint thanks to another installation utility: the package manager. On the downside there is no possibility to buy paid support and no application store for commercial applications. A great advantage for users that come from the Windows world is that thanks to Wubi you can install Linux Mint alongside Windows: it is like installing a Windows application. Upgrading Linux Mint to the next version is less intuitive than with Ubuntu, a design decision to ensure that the user understand that there is always a risk of problems during upgrades. This is not an issue if you intend to stick with your first Linux installation for a long time, but can be a problem if you want to upgrade your software from time to time. Should you run into troubles the community is great for providing help but is smaller than the one of Ubuntu.

To get a more in-depth look at Linux Mint i suggest that you check out my review on Tech-no-media.

The second best Linux distribution for beginners is Ubuntu Linux, even if it is not the easiest.

Even if it's not the easiest distribution Ubuntu is still easy to install and configure for the beginner. Like Mint you can even install it like an application in Windows. Once installed you can easily add more applications from within the add remove programs applet of Ubuntu because this distribution has the best selection of native Linux applications available. When a new release of Ubuntu is available it is easy to upgrade to the new release thanks to the Ubuntu upgrade manager, although this is sometimes risky. Because the community is large you can also easily get support and advice should you encounter a problem, the Ubuntu forums are in my opinion the best of any distribution for beginners seeking help. If you want to buy commercial software like PowerDVD or some professional phone support these are available through Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. In the disadvantage column there is the fact that some common applications like adobe flash or video codecs must be installed manually, although it is easy to do thanks to the restricted extras package. Another thing that makes Ubuntu less desirable is that the user interface is somewhat different from Windows. Don't get me wrong, it is an excellent user interface, but for beginners this may be disturbing. Despite this I still consider Ubuntu as one of the best Linux distribution for beginners.

To conclude I would say this: the easiest Linux distribution to install and use for beginners is Linux Mint, however if you want professional support or commercial applications the best Linux distribution for a beginner is Ubuntu. If you want an easy install "just to try Linux" you should use Linux Mint.


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28 comments:

Don Birdsall said...

No! We do not need a "beginners" distro. Does Windows have a "beginners" edition? Of course not!

I have a digital camera with some settings that I do not fully understand. So what should I do? I experiment and look at the results. Truly, I would be disappointed if the camera offered me a "beginners" mode.

Linux Mint disables some very useful Ubuntu features by default. Virtual workspaces for example. So how is the "beginner" to discover virtual desktops?

Unadulterated Ubuntu is a good starting place for "beginners". If you really need something simple, Puppy Linux would be my recommendation.

The real problem here is the word "beginner". Is a "beginner" a teen-ager with his/her first computer? Is a "beginner" an oldster with his/her first computer? Is a "beginner" a Windows user fed up with all the problems? Mint may be a crutch, but it's temporary at best.

Erlik said...

I'll clarify the beginner bit, as this can indeed be confusing. As defined in the sidebar I consider that a beginner is someone who is dissatisfied with Windows but is afraid to try the free Linux operating system. It is also assumed that this user can use Windows and perform basic administration tasks such as installing an application in Windows, but does not have much technical knowledge and is not really interested in acquiring technical knowledge beyond the minimum required to use and maintain his or her computer.

Jazon said...

I agree that Linux Mint is more newbie friendly than Ubuntu. With Linux Mint, one need not worry about the things left out by Ubuntu (like codecs and stuff).

TerryCarlin said...

Tried and liked suse from v6, rh, ubuntu, dsm and puppy. For home use I'm sharing my PC with my wife and daughter. Mint is brilliant, its not just that a beginner can use it, its that it does all the Linux stuff and doesn't confuse anybody.

Chilly said...

I'm a sadist...gentoo was my first step into linux...best 6 computing days of my life...but then again...I wanted to know where everything fit and how stuff worked

Marx said...

For your definition of beginner I think Mint works, but for the power user or more technically inclined I would have to say Ubuntu. Mostly because of the community support. If you have a problem, need help setting something up, want to know how something works, a quick search will usually yield you several answers. While it may not be quick as "dumbed" down as Mint it's just so easy to find quick answers for the person new to Linux who isn't afraid to occasionally meddle in the command line.

X U N I L said...

I tried both, but prefer Mepis for beginners.

v said...

Bubuntu fanbois cant see past their own noses again.

There is NO such thing as best, its a question of taste.

What you should have done is mentioned at the very least the original user friendlies like Mandriva or even PCLinuxOS (which does to mandriva what Mint does to Buntu) or Mepis, etc...

Since you didnt, this isnt anything more than another fanboi beating the drums for his favorite distro.


i've done over 150 Linux installs during installfests, recycling programs and friends and I can tell you that the distro is NOT that big a deal.
The desktop choice is.
I stopped offering newbies the chance to look over Live CDs because when given a chance, Windows users chose KDE by a 8 to 2 margin.
My job is to make them feel a ease and familiar and customizations are a big part of that too but out of the box, KDE looks familiar.
(and Kubuntu is still horrible compared to the others).

C-.

Marx said...

v, I'll agree with you about the personal taste, and about it being mostly about the desktop. I'm not personally an Ubuntu fanboy either, but I'll still stand by what I said, for a new user support is very important and there is a lot more out there for Ubuntu than any of the distros you mentioned if they don't have a local friend to guide them in their distro of choice. Of course if they do that argument goes out the window and I would say to install what your friend knows best.

Robin said...

The right distro is what is right for the individual. And I think the desktop environment has much more to do with it than the "chosen distro." Even the most bloated distro (Mint, Ubuntu, etc) runs fast and furious with a lightweight de like LXDE. LXDE is as newbie-friendly as it gets, but without all the bloat and confusion of KDE or Gnome.

Eyerex said...

As a noob when it comes to using linux as only been using for about 2 weeks now i tried most of the distros out there but found a home with Mandriva as it was the only one which setup my ATI card as it should plus i can play full screen flash without any problem

Superhuman said...

Well, The way I see it; depends on the user and if they want to learn Linux inside out.
For non-technical people and those that just want to use Linux: K/Ubuntu

For people who want to learn Linux and know what is going on: Gentoo. Gentoo has a very steep learning curve. You learn a lot quickly. Thus for technical people, it is great.

Joe said...

You know, I'm an old school guy, and I agree with a previous comment about "swodniW not having a beginner version." Jeez, I remember trying to get Windows 3.0 working on a PC back in 1990 or so, and really struggling, mostly because it was really crappy and buggy. I don't remember a "beginner" version of *that*.

I say Slackware.

Erlik said...

Mandriva, PCLinuxOS, and Mepis could also have been included in the list, but they were not for several reasons.

The first was that I didn't want to confuse the users by presenting distribution that had different roots. Don't get me wrong, I love the variety of Linux distributions available out there, but for a new user this can be disconcerting, so I choose to limit the scope to distribution based on a Debian root.

The second reason is that I wanted to limit the choice to 2 or at most 3 distributions. Again for users out of the Windows world where you have the choice between Home or Professional too many options are probably not a good idea, it will confuse people. There will be time later when the user is converted to Linux to tell them about all the other great distros.

Finally what I wanted to present was one distro that was more community based and one that was backed by a relatively large corporation. In the Debian world Mint and Ubuntu seemed to fit the bill well.

One of the main assets of Linux is diversity: a lot of distributions, a lot of freedom, a lot of choices. This means that it is very easy for users out of the Windows world to get lost amongst all those choices, so I have the difficult task of first limiting the options to which the new users are exposed. In a second phase when the user is comfortable with Linux it will be time to show him all the possibilities of Linux.

It is true that there are no beginner version of Windows, but as a result a lot of people like Joe went trough a painful learning process when they started computing. Not many people are ready to go through that again with a new OS, that is why Linux needs to take better care of beginner users than Windows did.

Dack said...

OpenSuse is also a very easy transition for windows users.

I know that any ounce of merit in OpenSuse is completely invalidated because of Novel blah blah Microsoft blah deal with the devil blah blah Bill Gates. (or something like that, my eyes always glaze over when someone starts on that tangent)

James D said...

Really any modern distro has its pluses for n00bz (and for anyone else). I suppose there's an argument that one with the Debian packaging system will be a good idea ultimately (it makes installing bleeding edge software easier), and it also helps to install a distro with an up-to-date version of the kernel and the relevant desktop environment to avoid dependency hell.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Though my family and I use Ubuntu at home and have had no serious issues, I agree that Linux Mint would be a good option for the less technically inclined. People who are not avid computer users and want something that looks familiar and that doesn't crash or lock up all the time (thinking of Windows again here) are doing themselves a favor if they switch to Mint. Ubuntu is also a great option, and really not too geeky. It just seems to me that if you compare Ubuntu and Linux Mint with the average person in mind you'll see why they might find Mint to be more agreeable.

hoanglong1712 said...

I don't think we need beginner distro
Linux is not windows so the user must accept the difference
even windows, there are may things that I have not understood yet

Shishir M K said...

Hmmmm features may be yes linux mint has some nice features. But because of the great amount of support available in the form of chat( IRC ), forums and wikis..

_____________________________ said...

Linux XP is relatively new distro but is great for those noobs coming from Windows.

Paul said...

@ Erlik said "and Mepis could also have been included in the list, but they were not for several reasons ... snip ... I choose to limit the scope to distribution based on a Debian root"

Mepis is based on Debian stable - but kept up to date with backported packages. And for some time it has been well regarded as very newbie friendly distro (ease of use, documentation and forum).

Suggestion - why don't you actually try it (ie broaden your horizon), then see how you feel. Your comment above really didn't make sense.

rahul srivastava said...

Hi all,

personally i am RHEL/CENT OS guy..and have used Redhat since version 9.0 , Ubuntu since Ver 5.0 ....most user friendly LINUX ever is Mint Linux, to the limit that when I changed the wallpaper and asked one of my friends who is from non IT back ground...what he was using .. he told me its Windows with custom theme :) .....

for ppl who have Phobia..of *NIX words....Mint is the OS to start with....

and when I say this .. i have tried alteast 15-20 distro...to replace Win XP proff...and found only Mint Linux to support all my needs...out of box!!!!!!

Radioactive Man said...

I love Xenix, and will keep my 286 computer around just to run it!

Ernst said...

I've used Red Hat (8) and goofed around with Ubuntu some, but did not really make progress until I loaded up Linux Mint 6. Found my printer (over the network), all the features on my machine, and even plays nice with my U3 flash drive. In fact, the only issue I had was getting wireless services to work so I used a hard connection. As a noob, I highly recommend LM for those wanting to move from Windoze to Linux with relative ease..

SUSHIL said...

as all says for windows user who want to shift to linux & are very much adapted to windows wants the feeling of windows in linux hence they most like mint, pclinuxos or mandriva,because they perform with out of the box support for general purpose use as music movie internet & some word excel like function. but when they tries to administrative function they shift to higher os as ubuntu, suse redhat fedora solaris etc. as pc(windows) user dont know how things happen in windows they only use the installed software or update software whether in linux u have to get software by searching in repository or compile them & then use. so new linux user who shifts from windows likses mint or pclos like os most.

SUSHIL said...

personally i want to shift to linux permanently but still i am not found any linux os or u can say not well learnt any linux os as windows. i also run a cyber cafe where i want to run all linux machine but whenever i put any pc with linux os people refused to use the pc as they can't understand even menu structure of start menu they just can't find firefox to use internet. the govt sites or university site just don't open in firefox as they are ie only sites these are all the practical barriers to shift to linux and last but most striking feature in india windows software & os are available in dirt cheap as they are free (pirated obviously) people knows them use them dont have fast net connection but people with knowledge of linux are 0.01% you can get support for windows os & software in free but for linux if u pay them then also u can't get the right person to help. even in private corporate offices they paid for windows os only & use open office like software to cut the cost etc but employee refuses to work on openoffice pc 4 on 10 pc they forcely installed ms office & staff works only in ms offices pc only.

Iceberg2520 said...

I have worked in the field of IT for over thirty years and have seen the complete evolution of M$ and Apple. Supporting Windows clients and Apple clients to a lesser degree have provided me with much income for decades! I have played with Linux/BSD since the mid 90s and since 2003 have delved in deeper. I find there is a certain arrogance both in the Linux and the BSD communities. Many wonder why more M$ users don't convert to Linux. M$ users typically are not true users of the OS. They only know that if they point and click, then something happens (good or bad)..lol! If we ever expect "Linux for the masses", we must come down off our trees and truly realize this. Over the last two years I took it upon myself to find the best distro out there for the "masses". I had installed scores of distros and had many friends, colleagues, and coworkers test drive them. Their skills ranged from "point&click" to experienced IT professionals. From all this evaluation I reached one conclusion. For 90% of users, if we want a "Linux for the masses", we have to build a distro which installs VERY easy, with everything working out of the box (including codecs, flash, jre, etc.), easy to configure and use, stable, easy and rich software repositories, simple clean interface with beautiful "eye candy" (see MacOSX), and friendly non geeky support. Considering all this, I believe we have still "missed the boat". KDE looks a little like Window$ but is clumsy and what with all the "K"s?!?! Gnome is clean simple and sensible, but not at all the style Window$ So which distros would I recommend for a brave M$ user to try and convince them to take the leap?

1. Linux Mint (Gnome) *****best by far!
2. Ubuntu ****easy to configure
3. PCLinuxOS (Gnome) **trouble with some browser plugins, etc.
4. Puppy (just for fun) ***WOOF-WOOF!
5. PC-BSD (just for BSD bragging rights) ****""Hey, I use UNIX!"
6. All the rest of they want REAL challenges ("hey, I'm a geek!"

So like what was said in another blog, "please don't get your panties in a bunch"... just my opinion.

ja said...

I'm an hardcore windows user. IT-professional. Heavily certified.

And i know nothing about Linux. Like some one said already we do not want "beginner-linux" - but something... more Windows a like.

What bothers in every linux distro i have tried is that keyboard shotcuts that are burned in to my brains dont work.

I like kb-shortcut Windows profile that can be easily selected.
Not like some distros have did it, where every shortcut needs to be edited by self.

This was BTW. possible some years ago. I believe it had some KDE desktop.
But after that ability disappeared i didn't install linux anymore.

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