The best Linux distributions (operating systems)

There are many different Linux distributions for a wide range of purposes. While security and support are important criteria for companies, private users tend to focus more on systems being up-to-date and including graphical features. Linux is an equivalent and (largely) free alternative to Windows and Mac.

Linux distributions for any purpose

PC or Mac? It’s a somewhat outdated or incomplete question. Even if Linux is still somewhat unknown among many users, its different distributions are increasingly impressing users. Linux distributions now exist for a wide range of applications. Newcomers switching to Linux for the first time may find it difficult to keep track and find the best system for their needs. This guide highlights the top Linux distributions to help you find the one that’s right for you.

The best Linux distributions for beginners

Switching from Mac or PC to Linux should be as smooth as possible. Graphical aids such as installation wizards or package managers are just as important as the desktop environment, some pre-installed software, and a helpful community. The best Linux distributions for beginners include:

Ubuntu

Around since 2004, Ubuntu is a classic Linux distribution. The operating system is aimed at different user groups and simplifies the first steps for beginners. On the one hand, Ubuntu is customizable, but also offers numerous technical tools to simplify installation and configuration. Many programs are pre-installed, and additional packages can be conveniently added. Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux distributions and the basis for numerous other operating systems.

Find out more about Ubuntu in our dedicated article.

Debian

Debian is what Ubuntu is based on, making it one of the oldest Linux distributions. It was released and developed in 1993. For a long time, the abundance of software packages for Debian was unsurpassed and it is still notable. Commercial programs are easy to install. Installation, maintenance and usage are intuitive and not particularly difficult for both Windows and Mac users. The package is managed via dpkg. For any errors, a huge community provides support and advice for users.

Read more about Debian in our article.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint is also based on Ubuntu and is now an established alternative. The operating system is based on specially designed desktop environments and comes with important software pre-installed. The system is considered stable and user-friendly. Hardware support, useful security tools, and a practical file manager are available. For (former) Windows users, Linux Mint is worth considering.

Check out our guide on Linux Mint for an in-depth introduction.

Manjaro Linux

Manjaro Linux is based on the sophisticated Arch Linux, combining a free and individual approach with numerous graphical tools. The result is an operating system that is relatively slim (depending on the version) and makes it easier for newcomers to get started. Manjaro Linux offers several desktop interfaces, the Calamares installation tool and a package management with its own frontend. Since Manjaro Linux uses the rolling release principle, the operating system is always up to date.

Want to learn more about Manjaro Linux? Read our dedicated guide on the Linux distribution.

Elementary OS

Elementary OS is the ideal operating system for former Mac users. Usage and interfaces are reminiscent of the well-known Apple products. Elementary OS also prides itself on simple operation. It comes with pre-installed programs and an app store to add software to. Besides the desktop environment Pantheon, the team behind Elementary OS provides numerous other programs and projects that have been optimized for use with the operating system.

Find out more about Elementary OS 6.

Overview of the top Linux distributions for beginners

  Installation Package management Desktop environment Release
Ubuntu Installer dpkg Gnome, KDE among others Semi-annual
Debian Installer dpkg Gnome, KDE among others Varies
Linux Mint Installer Synaptic Cinnamon among others Semi-annual
Manjaro Linux Calamares Pacman Xfce, Gnome among others Rolling release
Elementary OS Installer AppStore Pantheon Varies

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The best Linux distributions for professionals

Linux is not only aimed at beginners. For more advanced users wishing to set up and optimize their operating system there are plenty of Linux distributions available offering little more than a terminal. Other options are aimed at users familiar with computer or network architecture.

Arch Linux

Fans of Linux consider Arch Linux the “pure” distribution. The minimalistic operating system forgoes any graphical tools. As such Arch Linux is slim and customizable, but this could scare away newcomers. Simplicity is part of the basic idea of Arch Linux, but here it refers to the distribution’s features. Arch Linux is managed with Pacman and is a suitable base for most purposes if the user sets up the system accordingly.

Read on to find out more about Arch Linux.

Kali Linux

Kali Linux is often referred to as Hacker Linux. In fact, the main task of the operating system is security. Kali Linux provides numerous features for testing and maintaining computers, networks, and systems. Vulnerabilities are identified and lost data can be quickly recovered. However, users must have prior knowledge for the best possible results. Accordingly, more suitable Linux distributions are available for office or leisure use.

Check out what Kali Linux is all about.

EndeavourOS

EndeavourOS is based on Arch Linux, but adds several desktop environments to the minimalistic system. EndeavourOS is not as sophisticated as the original distribution, but the derivative follows a more restrained approach, offering only the essentials. Professionals can develop a system according to their needs. EndeavourOS is not suitable for Linux novices.

Read more about EndeavourOS in our dedicated guide.

Slackware

Slackware is the oldest Linux variant still used and maintained today. Installation and configuration is performed via scripts. For users in search of the original Linux experience, Slackware is perhaps the best choice.

MX Linux

MX Linux is based on Debian and is suitable for use on older and less powerful computers because of its slim Xfce desktop. Compared to other professional Linux distributions, MX Linux is much more user-friendly. However, because of its many options it is also an interesting distribution for experienced users.

Explore MX Linux in our dedicated guide.

Overview of the top Linux distributions for professionals

  Installation Package management Desktop environment Release
Arch Linux Terminal Pacman None Rolling release
Kali Linux Installer APT Xfce Varies
EndeavourOS Calamares Pacman Xfce Rolling release
Slackware Skript Tar-Archive None Varies
MX Linux Installer dpkg Xfce and KDE Annually

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The best Linux distributions for companies and organizations

Businesses usually require reliable and user-friendly operating systems. Cloud support, simple maintenance and, above all, high security are also important and tend to justify higher costs when making an investment. The following Linux distributions are worth considering for businesses.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is the market leader among the enterprise Linux distributions. The operating system is suitable for desktop, server, cloud, and virtual machines and offers extensive and paid support. RHEL is stable and relies on long lifecycles. Usage is comparatively simple.

openSUSE

openSUSE operating systems are well-optimized for businesses and characterized by user-friendliness and stability. While openSUSE Tumbleweed and its spinoff openSUSE Leap are used for workstations, openSUSE MicroOS is primarily used for edge computing and openSUSE Kubic for container solutions.

Find out more about openSUSE in our dedicated article.

Fedora

Fedora is a free alternative to RHEL but does not provide long-term support. The focus of the operating system is primarily on up-to-dateness, which may come at the expense of stability. Fedora is equally suitable for servers and desktops and uses RPM (known from Red Hat) for package management.

Read up on Fedora CoreOS in our guide on the topic.

IServ

IServ is generally not suitable for companies, but was developed for use in schools. The paid school server was originally based on Red Hat Linux and provides a web server, a mail server, a forum, a domain controller, and an HTTP proxy.

Zorin OS

Zorin OS is an Ubuntu derivative that is primarily aimed at Windows users, making it easy for them to switch to Linux. For companies relying on Microsoft’s office programs, Zorin OS is worth taking into consideration.

Find out more about Zorin OS in our guide.

The top Linux distributions for companies and organizations

  Installation Package management Desktop environment Release
RHEL Anaconda RPM Gnome, KDE Varies
openSUSE YaST YaST KDE Varies
Fedora fcct RPM Gnome Varies
IServ Installer npm Different ones Varies
Zorin OS Installer APT Gnome, Xfce, among others Semi-annually

The best Linux distributions for gaming

Those who tend to use their computer mainly for gaming can choose from numerous Linux distributions (besides Ubuntu).

Pop!_OS

Pop!_OS has been developed by System76 and is based on Ubuntu. The operating system offers GPU support for AMD and Nvidia as well as their programming interface CUDA. Pop!_OS has a high-quality desktop environment and offers a tiling function that benefits gamers.

You can find more information in our detailed article on Pop!_OS.

Garuda Linux

Garuda Linux provides many different desktop environments and is updated regularly as a rolling release. In addition to graphical wizards for simplified setup, Garuda Linux provides a tool for configuration and livestreams with Garuda Gamer.

Find out more about Garuda Linux in our dedicated guide.

Kubuntu

Kubuntu is another Ubuntu derivative, based on KDE Plasma as a desktop environment. The lightweight solution runs games smoothly. It is also customizable and thus optimized for gaming. Numerous programs are available for Kubuntu.

Drauger OS

Drauger OS has been explicitly designed for gaming, but it does not just support games, but also platforms like Steam. At the same time, the operating system boasts good security features. However, it does not include some of the basic packages included in alternate Linux distributions.

Lakka OS

Lakka OS is a lightweight distribution that lets users convert old computers into retro game consoles. The operating system is based on LibreELEC and uses the RetroArch front-end. Once set up, Lakka OS works cross-platform and numerous old console games can be installed.

Overview of the top Linux distributions for gamers

  Installation Package management Desktop environment Release
Pop!_OS Installer APT Gnome Semi-annually
Garuda Linux Calamares Pamac KDE, Xfce among others Rolling release
Kubuntu Installer Muon KDE Semi-annually
Drauger OS Installer Mrai Xfce among others Varies
Lakka OS Installer Libreto RetroArch Varies
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The best Linux distributions for servers

For a long time CentOS was the most popular of all Linux server distributions. However, with support ending soon, alternatives are needed. Here are five recommended Linux distributions:

Gentoo Linux

Gentoo Linux is aimed at more experienced users and is regularly updated as part of a rolling release. The operating system is based on source code and considered a secure option for servers. Gentoo Linux can be customized and optimized to suit one’s own needs.

Flatcar

Flatcar is a cloud-native operating system primarily designed for working with containers. The solution is aimed at experts with experience of setting up and configuring servers. A paid Pro version for companies is available.

AlmaLinux

AlmaLinux is a user-friendly successor to CentOS and was developed as a fork of RHEL. The relatively new system is considered stable. It is aimed at those who enjoyed working with its well-known predecessor. Plenty of CentOS packages can still be used within AlmaLinux.

Find out more about AlmaLinux in our article.

Rocky Linux

The same applies to Rocky Linux, which is binary-compatible with RHEL. Rocky Linux is suitable for cloud and HPC and has only been available since 2021. Secure Boot provides the necessary security and stability.

Explore what makes Rocky Linux stand out.

Photon OS

The minimalistic Photon OS is designed for working with containers. The operating system forgoes superfluous packages and focuses on the essentials. It is the perfect solution for a reliable server environment without unnecessary features.

Find out more about Photon OS in our in-depth article.

Overview of the top Linux distributions for servers

  Installation Package management Desktop environment Release
Gentoo Linux Shell commands Portage Cinnamon, Gnome among others Rolling release
Flatcar Ignition Not available None Varies
AlmaLinux Installer dnf Gnome Varies
Rocky Linux Installer dnf Gnome Varies
Photon OS Installer Daemon None Varies

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