Best Approaches to Choosing Your First Linux Distro (Beginner's Guide)

Best Approaches to Choosing Your First Linux Distro (Beginner’s Guide)

Are you a newcomer to Linux? Not sure which Linux distribution to choose to begin your Linux journey? This article is for you!

For the average PC user who has been using the established desktop operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and macOS, Linux can be somewhat confusing. Furthermore, the perception that Linux is mainly used by “pro” users and is “very complex” plays against it.

Of course, neither of the preceding two statements is true. Linux is a complex operating system, just like any other. And, as always, it all depends on the individual.

We’re all accustomed to working in our comfort zones. So when we have to step out of it, the new and unfamiliar might be intimidating and incomprehensible. And that’s perfectly normal.

Why am I saying the above? Because it is critical to take the proper approach while encountering the unfamiliar, in this case, Linux. Our early impressions are often decisive for our future attitude toward the object of our work.

The fact that a new Linux user is faced with the surprising discovery that there are “many kinds of Linux” is confusing enough. And the first question is almost always, “Which Linux distribution should I choose?”

I’ll divide novice Linux users into three categories in the following lines. Then, based on my experience over the years, I will recommend a specific Linux distribution for each.

Of course, this is all my opinion. I do not claim that this is the only proper course to follow. Furthermore, the internet is filled with articles titled “Best Linux distributions for…”, so here are my thoughts on the subject.

But of course, I’d appreciate it if you took my advice into account while choosing a Linux distribution with which to enter the exciting world of freedom, Linux.

Requirements

Before we get to the proposals, let me share the criteria that guided my decision.

First and foremost, the Linux distribution should be one of the original ones. If you’re new to Linux, these are the ones that were created from scratch and aren’t based on anything else before them.

Related: 4 Major Distros in the History of Linux That Shaped the Linux World

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not against derivatives that “improve” the original. I don’t even mind derivatives of derivatives that fix “improvements” to the derivative before them.

Related: Linux Distro Types Explained: Originals, Derivatives, Flavors

However, each of these Linux distributions modifies the original concept to varying degrees. Some have an impact on core functionality, while others have an impact on appearance – others on both sides.

All of this, in some manner, deviates from the path of pure Linux user experience. I believe the foundation should be placed as close to the roots as possible. This will give a novice Linux user a more accurate understanding and feel for everything that follows.

Furthermore, the distribution’s primary desktop environment should be GNOME or KDE. These two desktop environments, loved by some and disliked by others, are the most widely used in the Linux world.

Therefore, it is strongly advised that the first steps into Linux involve getting to know one of the two.

Of course, as knowledge and experience grow, the new Linux user will probably find the most enjoyable part of this operating system – the plethora of desktop environments. And at some point will walk its way through them all.

Finally, there are two significant criteria to consider: reliability and support. I agree that most modern Linux distributions are reliable these days. But we need to go one step beyond that here.

We should bet on those that have proven to be the least prone to official releases containing bugs. And even if they do occur, having the capacity and capability to intervene lightning-fast and deliver a fix in the shortest amount of time.

In other words, the new Linux user can get a reliable and stable operating system without even knowing it. Otherwise, it would play a rather frustrating role.

Fedora for Novice Linux Users by Coincidence

Fedora 36 GNOME Desktop

I realize the title sounds strange, but let me explain. Not every Linux user became one out of pure curiosity, love of technology, or belief in the open-source philosophy.

Some people work with Linux by coincidence in a work context without having any enthusiasm to do so without previous experience. Others choose Linux simply because Linux skills are highly valued.

Whatever the case, these users need an “entry point” into learning about Linux, and I recommend Fedora.

Some of you would automatically say “Ubuntu” out of habit. However, based on my experiences, Ubuntu is no longer the best choice for new Linux users.

The distribution has implemented a lot of controversial decisions and approaches in its recent releases, which does not fit my definition of a clean and straightforward Linux experience.

On the other hand, Fedora provides one of the cleanest user experiences. The distribution becomes better, more polished, and easier to use with each release.

You won’t find pre-modified and “powdered” desktop embellishments in Fedora, which sometimes change the desktop environment beyond recognition. Instead, the new user is presented with a clean Linux desktop that is as near to the original Linux experience as possible.

At the same time, the software is up to date and has been thoroughly tested for stability, ensuring trouble-free operation.

Everything in Fedora works right out of the box, making the newbie Linux user’s first steps into Linux much more effortless.

Furthermore, Fedora is a member of the Red Hat family. Using it as a starting point in the Linux world, you are guaranteed to build solid knowledge while dealing with enterprise Linux systems over time. Something that can only benefit your future Linux development.

Debian for Avid Beginner Linux Users

Debian 11 GNOME Desktop

We are moving on to the second group of novice Linux users. Most of them belong to it – people passionate about technology, freedom, and the right to choose.

This group of future Linux users is aware that they are facing something unfamiliar, but they believe they can handle it. So I recommend Debian to them.

As we know, Debian is a universal Linux distribution. This means that besides being a server, it does great on the desktop. And just like Fedora, Debian comes with an excellent graphical installer that wouldn’t be difficult for most computer users.

Installing the most recent version of the distribution provides the newbie Linux user with one of the most robust desktop solutions available. Yes, the packages are not “at the bleeding edge.” However, I doubt the novice Linux user will be in tears because they did not get GNOME 42 or KDE Plasma 5.25.

We’re back to the idea of the pure Linux user experience. It is abundant here. Debian strictly adheres to Linux standards and will give the novice Linux user one of the most solid foundations of knowledge.

On top of that, Debian is free of surprises and strange decisions forced by business interests. Everything here is about reliability, stability, and keeping to the Linux philosophy.

The novice user will gain fundamental knowledge and skills about a large part of the Linux ecosystem by joining it through Debian. By knowing about Debian, a Linux user is learning about everything that has emerged from it, and the list is extensive. But, of course, Ubuntu is at the helm.

Debian is like your childhood best friend, with whom you discovered your life’s adventures. Years later, you return to it after traveling many roads in the Linux world and trying countless distributions.

And you find that your best friend hasn’t changed that much. Still reliable and stable, eager to help you. Years pass, but some things have stood the test of time. A symbol of reliability and stability. This best suits Debian.

And last but not least, Debian will introduce new Linux users to the concept of open source as closely as possible.

Arch Linux for Highly Passionate Beginner Linux Users

Arch Linux GNOME Desktop

Here we stand on the cliff’s edge and dive boldly into the deep. But when we surface, we will be many steps ahead of the others.

“Arch Linux” and “new Linux user” are two phrases many people find challenging to put together in the same sentence. But, on the other hand, many believe that to study something thoroughly, you must first get your hands dirty up to your elbows. And that statement makes sense.

Of course, we must make one clarification here. Choosing Arch Linux as a first introduction to Linux is only for highly motivated people. For individuals who see failure as an opportunity to learn another way, things should not be done and move on to the next effort.

So, gaining experience and knowledge about the Linux ecosystem is the fastest and most generous with Arch Linux, but it comes at a price.

It needs a lot of motivation and dedication to the Linux concept. Long hours are often required for something that appears to work by default in other Linux distributions. But at the end of the day, you will have a thorough understanding of how things work.

In fact, things aren’t too terrible. Once you’ve accomplished the manual installation in the terminal, you’ll discover that you’ve learned more about Linux in a few hours than you would have in weeks of reading about it.

And then, you will be able to repeat the entire process in exactly 30 minutes. But the best part is that things will get easier.

Despite being a rolling-release Linux distro, Arch is incredibly stable and reliable. Did I mention that it would be difficult to find software for Linux that isn’t already in one of the Arch repositories? Everything is at your disposal. I mean, everything.

In addition, the Arch Linux documentation can be summed up in one word: treasure. It is not restricted to the distro alone. It’s a one-stop shop for almost any Linux user looking for information about certain system functionality.

Almost everything on Arch Linux is done manually using the command line. As a result, it will provide the novice Linux user with a jolt of pure Linux experience, understanding, and knowledge. This would take much longer with most other Linux distributions.

So if you’re highly motivated and don’t give up easily, go ahead! Dive into the deep because Arch Linux is for you. The payoff is worth it!

Closing Thoughts

We’ve reached the end of this article, and I’d like to share a few final thoughts.

The proposed Linux distributions are based on a few core criteria: adherence to the basic principle of Linux, stability, reliability, support, and the desktop environment used.

Of course, many other distros are vying for the niche of the most user-friendly Linux distro for beginners. For example, Deepin, elementary OS, Zorin OS, Linux Mint, etc., offer gorgeous desktop environments. Shiny, polished almost to the last detail.

In addition, many of them are trying to work on a next-next-install principle. But that’s not the sort of thing I’d like to advice a new Linux user to use. Don’t get me wrong, but if I wanted something shiny and easy, I’d just go to the local PC store and buy a MacBook Pro.

Linux has always been and will continue to be more than just an operating system. From its first days 30 years ago, it has been far beyond that. Linux is the last technological romance of our time. It is an idea, a community, a philosophy, a belief, freedom, and faith all rolled into one.

As a result, the recommendations in this article stick to distributions near to these understandings. Distros that will give the new Linux user a pure and unadulterated with extra spices feel and embellishment of this adventure we all love, called Linux.

Whether you agree or disagree with my point of view, I want to thank you for your time and the pleasure of being our reader. Any feedback is much appreciated!

5 Comments

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  1. Mate is probably the most Windows like Desktop environment and menu. I would never recommend gnome to a newbie from Windows, unless they were a Win8 lover. Cinnamon is good too, and there are hybrid desktops like Zorin. KDE is also a conventional desktop, but many newbies find it hard to configure.
    If you are new to Linux Consider Ubuntu Mate, Mint or Zorin.

  2. Thank you for article number 7,851 in the ongoing series “the new Linux user”.
    It matters not what the title actually is, it’s just a different house in the same street.
    Most people presenting these options don’t have much to offer except to see their name at the top of the page.
    You have broken the mould.
    Fedora – really???
    Again, you – and many before you – have fallen into the trap of “How can they not like it, it’s fantastic”.
    Here’s a quick look at Fedora – from an EXPERT!
    http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/fedora-36.html

    Debian – a reluctant, but necessary inclusion and the least said the better – in this very biased article.

    “Arch Linux” and “new Linux user” are two phrases many people find challenging to put together in the same sentence.
    At least you got that right!

    And you finish with the only information that is useful…
    “Of course, many other distros are vying for the niche of the most user-friendly Linux distro for beginners. For example…”

  3. I have about forty years of Unix/Linux experience starting with SCO Xenix, so not a babe in the woods by any stretch.
    I’ve run more Linux distros than I can count.
    Half my home computers are on Linux. Just yesterday I left a command prompt open because it was quicker to enter a command than go through the menu for what I was doing. So I’m not in any way opposed to command line when it is appropriate.
    Oh, yeah, and I was an IT director for nearly 20 years.
    The article would be of much more benefit if the title was different. There are people, and I’ve worked with them and even hired them, who have the inclination to do a deep dive into distros that require mostly command line. That that set of people is a very small subset of the average computer users. Trying to lure the average user into reading this article with that headline, and then expecting them to jump right into a deep dive into command line Linux is basically a “Bait and Switch.”
    Bad form.

    +++-

    • I agree with you totally. The article could have begun with how to search on DistroWatch for an OS that would meet their needs. That is a good place to start. Maybe also describe the different desktops, Gnome, KDE, Mate, Cinnamon, Xfce, Budge, and Unity for a start. Show examples of the desktops, list the desktops strengths and weaknesses. Explain the packages and package managers. Tell how updates, upgrades and distribution upgrades are handled. Tell the difference between a release, a LTS release and a rolling release. All have a terminal and you can use the command line with all. This is where someone new needs to begin, because at the core they are all the Linux kernel.
      Then someone new can make an informed choice on a new Linux distro. I wish that kind of information had been available when I started on Linux.

  4. Great article as many new users want to know where to start out and put their efforts in. As far as ‘new Linux’ users goes for Arch, I’d also suggest mentioning a specific (or two) distro’s to start with eg. Manjaro, and I think there was another more recent popular one for new users, which both make the installation and getting going a bit easier.

    BTW I notice every time I come to read an article on this site I get blocked by Cloudflare saying the hoster has banned my region or country. Not sure why South Africa would eb blocked? It’s definitely site specific as my own DNS is through Cloudflare for my site, and is acessible.