This article will look at the three most underrated Linux distros, focusing on the three main categories: desktop, general-purpose, and server.
The Linux world has two main characteristics that set it apart from everything else: freedom and the wide variety of Linux distributions. However, the user has so many options and versions of the operating system to choose from that it can sometimes be complicated and confusing.
This diversity and freedom to choose attracts many supporters to the Linux cause. As a result, some Linux distros get a lot of attention, while others do not.
Names like Red Hat, Debian, Ubuntu, Arch Linux, and others are well-known outside the Linux community. However, this article will focus on three Linux distributions that we believe are unfairly underrated and do not get the attention and popularity they deserve.
However, a necessary clarification is required here. There are already hundreds, if not thousands, of Linux distributions available. We choose the ones that have proven to be predictable, stable, trustworthy, and reliable throughout their existence.
The reason for this is that there are hundreds of Linux distributions whose existence benefits the community but are not considered serious players in the market.
We mean that another exotic Lynx distribution featuring a changed wallpaper and the added theme is outside the scope of this article.
Furthermore, we cannot include distributions whose existence is solely thanks to the enthusiasm and goodwill of one or two people, more like a hobby in their free time, and whose existence cannot be even minimally guaranteed.
I agree Linux exists because of the voluntary efforts of countless developers. And, yes, many of them do it in their free time in addition to their day jobs.
At the same time, some Linux distros, with their management model and the community that has formed around them, have proven to be resilient, ensuring that the course will be kept even in times of crisis.
Now let’s get to the article’s point with that out of the way. First, we have divided the market into three major segments: desktop, general purpose, and server.
For each of these categories, we focused on a particular Linux distro that is not getting the attention it deserves. So, here’s our list.
Void Linux: the Underrated Linux Desktop
If this article were to be reduced down to a single Linux distribution, it would be titled “Void Linux – The Most Underrated Linux Distro Out There.”
Void is a Linux distribution built from scratch, which means it’s not based on anything else. Instead, it is an independently developed operating system that adheres to the rolling-release model.
The distro is entirely developed by volunteers working together on GitHub, and it was founded in 2008 by Juan Romero Pardines, a former NetBSD developer. Because of this, Void is one of the Linux distributions that give you the closest BSD-ish feel.
If we had to relate Void to another Linux distro, it would undoubtedly be Arch Linux. Many similarities exist between the two distributions. The primary ones are desktop-oriented, low on system resources, highly speedy, following a rolling release model, targeting advanced users, independent package systems, and so on.
Furthermore, both distributions give you complete control over your system, including how you want it to look and what you want to be installed on it. Indeed, Arch Linux users will feel right at home with Void Linux.
Fortunately, Void has removed systemd from its arsenal, which is virtually forcefully pushed in most modern Linux distributions today. Instead, it uses runit as its init system. As a result, few distributions can compete with Void Linux’s speed.
For those unfamiliar with runit, it is a very minimalist and incredibly fast init system that is easy to configure and more in line with the classic daemon tools that Linux distros use by default.
Because Void adheres to the rolling release approach, it is unsuitable for use as a server; yet, in a desktop environment, it reveals its real power.
The software choice is vast, and it is challenging to discover Linux apps unavailable for installation in Void. All possible desktop environments, hardware drivers, and apps are included in the distribution repositories or the Void’s GitHub repository with additional software.
To learn more about installing software on Void Linux, check our excellent guide, “How to Use XBPS Package Manager on Void Linux.”
Just like Arch, setting up a Void Linux will teach you quite a bit about how a Linux system works. The distro provides a base installation of the operating system on which you and only decide what to install to get your desired result and functionality.
Additionally, many users prefer Void Linux for another reason – it adheres closely to the good old UNIX philosophy: do one thing and do it right. But, at the same time, Void sticks to traditional GNU/Linux values, providing you with a sense of infinite freedom and choice.
Now you are probably asking yourself why Void Linux is such a well-kept secret? The reason is quite prosaic. First, its competitors are significantly larger, better funded, and can field a large number of developers and technical writers.
At the same time, Void Linux has always been and will continue to be the result of the all-volunteer work of a community of developers working for the common good.
In addition, while protecting its values by refusing to merge with “modern” systemd-based Linux distros that offer simple graphical installers for the average consumer, Void has always remained slightly out of the spotlight.
In conclusion, if you’re a Linux lover and GNU is more than just an acronym to you, please don’t hesitate to give Void a try. Additionally, it is a fantastic option for those who love the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) philosophy.
So, what are you waiting for? Enter the void.
openSUSE: the Underrated General Purpose Linux Distro
Its history began in Germany in 1992 when four Linux enthusiasts set up a small company. Thirty years later, openSUSE is a well-known and recognizable name in the Linux community.
Nonetheless, despite its popularity, this distribution receives very little attention.
The interesting thing is that openSUSE is one of the few Linux distros that can be listed alongside these with substantial financial and technical backing – for example, Canonical with their Ubuntu, Red Hat with Fedora, etc.
Consider the plethora of publications on the Internet regarding Ubuntu, Red Hat, Debian, Arch Linux, and so on. But how often do you come across articles about openSUSE? Moreover, how many of your Linux-obsessed friends run openSUSE on their PCs or servers?
According to this research, in 2022, the distribution has only a 0.1% market share – a significant indicator of the distribution’s undeserved lack of attention. Yet, at the same time, it has a lot to offer to Linux users.
So, as we previously compared Void to Arch Linux, we can now compare openSUSE to Debian here. Both distributions are general-purpose, which means they work well as both a server and a desktop system. And when I say well, I mean really well.
openSUSE is available in two flavors: Tumbleweed and Leap. Tumbleweed is a rolling release, so users always have access to the newest Linux packages. At the same time, Leap is openSUSE’s regular release, with guaranteed stability.
Thanks to SUSE’s financial backing, openSUSE is a distribution you can rely on. It provides excellent stability and reliability, whether a server or desktop system.
In fact, Leap users get as an operating system what paid SLE (SUSE Linux Enterprise) users get. A Linux distro with the most excellent support possible regarding regular and timely security updates and no concerns about the system’s stability and reliability.
Despite these undeniable benefits, openSUSE lags far behind in popularity and usage among the Linux community if we have to compare it with the other big players like Red Hat, Ubuntu, etc. So let’s try to analyze what are the reasons for that.
First, it does not install itself like other distributions. Next, openSUSE does not follow the same repository and package philosophy as other distros, and finally, it is certainly not the easiest distro to fork and modify.
Perhaps the latter argument contributes to openSUSE having a very modest amount of forks based on it compared to other major distributions.
It is also worth noting that the distribution is based in Europe. Although geographical constraints are no longer as significant in today’s technology world, the main consumer base of distribution remains in Europe, where it enjoys relatively high recognition.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in the United States, where distribution is significantly less common.
Last but not least, SUSE has been acquired multiple times. This probably contributed to the fluctuations in the distribution’s course and philosophy.
Indeed, it may be claimed that openSUSE’s popularity has never dropped, but it has also never grown explosively. Instead, it merely grows steadily from year to year without making much of a fuss.
Nonetheless, we believe that openSUSE is not inferior to the other major players in the Linux market and is the most underrated general-purpose Linux distro in recent years.
Oracle Linux: the Underrated Linux Server Distro
So, here we come to the heavy artillery. Of course, many people will be surprised by our selection. Still, I believe that if you look at all of the information below objectively, you would agree that Oracle Linux is perhaps the most underrated Linux server distribution.
As previously said, we are already in the area of serious business mission-critical decisions. But, of course, from the viewpoint of a Linux enthusiast, selecting a server distribution for their home file server can differ significantly.
The goal of this article, however, is different. Namely, to give our readers a well-reasoned overview of the best underrated Linux distributions. And no matter how many internal discussions we had with the other team members, one name consistently rose to the top – Oracle Linux.
Oracle Linux has a history dating back more than 15 years of consistent stability and reliability. The distribution is fully 1:1 binaries compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and is entirely free (available under the GNU General Public License) to download and use.
In addition, compared to the other two rising Linux server players, AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux, all of which are also 1:1 binary compatible with RHEL, Oracle Linux stands out for something fundamental that makes the difference – the in-house developed Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel (UEK).
Oracle Linux is a trustworthy distribution backed by the enormous financial power of an IT behemoth like Oracle. Security updates are promptly, and stability and reliability are ensured even under heavy workloads.
Unlike other more popular competitors in the Linux server field, such as Red Hat and Ubuntu, which have compromised their credibility with some of their acts, Oracle Linux has proven predictability and a lack of unexpected turns during the last 15 years. Something crucial when talking about the enterprise segment.
So, having said all that, the question arises, why then is Oracle Linux not the preferred server choice in the Linux community? The answer is heartbreakingly sad: because of layered prejudices.
It’s no secret that the Linux community has had mixed sentiments towards Oracle for many years. Once labeled as one of the big evil enemies of the open source idea, this statement is immediately carried over to every Oracle-branded product.
As a result, the Linux community widely ignores even products that have been proven to be faultless and entirely open source, such as Oracle Linux. Of course, this is not the case in the enterprise segment, where bias and feelings have no place. However, the preceding fact remains unchanged.
To summarize, if you are unsure which Linux distribution to use for your server needs, consider Oracle Linux. Its reliability and predictability are guaranteed. One thing is sure: you will never go wrong with it.
This brings us to the end of this article. Its goal is not to convince you to use any Linux distros listed. Instead, we’d like to provide our viewpoint, which is backed up by years of expertise in the field.
Whether you agree with what we’ve said, we appreciate you taking the time to read it. Of course, any thoughts and opinions on the matter are welcome in the comments section below.