Let’s face it, whenever you come across articles that offer advice on choosing the right Linux distro, they tend to get bogged down in lots of technical advice that rarely (if ever) applies to those who don’t. have never experienced Linux. They’ll talk about things like rolling releases, package managers, kernels, open source licensing, and other features and ideologies that not only have little bearing on new Linux and open source technologies, but bog down the decision. in unnecessary complications.
I want to take a very different approach, which should make the process simple enough for anyone wanting to dive into the world of the Linux desktop for the first time. I’m going to ignore the usual advice and aim straight for the heart of the matter. What exactly is that?
Everything revolves around the office.
But why? Why give up all those other exciting goodies that help make every distro special? The answer to this question is quite simple in that with most modern Linux distributions everything works.
Of course, some distros (like Ubuntu) offer superior hardware detection. Still, for the most part, the best versions of the open-source operating system do a great job of detecting your hardware. Also, almost all of these Linux flavors include a user-friendly software installer, a drag-and-drop file manager, and a streamlined settings app. And while some of these variations on a theme may be better than others, they all tend to work.
So if you don’t have to worry about the kernel used, package manager installed, system security or anything else running under the hood, how can a linux newbie best choose the right distro ?
As I said before, you are looking towards the office.
Let me explain.
Not all desktops are created equal
Some Linux desktop environments are phenomenal, but not suitable for the new user. Take, for example, one of my favorite desktop interfaces: Enlightenment (Figure 1). This desk is highly configurable, efficient, and quite fun. However, not only is Enlightenment far from anything new users have experienced, but setting up this desktop can be a bit daunting.
The same goes for just about any tiled desktop interface, such as i3 and Awesome, which can be incredibly efficient interfaces but offer more challenges than a new user should be asked to handle.
Next are the likes of GNOME. Although I prefer GNOME to many other Linux desktops (my current Linux distribution, Pop!_OS, has a GNOME-based desktop), it’s a leap forward from what most new users expect from a computer interface. GNOME takes a very “minimal” approach and “stays away” from the desktop. GNOME is modern, sleek, and fairly simple…but the metaphor it uses tends to throw a lot of new users off the hook.
Remember that people are afraid of change and this is the driving force behind this method. You don’t want to impose a desktop computer on new users, which will not only force them to relearn everything they know about using a PC, but also make them think twice.
That brings us to another outstanding desktop, which ticks many of those new user boxes (like all the right components in the right places), but suffers from a bit of added complexity due to the sheer amount of configurations available. This desktop is Xfce (Figure 2), which is one of the most flexible desktop computers on the market.
If you know what you’re doing with Xfce, you can make it look and behave exactly the way you want. However, it is because of this high configurability that I tend not to suggest this desk to new users.
That brings us to two desktops that I think are the perfect marriage of Linux ethos and what’s needed for new users to dive in without hesitation. These desktops are KDE Plasma and Cinnamon. The main reason to choose these two workstations of choice for new users is that they are immediately familiar, while being able to grow as users acquire more knowledge.
Plasma KDE (picture 3), offers everything a new user wants, without having to worry about adjustments, configuration or (better yet) learning.
Finally, the cinnamon (Figure 4) is just as familiar as KDE Plasma but doesn’t offer the same level of flexibility. Cinnamon is incredibly user-friendly and provides an environment that anyone, regardless of skill level, can immediately use.
So, which distributions?
Now that we have reduced the number of workstations, which distros should you choose? It’s pretty easy at this point. If you want a distro that offers the latest version of the KDE Plasma desktop, go with KDE Neon. If, on the other hand, you want something a little more stable (without the cutting-edge software), go with Kubuntu.
As for Cinnamon, stick with Linux Mint and you’ll be good to go.
There you have it, the easiest way to choose a Linux distro for new users. There’s no science to this, because it’s all about familiarity, stability, and friendliness. With these three things in mind, you absolutely can’t go wrong with KDE Neon, Kubuntu, or Linux Mint.