There are hundreds of versions of Linux. To some people this sounds like fun. To others, this sounds like a waste of time. Who wants to bother wading through all those options when they just want something that works?
While there isn’t one “best” version of Linux, here are three options you can’t go wrong with. Each is well established, comes with business support and has a substantial community. If three two options are too many, go with the first and move to the other two if you run into problems.
Fedora Linux is a community-built distro sponsored by Red Hat, which was the most profitable open source company in the world before its acquisition by IBM. Red Hat continues to be a giant in the open source world, paying developers who maintain much of the software and infrastructure that the entire Linux ecosystem relies on.
Red Hat does not directly develop Fedora Linux, although some of the company’s employees are members of the Fedora community. Instead, Red Hat uses Fedora Linux to develop its own separate offerings, CentOS and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. These two versions of Linux are widely used in the corporate world, by academic institutions or by anyone who needs to maintain their own servers.
Fedora offers an easy-to-learn desktop, integrates the latest features for most other Linux distributions, and comes with built-in security tools such as SELinux.
Traditionally, in the Linux world, software stability has been associated with software that does not change and only receives security-related updates and bug fixes. But Fedora Linux shows that a desktop can be reliable while delivering the latest features. It offers very sensible defaults and serves as a great example of and introduction to what a Linux desktop can be.
Fedora has a policy of working directly with “upstream” communities to improve software that all Linux distributions use, rather than making changes that benefit only Fedora users. Fedora thus serves as a showcase for what the free software world has to offer, as upstream developers envision it. This also means that Fedora has fewer distro-specific changes or bugs.
Since Red Hat’s offerings are based on Fedora Linux, Fedora has the advantage of being compatible and comparable to those products. So if you work in IT, or ever want to, Fedora gives you the chance to learn and use the same tools at home that you use at work.
Here are a few steps to take after installing Fedora Linux that will help you get started.
Ubuntu is the most well-known, most widely used version of Linux out there. It comes from a UK-based company known as Canonical and was first launched in 2004. Its original slogan was “Linux for Human Beings”, and Ubuntu developers worked to create a desktop operating system that delivered on that promise. .
Ubuntu is based on an existing Linux distribution called Debian. The Ubuntu community more or less made Debian easier to install, easier to play multimedia files, and easier to download proprietary hardware drivers. They worked to ensure that installing Linux requires as little technical knowledge as possible. This effort paid off and many people flocked to Ubuntu.
In the years since, Ubuntu has gone through many changes, some ups and downs, and is no longer particularly user-friendly than other Linux distributions, such as Fedora.
The rest of the ecosystem has caught up. Canonical’s focus has also shifted from the desktop, with enterprise customers using Ubuntu on servers and IoT devices delivering a more lucrative business model. But Ubuntu remains a solid desktop operating system with excellent hardware compatibility and software support.
For people who don’t want their computers to change much, Ubuntu has arguably the most compelling release cycle. You can install the long-term support version of Ubuntu, which comes out every two years, and know that it will get support from Canonical for five to ten years.
Ubuntu may also feel more familiar to newcomers. It has an always visible taskbar, minimize and maximize buttons, plus desktop icons – design elements you will no longer find in the standard version of Fedora.
Due to its popularity, there are many places where Ubuntu has come to dominate. It is widely used in the cloud and on IoT devices. Ubuntu can run on anything from a Raspberry Pi to a supercomputer. Ubuntu has long been considered the “default” Linux distribution and it is still a good choice even if the distance between it and other distributions has become significantly smaller.
openSUSE is less popular than the above examples, but it has many of the same strengths. openSUSE has been around for decades and is sponsored by a business company, SUSE. Like Red Hat, SUSE uses openSUSE as the foundation for SUSE Enterprise Linux.
When you use openSUSE, you’re using a distro you can trust to stick around, one with a big company invested in its survival. But that’s not all.
openSUSE comes with tools that increase the number of tasks you can do without opening a command line, something that will feel more familiar to people switching to Linux from Windows or macOS.
YaST is a great tool that handles many aspects of system administration, from installing software and managing updates to configuring your network backend or customizing the boot process. YaST is pre-installed, eliminating the need to search for third-party tools or learn terminal commands.
openSUSE comes in multiple versions. If you’re new, you might want to stick with openSUSE Leap, a more static version that gets an update once a year. But if you like the idea of a system that gets continuous updates without ever needing a full system upgrade, consider openSUSE Tumbleweed instead.
Tumbleweed uses what’s called a rolling-release mode for delivering updates, an approach that can cause some instability over time. To mitigate this, Tumbleweed comes with built-in protections to reduce the risk of breakage and simplify restoring your system to a working state if something goes wrong.
Unlike Fedora and Ubuntu, the openSUSE installation process gives you the choice of your preferred desktop environment. Fedora and Ubuntu both offer GNOME by default, requiring people to download alternative desktops separately. openSUSE includes multiple options, with KDE Plasma at the top of the list. If you want more flexibility, that could be a good reason to get to know openSUSE.
Great distros to start or keep up with
Regardless of which distro you choose, each distro provides a stable foundation that you can use for years to come. You don’t have to go to other distros. You don’t have to tinker with your machine. If you just want a Linux powered computer that works, any of these options will make it work for the long haul.
But whichever you choose, Linux remains a fundamentally different operating system than its more well-known commercial counterparts. There will be an adjustment period. Fortunately, there are plenty of guides to get you started.