What is Linux? It’s a free operating system that does everything Windows will do. Disclaimer: Linux is free in the sense of “freewill” more so than “free beer!” Any computer that is capable of running Windows is usually capable of running Linux. Linus Torvalds invented the original Linux kernel (the heart of the Linux operating system) in 1991. He released the source code and made it publicly downloadable. Anyone is free to download the Linux kernel and make their own version (or distributions as they’ve come to be called) of Linux. There are hundreds of distributions currently available. All have similarities, but each one is a little different.
I love the site DistroWatch! They post all the major Linux distributions (or distros) and keep track of the current versions. They also keep a daily count of the 10 most popular distros. I used their data to compile this list. I hope Linux newbies as well as Linux experts will find this list useful.
Here are 10 solid Linux distros… and 10 free alternatives to Windows.
Click on each screenshot to see a larger version.
10. CentOS: Previous to Fedora (scroll down in the list to read more about Fedora), Red Hat made one Linux distro, it was simply called Red Hat Linux, and it was free. Later they split their efforts into two distros, Fedora, and RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). Fedora is still free, but RHEL has to be licensed. CentOS is the unofficial free version of RHEL. It is not supported by Red Hat, but has the same code base.
9. Gentoo: I installed this several years ago. It was the most customizable version of Linux I’d ever seen. The installer actually complied the source code specifically for your computer. It was so meticulous it was almost annoying. I hear they’ve changed this in recent releases though. It remains a very popular distro.
8. Slackware: This one has been around longer than any other Linux distro, since 1992. It’s marketed mostly at power users because its interface is less friendly than some of the others, but it is still a rock solid distro! It has certainly stood the test of time.
7. PCLinuxOS: Next to Ubuntu (scroll down a bit to read about Ubuntu), this is probably the most user-friendly Linux distribution. In some ways, its actually more friendly than Ubuntu. This is a great distro for newcomers!
6. Linux Mint: I’ve never used this one, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. The interface looks very slick and intuitive. I’m anxious to try it out.
5. Mandriva: Years ago, this distro was called Linux Mandrake. This was one of the first Linux distros marketed at everyday users. It is very easy to use. I installed it several years ago, but haven’t used it recently.
4. Debian: This is a solid distro! Period.
3. openSUSE: This is one of my personal favorites. I’ve always love the SUSE interface. The first version of SUSE that I used was version 8, and it was this distro that made me realize how cool Linux really was. SUSE was acquired by Novell in 2003. Shortly after the acquisition, they followed the “Red Hat Model” and split their offerings in two. OpenSUSE is the free version of Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise platform.
2. Fedora: Red Hat’s open project, Fedora, has long been a favorite of Linux users worldwide. Started in 2003, it is their free alternative to RHEL. While RHEL is marketed at enterprises, Fedora is targeted at home users, with a slightly different look and feel.
1. Ubuntu: This is probably the most user-friendly Linux distribution ever made. It’s very well done. Some power users don’t like it because they say its “too user friendly”, but most people seem to be very happy with it. I have used several different versions of Ubuntu, and I have nothing bad to say about it. This is a great distro.
Now stop reading, and go download one (if not all) of these Linux distributions. Are you still running Windows? Why? Linux is free… and it’s better.