The Best Linux Distros for Beginners in 2021
New Linux users might feel intimidated by the choice of Linux distributions available — there are literally thousands of options. How can you tell the great distros from the shoddy ones?
To help you navigate this endless sea of Linux distros, we’ve made a list of the seven best distributions for new Linux users to try in 2021. With so many distros out there — each designed for a very specific user experience — it would be hard to point to just one distro and tell beginners to start there. It’s much easier to point to seven distros instead.
The Linux distributions on this list are some of the more popular ones because of their great user interfaces. But try these distros out for yourself and see what you think.
What you need to know before choosing a Linux distribution
As you probably know, a Linux distribution (or distro) is a free, open source operating system that distributes the Linux kernel. A kernel is the core of an operating system that you interact with through a shell and applications (what a distro contains).
Unlike other operating systems, you can live boot a Linux distro on your computer without having to install it. To do this, you usually download a Linux distro as an ISO file and save it to a USB key. You can then insert the USB key into any PC and run the Linux distribution.
The 7 best linux distributions for beginners
Ubuntu tops our list because it’s the most popular distribution among both beginners and advanced Linux users. As such, it has a large community of users, making support easy to find. Ubuntu is an accessible, powerful distribution and as a result, many other distributions use Ubuntu as a foundation.
Ubuntu comes with some popular open source applications already installed, including the LibreOffie suite, Firefox web browser, Thunderbird email, and more. You can also add apps easily for Ubuntu through its own app store, Ubuntu Software. If you’re a beginning Linux user who wants zero hassle, then Ubuntu is a great choice for you.
Linux Mint is a distro based on Ubuntu which uses the same repository as Ubuntu, so you have access to all the same applications. Ubuntu comes with the GNOME desktop which isn’t as close to Windows as some new users would like. But the Linux Mint Cinnamon desktop resembles Windows with clickable icons and a start button. Based on Ubuntu, you can expect solid performance from Linux Mint.
Linux Mint is also lighter than Ubuntu, with fewer system requirements. It’ll consume about 512 MB of RAM and 9 GB of hard disk space. If you’re a Windows-user who wants a seamless first experience with Linux, then give Linux Mint a go.
Zorin OS is an Ubuntu-based distro that’s designed for the ultimate user experience. The creators wanted to help Windows users acclimate to Linux as painlessly as possible, so it comes with a Windows 7-like start menu. You can also trade that in for a Windows XP layout if you’re not a Windows 7 fan.
Zorin OS comes in Lite, Core, Education, or Ultimate (Ultimate costs $39), to suit different system requirements or user needs. The distro also comes with basic apps and a native app store, but you can use Wine to find software developed for Windows to add to Zorin OS.
Elementary OS is an elegant Linux distro based on the MacOS interface. If you’re used to a Mac and like looking at a pretty desktop, then Elementary OS will be a great choice. The distribution ships with several native apps such as Photos, Music, Videos, Terminal, and more. Whatever you don’t find pre-installed you can get from the Elementary OS AppCenter.
As an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution that’s fully customizable, Elementary OS performs well and looks great.
Manjaro is one of the few distros on this list not based on Ubuntu. Based instead on Arch Linux, Manjaro is fast and beginner-friendly, but does have a bit more of a learning curve than some of the Ubuntu distros. You have several desktop options to customize it to your preferences and Manjaro has a rolling release update cycle.
You can install a variety of software or access AUR to get software not officially available for Manjaro. If you want to break away from Ubuntu and don’t mind a bit of a challenge, then give Manjaro a try.
Pop!_OS is a great beginner’s distro for gaming. Hybrid graphics work well on this distro and one edition of Pop!_OS is designed specifically for Nvidia hardware. As a distro that comes with all the features necessary for a solid gaming experience, it’s not a lightweight Linux distribution.
Pop!_OS encrypts your installation by default and comes with a custom app store called Pop!_Shop where you can find most of the apps you’ll need.
Solus is a beginner-friendly, independently developed Linux distribution. It’s not based on Ubuntu, Arch, or any other distro. It also has a custom desktop environment called Budgie, which combines the sleekest features of Windows, Android, and Chrome OS. The native app library is a bit small, but Solus also supports many apps from the GNOME apps library.
Although the community around Solus is smaller, it still runs well and operates on a rolling release update cycle so you’ll get the latest versions all the time.
Linux distros for beginners
Hopefully, this list helps you find what you’re looking for as a new Linux user. And if not, don’t worry — there are thousands more distros to choose from! Once you start using Linux and get a feel of what you want, you can experiment with distros until you find the perfect one for you.
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