The Linux operating system (OS) is a powerful open-source system. It has been around for over three decades. While it started as a Unix-like system, it has now evolved into many different flavors or distributions (distros).
Each distro offers unique features and benefits, making it the best option for specific users. So, whether you’re looking for user-friendliness, security, something lightweight, or any other characteristic, there is a Linux distro for you.
Following is a handpicked list of Top Linux Distros. The list contains a detailed description of each Linux Distros with Pros, Cons, and Key features. The list contains both open source (free) and commercial (paid) software.
Best Linux Distributions
|Name||Best for||Minimum RAM||Minimum Hard disk||Link|
|Ubuntu||Beginners & Working Professionals||4 GB||25 GB||Learn More|
|Pop!_OS||Developers||2 GB||40 GB||Learn More|
|Drauger OS||Gaming||1 GB||32 GB||Learn More|
|Tails||Security and Privacy||2GB||8 GB||Learn More|
|Kali Linux||Forensics and Pen Testing||128 MB||2 GB||Learn More|
1) Ubuntu Desktop
Best For: Beginners & Working Professionals
Ubuntu Desktop is the most popular Linux distro, perfect for beginners and working professionals. Its popularity is because it has one of the friendliest graphical user interfaces around, and this feature makes it an excellent choice for those new to Linux.
Ubuntu Desktop is free and usually comes with two options:
- A Long Term Support (LTS) version includes five years of free and guaranteed security and maintenance updates.
- A standard version offers free updates for nine months after release.
- Developer and User Community: Ubuntu has one of the largest developer communities of any other Linux distro. This aspect makes it easy for beginners and working professionals to find quick solutions to any problem or feature that they need.
- Native Software Repository: Ubuntu also has a massive software repository allowing even the most novice users to find new software to install easily.
- Wine: Ubuntu also includes useful applications like Wine, making it exceptionally simple to run programs for Windows on Ubuntu.
- User-friendly and easy to set up.
- An extensive software repository.
- You can also add third-party software repositories.
- It is a large community of users and developers.
- Ubuntu is perfect for multitasking. With its Unity interface, you can easily have multiple windows open simultaneously.
- Ubuntu has a very robust security system that is difficult to hack.
- Ubuntu releases regular updates to keep your system up-to-date and safe from attacks.
- You can customize Ubuntu to fit your specific needs, making it a top competitor for the best Linux distro.
- Sometimes, it can be buggy, especially when running Windows programs through Wine.
Best For: Developers
Pop!_OS has been designed as a developer-friendly operating system from the ground up. It includes everything you need to develop, edit, test, and deploy your projects. Pop!_OS developers have put every aspect of its development cycle with this popular Linux distro. This distro is also the default operating system on laptops and computers made by System76, an open-source hardware manufacturer based in Denver, Colorado.
- A vast array of pre-installed libraries and tools: It has everything a developer needs. For example, it comes with deep learning tools such as Tensorflow and Matlab. It also comes with engineering and bioinformatics tools such as VS Code, ROS, Postman, R, Bioconductor, Bioconda, and more.
- Developer-focused: Pop!_OS comes with all the tools that a developer requires in one place. This aspect makes it simple to do multiple things simultaneously without distractions. These include auto tiling, workflow customization, and window stacking.
- Encryption: Pop!_OS encrypts immediately upon installation, making it one of the most secure Linux distros.
- The most developer-friendly distro around.
- The user interface is minimalistic but incredibly efficient.
- The developers offer the latest Linux Kernel releases, including LTS releases. For example, Pop!_OS 20.04 LTS comes with Linux Kernel 5.13.
- A fast upgrade process.
- An auto-tiling manager ensures that users don’t have to keep dragging and dropping active windows to organize them for faster access.
- The POP OS store can be buggy when installing new software.
3) Drauger OS
Best For: Gaming
Drauger uses the mainline Linux kernel. The developers compiled the kernel to ensure low latency, and they also changed the scheduling frequency from 250Hz to 1000Hz. Gamers enjoy higher frame rates, more minor screen tearing, and improved performance due to these modifications.
The distro starts with a freshly installed Steam Client, and the desktop environment is customized Xfce. Drauger supports most Xbox and Xbox360 controllers in addition to some PlayStation controllers.
- Performance: Drauger OS is optimized for gaming, and it boosts faster than the other distros and aims to solve some common problems that gamers face, such as input lag.
- Pro Gaming Tools: Drauger also has some pre-installed tools explicitly meant for pro gamers, such as Steam and RetroArch, a frontend emulator. It also comes with PlayStation 1 and 2, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Gameboy, and SNES.
- Xfce 4.14 desktop: The Xfce desktop has three panels, a bottom panel for workspaces, a left-side quick launcher panel, and a main bar at the top.
- Low latency Linux kernel.
- It is optimized for gaming.
- Several gaming platforms.
- It supports multiple controllers, including Xbox.
- Drauger comes with several pre-installed emulators.
- Wine, Steam, Lutris, and PlayOnLinux are installed by default.
- Lacks a browser in the Live environment
- Clunky system installer.
Best For: Security & Privacy
Tails are the official Linux distro of the Tor project. As a result, users can expect the same level of security and privacy, which cryptography and privacy experts have come to expect from the Tor network. Tails is a lightweight Live Operating System that you can start on almost any computer from a USB stick or a DVD. This distro contains an inbuilt firewall, routes all your connections through Tor, and encrypts everything you do on the Web.
- Stateless: Tails were created with a singular goal in mind – to ensure anonymity while using the Internet. Since Tails do not save any data once you shut down your computer, it is a stateless system.
- Tor Enabled: Tails is built to protect you against surveillance and traffic analysis, and it anonymizes your communications bypassing all your Internet activity through the TOR network.
- Live OS: You can start this distro from a USB stick or DVD. Once the OS boots up, it automatically becomes anonymous since nothing is logged in the system.
- Anonymized connections over TOR.
- Install and launch from an encrypted USB on any computer.
- It comes with a Firefox browser equipped with privacy plugins.
- Tails come with several desktop applications such as LibreOffice, Thunderbird, GIMP, Audacity, Pidgin, and Inkscape.
- Tails have extremely low memory and processing power.
- It doesn’t start on USB sticks on some Dell brand computers and is buggy in a few HP models.
5) Kali Linux
Best For: Forensics and Pen Testing
Kali is a Debian-derived Linux distro customized for penetration testing and security auditing. It comes pre-installed with several open-source tools for testing the security of networks. In addition, Kali Linux is regularly updated to keep up with the latest exploits and security vulnerabilities found in the most popular software. This Linux distros can run on 32-bit and 64-bit PCs and advanced ARM hardware architecture.
- Pre-loaded Penetration Testing Tools: Kali Linux has hundreds of pre-loaded tools. These include Metasploit, John the Ripper, and Armitage. Others are Aircrack-ng, Burp Suite, Nmap, Wireshark, sqlmap, and OWASP ZAP.
- Live Environment: Kali Linux is a Live operating system that can run on any computer without installing it.
- Advanced Package Tool (APT): Kali uses this Debian-developed program to install and remove software packages. This is unlike most distros that use the more basic .deb or .RPM format.
- Open Source Android Penetration Testing Platform: Kali is also a mobile penetration testing platform for Android devices.
- A wide array of penetration testing tools is already installed in the OS.
- Available both in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
- High level of security and stability.
- Comprehensive official documentation that includes live chat.
- A vibrant user community where users can ask and answer technical questions.
- An active Kali Linux Bug Tracker that ensures immediate attention from developers.
- Not suitable for beginners. Requires technical knowledge of penetration testing tools to operate at full capacity.
6) Linux Mint
Bes For: Windows Lookalike
If you are transitioning from Windows and want to retain the Windows look and feel as much as possible, your best player is Linux Mint. It is an Ubuntu-based distro that is pre-configured with all the necessary tools to work on most computer hardware platforms. It also has a large community of users to ask questions and quickly get answers from experts.
- Built with the Cinnamon Desktop Environment: This user interface looks and feels like the Microsoft Windows 7 desktop, so it’s easy to get used to if you’re leaving Windows.
- Synaptic Package Manager: This tool offers a simple method of installing all kinds of software on Mint.
- Productivity Tools: Includes productivity tools like LibreOffice and Mozilla Thunderbird email client.
- Application Store: It is compatible with Ubuntu software repositories and offers an alternative app store for users who don’t want to use Ubuntu’s official one.
- It looks and feels like Windows 7.
- Full multimedia support out-of-the-box.
- Has a large community available to offer support through forums, social media, and IRC chat rooms.
- It comes with one of the best software package managers.
- Slower on older computer hardware compared to Ubuntu.
7) Elementary OS
Best for: Mac Lookalike
Elementary OS is the best distro to make Linux look like OS X. Elementary OS is based on the Ubuntu distro. However, it has a desktop environment with a unique user interface, and it also comes with several utilities that mimic Apple’s design choices.
- Mac-style interface: The unique Pantheon desktop sits on top of the GNOME software base. This allows users to organize their workflow using multiple workspaces.
- AppCenter: This collection of applications is a “software center.” It serves as an alternative to the default software repositories of Ubuntu.
- Default Apps: Elementary OS comes with a set of default apps. These include a web browser, file manager, and music player. It also comes with a video player, email client, calendar app, and image viewer.
- It looks and feels like Mac OS X.
- This Linux OS has a lightweight, clean design with simple animations.
- Being an Ubuntu derivative comes with all Ubuntu LTS qualities and support.
- Users can ask and answer questions at a dedicated StackExchange site, Reddit channel, and Slack community.
- The distro is not free; however, users pay for what they want.
8) Puppy Linux
Best for: Lightweight Distro
Puppy Linux is a collection of low-resource Linux variants developed for budget computer shoppers. First created by Barry Kauler in 2003, the design goal was to create an easy-to-use Linux-based operating system that leaves little memory footprint behind.
- Pre-installed tools/applications: Puppy Linux has a wide range of essential daily tools/applications. These include office software, a media streamer, a web browser, an email client, and more.
- Easy To Use: The distro appeals to newcomers because it is easy to navigate using GUI-based applications.
- Requires Little Storage: Puppy Linux only requires 128 MB of RAM and 512 MB of hard disk space.
- Fast and Reliable: Puppy Linux loads into computer memory in a matter of seconds, and this aspect makes it an excellent choice for low memory or old computer hardware.
- Highly Customizable: It uses the JWM or Openbox window manager, giving users complete control over their desktop display.
- Puplets: Puppy Linux comes with hundreds of derivatives known as Puplets to meet users’ varying needs.
- The lightweight design makes Puppy Linux ideal for low-memory computer hardware.
- Easy to use by both learners and experienced users.
- Easy to customize within minutes.
- It is one of the best Linux distros for older computers.
- It comes with hundreds of derivatives for users to choose from.
- The GUI feels a bit outdated to users familiar with Windows or Mac.
9) CentOS Stream
Best For: Servers
CentOS Stream is a Linux distribution based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It is a shortened version of the Community Enterprise Operating System. CentOS Stream is community-driven, with RHEL code at its core. Developers released the Linux server operating system for free in the USA, and they achieved this by removing Red Hat’s trademark.
CentOS Stream is now the upstream public development branch for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and this was after CentOS Linux 8 was discontinued on 31st December 2021. It is the best distro for servers because it is designed for stability, security, and long-term support.
- Long-term support: CentOS Stream guarantees regular updates for ten years after the release date, which makes it an excellent choice for businesses that don’t want to upgrade their server OS too often or too quickly.
- No frills: The design focuses on speed, stability, and security. This aspect makes it ideal for anyone who wants a no-nonsense server OS without unnecessary features or applications.
- A Large Community Support Base: Many developers drive the project. Thus, many contributors offer support through forums and social media.
- Stable Operating System: It has solid foundations in RHEL. This history ensures CentOS maintains its stability through rigorous testing throughout the development process.
- Security Updates: The distro provides timely security updates. This feature keeps your server secure from any vulnerabilities discovered in third-party software or company infrastructure.
- It has a large user base for support.
- Highly stable.
- It offers a massive repository of free software applications.
- Developers now contribute to RHEL and CentOS Stream, which adds value to both systems.
- Regular rigorously tested updates.
- It might be too enterprise-centric for non-business users.
Best For: Power Users
ArchLinux is an independent Linux distribution developed with skilled Linux users in mind. It relies on the Pacman package manager for software updates with full dependency tracking. The distro is installable from a CD image. Alternatively, you can install it via an FTP server operating on a systematic update system. The default installation sets you up with a solid foundation for creating a bespoke setup. The Arch Build System (ABS) also gives users the ability to develop new packages quickly. They can also customize stock packages and share their creations with other users via the Arch Linux user repository.
- Smart Package Management – Pacman: A package manager written from scratch for ArchLinux with dependency resolution and the ability to upgrade installed packages without rebooting.
- Rolling-release System: You can install a new software version on a machine without halting or disrupting services.
- Arch User Repository (AUR): This gives users access to thousands of community-built packages. These range from competitive enterprise features like Teamspeak to niche applications such as nodejs server administration.
- It provides unparalleled versatility in fine-tuning the computer according to personal preferences.
- It supports bleeding-edge software updates due to its rolling release nature.
- It offers thousands of available packages thanks to the AUR.
- It requires advanced Linux knowledge and skills requiring constant learning and troubleshooting.
How to Get Started with a Linux Distro
Linux is a highly versatile and scalable operating system that can adapt to a range of different purposes and preferences. So, if you don’t find anything on this list that suits your needs, you can be sure there are hundreds of other alternatives available for you.
The best approach for anyone starting with Linux is to experiment and try out the various desktop environments, applications, and other features that might be available. You can then narrow down your options based on what you liked about each distro.
❓ What is a Distro?
A Linux distribution (distro for short) is the official version of the Linux system that you run on your computer. Linux distributions come with everything you need to get working. These include:
- The Linux kernel (the heart of the operating system).
- The desktop environment.
- Applications for various purposes and many other utilities.
Desktop Linux distributions usually ship with a windowing system such as X11 or Wayland. They also ship with a desktop environment like KDE Plasma or GNOME.
However, server distributions often omit graphics and instead come with the LAMP solution stack. Being freely redistributable, anyone may create a Linux distribution for any purpose.
⚡ Which are the Best Linux Distros?
Following are the Best Linux Distros:
- Ubuntu Desktop
- Drauger OS
- Kali Linux
- Linux Mint
- Elementary OS
- Puppy Linux
- CentOS Stream
🚀 Why Is Choosing a Distro Important?
Choosing a Linux distribution is an essential initial step in getting started with the operating system. Some distributions are more beginner-friendly, while others are geared towards advanced users. In addition, some distros provide a more comprehensive and immersive experience than others. Linux distros also offer varying levels of compatibility with different software and hardware configurations.
🏅 How to choose the best distro for you?
The best Linux distro for you depends on your needs and technical skill. When choosing a distro, evaluate whether it aligns with your technical abilities and needs. For example, Kali Linux has a steep learning curve designed for penetration testing.
Also, consider how common that particular version of Linux might be. For example, you don’t want a distro with a small user community and weak support. When you need help, you need to get it quickly.
So, choose a distro that checks all the boxes below:
- A live CD installer option.
- A wide selection of bundled software.
- Ample choice of desktop environments and variants.
- The distro meets your specific purpose.
- A wide selection of software libraries.
- Access to instant updates through rolling release distributions.
👉 What Makes Distros Distinct?
Linux distros are often distinguished by their desktop environments, and the two most popular ones for Linux users are GNOME and KDE.
Although there are many others like Xfce, Cinnamon, Mate, Unity, and LXQt, most distros come with one of these pre-installed. However, you can install any other, and they’re entirely free.
- Linux distributions can also be distinguished by developer support and user communities. The distros with good developer support and vibrant user communities tend to be the most popular.
- Distros are distinct based on their design intention. For example, some are designed explicitly for gaming or development, while others are for penetration testing. Still, others are targeted at skilled power users.
❗ Why Do Some People Change Distros?
Here are the two most prominent reasons for Changing Linux Distors
- Sometimes people change distros when they become bored or dissatisfied with what they have and want to add or remove certain features.
- They also change because they are looking for a Linux operating system that focuses on their current work or hobbies. For example, someone may move from Ubuntu to Drauger OS if they are looking for the best gaming distro. Or maybe they’re looking for one with excellent developer support.
- You also need to remember that distros are discontinued or abandoned due to a lack of developer support and updates. So, if you like an obscure distro and it suddenly vanishes, you’ll need to change distros.