Which Linux Distro Leads the Pack?

Between Googlerola, the tempestuous software patent storm, HP’s shenanigans and the one-two punch delivered by CmdrTaco and Steve Jobs, we’ve surely displayed all the stamina any group of completely overwhelmed souls could reasonably be expected to have.

Time now for a little fun.

And how do Linux bloggers have fun? That’s right, by engaging in a little high-spirited debate — not of some weighty, industry-changing subject this time, though, but of a matter very close to all of our hearts. It’s time, in other words, to ask the question once again: Which distro is best?

‘The Best Linux Distro of 2011!’

It is with deepest gratitude to the ever-awesome geeks over at TuxRadar that Linux Girl calls your attention, dear readers, to a wonderfully thorough side-by-side comparison they recently performed on six of today’s most popular Linux distributions: Fedora, Mint, Arch, Ubuntu, Debian and OpenSUSE.

“There are a lot of things to weigh up, and a lot of distros to plop on the scales, so if you wanted to compare them yourself, you would have to spend at least two weeks of little sleep and mind-poundingly painful headaches to draw up some kind of summary of how they measure up,” the TuxRadar team wrote. “But don’t bother, because here’s one we prepared earlier. With diagrams and charts.”

Installation, hardware support, desktop, customization, community, performance, package management and security were all among the features considered and compared in the six Linux distros. The results are summed up in a post from last month entitled, “The best Linux distro of 2011!”

Debian Is Crowned

Think it’s all just another glorified ad for Ubuntu? Think again, because Ubuntu didn’t win the No. 1 spot overall — Debian did.

The result? More than 100 comments from Linux fans eager to agree with or dispute some or all of TuxRadar’s results.

Linux Girl couldn’t resist collecting her own small sampling of opinions.

‘The Universal Operating System’

“Best distro? Of course, it’s Debian GNU/Linux, the universal operating system,” opined blogger and educator Robert Pogson.

“I stayed away from it for years because people told me it was ‘hard’ to install,” Pogson recounted. “Last year, I gave all my high school students a quick demonstration, and they were all able to install Debian GNU/Linux and brought new life to the old PCs of the school. They even replaced XP on some hot, brand-new units. They loved it.”

Besides its ease of installation and use, “Debian GNU/Linux has a great package manager with powerful tools to help find software in the huge repository and to install it easily to one or many PCs,” Pogson noted. “Our school had a tiny pipe to the Internet, so we used APT’s caching to make a server for the school so we could install at 10 MB/s. It was awesome.

“Bug tracking, dependency based booting, strict adherence to reasonable policies, releasing when it’s ready… it goes on and on,” Pogson concluded. “Debian GNU/Linux is a great distro. Try it. You’ll like it.”

‘In Danger of Becoming Irrelevant’

Of course, here on the Linux blogs, there’s always room for debate.

“Debian is No. 1? Why am I not surprised,” retorted Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. “Sometimes I really feel like the Linux community, which used to be about innovation and building the best next thing, has lost touch with society and are in danger of becoming irrelevant.”

The real No. 1 distro is Ubuntu, Lim asserted: “It is the only one with a shot at becoming more than a niche in a niche market.”

‘They Will Get Pushed Aside’

Then again: “Ubuntu has stumbled lately,” opined consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

“With its emphasis on tablets, they have forgotten about the desktops,” Mack explained. “Now the competitors are building on the lessons learned from Ubuntu’s rise and leapfrogging them now that they are fading. If they don’t correct themselves they will get pushed aside.”

Of course, “the fact that this happens so easily is what makes Linux great,” Mack added.

‘You’d Have to Be a Nut’

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza took issue with TuxRadar’s inclusion of Fedora.

“Putting Fedora at the top of a ‘best distributions’ list is like putting a prototype car at the top of a list of cars to buy this year,” Espinoza told Linux Girl.

“Fedora is the alpha test version for RHEL,” he explained. “They break things there first. You’d have to be a nut to run it on a production system (though apparently, many people do) because the entire purpose of Fedora is to permit Red Hat to try new things and break stuff.”

‘A Good Distro That Deserves Mention’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet recommended Vector Linux.

“They have SEVEN different versions, from SOHO to mini live, and with the exception of being a PITB to set up wireless, it is actually pretty nice,” hairyfeet said.

The software is laptop-friendly, “only takes up 3GB, uses a nice XFCE, gives you plenty of software, all in all a good distro that deserves mention,” hairyfeet concluded. “Oh and it is based on Slax so it isn’t just another Debian ripoff.”

‘People Want Choice’

For Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, it’s all good.

“I keep hearing these calls for ‘Linux unification’ and ‘one distribution to rule them all’ and ‘unifying the desktop,’ but this survey reinforces the ‘choice is good’ mantra — people *want* choice,” Hudson told Linux Girl.

“It also shows the benefits of open competition,” she added. “When every distro is free to use their competitors’ code, the way to acquire and keep users is to be best at giving people what they want, instead of locking them in with proprietary data formats or programs.

“Large markets (like *the whole world*) are going to have enough of a variety of different market segments that even 1 percent is enough to support a healthy Linux ecology,” Hudson pointed out. “Movement in ‘who’s the top 5’ is confirmation that linux distros are nowhere near stagnating.”

‘Better Than Pulling an HP’

Hudson’s vote? “With all the good points for each distro, I’m going to pretend I’m in Chicago and ‘vote early, vote often’ so I can say I voted for the winner, no matter what,” she asserted. “If you read the comments, even the BSDs got a few mentions as well; just like old-style elections, even the dead count!”

So, even the distros that are “making what I think are questionable choices, such as Ubuntu with the Unity interface, get part of my vote,” Hudson concluded. “Trying different things, exploring different ideas, taking risks — it’s better than pulling an HP and just giving up. After all, there was a time not so long ago when using Linux was seen as ‘different’ and ‘risky.'”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


  • @hairyfeet Linux is a distrobution used and maintained by the brightest community of programmers and developers. The people who are drawn to linux-based distros are not happy with the confines that windows produce. With windows you do not have the power you have with linux. Linux is not for the faint of mind. Sure, you need to learn a lot of information to be able to use the linux to its fullest, but when you do you have the whole world wide web at your fingertips. With windows you have only what they let you use, and is controlled and censored. Wake up and see what is happening to technology and the freedom of information. Soon this world will be on lock down if people like you slander and push linux out.

    • Did you catch it? I’ll highlight it. "but really its just a one step APT-GET install process". Do you see it now?

      The word is CONSUMERS in giant flaming 50 foot neaon, yet every. single. question. or problem in Linux gets a "open up bash and type" answer, why? because the programmers have a raging nostalgia for the days of computer clubs? do you get a free neckbeard with that?

      The user HAVE SPOKEN and CLI is a giant kiss of death fail. do you see links to CMD on the Win desktop? How about on the iPad? Does iPad even HAVE a terminal?

      You have a truly great OS, tons of free software, nice DEs, but this one stupid stubborn hanging on to 40 year old tech is gonna be the downfall of linux. Even in servers Windows is now winning 70% to 30% and the reason? As a Linux server admin told me "Linux is great IF YOU ALREADY KNOW THE COMMANDS and have done the task before and know the steps. but if you are given a completely new task? Then WINDOWS WINS because the GUI rewards exploration and by the time the Linux admin has figured out the correct commands the Windows admin is having a sandwich" and no truer words have been spoken.

      ACCEPT THE CLI IS DEAD and move on already! Disco is dead, 8-track are no more, and the focus is consumers now, which means fiddly CLI needs to go to the dustbin of history where it belongs!

      • Open up bash and type is often the easiest way to do something. I’ve never seen an install method that is faster or easier than apt-get install <packagename>. Plus I almost always have a terminal open anyways. The GUI equivalent in ubuntu still requires you to type the package name and requires four clicks and a password beyond that. Though still simpler then a defualt windows installer. (open and explorer, navigate to the right directory, click on the setup file, chose or aprove the install location, chose or approve setup options, accept the EULA, and then the program starts installing.)

        The syntax available on a gui is very simple, but ultimately not that expressive. The CLI will never die because of this fact. Though it requires more training, it lets you do a whole lot more. Bash is turing complete. No simple GUI that I know of is; unless it implements a text based interpreter (a.k.a. a shell or scripting language)

        iOS doens’t have a shell program, because Apple’s TOS in the app store prohibit any user accessible interpreter, because god forbid anyone run a program that Apple doesn’t want you to.

  • Ihave downloaded and used various Linux Distros. Some are better in usability than others but they always have problems when going beyond the simplest things. For example when I downloaded the latest Ubuntu it turned out that I could not play music without trying to get more junk down and installed and I just got mad an unistalled it. I know the developers are trying to make the best thing they can, but as a as an experienced computer USER I can tell you if you don’t get all the basic requirements in the distro AND make adding/installing other likely adjustments and additions easier and clearer, you will never improve the position of Linux in the world of the average USER. A five or six or ten step process to add common functionalities will not work in the real world of the USER.

    • A lot of the issues damn50 mentions is due to patent fears. The mpeg audio and video formats are encumbered. I don’t think debian includes those things by default either, but really its just a one step apt-get install process.

      • Right in the butt. You see right now Linux seems to be controlled by what I call "The FOSSies" which are militant CLI junkies that think nothing of telling you "open up bash and type" this huge mess of gobbledygook and pretend that it is what you should enjoy or actually WANT to do with your weekend. Oh and you’ll have to "tweak" said gobbledygook because it was written for hardware a rev c and you have hardware f rev h and it just won’t work on that!

        I have actually had people tell me that users are morons if they don’t want to live in a Bash term and that difficult makes you smarter, because easy must be for dummies. He even brought up start>run like Windows users actually use that to run their programs!

        But until they adopt a GUI only mantra along with KISS principles users like you will get bit right in the butt. there should NEVER be a need for Bash, there should NEVER be a need for more than 3 clicks to do ANY common task, it should be based on the motto of "simple and intuitive" and the user should be job #1.

        Sadly I just don’t see that happening, even Canonical is just putting lipstick on the pig. Adding a shiny coat doesn’t make it better, only a solid GUI centric design will do that! But if you want a perfect example of why Linux is failing, just look at Android, the closest most will ever come to Linux. what is it? All GUI, no CLI, all three clicks or less for the tasks the majority will use. Kind of reminds me of something…oh yeah…what I have been saying here for years!

        The users have spoken, and the word is consumers. they want GUI, they want simple, they want NO CLI, they want less than 3 clicks easy. Give them what they want and watch Linux explode on the scene, don’t? See Mr Frustrated EX Linux user above.

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