Beginner Linux Distros

The name Linux actually refers to the kernel which is the core of the operating system created by Linus Torvalds in 1991. Linux is almost always bundled with various GNU programs and libraries from the Free Software Foundation led by Richard Stallman, so for this reason, many refer to the operating system as GNU/Linux.

Many organizations, non-profit and commercial bundle GNU/Linux with a graphical desktop, various drivers and software both terminal and graphical. These versions of Linux are referred to as Linux distributions or just "distros". Most Linux distros can be downloaded for free as ISO files suitable for burning to a DVD or putting on a flash drive and you install them from there.

Note that unlike Windows and OS X, Linux has different desktop environments, depending on the distro. And most distros, if not all, will let you install a different desktop environment than the default one that is included, though this can range from easy to hard. The desktop environment often determines how fast the distribution feels, how much RAM it uses and how old of a computer it will function on.

Here is a list of some distros that PLUG members have recommended for beginners. Note that all of these distros can be installed alongside with Windows so that when the system boots, you use the up/down arrow keys to choose whether to go into Windows or Linux. Many Linux distros will run on systems five or more years old. You should have at minimum 1 GB of RAM and 40 GB of free disk space. Visit the websites to find out more about the distributions and feel free to get help from our Support forum.

Ubuntu MATE
This is a flavour of Ubuntu replacing the Unity graphical interface with MATE, an attractive, faster desktop. Ubuntu MATE has a curated Software Boutique that has best-of-breed programs listed in it for easy installation and some that aren't normally available in Ubuntu repositories making installation of additional software a snap. Of course, you can still install Software Manager that will allow you to install all available Ubuntu programs. You can also theme your desktop to look more like Windows, OS X or Unity.

Linux Mint
Linux Mint is available in flavours supporting four different desktop environments: Cinnamon, MATE, Xfce, and KDE. The Cinnamon desktop is recommended for most users though KDE is an attractive alternative. MATE and XFCE versions work well on older computers. Linux Mint draws from Ubuntu so most programs made for Ubuntu should run in Linux Mint. There is also LMDE (Linux Mint Debian Edition) that is based on the Debian distribution which is not considered to be compatible with Ubuntu.

Elementary OS
Elementary has a beautiful interface in its own customized desktop. It resembles the Mac OS X interface probably more than any other Linux distribution. Because it has a small number of pre-installed programs, it's easy to use and has minimal bloat. It runs smoothly on both old and new computers and can be loaded on on a PC or Mac. Elementary doesn't release new versions that often but is constantly updated and it's based on Ubuntu.

Ubuntu
Ubuntu is a very popular Linux distribution that is the core for many variants, both official and non-official. If you need support, you can't go wrong with Ubuntu because so many people are out there to help with it. Ubuntu releases a new version every six months, in April and October. Their version numbers reflect the year and month of release. For example, 17.10 was released October 2017. For servers or just users that don't need the latest and greatest software and prefer something with a more solid unchanging feature base and supported for up to five years, look for the LTS (Long Term Support) releases. You should have at least 2 GB of RAM to run Ubuntu and be prepared for a desktop that is different from Windows and Mac.

Linux Lite
Great for old computers, Linux Lite uses the lightweight desktop, XFCE. For stability and longer support cycles, Linux Lite is based on the last released Ubuntu LTS version. It's desktop-ready after install with most applications the average user needs, a helpful welcome screen that helps you get the latest updates and other popular applications you might want and a cool System Restore program that lets you backup the system (not the data) so you can easily restore it if something goes wrong.