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Analysis

Best Linux distros for 2013

Posted on 6 Jun 2013 at 08:00

There are plenty of free Linux flavours to choose from: we help you pick the right one

Linux has never been more popular. Free operating systems based on the open-source kernel and applications are a great way to take control of your PC, or breathe new life into old hardware.

We've taken all the major distributions for a test-drive, so read on to discover our favourites, and to see which is right for you.

Ubuntu 13.04

The latest release of Ubuntu brings mostly superficial changes

The best known flavour of Linux, Ubuntu is designed to be easy for beginners to use. It's simple to install, it comes with a full suite of applications, and it uses the distinctive Unity interface, which puts your applications right at the side of the screen.

A new version of Ubuntu is released every six months, and every two years the developer releases a long-term support (LTS) edition, which receives free support and updates for five years. So whether you're a tinkerer wanting to stay at the cutting edge, or a business seeking long-term stability, Ubuntu is well worth a look.

Click here to read our full review of Ubuntu 13.04

Linux Mint 15

A friendly welcome window introduces newcomers to Linux Mint

The underlying code of Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, so it supports the same wide range of applications and devices. And it comes with more applications and components pre-installed: the idea is to make a Linux operating system that's completely usable straight out of the box.

The key difference between Mint and Ubuntu is the interface. Mint gives you the choice of two desktop managers, but whichever you choose the experience is much closer to Windows, and to other Linux distributions, than the Unity launcher. That makes it an appealing option if you don't get on with the Ubuntu desktop.

Mint also differs from Ubuntu in not encouraging users to upgrade regularly, so it's best for those who like to keep things stable.

Click here to read our full review of Linux Mint 15

Fedora

Fedora

Fedora uses a quirky desktop interface that emphasises open space. The application launcher and search interface are hidden by default, and appear only when you move the mouse to the corner of the screen, or click a discreet icon. It looks neat, and helps you focus on your work.

The bundled software package isn’t the most generous we’ve seen, but it’s easy to install the applications you need. Overall, Fedora is an accessible distribution for those who like to keep things minimal.

Click here to read our full review of Fedora

openSUSE

openSUSE

openSUSE, like Linux Mint, offers a choice of two desktop interfaces – in this case the classic KDE and Gnome desktops. It also comes with the distinctive YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) program, which offers extensive configuration options for the whole system. Another nice touch is the availability of themed software collections, so you can install multiple programs that work together with a single click.

openSUSE is a stable and flexible Linux distribution that will suit slightly more technical users who are comfortable configuring their own hardware and software.

Click here to read our full review of openSUSE

Author: Darien Graham-Smith

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User comments

Choice of distros

Mint 15 is a Release Candidate and as such is not a finished distro. I've been using Linux for 12 years and I had problems with Mint 15. It probably isn't suitable for anyone but experienced users and testers.
LinuxMint 13 is an LTS release and will be supported until 2017 - that should have been the version you mentioned. LM14 is only supported until April of next year. These are quite important details and you let readers down by not knowing/mentioning such things.

By salparadise on 7 Jun 2013

This is a poor article.

Fedora is for people who like to keep things minimal? Nonsense. Fedora provides dedicated "spins" - the KDE spin and the Gnome spin for example. These are limited selections of software centered around each particular desktop. But, the main Fedora install image is DVD sized and comes with various alternatives, such as XFCE, LMDE, blackbox, fluxbox, windowmaker. None of which you mentioned.

YAST stands for "Yet another system tool" and Suse, of all the distros, is one of the best at Automatic Configuration, meaning Users don't have to do as much as with other distros in order to get set up.
You appear to not know as much about Linux as you should, given that you're being paid to write about it.

By salparadise on 7 Jun 2013

Mint 15 is not RC

salparadise - Mint 15 is not RC. Mint 15 has been out for a few weeks now.

By LinuxDan on 7 Jun 2013

Mint 15 is not RC

salparadise - Mint 15 is not RC. Mint 15 has been out for a few weeks now.

By LinuxDan on 7 Jun 2013

STOP!

These articles are just bad.
Please stop writing them!

By M1CAHTRON13 on 7 Jun 2013

Mint 15

Yes, you are quite correct. It has indeed gone to final release.

By salparadise on 12 Jun 2013

Kubuntu, Xubuntu etc.

Ubuntu offers the choice of other desktops too - you can either install Kubuntu (KDE), Xubuntu (XFCE) or one of the other variants directly or install Ubuntu and install KDE, XFCE or whatever using the package manager.

In fact all the distros mentioned offer all the major desktop environments. I don't think it makes for a meaningfull comparison to say "openSUSE, like Linux Mint, offers a choice of two desktop interfaces" when in fact all the distros mentioned offer these two 'interfaces', plus several more.

By happyskeptic on 13 Jun 2013

Bundled software?

"The bundled software package isn’t the most generous we’ve seen,"

Remind me, how much software comes bundled with Windows? (and I'm excluding all the usual pay-to-use-after-a-month crapware)

By squirreldancer on 13 Jun 2013

In PC PROs Defence...

You are aware that this Page is just a Portal to full Reviews, of each Distribution, aren't You?

This could be why this, "Review", isn't up to the high Standard that You're expecting.

In Our opinion, if You wanted to improve this Page, might we suggest some links to, and/ or reviews of the Server side of Linux?

By In3D_LTD on 8 Jul 2013

YaST Yet Another System Tool?

@Salparadise... According to OpenSUSE, wiki and a few other sources the author of this article is correct. It does stand for "Yet Another Setup Tool". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YaST
also http://en.opensuse.org/Portal:YaST

By Jezter74 on 16 Jul 2013

Did you even?

Did you even research the distributions before making this article? Or did you just gaze over a few others prior to writing it. Terrible article.

By Vauxie on 23 Jul 2013

Do you even Linux?

do ya?

By normduck on 27 Aug 2013

Do you even Linux?

do ya?

By normduck on 27 Aug 2013

Looking at some Distros

From my point of view, Linux is still in its infancy (20+ years but still a child). Unfortunately it has not progressed to the stage of simplified PnP support that other OS's have. In saying that, I use Linux on very specific simple hardware config's that remain static after OS install. All others are Windows (ugh) based, simply for the ease of reconfiguring and use.

Been using Ubuntu 13.04 on a couple of static hardware configurations as basic multimedia systems. One of the systems had been set up using an older version and surprisingly did a seamless upgrade to 13.04.
This distro is somewhat windows like making the use simple for my wife. It has "out of the box" support for all my NAS systems/Network shares and recognizes all video formats. Updates are easy and do not require too much intervention or participation.
However, same distro on my new development machine not so nice, network card plug and play does not work at full speed (now the card is not even recognized in the Network App after I tried to install newer driver), audio does not work even with manufacturer updates and video works but required manufacture drivers to properly support the PNY quad monitor card.

Looked at Linux Mint 15, nice. Network card picked up and running at full speed, but audio still not working and video worked but again needed to have the manufacture drivers installed. The Driver Manager made the video driver selection simple, but does not show anything for the ALC892 sound controller. Rumor has it upgrade paths are not allowed for Mint, instead a fresh install needs to take place.

My previous experience with Linux was Fedora and Debian about 5 years ago at which time I determined I would be spending too much time supporting the OS than using it. The new distros seem to be much easier to install and run as along as you do not make any hardware changes.

Both distros seem to have an issue with the audio jack detection, they can't seem to make up their mind as to whether the headphone jack is in use or not when obviously the headphones are not plugged in. Even the manufacture install script (after a bit of tweaking the scripts) did not do anything to activate the sound after what looked like a successful make.

If Linux is to become more mainstream, it needs to have the self maintain capability for the typical user. I now look for hardware that has Linux install scripts and will automatically do successful builds on whichever Linux platform the hardware is installed.

Perhaps if there was a centralized documented Linux driver repository where manufacturers could submit to and all distros could draw from, then a true plug and play hardware detection could take place.

As it stands, Linux is like a Porche, BMW or Mercedes, you need a well trained mechanic available to always check under the hood and keep things ticking correctly.

If somebody has insight as to a Linux Distro with full self maintainability, nice KDE, Unity or other sexy GUI schemes and does not require a complete rebuild of the car to upgrade, please let me know.

As it stands I may need to switch back to Windows 7 and several Virtual boxes of different Linux distros, at least then my hardware should be fully supported without having to peak under the hood and I don't really care if Linux sees the devices or not as long as it works for the specific task.

I am hoping to use Linux and several Windows VB's, perhaps this might not happen yet sigh.

By G_O_Davis on 27 Aug 2013

Looking at some Distros

From my point of view, Linux is still in its infancy (20+ years but still a child). Unfortunately it has not progressed to the stage of simplified PnP support that other OS's have. In saying that, I use Linux on very specific simple hardware config's that remain static after OS install. All others are Windows (ugh) based, simply for the ease of reconfiguring and use.

Been using Ubuntu 13.04 on a couple of static hardware configurations as basic multimedia systems. One of the systems had been set up using an older version and surprisingly did a seamless upgrade to 13.04.
This distro is somewhat windows like making the use simple for my wife. It has "out of the box" support for all my NAS systems/Network shares and recognizes all video formats. Updates are easy and do not require too much intervention or participation.
However, same distro on my new development machine not so nice, network card plug and play does not work at full speed (now the card is not even recognized in the Network App after I tried to install newer driver), audio does not work even with manufacturer updates and video works but required manufacture drivers to properly support the PNY quad monitor card.

Looked at Linux Mint 15, nice. Network card picked up and running at full speed, but audio still not working and video worked but again needed to have the manufacture drivers installed. The Driver Manager made the video driver selection simple, but does not show anything for the ALC892 sound controller. Rumor has it upgrade paths are not allowed for Mint, instead a fresh install needs to take place.

My previous experience with Linux was Fedora and Debian about 5 years ago at which time I determined I would be spending too much time supporting the OS than using it. The new distros seem to be much easier to install and run as along as you do not make any hardware changes.

Both distros seem to have an issue with the audio jack detection, they can't seem to make up their mind as to whether the headphone jack is in use or not when obviously the headphones are not plugged in. Even the manufacture install script (after a bit of tweaking the scripts) did not do anything to activate the sound after what looked like a successful make.

If Linux is to become more mainstream, it needs to have the self maintain capability for the typical user. I now look for hardware that has Linux install scripts and will automatically do successful builds on whichever Linux platform the hardware is installed.

Perhaps if there was a centralized documented Linux driver repository where manufacturers could submit to and all distros could draw from, then a true plug and play hardware detection could take place.

As it stands, Linux is like a Porche, BMW or Mercedes, you need a well trained mechanic available to always check under the hood and keep things ticking correctly.

If somebody has insight as to a Linux Distro with full self maintainability, nice KDE, Unity or other sexy GUI schemes and does not require a complete rebuild of the car to upgrade, please let me know.

As it stands I may need to switch back to Windows 7 and several Virtual boxes of different Linux distros, at least then my hardware should be fully supported without having to peak under the hood and I don't really care if Linux sees the devices or not as long as it works for the specific task.

I am hoping to use Linux and several Windows VB's, perhaps this might not happen yet sigh.

By G_O_Davis on 27 Aug 2013

Looking at some Distros

From my point of view, Linux is still in its infancy (20+ years but still a child). Unfortunately it has not progressed to the stage of simplified PnP support that other OS's have. In saying that, I use Linux on very specific simple hardware config's that remain static after OS install. All others are Windows (ugh) based, simply for the ease of reconfiguring and use.

Been using Ubuntu 13.04 on a couple of static hardware configurations as basic multimedia systems. One of the systems had been set up using an older version and surprisingly did a seamless upgrade to 13.04.
This distro is somewhat windows like making the use simple for my wife. It has "out of the box" support for all my NAS systems/Network shares and recognizes all video formats. Updates are easy and do not require too much intervention or participation.
However, same distro on my new development machine not so nice, network card plug and play does not work at full speed (now the card is not even recognized in the Network App after I tried to install newer driver), audio does not work even with manufacturer updates and video works but required manufacture drivers to properly support the PNY quad monitor card.

Looked at Linux Mint 15, nice. Network card picked up and running at full speed, but audio still not working and video worked but again needed to have the manufacture drivers installed. The Driver Manager made the video driver selection simple, but does not show anything for the ALC892 sound controller. Rumor has it upgrade paths are not allowed for Mint, instead a fresh install needs to take place.

My previous experience with Linux was Fedora and Debian about 5 years ago at which time I determined I would be spending too much time supporting the OS than using it. The new distros seem to be much easier to install and run as along as you do not make any hardware changes.

Both distros seem to have an issue with the audio jack detection, they can't seem to make up their mind as to whether the headphone jack is in use or not when obviously the headphones are not plugged in. Even the manufacture install script (after a bit of tweaking the scripts) did not do anything to activate the sound after what looked like a successful make.

If Linux is to become more mainstream, it needs to have the self maintain capability for the typical user. I now look for hardware that has Linux install scripts and will automatically do successful builds on whichever Linux platform the hardware is installed.

Perhaps if there was a centralized documented Linux driver repository where manufacturers could submit to and all distros could draw from, then a true plug and play hardware detection could take place.

As it stands, Linux is like a Porche, BMW or Mercedes, you need a well trained mechanic available to always check under the hood and keep things ticking correctly.

If somebody has insight as to a Linux Distro with full self maintainability, nice KDE, Unity or other sexy GUI schemes and does not require a complete rebuild of the car to upgrade, please let me know.

As it stands I may need to switch back to Windows 7 and several Virtual boxes of different Linux distros, at least then my hardware should be fully supported without having to peak under the hood and I don't really care if Linux sees the devices or not as long as it works for the specific task.

I am hoping to use Linux and several Windows VB's, perhaps this might not happen yet sigh.

By G_O_Davis on 27 Aug 2013

Looking at some Distros

From my point of view, Linux is still in its infancy (20+ years but still a child). Unfortunately it has not progressed to the stage of simplified PnP support that other OS's have. In saying that, I use Linux on very specific simple hardware config's that remain static after OS install. All others are Windows (ugh) based, simply for the ease of reconfiguring and use.

Been using Ubuntu 13.04 on a couple of static hardware configurations as basic multimedia systems. One of the systems had been set up using an older version and surprisingly did a seamless upgrade to 13.04.
This distro is somewhat windows like making the use simple for my wife. It has "out of the box" support for all my NAS systems/Network shares and recognizes all video formats. Updates are easy and do not require too much intervention or participation.
However, same distro on my new development machine not so nice, network card plug and play does not work at full speed (now the card is not even recognized in the Network App after I tried to install newer driver), audio does not work even with manufacturer updates and video works but required manufacture drivers to properly support the PNY quad monitor card.

Looked at Linux Mint 15, nice. Network card picked up and running at full speed, but audio still not working and video worked but again needed to have the manufacture drivers installed. The Driver Manager made the video driver selection simple, but does not show anything for the ALC892 sound controller. Rumor has it upgrade paths are not allowed for Mint, instead a fresh install needs to take place.

My previous experience with Linux was Fedora and Debian about 5 years ago at which time I determined I would be spending too much time supporting the OS than using it. The new distros seem to be much easier to install and run as along as you do not make any hardware changes.

Both distros seem to have an issue with the audio jack detection, they can't seem to make up their mind as to whether the headphone jack is in use or not when obviously the headphones are not plugged in. Even the manufacture install script (after a bit of tweaking the scripts) did not do anything to activate the sound after what looked like a successful make.

If Linux is to become more mainstream, it needs to have the self maintain capability for the typical user. I now look for hardware that has Linux install scripts and will automatically do successful builds on whichever Linux platform the hardware is installed.

Perhaps if there was a centralized documented Linux driver repository where manufacturers could submit to and all distros could draw from, then a true plug and play hardware detection could take place.

As it stands, Linux is like a Porche, BMW or Mercedes, you need a well trained mechanic available to always check under the hood and keep things ticking correctly.

If somebody has insight as to a Linux Distro with full self maintainability, nice KDE, Unity or other sexy GUI schemes and does not require a complete rebuild of the car to upgrade, please let me know.

As it stands I may need to switch back to Windows 7 and several Virtual boxes of different Linux distros, at least then my hardware should be fully supported without having to peak under the hood and I don't really care if Linux sees the devices or not as long as it works for the specific task.

I am hoping to use Linux and several Windows VB's, perhaps this might not happen yet sigh.

By G_O_Davis on 27 Aug 2013

LMDE - A great option!

I think that Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) is not mentioned enough. This is really the best of both worlds because you have all the features of Mint in a Rolling Distribution - So you install it once and then just pick up the upgraded OS's as they release! It also has a software center to make things easy for new users. These are two of the features I look for when seeking new Linux distros to offer my customers is a Rolling Disribution and a Software Center to make it easier for users who aren't used to Linux but need something to extend the life of their older PCs.

By RYEarle on 27 Nov 2013

LMDE - A great option

I think that Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) is not mentioned enough. This is really the best of both worlds because you have all the features of Mint in a Rolling Distribution - So you install it once and then just pick up the upgraded OS's as they release! It also has a software center to make things easy for new users. These are two of the features I look for when seeking new Linux distros to offer my customers is a Rolling Disribution and a Software Center to make it easier for users who aren't used to Linux but need something to extend the life of their older PCs.

By RYEarle on 27 Nov 2013

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