Linux has been around since 1996 and has over the years been criticized as too difficult for average users. In some cases, some claimed that Linux was just too difficult for anyone who wasn’t a developer. When I started using Linux (in 1997) it was very difficult – beyond the reach of average users and even some advanced Windows users.
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Back then, it didn’t matter if you used Caldera Open Linux, Red Hat, a BSD or any other distro, because they were all pretty much on equal footing.
However, over the years new distros have come into play, actually targeting new users. Distros like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, ZorinOS, and Deepin are all great options for any computer user, whether they’ve used Linux or not. When these distros started appearing on the market, it was great news for Linux as a whole. Due to the complex nature of the operating system, very few people were using it, and it looked like it would go the way of OS/2. But when the new generation of user-friendly distributions started to appear, Linux finally gained popularity.
Over time, these casts continued to evolve and inspired new casts to join the mix.
That brings us to now, and the playing field for Linux is wide open. This can be problematic for anyone new to the open-source operating system, which led me to suggest a three-level difficulty level for Linux distributions.
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With this system ready, you will be able to quickly know which Linux distro is the right one for you or for one of the people you deal with who are looking for a new operating system.
That said, let’s get to the levels.
Level 1: Easy
This level of Linux usability consists of distros that primarily focus on those new to Linux. If you’ve never used Linux, never installed an operating system, and never typed a command in a terminal window in your life, these distros are perfect for you.
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Tier 1 distributions include all the software you need and a well-designed graphical tool to make installing other software easy. Part of the complexity of modern Linux distributions is the inclusion of Snap and Flatpak apps in the GUI. From my point of view, if you ask users to install Snap or Flatpak packages from the command line, you are not in contention for Tier 1. To be considered for Tier 1 inclusion, a distro should also use an easy-to-use desktop environment. , such as KDE, Cinnamon, Budgie and Mate. As much as I believe in the GNOME desktop (and find it very easy to use), as much for absolute beginners, it changes the metaphor too much.
That said, here is the list of distros I include in Tier 1:
- Ubuntu – it’s been the de facto standard for new users for years.
- Linux Mint – it’s Ubuntu with a more traditional user interface.
- ZorinOS – it’s simple, beautiful and for everyone.
- Ubuntu Budgie – simplicity at its best.
That’s about it for Tier 1. Understand, I set the bar pretty high with the inclusion of Snap or Flatpak support in the App Store tools, which limits the number of distros available. The reason for this inclusion is that there are important apps (like Slack, Zoom, etc.) that are offered through Snap or Flatpak, which makes them very easy to install. I wouldn’t recommend a ready-made Linux distribution.
Level 2: Moderate
We are now entering the heart of the Linux distribution part. This is where the majority of distros will live. These Linux variants could be used by anyone new to Linux, with the understanding that they might need to use the command line at some point. For example, there may be software only available as a Snap or Flatpak package, but the distribution has not been integrated into the GUI app store either. This alone eliminates a concurrency distribution for level 1.
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Additionally, these distros may have a desktop environment that includes much more advanced features than a new user might need. Or maybe there are too many options that could easily overwhelm a new user. This list also includes distros with desktop environments that may be easy to use but have a slight learning curve for those who have only ever used a Windows-like interface.
Tier 2 distributions include:
- Pop!_OS – easy to use but GNOME and quite developer-centric.
- Fedora – very simple, but GNOME by default.
- Basic OS – great macOS-like desktop but app store is limited.
- Deepin Linux – very beautiful and user-friendly desktop but neither Snap nor Flatpak are integrated with the app store.
- Bodhi Linux – another kind of desktop that would trip up most users.
- Garuda Linux – a bit harder than any new user could work with.
- Peppermint OS – very easy to use but light on features.
- openSUSE – very powerful and flexible operating system, but not for the new user.
- Linux Lite – a minimal distribution that can be used as a desktop.
- Manjaro Linux – based on Arch, which brings it out of level 1.
- MX Linux – Debian-based distribution, without a system, but with many pre-installed applications.
- KDE Neon – one of the best KDE Plasma distributions on the market.
- Lubuntu – an Ubuntu-based distro that uses the LXQt desktop, which makes it somewhat outdated.
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Level 3: Difficult
This is where new users should not dare to step. These distributions are difficult to install, use and manage. Period. They exist because they can and because there will always be users who like to be challenged. On top of that, being able to claim one of these distributions is your go-to operating system is a point of pride for many users.
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In fact, even those with minimal Linux experience would be challenged by one.
These Tier 3 distributions include:
- Gentoo – the toughest Linux distribution on the market. It’s hard. said Nuff.
- Arch Linux – installation is quite difficult, but it is considerably easier to use.
- Linux From Scratch – you build everything from scratch. Challenge accepted?
It’s a pretty short list, but if you’ve reached the point where you’re able to install and use things like these, you’ve taken a big step.
No, this list is not exhaustive because there are thousands of Linux distributions. But when it comes to major distributions, those three tiers include what I would consider the pillars. And by breaking them down into these three categories, it should be much easier to find the perfect distro for your experience and needs.
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