xenmaster's linux distro master list

I have noticed in general that the recommendation list for alternatives on this site is broken when it comes to Linux Distros. Often times when looking for a server distro or gaming distros, I will get generic recommendations. This list seeks to provide true alternatives based on use-cases for the most popular Linux distributions out there!


  • Basic Desktop Distros

    These distributions are best for people who are starting out in their linux journey. Each one is specifically for the desktop and many are rolling-release, meaning you update regularly without having to reinstall. All work out of the box, function well as single-user systems, and make installing packages a breeze without significant stability issues. They also all come with a desktop environment and while learning the command line is useful, you do not need to very much to get the most use out of these systems.

  • Manjaro Linux

    Free Linux Arch Linux Website

    Ironically based on Arch, one of the more advanced distributions, Manjaro makes installation and maintenance easy. Its repository has a huge selection of software and allows the user to use AUR packages from the Arch repository as well, offering an extensive catalogue of applications while making the desktop experience relatively stable and easy to manage. The support community is also fantastic. Probably my favourite distribution I have been using as a desktop for the last 7 years.

     

    Manjaro Linux icon
  • MX Linux

    Free Linux Website

    A relative newcomer and based on Debian, it also hosts a wide variety of software options. One of my favourite elements are MXTools, which allow a person to take a snapshot of their current system to build an ISO that can either be burned to a USB to use as a live environment, or as an installer onto a different machine. I have not worked with this one too much yet, but so far, so good!

     

    MX Linux icon
  • Linux Mint

    Free Linux Website

    One of the most popular distributions out there, it is based on Ubuntu, which itself is based on Debian, making it relatively stable while still offering a great desktop experience. Apparently particularly popular with people who are coming from a MacOS environment.

     

    Linux Mint icon
  • Ubuntu

    Free Windows Linux Windows S Website

    Definitely the most popular and well known names in beginner distributions, Ubuntu is responsible for making the linux desktop experience a mainstream appeal. I have never used it that much, but many people I know got their start with their professional linux career by practising with Ubuntu linux. Has a great repository full of great software and also allows fully portable Snap applications as well.

     

    Ubuntu icon
  • EndeavourOS

    Free Linux Website

    Similar to Manjaro, but uses the GNOME desktop, making it very touch-screen friendly version of an easy to use Arch based distribution.

     

    EndeavourOS icon
  • Intermediate Desktop Distros

    This distributions are ideal for someone who is familiar with linux and no longer afraid of the commandline, but also looking for a relatively simple desktop experience. I feel both of these products offer a very decent balance between utility and ease of use. Both have very different use cases, however!

  • Fedora

    Free Linux Website

    My favourite offline distro, it has probably the most software options available. It has some stability issues so I always recommend using one version behind what is currently been released. Also suffers from not being a rolling release, so to upgrade, you have to reinstall from scratch, and older versions do lose support relatively quickly compared to some of the server-based distros. I get around this by simply using this as a desktop option for offline computers so the lack of updates and support does not result in security issues. Still, for folks looking to get a better understanding of the Red Hat environment, a great start! Similar to Ubuntu, it has the Flatpak software capability, allowing the user to install applications beyond what is in the standard repositories.

     

    Fedora icon
  • Qubes OS

    Free Linux Fedora Xen Website

    I use this almost entirely for online computing (I am typing this from a qubes laptop). Unlike the other distros on here, QubesOS is actually a host environment for multiple virtual machines, each of which can launch their own applications. This comes in handy when I want to be logged into AlternativeTo and into my banking software while being comfortable that both browsers do not know what is happening to each other because they are secured in their own VM compartments. It takes a while to set up and to learn how to configure, but the peace of mind that comes with it is well worth the effort.

    One important thing to note is that when using this distro, you will often be using Fedora, Debian and Whonix distros as VM domains inside the qubes infrastructure, so it is good to know how those work first before diving in!

     

    Qubes OS icon
  • Server Distros

    These distributions are best designed for ease of use, but also for stability and longevity. They will not have the most cutting edge software out there, but they are robust and hard to break, compared to alternatives. It is a good idea to be fully familiar with the command line by the time you start getting into this aspect of linux use since administrating a server is impossible without knowing how to use the command line. They function well as desktop distributions too, but if you are building a server, definitely consider one of the below.

  • Debian

    Free Windows Linux Windows S BSD Self-Hosted Website

    Debian is a very good desktop distribution as well (I am typing this from a Debian based VM), but as a server, it truly shines. Very robust, stable, 100% free, and very well supported by the Debian team. Also non-corporate compared to the Red Hat Supported CentOS/Fedora, so you can be confident in the values of those who support this project. Debian is a major influence and underlying technology around many of the other distributions here, including Ubuntu, Whonix, and others!

     

    Debian icon
  • CentOS

    Free Linux Website

    This is the server-based version of Fedora, built for long-time use and stability. Technically, it is a fully free and full binary rebuild of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) environment. A great distribution to practice your RHEL administration training! Sadly, it is about to be retired thanks to the corporate sponsor (Red Hat) kicking it to the curb, which is why the Rocky Linux project came into being...

     

    CentOS icon
  • Rocky Linux

    Free Linux Website

    Just a dream so far, but the expectation is that Rocky Linux, a project put together by one of the founders of the original CentOS project, will be exactly what CentOS once was, a community owned and run rebuild of RHEL. I will add more once the project goes live!

     

    Rocky Linux icon
  • Ubuntu Server

    Free Linux Website

    Basically what it says on the box. Ubuntu has a server and desktop version. This is the server version so if you got your start learning Ubuntu Desktop, learning how to use Ubuntu Server is a great way to learn how to administrate servers. I have not seen it used so often in the corporate field so it is often a good stepping stone to learning things like Red Hat or Debian.

     

    Ubuntu Server icon
  • Security Focused Distros

    These are good distributions to learn when learning more about white hat hacking and security your network environment. They are built on more up-to-date versions of Debian and come fully stocked with great security tools meant for security and digital forensics

  • Kali Linux

    Free Windows Linux Windows S Website

    The OG in the linux security world when it was formerly known as BlackBlaze, Kali Linux has hundreds of security tools pre-installed and ready to go for the aspiring security professional.

     

    Kali Linux icon
  • Parrot Security OS

    Free Linux Website

    A recent newcomer to the linux security world and while not as well known or well stocked as Kali, still comes with fantastic tools and a great reputation so far!

     

    Parrot Security OS icon
  • Tor Focused Distros

    Using the TOR Browser Bundle on a Windows computer to go on the dark web is not the best way to go. You want your entire operating system to be fully secured and well configured to avoid any leaks and issues. That is where these distributions come in. Both are very different in how they work, but both serve the same purpose - giving you access to the internet anonymously and supporting your privacy.

  • Tails

    Free Linux Electrum Tor Browser Bundle GNOME Tor ... VeraCrypt Thunderbird Website

    TAILS is a Debian based distribution that is designed specifically to be used as a Live USB. The idea is that once you shut down, all traces of what you were doing are erased from the machine you were working on - it forgets everything that you did. The design of the system ensures that all traffic is routed through the TOR Network and minimizes how you can potentially expose your real identity to the rest of the internet by having a small number of limited applications to minimize attack surface and not allowing connections through a non-TOR connection, except in very specific circumstances you have to jump through hoops to activate. Bottom line, this is the gold standard for TOR network access!

     

    Tails icon
  • Whonix

    Free Linux Website

    Whonix is also based on Debian, but rather than being used in a Live USB, it is used as a Virtual Machine. It can be run in Oracle VirtualBox on a desktop or it can reside in a Qubes domain, just like any of the other VMs used by that system. In either case, this OS isolates the work you are doing from the host OS in the hopes that your host machine or other VMs are peeking in on what you are doing and that anything nasty in your Whonix VM cannot break out and infest your primary system. If the VM is compromised, just destroy and restart from your last snapshot! Not as well focused in forgetting your actions as Tails, but definitely the next best thing. Give it a try!

     

    Whonix icon
  • Router Distros

    Most routers and firewalls come with their own firmware. By using the following firmwares, you can unlock hidden features in your machine and also ensure that proprietary blobs are not in control of your system - you are! Fairly challenging to flash onto a machine and run, so I recommend that folks buy a machine already running these from the internets if possible. Otherwise, if you are feeling lucky and have a router you do not mind bricking if you mess up, give one of these options a try! Be sure you know how firewalls/networking work though before giving this a shot!

  • pfSense

    Free BSD Website

    Netgate has a full fleet of boxes with this distro preinstalled. Technically it is a BSD distro, not linux, but still fantastic way to get control over your hardware and very easy to use with a graphical interface. Of course, you will still need to know how to operate a firewall and networking rules too, but that is the hand you are dealt when going into this world!

     

    pfSense icon
  • OpenWrt

    Free Linux Website

    A great option for someone looking for a fully featured firmware that is compatible with many different kinds of hardware. I have made everything from pirate boxes to repeaters and firewalls with this distribution. The utility cannot be beat!

     

    OpenWrt icon
  • libreCMC

    Free Linux Website

    One of my favourite firmwares as well, this was a merger of two top-notch systems that combined the best of both worlds into one package! It is just as good as any of the other options so give each a try and see what you like best!

     

    libreCMC icon
  • Advanced Linux Distros

    These are the best options for people who have mastered the command line as well as server and OS based administration, including security, functionality, logging, etc. It is very easy to break a system messing with these (at which point you can just start over), but if you have got the chops and the determination, also easy to build an incredibly efficient system that will do literally anything you want.

Well, that about wraps it! Hopefully people find this useful. I will be adding/removing items as things change as they always do in the Linux world!



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