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The Best Linux Distros Available on the Market as of 2021
Distros

The Best Linux Distros Available on the Market as of 2021

So you’ve finally decided to give Linux a try when you suddenly realized that this isn’t a regular operating system. Most of us have been through a similar situation until we learned that Linux isn’t a singular OS but rather an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of different distributions. Close to 600 distributions, to be more precise.

Having so many options to choose from can be very intimidating, especially if you’re a beginner, but don’t worry because we’re here to help. In this article, we’re going to look at the absolute best Linux distros as of 2021. While some of these distros are very beginner-friendly, others are aimed at users that already have a bit (or a lot) of experience working with Linux.

We took into account many important factors when creating this list, including stability, features, ease of use, and more. At the same time, we wanted to make sure that we include something for everybody. Condensing things down to just 10 picks wasn’t easy but we believe we managed to come up with a very solid list that only includes the best of the best. With that in mind, let’s jump straight into it.

1. Ubuntu

  • Great for newcomers and veterans alike
  • Comes bundled with many useful applications
  • Has many desktop environments to choose from

While everyone has their own opinion when it comes to the best Linux distros, we think Ubuntu is currently the undisputed champion. Ubuntu is the quintessential distro that’s versatile enough to accommodate both newcomers and Linux veterans. What’s truly impressive about Ubuntu is that the distro is so accessible that it managed to bring Linux to the masses and continues to this day to be the distribution of choice for users switching from Windows and macOS. At the same time, Ubuntu is also one of the best Linux distros for programmers.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS
Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Desktop

Ubuntu lets you choose between different desktop environments, such as MATE, XFCE, KDE, Unity, and Gnome. There are also specialized versions for IoT enthusiasts, server administrators, and more. Furthermore, you have the option to test the essential features before installing the distro on your computer. Like most other distros on this list, Ubuntu has live versions and there are even guides on the official website that will teach you how to create bootable DVDs and USB sticks from Windows and macOS, just in case you’re not already familiar with the process.

The operating system has software repositories that are regularly synchronized with Debian. Ubuntu comes with a wide variety of pre-installed apps, such as Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, VLC, Steam, and more. Installing additional apps is pretty easy since all you need to do is to head over to the software repository and grab whatever package you need. Given Ubuntu’s massive popularity, you can expect it to be compatible with a myriad of software packages, including many that have been designed specifically for the distro.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 2 GHz dual-core CPU or better
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 25GB of storage

Latest stable version: 20.04 LTS

2. Linux Mint

  • One of the most beginner-friendly distros around
  • Comes bundled with many useful applications
  • Includes powerful utilities like Timeshift and Warpinator

Coming in closely in second place we have Linux Mint, an Ubuntu-based distro that does things a bit differently than its older brother. Linux Mint is considered to be one of the best Linux distros for beginners, as is arguably even more accessible than Ubuntu. This is a particularly great choice for users who are switching over from Windows as the user interface looks very reminiscent of Microsoft’s operating system. Furthermore, the distro is extremely stable, feature-rich, and supports both 32-bit and 64-bit systems, so what’s not to love?

Linux Mint 19.3 Cinnamon
Linux Mint 19.3 Cinnamon Desktop

There are a few different desktop environments to choose from, including a very visually appealing one known as Cinnamon. If you want to install the operating system on an older computer or laptop, it’s probably best to choose MATE or Xfce as your desktop environment since both of them are a lot more lightweight. Meanwhile, there’s an additional version of Linux Mint known as LMDE. This version is based on Debian instead of Ubuntu, however, it looks and functions pretty much identical to the regular versions. It’s just a matter of preference so there’s no right or wrong choice here.

The installation process of Linux Mint is very simple, and you shouldn’t have any problems with it even if you are a newbie. During installation, the OS will set up a variety of programs you may need, including video playback support and media codecs, browser plugins, and even Java. You can grab a lot of other applications directly from Ubuntu’s software repository. There are also a couple of other features worth noting, including Timeshift and Warpinator. Timeshift is a tool that allows you to revert your OS to a previously saved snapshot (version) while Warpinator is a utility that enables quick and painless file sharing across a local network.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Unspecified 32-bit or 64-bit CPU
  • 1GB of RAM (2GB recommended)
  • 15GB of storage (20GB recommended)

Latest stable version: 19.3

3. Elementary OS

  • One of the best-looking distros on the market
  • A unique desktop environment that resembles MacOS
  • Great features like multi-desktop support

Looks aren’t everything but it’s certainly nice to have a good looking operating system. If you are a person that highly appreciates aesthetics, this is the Linux distro you need. The community often touts Elementary OS as being the best-looking OS out there. You could say that it combined the best from both Windows and Mac and took the beauty of operating systems to the next level. The environment looks clean, and it’s easy to find your way around it. It has a bunch of cool icons and colorful wallpapers, but the best feature might be the multi-desktop support.

Elementary OS 5.1
Elementary OS 5.1 ‘Hera’ Desktop

Elementary OS also does a fairly good job when it comes to performance. It is very stable and constantly updated. While not exactly lightweight, the distro is somewhat smaller than many of its main rivals because it doesn’t come bundled with a whole lot of applications. That can be seen as a drawback if you’re a beginner who wants an operating system that includes everything you need right off the bat. But in reality, that’s not really a big hassle since you can just go to the AppCenter and download everything you need from there. The package manager is very easy to work with so don’t worry about having to use terminal commands.

Speaking of applications, it’s worth pointing out that some of the software packages you can find in the AppCenter are not available for free. That’s a bit unusual since Linux is generally considered to be free and open-source software. The good news is that many of the paid apps will only set you back a couple of bucks and there are plenty that cost nothing, so you don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to. The same can be said about the distro itself. Upon visit the Elementary OS website you may notice that the devs are working with a pay as much as you like model and it doesn’t seem like you can get the distro for free at first glance. However, all you have to do is type $0 in the donation field and the download link should immediately pop up.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Intel i3 or equivalent dual-core 64-bit CPU
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 15GB of storage (SSD recommended)

Latest stable version: 5.1

4. MX Linux

  • Relatively new distro created by Linux veterans
  • Suitable for all purposes and users of all skill levels
  • Modest system requirements make it great for older systems

MX Linux is a relatively young distro that has seen an impressive popularity spike over the past several years. The distro’s first release came back in 2014 so it may not seem that new but consider the fact that most of the other popular distros are a couple of decades-old at this point. But even though MX Linux hasn’t been around for as long as some of the other distros on this list, its developers are undoubtedly Linux veterans. You can tell that based on the fact that MX Linux is a collaborative project put together by the communities of antiX and MEPIS.

MX Linux 19.2
MX Linux 19.2 Desktop

MX Linux is a jack-of-all-trades distro that can handle pretty much everything you throw at it. The system requirements here are quite a bit more modest compared to those of flashier distros so you can easily install MX Linux on a wide range of machines, including fairly old desktops and laptops. But just because MX Linux isn’t very flashy, that doesn’t mean this is a bad looking distro. Quite the contrary. The operating system uses the Xfce4 desktop environment, which is both lightweight and quite pretty to look at. As an added bonus, the IDE is very user-friendly and functions a lot like Windows, even though parts of it do look somewhat different.

Some of the components you will find immediately familiar if you’re switching from Windows are the taskbar and the control panel known as MX Tools. That’s your go-to place for installing drivers and codecs, setting up live USB drives, configuring system settings, and more. Among other things, you can also use MX Tools to access the package manager. The distro does come bundled with a good amount of useful applications, but you’ll probably want to install additional software at some point and this tool will make your life a lot easier because it neatly sorts all the packages by category.

Minimum system requirements:

  • i486 Intel CPU or AMD equivalent
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 5GB of storage

Latest stable version: MX-19.2

5. Manjaro

  • Great for newcomers and veterans alike
  • Wide variety of desktop environments to choose from
  • Hardware detection tools make installing drivers a breeze

Manjaro is what you get when you take one of the greatest distros for developers and make it accessible to everybody. This operating system is pretty special because it is considered one of the only user-friendly Arch-based distributions. Generally speaking, Arch Linux and distros based on it have a very steep learning curve and don’t include much more than the kernel and a terminal, giving you complete freedom to customize everything else to your liking. But what if you don’t know how to do that? Well, you can either learn how the process works or you can simply use Manjaro instead.

Manjaro 20 Lysia
Manjaro 20 Lysia Desktop

Manjaro is quite flexible as it comes in three user-friendly versions along with an Architect edition, which works very similarly to regular Arch Linux distros. So you’ve got the best of both worlds here. If you decide to stick to the user-friendly desktop environments, you have a choice between Xfce, KDE Plasma, and Gnome 3. All of which are fine picks but Xfce is definitely the lightest of the bunch so we recommend going with that one if you’re planning to install Manjaro on older hardware. In addition to the regular editions, you can also find several community-driven versions that come with other IDEs like Budgie, Cinnamon, and LXDE.

One of the highlights of Manjaro is the built-in Hardware Detection tool. The distro already comes bundled with most drivers you might need but for everything else, you can use the tool to automatically detect and download any missing drivers. The situation is pretty similar when it comes to other types of software. Basic applications like LibreOffice are available right off the bat and you can use the Software Center to download everything else you need. Including a lot of gaming-related software like Play on Linux, Wine, and Proton.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1 GHz CPU or better
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 30GB of storage

Latest stable version: 20.0.3

6. Arch Linux

  • A great choice for developers and programmers
  • Lots of helpful documentation and community support
  • Modest system requirements for base installation

It’s time to get serious and present a Linux distro that is the preferred choice of many developers around the world. It is clear that Arch Linux is a professional OS from the very start. Not only is the installation process tricky, but it also doesn’t come with a graphical interface. In its base form, Arch Linux is almost identical to the Architect edition of Manjaro. The upside of having such an operating system is that you have full control over your software and can customize everything to your liking. The downside is that the OS assumes you know what you’re doing.

Arch Linux 5.5
Arch Linux 5.5 GNOME Desktop

Arch Linux only comes with Pacman – a package manager (not the game) and a Linux kernel. You can choose the latest software from the official repository, and software updates are also handled automatically, which means maintenance is effortless. If you’re not sure which packages you should install, you can simply visit the ‘Packages’ section found on the official website. There, you’ll be able to filter packages by repository and architecture or look for specific ones using the search bar. You can also sort packages by a developer, which is a pretty neat feature.

Arch Linux can be very intimidating for newcomers, but only if you try to wrap your head around it without checking any of the official documentation. If you look around the official website you’ll quickly come across a very detailed step-by-step guide that tells you everything you need to know about installing Arch Linux on your computer. Furthermore, you can also find many tutorials and general recommendations that teach you even more about the distro and if all else fails, you can also check out the Newbie Corner of the forums for help. Even though the distro isn’t very user-friendly, the community is definitely welcoming to new members so don’t be afraid to ask fellow users for help.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit Intel or AMD CPU
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 2GB of storage

Latest stable version: 2020.06.01 (rolling release)

7. Debian

  • Great community support and lots of documentation
  • Plenty of useful tools designed for programmers
  • Relatively modest system requirements for base installation

Debian can rightly be considered one of the granddaddies of Linux, having been around for almost three decades at this point. Dozens upon dozens of distros are using Debian as their base, including the ever-popular Ubuntu. Needless to say, Debian has a very important status in the Linux community and even though many of its offspring have managed to surpass it in terms of popularity, it still remains a top choice for many users. Debian isn’t quite as user-friendly as something like Ubuntu so the bulk of its userbase tends to be comprised of programmers and developers.

Debian 10
Debian 10 Xfce Desktop

One of the reasons why Debian is one of the best Linux distros for programmers is because it comes bundled with a lot of powerful tools. Also, the Debian manual contains an entire chapter on programming and anybody can apply to become a member of the distro’s development team. However, potential members who are planning to develop software packages for Debian must adhere to a strict set of guidelines, which ensures that the distro remains stable and free of bloatware at all times.

Debian has one of the most impressive software repositories out there, with nearly 60K packages to choose from. Since the Debian project has always been committed to providing free software, you can expect most packages to be available without a price tag. However, there is an increasing number of applications that do cost a couple of bucks or more, and buying an installation CD or DVD will also cost you around $5 or so. However, all of this is entirely optional as you can create your own installation media and download countless software packages without spending a dime.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1GHz 32-bit or 64-bit CPU
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 10GB of storage

Latest stable version: 10.4

8. Fedora

  • Suitable for newcomers and veterans alike
  • Plenty of versions to choose from
  • The non-commercial version of RHEL

Fedora is another one of those distros that have been around for ages and are well respected within the community. The distro is widely known as being one of the best non-commercial versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and is even sponsored by its creators, Red Hat Inc. Fedora is a classic example of an all-purpose Linux distro that’s suitable to pretty much any type of user. That’s because there are plenty of versions to choose from, some of which were designed for beginners while others are more suitable for experienced users.

Fedora 32
Fedora 32 Desktop

Fedora is a very innovative distribution that has always tried to stay at the forefront of emerging technologies. If you’re the type of person who likes to keep an eye on the latest tech, Fedora is a perfect choice for you as the distro offers an open-source platform for IoT ecosystems and has two different variants aimed primarily at container-focused workflows. These versions can be a bit unstable to expect the occasional bug. If you’re looking for stable releases, you’ll want to go either with Fedora Workstation or Fedora Server. The former is an all-purpose distro with powerful tools for developers while the latter is mainly designed for system administrators.

In addition to all of those, you can also find several alternative versions of Fedora known as Spins. These are more traditional editions of the distro that come with different desktop environments. There’s quite a bit of variety here, including KDE Plasma, Cinnamon, Xfce, MATE, and LXDE variants. Perhaps even more interesting, you can also find an edition that features the Sugar desktop. Sugar is one of the best Linux distros for kids and a very powerful education tool for users of all ages.  It’s also very lightweight and can be installed on very old desktops and laptops.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1 GHz CPU (2 GHz dual-core recommended)
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 15GB of storage

Latest stable version: Fedora 32

9. CentOS

  • One of the best server distros on the market
  • Features both static and rolling releases
  • Non-commercial version of RHEL

Another non-commercial version of RHEL, CentOS shares many similarities with Fedora but is also quite different in certain ways. For one, this is a less versatile distro that doesn’t offer nearly as many variants as Fedora but is arguably a stronger pick for very specific situations. Namely, CentOS is hands down one of the best Linux distros for server administrators, second only to Ubuntu Server. Just like Ubuntu, CentOS users benefit from excellent long-term support and stable releases, though a rolling version is available as well.

CentOS 8
CentOS 8 Desktop

The LTS version is known simply as CentOS Linux and it’s the one you should probably go for if you want to power a server using CentOS. It is estimated that around 30% of all Linux-based servers are running on CentOS and most of them are using this version. One of the reasons behind this impressive adoption rate is the link between CentOS and RHEL. Given that CentOS is based on the commercial distro, you can expect most packages that are available for RHEL to also work on CentOS. Buying an RHEL license can be quite expensive so using CentOS instead can save you a lot of money.

As far as the other main version is concerned, it’s called the CentOS stream and receives updates using a rolling release model instead of a static one. While CentOS Linux doesn’t modify most of the software coming from upstream, the rolling variant does make quite a few changes in an attempt to bring some innovation to the table. According to the developers, the end goal of CentOS Stream is to allow contributors to create the next version of RHEL. A very ambitious goal, particularly given that they also want to keep CentOS Stream as a non-commercial distribution.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 2 GHz CPU or better
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 20GB of storage

Latest stable version: 8.2.2004

10. SteamOS

  • One of the best distros for gamers
  • Great support for modern hardware
  • Excellent compatibility with Steam games

Windows might still be the go-to operating system for gaming but things are slowly starting to change. SteamOS was created by the folks over at Valve and is arguably the best Linux distro for gamers at the moment. It’s also one of the biggest reasons why gaming has started to become more and more popular among Linux users in recent times. SteamOS is based on Debian and, unlike other distros on this list, was designed with a single purpose in mind – gaming.

SteamOS 2.1
SteamOS 2.1 Desktop

Unsurprisingly, SteamOS is meant to work hand-in-hand with Valve’s popular video game marketplace. The operating system comes pre-installed with Steam and has fantastic support for all the latest hardware, which generally makes searching and downloading drivers a non-issue. SteamOS works great alongside other Valve products like Steam Link or the Steam Controller but it also supports various other peripherals. Ideally, you would want to play games on SteamOS using a controller since that’s what it was optimized for, but a keyboard and mouse work too.

While SteamOS is a great distro for gaming, it does have some drawbacks worth considering. The distro was created for gaming on Steam and therefore, doesn’t support competing platforms. At least in theory. However, it’s possible to access the Gnome desktop environment and use SteamOS like any other operating system. That includes downloading and installing most software packages. But if you want a Linux-based operating system that allows you to play non-Steam games without any hassles there are better options out there. This one is meant exclusively for Steam fans.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Intel or AMD 64-bit CPU
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 200 GB of storage

Latest stable version: 2.195

Final Thoughts

So what’s the best Linux distro for you? As you might imagine, there is no definite answer to that question. Your choice will depend on your tech skills and knowledge, as well as what you’re planning to do with your Linux distro. If you are a newbie, you cannot go wrong with Linux Mint or Ubuntu. On the other hand, advanced users will find Arch Linux or CentOS a more suitable distro. If you need an OS for outdated machines or laptops, you will need a lightweight distro like MX Linux while SteamOS is the go-to choice for gaming.

Keep in mind that most distros on this list come in multiple variants so don’t hesitate to check them all out and pick the one that best suits your needs. The good news is that all the distros we covered in this article are free so you don’t have anything to lose by taking each of them for a test run. Even better, most distros have live versions that you can use without having to install any software on your computer.

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