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One of the commonest questions on this forum is "Which Linux distribution should I use?". The usual answer - "The one you like best." - is not very informative for a total novice. Distrowatch provides a very useful service in this regard, but it occurs to me that Liinux distributions could be mappied along a variety of quasi-spatial "dimensions", providing a kind of conceptual space through which you could navigate to find the distribution that best matched your own preferences and needs, perhaps one you had not previously heard of.

Some of these dimensions might be:

1) Novice versus Expert. Ubuntu, Mint, Puppy and Mandriva are among the distros at the novice end, with Gentoo, arch and Crux at the expert. Something like Debian would be in the middle.

2) Big versus Small. At the big end, one might find Ubuntu, Fedora and Sabayon. At the small end, dsl with Puppy not far behind. Xubuntu would be in the middle. Some of the more modular distros might stretch along this dimension a bit.

3) Stable versus Bleeding Edge. Debian Stable at one end, Debian Unstable, Gentoo and Arch at the other. Ubuntu and Fedora would bemore  towards the bleeding edge end.

4) Update frequency. Debian Stable at one end, continuously updated distros like Debian Unstable and Arch at the other. Ubuntu, with its 6-monthly updates,  in between.

5) Closely integrated versus Modular. This one could also be considered as Easy to use versus Easy to understand. Ubuntu and dsl would both be at the integrated end, Gentoo, Arch and Crux at the modular end.

6) Free versus Proprietary. Debian at one end, Linspire at the other. Ubuntu, with its many proprietary drivers in the middle.

Other dimensions could doubtless be imagined. The ranges probably could not be filled in by one person (unless he was a real distro slut) but it could be done collectively by a forum such as this. Then anyone who was looking for a distribution would only need to look at the available dimensions, decide which were the important ones for him and whereabouts his ideal distribution would lie on them, and then look for the distro that matched those requirements.

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Comments about this article
Nice Article
writen by: rokytnji on 2009-09-17 09:45:01
I like the way you broke it down hazel. Hopefully people looking to get into Linux will read your Article.
RE: Nice Article written by rokytnji:
Good idea, I try to characterize systems
writen by: masinick on 2009-09-17 09:56:15
That is a great idea. I already try to characterize systems, putting them into various categories of intended use, but I think that your six levels of categorization are very good. A matrix, with a one to five numbering of how strongly each distribution exhibits each category could give someone a quick look, then a one to two paragraph description of the attributes and why these attributes are given would provide additional insight. I also think you are right that having many people input into these values and characterizations will give a well balanced view of their overall capabilities.

I may be able to provide my insights and input once in a while if I know where this information is being collected and held.
RE: Good idea, I try to characterize systems written by masinick:
Nice but...
writen by: ap90033 on 2009-09-17 09:57:23
Did you know you can type a huge response then hit submit and it deletes your response and says you need to login. Thats stupid. Some idiots like myself may not have logged in so shouldnt there be some sort of login option added if you have a comment? Anyway look, this is nice but still doesnt address the issue, 99% of the world is STUPID like ME, do I know how to program? NOPE.... Do i feel I need to learn how to program or spen hours on forums dealing with Rude people because of all the issues I have when I try linux when it just works in Windows? NOPE. Do we get tired of the mantra "we are so much better than you peon we are Linux users!" or "Linux isnt Windows and isnt supposed to be!.... Uh yeah that got old long time ago...
I look at it like two cars, one is a V8 that has a ton of options and allows you to tinker on it. The other is newer and has little customization BUT has MP3, GPS, Cruise Control etc. Now for an auto mechanic (IE PRogrammer) the first car is the stuff. For a regular Joe (ie me) the car with the ease of use and options already there is the ticket. I have been preaching this for years get into ease of use and for goodness sake get into gaming!!! Its huge!!! I have a Core I7 with 6 gigs of Ram on a Tri SLI board running SLI GTX260's connected DVI to HDMI to a 1080P LCD TV and in Windows 7 64 bit gaming is awesome. now, getting Linux working on this was A NIGHTMARE and once I did get it working I couldnt get 1/10th of my games working (oh and dont give me that wine crap I now have no hair becuase of it!)
BUT Whenever I say this all I get is attitude and excuses... Billions of people are out there with PC's and would use Linux if it was MUCH more User Friendly and CMON gaming is that not a NO Brainer? The gaming industry is BIGGER than HOLLYWOOD for crying out loud! PLEASE Listen here? sigh here come the flamers and the "elite" duck!
RE: Nice but... written by ap90033:
RE: Nice but...
writen by: ap90033 on 2009-09-17 09:59:18
Oh and just an FYI I have tried Fedora, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Gentoo, Suse, Kubuntu, and Corels back in the day....
Reply to ap90033:
RE: Nice but...
writen by: eyemeansit on 2009-09-17 12:11:55
Obviously you are quite happy with Windows. Great! Go be happy in your sandbox, and let us be happy in ours. I'm sorry you met rudeness in Linux forums... but judging by your rant here, they may have been responding in kind.

Have a nice day, okay? ...really!
Reply to eyemeansit:
still doesn't answer the question
writen by: rblacketer on 2009-09-17 10:08:49
I am a Linux newbie and while this article is somewhat informative, it still doesn't answer which distro is the easiest, and the which one is like what people are familiar with. With Microsoft and other software, you put in the disk, and it loads everything you need, most of the time. Your printer drivers, network drivers, video drivers, unless you have a newer one, sound drivers, etc.

Which distribution does that, if any? I don't want to have to learn to be a software developer to just use my computer or desktop screen. I want something that is just as easy as windows and other software to load, and to not have to "think about which *tweak* I need to make something work. I just want it to work.

RE: still doesn't answer the question written by rblacketer:
RE: still doesn't answer the question
writen by: hazel on 2009-09-17 10:40:02
It isn't intended to answer the question but to show what a useful answer might look like. In your case, the novice-expert dimension is obviously the most important so you want to look at distros at the novice-friendly end of this axis. You are also interested in having hardware recognised automatically so you would also want a distro towards the proprietary end of the free-proprietary axis. The other dimensions seem to be less important to you. If a system like the one I've described were actually set up, it would be easy for you to find the answer you're looking for.
Reply to hazel:
RE: still doesn't answer the question
writen by: Sandlizard on 2009-09-17 12:45:06
I was a total linux dummie when I started and Ubuntu was recommended to me. I am so glad it was. I have installed it on four Dell laptops, and 2 desktops, and I had so few issues I was amazed. It found all my devices, installed them, and ran wonderfully right from the start. That was 2 years ago and it has only improved with each distro update. It has a gui interface for adding programs, and has probably the best community and wiki support of any distro. I am sure you will get many other opinions, but I would recommend you give it a try and download the latest version from:


The latest version is not the stable version with the extended support, but it will always have the most updated drivers, etc. and is version updated about every six months.

I have three different brand printers, 2 lasers and an ink jet photo printer; after a short read on the wiki, I had all three working with all their advanced features in about 15 minutes. I have both ethernet and wireless and all was a snap. Again, the one small problem I had was address specifically in the wiki.
Bottom line, a true Linux newbie could do no better than Ubuntu in my opinion. I have been converted from a 100% windows user to an 80/20 Ubuntu user. All my machines are dual boot.
Oh and creating a dual boot system, insert the cd and boot to it. just follow the step by step, be sure to choose guided install, gui installation. It finds your other OS and creates all the partitions it needs, after you tell it how large, and install the GRUB boot menu without a hitch. When you boot you choose your OS and you are off. So you don't have to give up windows.

If you decide you don't like the distro, , boot to your windows install media, and just delete the linux partitions, then use the recovery console and the fix boot record utility to return your system to normal windows operation. This basically one command at the C:\ prompt in Windows XP recovery console:

At the c:\ prompt type the following and hit enter: fixmbr . It will ask you to confirm and you are done it will write an original Windows boot loader and you are back to your windows boot only.

Not much risk with this distro and plenty to gain. It has support for just about everything you can think of to do in Windows in the default installation too. Burn DVD's, stream media, watch movies, and has OpenOffice which has improved to be a very complete and powerful free office suite. If QuickBooks had a Linux install, I would not need windows at all.

Do you have to use the command line, yes at times, but the commands and all the help you need to edit how your computer boots, or setup a server on it, is available in the community and official help and wiki.
I hope that helps. I have no reservations with Ubuntu, and I have tried several other distros on a test machine. I always come right back.

Probably the most important point that should be made about Ubuntu is that the install disk boots to a live version of Ubuntu. Even to install this distro you have to boot to the live version, which run a completely functional Ubuntu OS on your computer from the CD. You do not even have to install it to try it!! It can't get much better than that. Good luck.
Reply to Sandlizard:
Have you looked at...
writen by: eyemeansit on 2009-09-17 12:02:12
Zegenie Studios Linux Distribution chooser? It asks questions regarding your points 1, 3, and 6, then offers suggestions based on your responses.

RE: Have you looked at... written by eyemeansit:
Add Support to your Metrics
writen by: davegutz on 2009-09-17 17:24:31
Some newbies may find support a useful selling point. For nominal fee they can buy support from some for a year. (then go free, e.g. Redhat --> Centos)
RE: Add Support to your Metrics written by davegutz:
Not real helpful for newbies
writen by: Andrew Out Bush on 2009-09-19 02:54:05
A newbie like me would like to know if a new distro will

Run on their computer ?
Detect their dial up modem or other internet connection ?
Detect and work on their computer ?
Detect and run their printer, scanner or all in one printer scanner etc ?

So please if a new distro is made inform what it will run on or if not known what computer it was tested on.

For example this distro was run on a computer with

A pentium 4
512 mb of ram
32 mb graphics card
D-link DSL G604T modem was used for the internet

Then just by reading that the newbie will have some idea to try it or not.

Otherwise just keep burning many live disks of many distros just to see if it may work.

That just turns the majority of people away from linux and they then go for microsoft products.

RE: Not real helpful for newbies written by Andrew Out Bush:
RE: Not real helpful for newbies
writen by: TaylanUB on 2009-09-22 07:08:56
Do people realize that the article is not meant to help the newbies, but rather encourage the experts to use new ways to help the newbs better?

But to answer your question, an average desktop GNU/Linux, say Ubuntu, will probably simply run on your PC.

Actually it confuses me now, why people talk about drivers and such working so nice in Windows. YOU DON'T NEED FREAKING DRIVER CDs IN LINUX. O_O
The biggest pain when reformatting Windows has always been installing the drivers, for me. Without them, nothing would work properly... The fact that i had to install/configure absolutely nothing to be readily able to surf the net with Firefox, when i had installed this distro called Pardus, had blown me off totally. It's an average desktop distro for newbs.
Reply to TaylanUB:
In Plain English Please!!!
writen by: sastusbulbas on 2010-04-25 08:57:36
I have to say I find the recommendations way too vague, maybe OK to the writer who can understand what he is implying through experience.

I used Ubuntu 8.04 some time back, it was not as simple as XP, I only used it as I was between OS's due to a hardware failure. I never got is as well configured as XP but in general it was OK, if a little clumsy. Never got on with some of the commands for updates and other issues.

I recently became interested in Ubuntu again, I have a PPC (Mac G4) which had a HD failure and I don't have the discs, now upon reading the apple users section of the Ubuntu forum I thought (silly me) Ubuntu had been improved and after all it was now 9.10 so some bugs must have been ironed out! But no, I have had two weeks of pain in the A hole, just to fing out it does not work fully in that system. Now what do I do for a free OS that will work straight out the drive with all the useability I would expect from XP W7 or an Apple OS? Quite simply it was cheaper to buy OSX 10.4 for that system.

Nothing anywhere seems to tell me what does what with what requirements and what level of expertise or knowledge is required from the user end?

I do wonder if Linux is aimed at Intel PC users who revel in knowing that bit more than those who buy an OS off the shelf, but then again I have never seen a Linux OS as compatible or user friendly with all the function of an OS such as Windows 7. I would like an OS that will work out the box, and if drivers are required it will say so and download the without fuss. I want to watch Blue Ray and DVD, I want to stream these, I want to enjoy music lossless, I want to be able to comunicate with my wireless network, printers and view web content inc video. I would like to be able to read what functions and compatibility an OS has and it's requirements and set up instructions before asting time and effort and finding out myself. Time is not free.

RE: In Plain English Please!!! written by sastusbulbas:
Ubuntu or Xubuntu
writen by: Techitone on 2010-07-20 12:48:52
If you are a novice Linux user I would recomend Ubuntu for a newer computer (less than a few years old) and Xubuntu for older machines. Both work well on desktops and/or laptops.

Go to the Ubuntu or Xubuntu website and download the LiveCD that best suites your computers specifications, ie processor type, age etc. Look for the current 'STABLE' version (currently this is 10.04 but I have not included any links because this will lock the info in time and will quickly become out dated!). You will see which is the current stable release on the download page for both Ubuntu and Xubuntu. Download the stable release, known as a LiveCD and burn it to a disc (see instructions for burning on the website). Once you have made the LiveCD you can pop it in your computer and start up the machine from the LiveCD by pressing either F2 or F12 (this gives you the option to boot from the CD drive). You can then 'try' Ubuntu or Xubuntu without installing OR install it alongside the current operating (Windows) system OR install it on it's own. This will completely remove everything on the computer so make sure you back up any files yu want to keep first!

My 10 year old Toshiba Laptop runs Xubuntu and has recently been updated to version 10.04 It runs really well and doesn't feel that slow.

Both of these are FREE, have FREE Software and they don't get any of those nasty Windows viruses :)
RE: Ubuntu or Xubuntu written by Techitone:

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