Best Beginner Linux Distros in 2020

These Linux distros are simple to install, ready to work, and easy to use.

This is part of a series focusing on the best distros for every purpose.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu has a well deserved reputation for being a user friendly distro and for many, Ubuntu is Linux.

Ubuntu desktop

I wouldn’t go that far but Ubuntu is an all around great Linux distribution. New users to power users to everyone in between can happily use it. Ubuntu earned its reputation and popularity by focusing on simplifying Linux. Despite some missteps by Canonical, the parent company behind Ubuntu, its still an ideal choice.

The installer is simple to use so that a novice user can safely install Ubuntu alongside Windows. Once installed, Ubuntu ships with enough software to start using the system quickly and the Ubuntu Software Center will feel familiar to anyone with a smartphone. Ubuntu will even install missing multimedia codecs with a click or two. Between traditional DEB packages and Snaps, there’s plenty of programs available. Ubuntu also has a huge community that’s great with helping new users and the Internet is full of Ubuntu tutorials.

Best Alternative: Pop!_OS is a distribution built by PC maker System76. I wrote about why Pop!_OS is so great but in short… Pop!_OS takes Ubuntu and makes it even easier to use. As an added bonus, System76 produces their own tutorials on YouTube. Check the Getting Started Guide to quickly setup a Pop!_OS system.

Fedora

Fedora doesn’t get enough love from users new to Linux and its almost criminal.

Fedora 32 Workstation
Fedora 32 Workstation modified with Dash to Dock

Fedora’s Anaconda installer is nearly as simple Ubuntu’s and it ships with plenty of software. The Gnome Software Center streamlines the software installs and updates. Hardware support is excellent and Fedora has a strong community willing to help.

Fedora gets a bad rap for being cutting edge or a test distro for Red Hat. While its true that Fedora is upstream from Red Hat, it is still a very stable distro and packages are tested before being released. There is even a Fedora Server version available.

The main drawback compared to Ubuntu is the lack of long term support. Fedora releases a new version every six months and continues to provide support for 13 months. Ubuntu provides fives years of support with the LTS releases.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint has long been recommended as one of the best distros for Windows users given the similar desktop layout.

Linux Mint 20 Cinnamon

Mint takes advantage of Ubuntu’s stable base, strong hardware support, and huge software selection. The Mint community developed its own custom Cinnamon desktop to replace Gnome. Cinnamon will make Windows users feel at home with the bottom panel and application menu.

Media codecs are installed by default and hardware drivers are included so there’s little to fiddle with after post install.

Finally, Mint has a terrific community that’s very friendly to novices. Ubuntu tutorials will still generally apply to Mint.

Elementary OS

Just like the name implies, Elementary OS is simple. This distro ticks all the right boxes for beginners: a straightforward guided installer, uncluttered desktop, and easy to find applications. Plus everyone seems to love that OS X look.

Elementary OS 5.1 Hera

Elementary OS includes many home grown or customized applications. Mail, for example, is an off shoot of Geary. These included programs are intended to be easily identifiable and simple to use.

Given the similarity to Mac OS X, Elementary is often cited as the best place to start former Mac users. I think anyone will find the layout easy to navigate.

The two biggest complaints around Elementary OS comes from a lack of documentation and the AppCenter. While most Ubuntu guides should carry over to Elementary, its not a guarantee that they will work properly. Elementary needs to implement better documentation to help users.

Elementary made news by collecting donations directly through the AppCenter for application developers. While its a great move to help fund free and open source software, it can come off slightly deceptive. All of the software can be “purchased” for free. Elementary doesn’t make mention of this.

Conclusion

Ubuntu based distros are undoubtedly the top recommendation for new Linux users due to the simple install process, abundant software, and strong community. Fedora stands as an excellent option as well and is a gateway to the Red Hat Linux world.

What was your first Linux distro? Tell us in the comments below.

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