Are you looking for the best Linux distro to use in 2023? This article will explore the best distros that offer stability, reliability, and the latest features. I’ll help you choose the right distro whether you’re new to Linux or looking for a server environment.
A few years ago, I wrote about the Best Linux Distros. I started that article with “There’s not one.” My opinion has changed slightly since then. Every Linux site, blogger, or YouTuber creates these lists of Linux distributions and claim that their five, seven, or ten distros are the absolute best possible choices anyone could possibly ever make or YOU’RE WRONG.
There is not a single best distro for everyone. There are, however, great distros for specific use cases. There is the best distro for you: the one that meets your needs and just works. It is a matter of finding the right combination of desktop environment, software availability, reliability, workflow, and hardware compatibility.
How to Choose
Before jumping into some top ten list that’s just another rehash of Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora, you should consider what you actually need from your system.
Most distros are differentiated more by appearance than anything else. The desktop environment, or DE, is how we interact with the computer. There are several DEs but the most common ones are Gnome, KDE, XFCE, MATE, LXDE, and Cinnamon. Gnome is closer to Mac OS with (usually) an app dock at the bottom and a bar at the top with the date and system tray. KDE, LXDE, and Cinnamon all resemble Windows with a bottom taskbar featuring an app menu at the left and clock at the right.
Many distros have different DEs available. Don’t let your love on Cinnamon hold you back from Ubuntu or Fedora. They have it too.
The Best for Me
Lastly, before we get to the actual list, a note on the selection. These are distros that I’ve picked based on my experience and my preferences. They worked well (or maybe they didn’t work at all) for me and I feel confident that they can work for you too.
I’m dividing this list into Beginners, General Use (or desktop use), and Distros to Avoid.
You’re new to Linux, maybe even to computers in general. Perhaps you’re fed up with Windows, your Mac is no longer updated, or you heard about open source. These distros will get your feet wet while making the easiest possible transition. These are also equally suitable for grandma’s PC.
If you don’t understand all of that desktop environment talk or have no idea what a codec is, Linux Mint is for you. This Linux distro will remind you a lot of Windows 7. It includes all of the necessary software to browse the Internet, play music, watch movies. If that’s not enough, Mint taps into the largest Linux software repositories available.
Linux Mint has a strong following due to its ease of use, traditional desktop layout, and consistency. Very little changes on Mint between releases so it will remain familiar.
The distro offers three desktop environments that they have tweaked to appear similar. I recommend Cinnamon for most users as it has a little more bling. If this is going on an old machine, MATE and XFCE are lighter weight options.
Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distro. It is widely used by home users and even on servers. The Ubuntu developers have focused on ease of use and a polished desktop. With the largest user community, there are countless guides and numerous forums available for help.
Zorin gets an honorable mention here. It falls in nicely between Mint and Ubuntu: its built on Ubuntu but has a shinier desktop than Mint. It’ll feel familiar to a Windows user.
These Linux distros can be used for most tasks. They’ll be comfortable on laptops and desktops. They have app stores
Yeah, Ubuntu gets another mention here. This is where I’m at on my main laptop, a Dell Latitude 5520, running the latest 23.04. I chose Ubuntu because of the desktop layout, software availability, and support. Ubuntu has access to Debian’s 60,000 packages plus more with Snap. Flatpak can also be enabled.
If the customized version of Gnome isn’t your cup of tea, Ubuntu has official versions with other DEs: KDE Plasma, XFCE, LXDE, MATE, Unity, DDE, and Cinnamon. They all have access to the same software and support as the original Ubuntu version.
Ubuntu LTS is a long term support release, intended for production systems that require more stability. Support is provided for ten years with small updates bringing some newer packages back.
Fedora has been called the new Ubuntu. That says a lot about both distributions, but what does that even mean. Fedora focuses on open source and newer software so its a fun place to see the newest features in Linux.
Its also backed by Red Hat which is owned by IBM. Red Hat is the most profitable open source company in the world. They contribute heavily to general Linux and Gnome development
For a distro that’s released every six months and only supported for thirteen, it is surprisingly reliable. You can expect a level of fit and finish here on par with Ubuntu. Much like Ubuntu, there are numerous spins available focused either on different DEs or specific tasks: design, scientific computing, gaming, and so on.
Distros to Avoid
These distros are often recommended elsewhere, but I have strong reason not to suggest them here.
Manjaro attempts to make the rolling release Arch distro easier to use. Unfortunately, this distro tends to be buggy and has had security problems with the website. There are several other Arch based distributions available that simply work better.
Pop isn’t on this list because of the name although we could hash that one out. Its here because its facing big changes. Pop was originally a Ubuntu alternative offered by Linux computer builder System76. It featured better graphic card driver support, Pop Shell over Gnome, and its own app store Pop Shop. I ran Pop on a ThinkPad T540p due to painful Nvidia Optimus drivers.
Pop is slowly turning into its own unique distro with a new desktop environment, COSMIC. While that development is ongoing, I think Pop can safely be skipped.
If you still opt for Pop, you’re gaining window tiling and a well laid out desktop. Its built on Ubuntu 22.04 LTS so it will receive updates until 2032.
Linux can be a great experience if you start in the right place. There are many more versions of Linux available specialized for different uses, languages, and hardware. While the distros I listed above have worked great for me, that doesn’t mean they are your only options.