We’re no longer on Ubuntu: Linux distros you’ve (probably) never heard of before

Unlike Windows and macOS, there is a world of Linux versions, called distributions, that users can experience. However, those who switch to Linux on the desktop usually head to Ubuntu due to its popularity and large community.

This is a good suggestion because Ubuntu is frequently updated and supports a lot of hardware. But when there are so many other Linux distributions out there, users may be curious about what might work for them. Fortunately, there is a quick guide …

Alternatives to Ubuntu

Ubuntu is based on Debian Linux and uses the GNOME desktop environment. A desktop environment can make or break the user experience, but there are other versions of Ubuntu with different environments, so you can choose a suitable one for you. Kubuntu uses KDE, Lubuntu uses LXQt, Ubuntu MATE uses the old Gnome 2 interface, and Xubuntu that uses Xfce. Ubuntu also offers versions that are ideal for use in a server environment.

However, there are other Ubuntu-based experiences, each offering a unique approach to Linux …

Pop! _OS, Elementary OS, and Zorin are closely related to Ubuntu and Debian. They differ in their software selection, desktop environment, and general theme. Some of these distributions use proprietary or closed-source software, which some Linux enthusiasts find contrary to the open source philosophy of the operating system.

Zorine and Pop! _OS are ideal for users interested in gaming or transitioning from Windows operating systems. This is due to their overall design, hardware support, and built-in tools for emulating applications typically used with the Microsoft operating system.

Elementary bone features a striking design that many have compared to macOS. It has a beautiful dock and apps simply named like Web (for the browser) and Code (for the text editor), which helps to strengthen that connection to Apple’s operating system. Elementary also integrates its own desktop environment called Pantheon.

Something a little different

If you want to move away from Ubuntu entirely, there are a few other options that stand out:

The emergence of Manjaro was a pleasant surprise in the Linux community as it is closely related to Arch which is a cutting edge distro with tons of new features but can be cumbersome to use, especially for newcomers to Linux. It has an easy to use interface and is available with a wide variety of desktop environments including Xfce, KDE, and Gnome. Manjaro also offers a version for Arm systems like Raspberry Pi, Odroid and Pine products.

Felt is the upstream source for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and has been around since 2003, gaining a ton of popularity over the years including Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds. It is available with a wide selection of desktop environments and uses the RPM and DNF package managers.

Users can easily install new and different repositories if they want other software, although you might not need it because Fedora comes with a lot of familiar software like Firefox and LibreOffice. Many say that Fedora is as avant-garde as Arch Linux, but as stable and user-friendly as Debian and Ubuntu. There are even Fedora distributions designed for server use. Fedora server and Fedora CoreOS.

Those looking for a slightly more modular experience may be interested in open SUSE. It is available with many desktop environments including Gnome, KDE, Cinnamon, MATE, LXQt, and Xfce. Best of all, it’s pretty stable with all of them, which is rare.

openSUSE also has a dedicated community, and developers regularly engage with them, researching and taking feedback from their users. One of the best parts of openSUSE is YaST, which is a fantastic system control panel, giving access to basic and advanced settings. One more important detail: openSUSE can also be installed as a server operating system, which is very convenient.

Solus is another choice for users looking for a user-friendly Linux experience. Its beautiful Budgie office environment is sure to turn heads. Users have also experienced short boot times and impressive stability with Solus, making it an attractive alternative to established gamers. While there aren’t many software packages, it does offer full support for Snap and Flatpak packages, which improve app uptime.

Niche distributions

While most of the above distributions are suitable for everyday office computing, others serve more specific purposes. For example, those with home theater PCs might want to check out LibreELEC, a Linux distribution specially designed around Kodi and consuming media. It supports x86 PCs, in addition to single board computers like the Raspberry Pi.

Linux can also be used as the basis for several retro-gaming oriented operating systems. Lakka and Batocera are two Linux distributions that turn your PC into a gaming console.

Batocera can be installed and started from a USB stick, which is quite convenient. It supports all recognized gaming systems including NES, SNES, Game Boy, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Sega Dreamcast, Playstation 1, Playstation 2, and Playstation 3, assuming your hardware can handle it.

Lakka integrates LibreELEC and RetroArch and requires users to install it on their hard drive in order to function. It supports a similar set of retro systems.

Scientists and engineers can find CAELinux attractive because it has many tools to help with mathematical modeling, computer aided design, prototyping, 3D printing, electronic circuit board design, and microcontroller programming. It can even be used with an 8GB USB drive for added convenience.

Some users may want a little more streamlined distribution. Erase Linux is an ideal Intel project for developers and researchers. Its speed and efficiency have been noticed by Intel and AMD. Users also pointed out that Clear Linux has a low memory footprint on startup and offers plenty of apps and tools for power users.

Barebones and security

Some other distros are known to be lightweight and help revive older machines.

For example, Linux puppy works great on older hardware, although it’s pretty much based on an older version of Ubuntu. It’s small at around 400MB but supports a large list of popular apps.

Looking for something even more stripped down?

To consider Small Linux kernel, which is available in three versions: Core, TinyCore and CorePlus. Core weighs 16MB, while TinyCore is 21. CorePlus is a whopping 163MB. Each provides the smallest of operating systems, as the Core version does not have a GUI, so you better get familiar with it. the command line. TinyCore and CorePlus land with more hardware support, but not much else. You will have to do all the extra work of installing and configuring the system yourself, which may appeal to some DIY enthusiasts.

There are various Linux distros which are perfect for those who also care about security and privacy. Tails (which stands for “The Amnesiac Incognito Live System”) is the official choice of the Tor Project and is a well-known security-based distribution. It can run from DVD or USB stick which means nothing will be stored locally. All network activity is routed through Tor, which conceals the location and activity of the user. All of the included apps are also hyper-focused on security and privacy.

Alternatively, there is Kali Linux, which specializes in security penetration. Its popularity has skyrocketed thanks to the Mr. Robot TV show, but it’s a great distribution for digital forensics. It comes with over 600 tools for testing system security including nmap (a port scanner), Wireshark (a packet analyzer), John the Ripper (a password cracker), Aircrack-ng (networks local wireless penetration testing), Burp suite, and OWASP ZAP (both web application security scanners). It can also be run from a USB stick or DVD.

So now you know, Linux means more than Ubuntu. From server operations and computer-aided design, to lightweight operating systems and even games, there are a whole host of distros that can be perfect for your needs.


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Steven L. Nielsen

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