Linux has gained a large following as more users realize it is a viable alternative to Microsoft Windows. A stable, robust operating system, Linux has proven that it is no longer exclusively in the domain of the techie. The improved user interface gives it a Windows-like look and feel, and is a big part of its appeal. However, out of the many feature-rich distributions available today, choosing one may take some careful thought.
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Most Widely Used Linux Distributions
One of the most popular distributions of Linux is Ubuntu. It's not by chance that most users switching from Windows usually pick this distribution. Ubuntu's learning curve is one of the least difficult when compared to other distributions. It has thousands of apps to choose from, the searchable documentation is well developed, and ease of use is a top priority of the engineering team at Canonical. However, in recent years another distribution called Linux Mint has been growing in popularity, threatening Ubuntu's dominance. Mint, which is based on Ubuntu, takes the user-experience concept one step further: The developers are open to user suggestions and are quick to implement them.
Linux Distributions for Desktops and Laptops
Besides Ubuntu and Mint, other popular distributions are Fedora, Debian and openSUSE. Designed and supported by Red Hat, Fedora has a fairly short release cycle that allows the newest technologies incorporated soon after they hit the market. Debian requires slightly more technical expertise; it is a very secure and stable OS because the development team's philosophy is to never release a new version until it is completely ready. All of these distributions are excellent choices for desktop machines, but you can't beat openSUSE when it comes to laptops. The tools that come with it facilitate Wi-Fi connectivity and simplified docking-station capabilities.
Linux Distributions for Enterprise Servers
Three good choices for this category are Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Community Enterprise Operating System. Of the three, RHEL is frequently used for mission-critical systems. A robust, stable, and mature OS for the enterprise, RHEL support is the best in the industry. SLES comes in at a very close second. It is versatile and designed for mixed IT environments. Next is CentOS, a free distribution based on RHEL. Built on solid technology, CentOS is attractive to the organizations that may find the cost of Red Hat support prohibitive.
The number of Linux distributions is constantly growing, with plucky newcomers offering different value propositions relative to the established distributions like Ubuntu, openSUSE and Red Hat. Linux enthusiasts have developed a considerable body of online information for the major players, making them ideal distributions for beginners, but the diversity of philosophy among all the distributions on the market means it's likely that you'll find one that meets your specific needs.