Ruminations Galore


Linux distributions new users should avoid

What distribution is ideal for me? This is by far the most often asked question on just about every forum board. New users are adopting Linux by the hordes everyday, and that’s a great thing, but because of the large number of distributions to choose from, they can’t help but wonder which is best for them.

To go 10 rounds with one distro only to realize you’re a different weight class is not the most effective way of learning something new or adopting a new environment. You’d be tired by the end of the second round, and while your enthusiasm and encouragement from your peers will keep you in the game for another eight rounds, what good comes from taking this beating, even if it’s from the best.

Instead of asking what distro is ideal for me, perhaps new users should be asking what distribution do I avoid, or stay away from initially?

Over the past several years, I’ve seen new users asking what distro to begin with and all through the years they’ve had people sharing their stories, talking about their fortunes and misgivings with certain distros. My response to such inquiries has always been pretty standard, and drab. I tell them to pick any of Fedora, Mandriva, Ubuntu or openSUSE, wet their teeth as it were, and when they are comfortable enough with that distro, to go distro hopping. It’s the best way to learn and get exposed to all the wonders unique to each distro, I tell them.

Of late, I’ve changed my response a little, like just about everyone else. While everyone now deliberates between Fedora, Ubuntu and Mepis (yes, this is just as often recommended to newbies as Fedora and Ubuntu), I’ve started telling newbies what distro they should stay away from. Slackware, Debian and Gentoo are on my list of distros they should avoid when starting with Linux along with all the other ideal-for-servers distros.

This isn’t because I find these distros particularly challenging. In fact, my first distribution over a decade ago was Slackware. It’s just that people are far more used to the experience as offered by more, for lack of a better word, user-friendly distros. I believe user-friendly is quite a misnomer if there ever was one. Doesn’t user-friendly just mean that you get an interface similar to what you’ve been using all along. When they say user-friendly, don’t they mean less of a learning curve?

And that’s what makes Debian, Slackware and Gentoo different from other distros. Not because they are difficult to use. Not because they have an ugly interface. Not because they are broken. Just that in some matters, they require a bit more from the users than other distros. Most newbies aren’t willing to do that extra bit, and those that are, don’t understand the first thing about what they’re doing.

So there it is. I tell newbies to stay away from some distros. Do you too have a list of distros that you would recommend new users to keep away from, until they’ve had some experience with Linux?

10 Responses to “Linux distributions new users should avoid”

  1. 1
    √ėyvind S. Says:

    I askelandmy self what is the defonition of a new linux user.
    I my self used Debian, but i know many new users have enjoyed using Gentoo since it have an exelent user manual.
    I guess i would recomend any distro with a big support in forums, irc etc.
    But it depends on the user, many distros comes ready with mp3, flash and other video codecs and i guess having an up and running distro is what many new users want.

  2. 2
    Debianero Rumbero Says:

    Maybe a newbie must avoid Debian in the past but after Debian Lenny release that isn’t true anymore.

  3. 3
    catwell Says:

    I wouldn’t recommend Arch Linux to a regular newbie either. It’s the distro I use and its learning curve is similar to that of Debian or Slackware.

    I would still recommend Arch Linux or Slackware to very motivated first-time users with a good previous experience in computing on another OS, because their simplicity is what makes me like Linux, and I think it can be the case for other people too.

    I began with Red Hat 6.2 and I might have gone back to Windows if it had been Ubuntu instead…

  4. 4
    LinuxLover Says:

    New users should pick up a KDE based distro. KDE is much more like Windows in terms of where stuff is on the screen and such, and will feel more comfortable to them. Also, they should look into OpenSuse, Mandriva, or PCLinuxOS, first. Ubuntu and Mepis are good distros, but they still require a bit of command line usage that may intimidate new users. OpenSuse, Mandriva, and PCLinuxOS all use a control center application to configure, which is much more newbie friendly.

    Once users get comfortable in Linux, they may want to explore Ubuntu, Mepis, Mint, or even Debian, Slackware, or Sabayon. Leave Gentoo and LFS for the die hard. They can also, then, explore other window managers like Gnome, XFCE, Windowmaker, Afterstep, Enlightenment, Fluxbox…

  5. 5
    Kartik Mistry Says:

    I think that you should really try Debian Lenny! Have you tried it? If not – please do that!

  6. 6
    linuxlala Says:

    I have tried it Kartik. Have it on a couple of my machines and VMs and I absolutely love it. I’ve always had a soft spot for Debian (and Slackware) but I don’t think they are best for new users.

    I won’t recommend it to green Linux users. I don’t think it’s the right distribution for absolute new users to start with.

  7. 7
    hari Says:

    I would definitely put Debian in an intermediate range distro, but it’s not all that difficult once you set it up.

    I’ve been using it for over 6 years now with no problems.

    By the way, my blog link has changed. Please update your blogroll ASAP. Regards.

  8. 8
    linuxlala Says:

    I don’t think it’s hard Hari. I’ve been using it for years. Slackware too. But it’s not ideal for first time Linux users.

  9. 9
    hari Says:

    Thanks for updating the links. :)

    Good to see you blog though. Been missing your insight for ages now.

  10. 10
    hari Says:

    Hi Shashank, can you read my latest article on my blog and let me know what you think?

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