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?