Open Ballot: Beginner's Distro


We often introduce new people to Linux, and there's always that niggling question, what distro to start someone on. Not so long ago, the answer seemed obvious: Ubuntu. However that's falling from grace at the moment (Ben says: I actually like Unity. Efy, Graham and Andrew disagree).

We've found Fedora isn't as user-friendly as it used to be (if Jon were still here, he'd stick up for Fedora, but he's not). Mint is one option, beloved by many for graphical slickness, but then at the other end of the scale many people are now getting their first taste of Linux through LXDE and Debian on the Raspberry Pi, and they seem to be doing fine. A part of us is always tempted to go with Arch (sure it'll take them a while to get going, but when they do, they'll be able to look after themselves).

Our question this fortnight, then, is what's the best distro for beginners?

Perhaps you think one that mimics a more familiar environment (like Zorin's Windows-alike themes) are the best bet, or maybe you think ingraining the free software philosophy is more important, so only Trisquel will do.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments and we'll read the out on our upcoming podcast.

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Your comments

Everybody remembers their first linux, right?

I thought at first that maybe it ought to be an easy, familiar looking distro like either Mint, or Fedora, or something that looks and "feels like" their expected experience from the dominant paradigm that has been implied upon us by the dominant computing Corporations.
But I tried to think again about what it was that made linux appeal to me, not just in terms of usability but in terms of "gaining control" over the systems and hardware that was available at the time.
Now I know this may go against the grain but it strikes me that what really appealed to me was the insight and deeper knowledge that I gained by struggling through the incomprehensible to an understanding of the nature of the philosophy of "one tool that does a single thing, but does it well" connected through a stream of scripting (as compared to building the wheel several times over) which enabled a system admin to develop a sesne of control.

I know this is probably moot in the days of single user over multi user systems, but I feel that what appealed to me was an understanding that there were several different ways to approach achieving something, and that it was always more about the getting of things done rather than having it imposed upon you by virtue of the existing design.

So what appealed to me then ought to be the way I look at this question: For a "Newbie" so called, their aspirations and seeking for answers relies upon their desire to attack an existing paradigm, to question "how" and "why" rather than have what appear to be an alternative existing design made by others in order to make things easy for me.

If I recall correctly, it took me years and a desire to fathom the intricacies of an operating system to achieve any improvement in my capacities. I don't think I would have gone anywhere near so far had I been given a prebuilt ditribution that didn't require some extra effort to understand.

I'm sorry if it seems to go against the trend, but I guess I would strongly suggest somnething along the lines of (and here draw in a DEEP BREATH!) MikeOS or perhaps BSD (FreeBSD) as a good starting point for a true Newbie.

Forgetting what it was that brought us to the "non-newbie" status also forgets some of the basic principles that make for a decent education. sometimes you just have to dive in, make several, possibly many many times over the same mistakes before you "graduate".

But I guess Mint is still a way to encourage people to recognise that there is available to them an alternative.

But I guess I am suggesting that if you want newbies to contribute to the open source world, they have to at some point get their hands dirty, redcognise that technology doesn't rule and that options are available and that you don't have to accept one single OS or "way of doing things"

Otherwise we can say goodbye to the initiative, innovation and sheer ingenuity that has given us already so much. I desire ultimately that the innovation is never held in constraint.

Thats my 2c.


It's based on older stable Ubuntu releases, and I know what you are thinking.. oh god another Ubuntu spin, well yes it is that but it is also a great combination of simplicity and customizability. you use the command line just enough but not too much. You can easily customize it to your liking and the people in the support channel are all very nice (I am one of them). It is based on XFCE so it's nice familiar and quick.

Linux-Lite is Linux Mints fitter and more attractive cousin from New Zealand who is visiting on holiday. :)


It makes a difference if you are setting the system for them.Father at 86 years young decided that when he has to hang up his keys, a computer would be a good way to "travel". got a used 17' laptop and installed Pinguy 12.04 LTS .Knowing there would be challenges I made icons larger and increased font size(easier on the eyes)Removed conky.(too busy on the screen)he said. Docks on Intellihide(can see the whole screen but get Docky back with a bump of the cursor). taught him to copy and paste and installed Espeak for the fonts that come to small to read(reads it to him,little simpler than Orca.) Got him an Email address and showed him how to bookmark his favourite news and magazines .His first search was google earth to see the farm we both grew up on.Setting it up for someone much different than a noob who has to navigate a distro on their own.I agree that new users want to be told which one to use and further than that have someone who will mentor a bit (Showed Dad how to search forums)It's not a system most would choose but with the massaging it works really well for him.

Remember when you were young

The question is what you expect a newbie to be able to deal with, not how you can suggest, cajole, infer or impose a new paradigm upon an unsuspecting neewbie, but rather what you would expect a new user to understand in todaysn opportunities.
stop putting yourselves in their shoes as you were years ago and put on their shoes as they NOW have it.
Life ain't framed as we might like it, and we are the ones being asked what it was like "in our day".

as much as I dislike the idea, it will wind up being "whatever works" and whatever we think it won't really matter much.

but I do still recommend newbies access the available content and share alike advice.

I am a begginner

I am a beginner to GNU/Linux. So for what it is worth..

I became interested in FOSS mostly for political/ethical reasons. But also because Windows is such a nightmare.

I started by just reading (FSF, various Linux sites and forums, RMS, etc). Then picked bought some of the magazines and tried to figure out what the hell all this archane talk was about.

Read a lot about Trisquel & Debian. A free disc was on one of the magazines, so I bought it. Live booted it. Yep, that looks like what I want. So that evening I just wiped Windows and entered the fascinating world of GNU-Linux.

Triquel is great if you don't need to make wifi drivers work and so forth. But it worked out of the box on my old machine, so no problem. If it hadn't my plan B was get someone to show me how to install Debian stable and just add the non-free drivers to get me going.

Trisquel is really user friendly, as long as you realize you need to find other ways of doing things (e.g. no Flash - but most of YouTube works with the HTML5 option).

When my mum's windows machine stopped working I said try this "Mint", and not knowing what I was doing really "accidentally" wiped Windows clean from her machine. I was trying to set up a dual boot..but hey I am not that knowledgeable.

Basically she couldn't cope with any even slightly different OS, so gave me the computer.

Mint seemed a bit too much like Windows for my taste. So I did a minimal net install of Debian. Wow. Took me a few minutes to figure out the very minimalist desktop. But soon realised it was exactly what I wanted. The installer is written in clear language for someone taking their first steps on their own. The Gnome 3 DE is beautiful, and you don't have to start clicking menus, to open yet more options.

I am now ploughing through "The Linux Command Line" by William Shotts. It is so much fun. Learned more in the last 2 months of using Linux than the previous 20 years of "oh bugger now what is that message Windows is flashing up".

So for me the perfect beginner's Distro is definitely Debian. Lovely and fast on my old machines. It doesn't flash up messages all the time which I don't really understand. It just allows me to start from a position of socratic ignorance, and provides me with the opportunity to learn how to control the computer.

Last night I discovered get_iplayer. How great is that! I learn a bunch of commands. Then I get to watch the BBC in HD.

Sorry for my rambling enthusiasms! I clearly don't know that much. I wanted something different, that allowed me to figure out what I want to do with my computer.

Debian is just that. Brilliant documentation. If you are willing to read, it is step-by-step. The only linux people I know don't live close. So it is just me and Duckduckgo.


As has been noted by others, there seem to be too many setup issues emerging with some of the most oft-quoted favourites, and that will be a surefire disincentive to dump windoze.

I swung over to Linux with Ubuntu 9.04 and was immediately immersed in command line tweaking trying to get wireless connectivity, so not the best experience for a beginner - thank goodness for years of MS-DOS fettling on Win3.1!

Since then, I've tried plenty of distros and currently use openSUSE, but for straightforward installation and out-of-the-box success, Lubuntu is hard to beat.

One critical tip for beginners, regardless of distro - keep your /home folder on a separate partition. Makes experimentation and change a breeze.

Mageia default KDE

It's not perfect, but it has the easiest configurator: MCC
the Mageia Control Center.
I like to try different distros every month as i have a test machine just for that.
so: 1 Mageia, 2 Mint,3 PclinuxOs


I still think Ubuntu is the best choice, because it has lots of support, gets things like Steam for Linux first, and Unity isn't that bad. It is refreshingly different from other desktops, with its dash stuff, and it works well with Ubuntu One and will work with Ubuntu Touch devices.

Of course, for people who want a similar desktop to the one they have now, Mint or Zorin are good for Windoze users and Pear OS sounds quite good for Mac users.

I started off (coming from a Mac family) with Ubuntu 12.04 *and* Mint 12, and couldn't settle on one. I found them both very cool, though.

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