May 7th, 2013
When you're first introduced to the world of Linux, it's like nothing you've experienced before. You're finally free of the corporate bonds that Apple and Microsoft have tried to tie you up with. In the computing world, Linux represents all that's good and free.
At the end of the day, its greatest selling point is choice. Choosing the right distribution or "distro" for you requires a little bit of homework and some consideration. When you're picking a distro, be sure to mull a few major considerations before pulling the trigger.
If you're familiar with Unix, you're already ready to use Linux. If not, you'll need to take a crash course in Bash basics. For the beginners, Ubuntu or Xubuntu is the best. These distros will give you either a Mac OS X or Windows experience minus the learning curve that other distros like Arch require.
If you're not willing to really delve into the world of Bash, you should stick to those "safe" distros mentioned previously. Otherwise, you can pick any distribution you feel like using for the long haul.
Before you pick a new distro, ask yourself this: what will I be using this for? If you need a server-like distribution for handling office jobs, go with stock Debian. If you want the most dead simple OS that even your grandmother can handle, perhaps Linux Mint is a good choice.
Knowing what you'd like out of any distro comes down to understanding how much time you'd like to invest in customizing the thing. The basic foundation of every Linux distro is the same. Only the user interface shell installed on top of it is different.
Level of Customization
It's easier than ever to customize any Linux distro if you know what you're doing. However, some distros are easier than others to tweak. If you need easy customization tools, OpenSUSE or Ubuntu are the way to go.
If you'd rather hack your way to the perfect desktop, the aforementioned Arch or something along the lines of Slackware or Gentoo will be more to your liking. There's a perfect distro out there no matter how finicky you are. The key is to figure out how much customization you're looking for.
Stability & Hardware Compatibility
The most important thing to consider when choosing a distro is how easily it'll fit in with your computing environment. The days when all drivers had to be installed manually are pretty much over. For the most part, Linux distros "just work" right off of the bat.
Still, the amount of time spent configuring any given Linux distro to work with any given PC hardware setup varies from person to person. If you're not willing to put in serious configuration time, stick with a safe distro.
The Linux Way
Linux can be scary at first if you're not used to it. Regardless, there's a whole other computing world out there just waiting for you to discover. Once you get over the initial adoption jitters, you'll realize that Linux is truly one of the best operating systems on Earth.
A bit of command line knowledge is all you need to get up to speed. Whichever distro you decide upon, just know that you can always switch it out if it doesn't work. Either way, Linux is always a smart choice for the adventurous and intelligent user.
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