In this article, we'll cover and compare some of the most popular Linux distributions. Furthermore, you'll be given the information you need to make a decision about which one to use, as well as the links to the official Linux downloads pages for each Linux distribution.
When people say "Linux," what are they actually referring to? Linux isn't technically an operating system itself, but a kernel that serves as the foundation for a fully packaged operating system.
Linux distributions, or distros, all share the same kernel but come preloaded with a slew of software and utilities. These additions are what make Linux usable out of the box and give the user an operating system experience. They're also what make each distribution unique. Such software usually includes a package manager, desktop environment, and other common tools you'd expect to find.
The Linux kernel is free and open source. Generally, most or all of the software included in a Linux distribution is the same way. GNU makes its way onto most distributions, which is a collection of free software. Some refer to this combination as GNU/Linux or LiGNUx, but it has become more common (and erroneous) to simply say Linux, with the understanding that GNU software is pretty much implied.
Choosing the right distribution to download can seem a little overwhelming, as there are many options. In this guide, we'll try to make the decision process a little easier by comparing the most popular Linux distributions and helping you download the one that suits you best.
Ubuntu is probably the most well known among all the Linux distributions. It's developed by Canonical and based on Debian.
It's best known for being user friendly and having great support. Canonical publishes new LTS (long term support) releases every two years like clockwork, always breathing fresh life into the operating system and keeping it on par with the latest software developments.
CentOS is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. As a result, it's more tailored towards enterprise use, such as on a server.
CentOS is still marketed to desktop users as well, but this distribution has garnered its reputation as a server OS. It's incredibly stable and tested, making it a safe choice for a commercial environment. Unlike RHEL, it's totally free. You can download it from CentOS.org.
Debian is a titan among Linux distributions, spanning back to the early 90s and spawning multiple derivatives since then, most notably Ubuntu.
Debian has proven itself a solid choice for any computer. It comes with over 59,000 packages bundled and ready to be installed. Head over to Debian's website and click on Getting Debian to download it.
Fedora is sponsored mainly by Red Hat. The newest features and latest developments you find on this operating system are eventually pushed upstream to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution.
Fedora is good for a variety of uses. It has multiple editions that you can download: Workstation (for a personal PC), Server (for servers), CoreOS (for cloud computing), and a couple of others. You'll find all the editions availble for download on Fedora's homepage.
Linux Mint is another popular choice. It's based on Ubuntu (and therefore Debian) and prides itself on being very user friendly. If you are looking for a distrubition that is very easy to use, this would be a wise choice.
There are a few different versions available, depending on which desktop environment you prefer. By default, Mint pushes the Cinnamon desktop, which they developed. Head over to Linux Mint's download page and select the copy you want.
Arch Linux is more for the die-hard Linux user. This distribution doesn't hold your hand or guide you through things; it just expects that you know what you're doing. With this approach comes a few advantages. Mainly, it makes the distribution extremely simple and minimalistic.
Arch Linux is a lean and mean operating system. You can download Arch Linux from their official download page.
A moment ago, I was talking about the extreme simplicity of Arch Linux. Well, Manjaro is based on Arch Linux, and a lot of that simplicity and minimalism has transferred over. However, Manjaro takes huge strides in making up for Arch's perceived coldness.
In Manjaro, you'll find a user friendly, speedy, and responsive operating system. This is a good choice for anyone - desktop and server users alike. Manjaro's download page has the operating system packaged with either XFCE, KDE Plasma, GNOME, or just command line. Take your pick.
OpenSUSE is sort of like the free version of SUSE Linux Enterprise, which is a commercial version of Linux in the same league as Red Hat. Although its marketing includes desktop systems, this distro is probably more suited for servers and system administrators.
OpenSUSE is very stable and reliable and has a large community of supporters. You can download either the Leap version (latest stable release) or Tumbleweed (rolling release) from OpenSUSE's website.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a commercial operating system meant for use on high end servers, mainframes, etc. When you buy a copy of Red Hat, in large part you're buying professional support. When something goes wrong, you can pick up the phone and talk to a professional about how to remedy it.
For businesses that can't handle any downtime, you can see why this is a big selling point. Red Hat is free to try or use for development purposes, and you can download it on Red Hat's download page.
Kali Linux is not your typical operating system. It's specifically meant for penetration testing and ethical hacking, which means it comes packed to the gills with tools for brute forcing passwords, packet sniffing, and much more.
It's based on Ubuntu and is completely free. You can get your own copy of it over on Kali's download page.
Puppy's speciality is in leaving a very small footprint. It barely takes up any system resources. It's not uncommon to see sysadmins carrying their own copy of Puppy Linux on a USB drive, because you can boot directly to it in no time and use the operating system without having to install it. You can even remove the boot medium after Puppy has finished loading itself into RAM.
If you want to breathe new life into an old PC, or carry your own Linux on USB for troubleshooting, or if you just favor Puppy's small footprint philosophy, you can download it from the official site.
Clear Linux is developed and backed by Intel. As a result, it's optimized for Intel hardware. It's a minimal distribution that is specifically built for cloud use-cases. It's a stateless operating system, meaning that user data and the operating system are completely separate.
Check out Clear Linux's download page to grab a copy.
Solus Linux is designed for home computing. This is a bit of an anomaly among Linux distributions, which are usually touted as being perfectly capable of running servers, if not outright focusing on it. Solus developed the Budgie desktop environment, which has become popular outside of Solus as well.
It's available with a few different desktop managers over on Solus' download page.
Trisquel is based on Ubuntu and consists entirely of free software. It's geared towards home users, small businesses, and educational centers.
The download page contains options for Trisquel (main version), Trisquel Mini (lightweight version), and Trisquel Sugar TOAST (educational environment for children).
PureOS is based on Debian and consists entirely of free software. Its main focus is on privacy and it ships with multiple utilities to enhance the user's online privacy and security.
Grab the ISO file on the download page of PureOS.
Oracle Linux is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and has been optimized by Oracle for maximum compatibility with their hardware and software, such as database applications. It's free to download and use, but has subscription tiers if you want technical support.
Head over to Oracle's ISO download page to get a copy of the distro.
Pop!_OS is an Ubuntu derivative developed by System76. The modified GNOME desktop environment has been overhauled and includes a ton of convenience features so users can maximize their workflow. Another unique feature of Pop!_OS is that it provides full disk encryption out of the box.
Grab the latest ISO installer images of Pop!_OS from the distro's download page.
MX Linux is based on Debian, has minimal software installed out of the box, and has a modified Fluxbox window manager that presents users with a lightning fast, minimalistic user interface that focuses on staying out of your way.
You can download the latest MX Linux installer images from the disto's official download page.
Elementary OS is an Ubuntu derivative with an extra dose of user friendliness. Elementary has taken big strides to ensure a user friendly experience. It includes a custom desktop environment called Pantheon, along with custom apps for Photos, Music, Videos, and all the other essentials.
Head over to the main page of the Elementary OS website to download a copy. You'll be asked to "name your price" when downloading Elementary, but you can simply enter $0 if you want a free download.
Parrot OS is a Linux distribution with a heavy focus on user privacy and penetration testing. It's based on Debian Linux. Although it works well as an ethical hacking distro, it also has many features that make it qualified as a daily driver.
Parrot has a few different editions you can download. The Home edition doesn't have any of the hacking tools installed out of the box, but you'll still get all the privacy features. The Security edition comes with all the penetration testing tools. Head over to Parrot's official download page when you're ready to grab a copy of this free operating system.
Deepin is developed in China and based off of Debian. The Chinese government commissioned a Deepin derivative to replace Microsoft Windows in the country by 2022. The Deepin Desktop Environment is intuitive and user friendly, along with the plethora of apps included by default.
Deepin is totally free to download and use. You'll find the ISO installer images on Deepin's official download page.
Slackware is the oldest Linux distribution that is still maintained today. It's very reminiscent of old school Linux, providing the most UNIX-like experience you can find on a Linux distro. It's a very simple operating system that puts the user in full control. It hasn't adopted many modern conveniences, like a GUI installer or automatic package dependency resolution.
Want to give Slackware a try? You can grab a free copy from Slackware's download page.
Gentoo is a Linux distribution with an extreme focus on flexibility and customization, right down to the kernel. Installation of Gentoo requires the user to compile the kernel themselves. This allows the user utmost customization, but it's also an advanced process that will be intimidating to new Linux adopters.
Installed packages are also compiled from source, allowing granular control over which components make it onto your system. You can get your own copy of Gentoo from Gentoo's download page.