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Top Linux Distro for 2023

Eric Elliot

Home » Technology » Top Linux Distro for 2023

Linux has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Once a niche operating system, it’s now ubiquitous. You’ll find it powering everything from smartphones to supercomputers.

With so many Linux distributions (or “distros”) to choose from, it can be tricky picking the right one for your needs. To make your life easier, I’ve highlighted the top Linux distros to consider in 2023 based on categories like beginner-friendliness, customization, and special use-cases.

For Beginners

New to Linux? Start with Linux Mint. It focuses on providing a familiar user experience for those coming from Windows or macOS.

The installation process is straightforward with clear options. Linux Mint only takes about 10 minutes to get up and running. It comes bundled with intuitive software so you can be productive right away.

For example, Mint includes LibreOffice for documents and spreadsheets, Thunderbird for email, GIMP for image editing, and VLC media player. The slick Cinnamon desktop environment looks modern while remaining easy to navigate.

Linux Mint also has a welcoming community that provides tutorials, guides, and friendly assistance in forums. The Debian-based operating system is rock solid in terms of stability. You’ll encounter very few crashes or bugs.

For Aesthetics

Are you creative and want your Linux distro to look good? Try out Elementary OS. This Ubuntu-based distro focuses intently on sophisticated visual design.

The first thing you’ll notice is the slick desktop environment called Pantheon. It has a simplified panel dock for launching apps and system indicators. Pantheon includes many usability enhancements like global keyboard shortcuts and intelligent autocomplete.

Elementary OS bundles lots of homegrown apps like Photos, Music, Videos, Calendar, and AppCenter. They have been thoughtfully crafted to match the look and feel of the OS. Additional customization options let you fine tune themes, icons, fonts, and the overall style.

For Older Hardware

Don’t want to upgrade your hardware? Check out Lubuntu or Xubuntu. These Ubuntu derivatives use lightweight LXDE and Xfce desktop environments respectively.

That means system resource requirements are lower compared to standard Ubuntu with GNOME. Lubuntu and Xubuntu will breathe new life into aging laptops or PCs that may seem sluggish with modern operating systems.

These distros come with the familiar Ubuntu software center for installing additional apps easily. Default tools like Firefox browser, Thunderbird email client, and LibreOffice suite run smoothly even on older components. The interface layout retains a familiar feel for ease of use.

For Privacy

If privacy is your priority, opt for Tails. This Debian-based distro routes all traffic through the Tor network. It leaves no trace on the host computer when booted up.

Tails forces all connections to go through Tor for end-to-end encryption. It includes secure messaging, email, browsing, and cryptocurrency tools preinstalled. Tails scrubs the RAM on shutdown to prevent forensic analysis.

You can enable “persistent storage” to save settings or files across reboots. But otherwise, Tails runs solely from RAM in a locked down environment. This makes it ideal for anonymous secure computing and bypassing censorship restrictions.

For Windows Switchers

Transitioning from Windows? Check out Linux Lite. As the name suggests, it’s lightweight but also designed to feel familiar for Windows converts.

The desktop layout looks uncannily like Windows 10 with a panel taskbar and recognizable Start menu. It even uses familiar terminology like “My Computer” instead of potentially confusing Linux jargon. Additional tools are included for running Windows apps.

Underneath the familiar interface, Linux Lite is powered by the stable Debian + Xfce combination. It’s also quite nimble so you can revive old Windows machines. The community provides beginner tutorials and an online forum to welcome Windows users.

For Mac Switchers

Coming from macOS? Try elementary OS which replicates the look and feel of Apple’s operating system. The Dock provides one-click access to your favorite apps. Global keyboard shortcuts allow quick operations.

Preinstalled apps like Photos, Music, Videos, Calendar, and AppCenter are styled in a consistent fashion. The AppCenter includes curated apps that fit the elementary aesthetic for a refined experience. Customization options let you adapt the theme, icons, fonts, and more to your liking.

elementary OS uses the Ubuntu-based foundations for stability but aims to deliver a streamlined OS similar to macOS. The attention to design detail makes it familiar for Mac converts.

For Customization

For maximum customization, consider KDE Neon. It showcases the versatile KDE Plasma desktop that can adapt to any style you want.

The interface is elegantly configurable with widgets, themes, color schemes, icons, panels, and more. You can make KDE Plasma look however you wish – Windows-like, Mac-inspired, or uniquely your own. It supports global menu, hot corners, custom shortcuts and hundreds of customization options.

Underneath is the stable Ubuntu LTS base to ensure reliability. KDE Neon receives the latest KDE software updates while remaining rock-solid. The huge collection of KDE apps are perfect for creative workflows and productivity.

For Gaming

Serious about gaming? Check out Pop!_OS. System76 specially designed their Ubuntu-based distro for gamers.

Pop!_OS utilizes a custom Linux kernel optimized for gaming performance. The OS comes with proprietary NVIDIA graphics drivers pre-installed for a smooth experience. This avoids the driver hassle that can often plague other distros.

Pop!_OS has optimizations like auto-tiling, built-in gaming settings, game mode, and streamlined game installers. The desktop environment uses minimal system resources so all power goes towards your game. It’s a compelling choice for both casual and professional Linux gaming.

For Development

Need a Linux distro optimized for development? Try Fedora Workstation. The desktop-focused edition comes loaded with the latest developer tools.

Fedora uses cutting edge languages and technologies like Golang, Rust, Ruby, Node.js, etc. It offers multiple versions of frameworks like Django, Rails, and .NET. Docker, Kubernetes, GNOME Boxes, and Virt-Manager are pre-installed for containerization and virtualization.

The RPM Fusion repositories provide codecs, graphics drivers, media players, and other software. While stable, Fedora also rapidly updates new packages so developers always have the latest technology. The large open source community provides helpful resources.

For Servers

Setting up a Linux server? Go with CentOS Stream. The community-managed distro focuses on security and stability for enterprise servers.

CentOS Stream follows the same development model as RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). This allows it to deliver 10 years of steady updates and support for production environments. CentOS prioritizes stability and reliability over bleeding-edge packages.

It comes configured securely out of the box with SELinux enabled. CentOS has enterprise-grade tools for storage, networking, containers, virtualization, clustering and more. The ecosystem offers many pre-built server images and ansible playbooks for rapid deployment.

For Multimedia Production

Require pro-grade creative software? Try Ubuntu Studio. It assembles the best open source tools for media creation.

Ubuntu Studio comes preloaded with apps for photography, audio editing, video production, illustration, 3D modeling, animation, typesetting, and more. Key packages include Kdenlive, Blender, GIMP, Audacity, Ardour, and Darktable.

The low latency Linux kernel delivers smooth performance when working with graphics and media files. Ubuntu Studio also optimizes settings like CPU governor and swappiness for the best creative experience.

Rolling Release Model

If you prefer a continuously updated distro model, check out openSUSE Tumbleweed. New packages and features roll in as soon as they are tested.

Tumbleweed always runs the latest stable Linux kernel, drivers, libraries, programming languages and apps. The rolling updates are rigorously tested to avoid breakage. openSUSE also offers superb KDE Plasma, GNOME, Xfce or LXQt implementations.

The YaST control panel enables effortless system configuration. Snapper lets you rollback in case of issues. openSUSE has enterprise-grade tools for containers, storage, networking, virtualization and clustering. Overall, it’s a cutting-edge yet reliable rolling distro.

Final Thoughts

The Linux ecosystem offers immense variety. Hopefully mapping the distros landscape by popular use-cases is helpful in picking the right solution for you.

Each highlighted distro has different strengths and tradeoffs. Evaluate your priorities – new user experience, old hardware support, privacy, special use-case fit etc – to select the best Linux distro for your needs in 2023.