Clear doubts with this exclusive diagram: which Linux distribution to use?

what linux distribution to use, what linux distros to choose

On many occasions you always ask yourself the same question: which Linux distribution to use, or which Linux distro to choose. Well, something that tends to generate doubts mainly in newcomers to the GNU/Linux world, but also in some who have been around for a while and have gotten tired of one distro and decide to try a different one.

In this article, depending on your needs, you can check which GNU/Linux distribution you should choose. However, as I always say, the best one is the one you feel most comfortable with and like the most. We have already done many articles on the best distros, but this time it will be something very different, something much more practical and intuitive, since I will share some simple diagrams that will take you to your future operating system, in addition to learning some selection criteria:

Criteria for choosing the Linux distribution

Linux Kernel Logo, Tux

To help you with the choice of your future operating system or Linux distribution, here are the most important selection criteria:

  • Purpose:: The first criterion to attend to when choosing a suitable Linux distribution is the purpose for which it is going to be used.
    • General: most users want it for a generic use, that is, for everything, both to play multimedia, as well as for office software, navigation, video games, etc. For these purposes are most distributions, such as Ubuntu, Debian, Linux Mint, Fedora, openSUSE, etc.
    • Live/TestsNote: If you just want to run the distro for testing or to do some maintenance on a computer without installing or altering partitions, your best bet is one that has LiveDVD or Live USB mode to run from main memory. You have many like Ubuntu, Knoppix, Slack, Finnix, RescaTux, Clonecilla Live, etc. These last two to perform diagnosis and repair.
    • Specific: another possibility is that you need a distro for a very specific and particular use, such as for development, for engineering or architecture, for educational environments, pentesting or security audits, gaming and retro gaming, etc. And for this you also have some specialized ones like Kali Linux, Ubuntu Studio, SteamOS, Lakka, Batocera Linux, DebianEdu, EskoleLinux, Sugar, KanOS, etc. More information here.
    • Flexible- Some distros allow a higher degree of customization, such as Gentoo, Slackware, Arch Linux, etc. But if you want to go further and make your own distro from scratch, without basing yourself on any, you can use LFS.
  • Type of user: there are several types of users in terms of knowledge, such as beginners or newcomers to the GNU/Linux world, or advanced ones, as well as those advanced who are looking for the same thing as beginners, a simple, functional distro, with good compatibility , and that allows them to do their work without complications and in a productive way.
    • Beginner: For beginners there are simpler distros like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Zorin OS, Manjaro, MX Linux, Pop!_OS, elementaryOS, Solus OS, etc.
    • Advanced: Other distros for these users are Gentoo, Slackware, Arch Linux, etc.
  • Environment: Another thing you should think about before choosing a distribution is the type of environment it will be aimed at, since there are distros that are better suited to those environments than others.
    • Desktop: to use on a PC at home or in an office, educational center, etc, you can use distros like openSUSE, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and much more.
    • Mobile: There are specific distros for mobile devices, such as Tizen, LuneOS, Ubuntu Touch, postmarketOS, Mobian, etc.
    • Server/HPC: in this case they should be secure, robust and very stable, as well as having good administration tools. Some popular examples are RHEL, SLES, Ubuntu Server, Debian, Liberty Linux, AlmaLinux, Rocky Linux, Oracle Linux, etc.
    • Cloud/Virtualization: for these other cases you have Debian, Ubuntu Server, RHEL, SLES, Cloud Linux, RancherOS, Clear Linux, etc.
    • embedded: devices such as smart TVs, routers, some household appliances, vehicles, industrial machines, robots, IoT, etc., also need operating systems such as WebOS, Tizen, Android Auto, Raspbian OS, Ubuntu Core, Meego, OpenWRT, uClinux, etc. .
  • Support: The vast majority of users, especially home users, do not usually need support. When problems arise or go to someone who has knowledge on the subject or simply search the forums or the network for a solution. On the other hand, in companies, and in other sectors, it is necessary to have support to solve problems.
    • Community: These distros are usually completely free, but lack developer support.
    • business grade: Some are free, but you have to pay for support. It will be the company itself that is responsible for providing support. For example, Red Hat, SUSE, Oracle, Canonical, etc.
  • Stability: depending on what you are going to use it for, if you need to have the latest news at the cost of less stability, or if you prefer something more stable and robust even if you do not have the latest, you could choose between:
    • Develop/Debug: You can find development versions of the kernel and some distros, as well as many other software packages. They can be good for testing the latest features, debugging, or helping development by reporting bugs. On the other hand, these versions should be avoided if what you are looking for is stability.
    • Stable:
      • standard release: Versions come out from time to time, generally it can be every 6 months or every year, and they are updated until the arrival of the next major version. They provide stability and it is the method that many well-known distros have adopted.
        • LTS (Long Time Support): both the kernel and the distros themselves have in some cases LTS versions, that is, they will have maintainers dedicated to continuing to release updates and security patches in the long term (5, 10 years...), even if there are already other versions newest available.
      • rolling release: instead of launching punctual versions that overwrite the previous one, this model launches constant updates. This other option allows you to have the latest, but it is not as stable as the previous one.
  • Architecture:
    • IA-32/AMD64: The former is also known as x86-32 and the latter as EM64T by Intel, or x86-64 more generically. It encompasses Intel and AMD processors, among others, of the latest generations for which the Linux kernel has exceptional support, since it is the most widespread.
    • ARM32/ARM64: The second is also known as AArch64. These architectures have been adopted by mobile devices, routers, Smart TVs, SBCs, and even servers and supercomputers, due to their high performance and efficiency. Linux also has excellent support for them.
    • RISC-V: This ISA has been born recently, and it is open source. Little by little it is gaining importance, and becoming a threat to x86 and ARM. The Linux kernel has been the first to have support for it.
    • POWER: This other architecture is very popular in the world of HPC, in IBM chips. You will also find Linux kernels for this architecture.
    • Others: Of course, there are many other architectures for which the Linux kernel is also compatible (PPC, SPARC, AVR32, MIPS, SuperH, DLX, z/Architecture…), although these are not so common in the PC or HPC world .
  • Hardware support: Some of the ones with the best hardware support are Ubuntu, Fedora, and other popular ones, including those derived from them. In addition, there are some that include free and proprietary drivers, others simply the first ones, so their performance and functionality could be somewhat more limited. On the other hand, there is always the problem of whether a distro is too heavy or has dropped 32-bit support to work on older or resource-constrained machines.
    • Controladores:
      • Free: Many of the open source drivers work quite well, although in almost all cases they are outperformed by the closed source ones. The distros that only include these are the 100% free ones that I mentioned later.
      • Owner: In the case of gamers, or for other uses where it is necessary to extract the maximum from the hardware, it is preferable to choose the owners, even more so when it comes to the GPU.
    • light distros: There are many distributions designed to support old computers or those with limited resources. These usually have the light desktop environments that I mention later. Examples are: Puppy Linux, Linux Lite, Lubuntu, Bodhi Linux, Tiny Core Linux, antX, etc.
  • Software support and pre-installed software: If you are looking for the best software support, be it programs of any kind or videogames, the best options are popular distros based on DEB and RPM, although preferably the former is better. With the arrival of universal packages it is helping developers to reach more distros, but they are not yet being used as much as they should be. On the other hand, it is also likely that you need a complete system, with almost all the necessary software pre-installed, or if you just want the most tiny and simple system.
    • Minimal: There are many minimal distros or those with the possibility of downloading ISO images with the base system and nothing else, so that you can add the packages you need to your liking.
    • Logistics: The most preferred option is the complete ISOs, so you don't have to bother installing everything from scratch, but you already have a large number of packages from the first moment you install the distro.
  • Security and privacy/anonymity: If you are concerned about security, anonymity or privacy, you should know that you should choose a distro that is as popular as possible, and with the best support, to have the latest security patches. As for anonymity/privacy, there are those specially designed for that if you want it.
    • Normal: The most popular distros like openSUSE, Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Debian, Arch Linux, Fedora, CentOS, etc., have great support and security updates, although they are not focused on security, privacy/anonymity.
    • Armored: there are some with additional hardening work or that respect the anonymity or privacy of the user as an essential principle. Some examples you already know, such as TAILS, Qubes OS, Whonix, etc.
  • Start system: As you may know, this is something that has divided many users and system administrators between those who prefer a simpler and more classic init system, like SysV init, or a more modern and large one like systemd.
    • Classic (SysV init): was used by most of the distros, although nowadays almost all of them have moved to the modern systemd. Among its advantages is that it is simpler and lighter, although it is also old and was not designed at the time for modern operating systems. Some that are still using this system are Devuan, Alpine Linux, Void Linux, Slackware, Gentoo, etc.
    • Modern (Systemd): It is much heavier and covers more than the classic, but it is the one that most distros have chosen by default. It is better integrated into modern systems, it has a multitude of management tools that make work much easier. Against it, perhaps, it has that loss of the Unix philosophy given its complexity, and also the use of binary logs instead of plain text, although there are all kinds of opinions on this...
    • Others: There are other less popular alternatives like runit, GNU Sherped, Upstart, OpenRC, busy-box init, etc.
  • Aesthetic aspects and desktop environment: Although you can install the desktop environment you want in any distribution, it is true that many of them already come with a default desktop environment. Choosing the right one is not only a matter of aesthetics, but also of usability, ability to be modified, functionality and even performance.
    • GNOME: based on GTK libraries, it is the reigning environment, the one that has been most extended among the most important distributions. It is focused on being easy and simple to use, with a huge community, although it is heavy in terms of resource consumption. In addition, it has also given rise to derivatives (Pantheon, Unity Shell...).
    • KDE Plasma: based on Qt libraries, it is the other great project in terms of desktops, and it is characterized by how customizable it is and, lately, by its performance, since it has "lost weight" a lot, considering itself light (it uses few hardware resources), as well as its appearance, robustness, and possibility of using widgets. Against it, perhaps it can be noted that it is not as simple as GNOME. Like GNOME, derivatives such as TDE, etc. have also appeared.
    • MATE: It is one of the most popular forks of GNOME that has become. It's resource efficient, beautiful, modern, simple, Windows desktop-like, and not too noticeably changed in recent years.
    • Cinnamon: It is also based on GNOME, with a simple and attractive appearance, as well as being flexible, extensible and fast. Perhaps on the negative side you have the need to use privileges for certain tasks.
    • LXDE: based on GTK and it is a light environment, designed to consume very few resources. It's fast, functional and with a classic look. On the downside it has some limitations compared to the larger environments, and that it doesn't have its own window manager.
    • LXQt: based on Qt, and emerging from LXDE, it is also a lightweight, modular and functional environment. Similar to the previous one, although it can also be somewhat simple on a visual level.
    • Xfce: based on GTK, the other one of the best lightweight environments along with the previous two. It stands out for its elegance, simplicity, stability, modularity and configurability. Like its alternatives, it may have limitations for some users looking for something more modern.
    • Others: there are others, although they are a minority, Budgie, Deepin, Enlightenment, CDE, Sugar, etc.
  • Package manager: both for issues related to administration, if you are used to using one or another package manager, and for compatibility reasons, depending on the type of binary that the software you will frequently use is packaged, you should also consider choosing the appropriate distro.
    • DEB-based: they are the vast majority thanks to Debian, Ubuntu and their many derivatives that have become very popular, so if you want the greatest availability of binaries, this is the best option.
    • RPM-based: There are also many packages of this type, although not as many, since distros like openSUSE, Fedora, etc., and they have not reached as many millions of users as the previous ones.
    • Others: There are also other minority package managers such as Arch Linux's pacman, Gentoo's portage, Slackware's pkg, etc. In this case, there is usually not much software outside of the official repos of the distros. Fortunately, universal packages like AppImage, Snap, or FlatPak have made it packageable for all GNU/Linux distros.
  • principles/ethics: It refers to if you simply want a functional operating system, or if you are looking for something based on ethical criteria or principles.
    • Normal: Most distros include free and proprietary software in their repos, as well as proprietary modules in their kernel. This way you will have the firmware and proprietary drivers if you need it, or other elements such as proprietary codecs for multimedia, encryption, etc.
    • 100% free: they are distros that have excluded all those closed sources from their repos, and even use the GNU Linux Libre kernel, without binary blobs. Some examples are Guix, Pure OS, Trisquel GNU/Linux, Protean OS, etc.
  • Certified: In some particular cases, it may be important that GNU/Linux distributions respect certain standards or have certain certificates for compatibility reasons or so that they can be used in certain institutions.
    • No certificate: all other distros. Although the vast majority are POSIX-compliant, and some others also conform to LSB, FHS, etc. For example, there are some oddities like Void Linux, NixOS, GoboLinux, etc., which deviate from some standards.
    • With certificate: Some have certifications like those of The Open Group, such as:
      • Inspur K-UX was a Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based distro that managed to be registered as UNIX.®, although it is currently abandoned.
      • You will also find others with certain certifications, such as SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and its IBM Tivoli Directory Serve with LDAP Certified V2 certificate.
      • The Huawei EulerOS operating system, based on CentOS, is also a registered UNIX 03 Standard.

Diagrams to choose OS

This diagram came to me through a friend who passed it on to me, and I decided to find some more and share it to help a good number of different types of users and needs. Y the result of collecting flowcharts is this:

Are you coming from a different OS?

Remember that if you have recently landed in the GNU/Linux world and come from other different operating systems, you can also see these guides that I made to help you in the choice of the initial distro and during your adaptation:

In these links you will find which distributions are best for you., with friendlier environments similar to what you used before...

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  1.   Hernán said

    Excellent note. Thank you.

  2.   sophia said

    If you are looking for the best software support, be it programs of any kind or videogames, the best options are popular distros based on DEB and RPM, although preferably the former is better. With the arrival of universal packages it is helping developers to reach more distros