Top 5 Factors To Choose Between Linux Distros!

If you are either switching from some other OS to Linux or you are in the process of choosing your next Linux distro and you are confused which one to choose, then this article is for you. In this article let’s have a look at the top 5 decision-making factors for you to take into consideration in order to choose your next Linux distro.

Let us start by look at the short version of the answer for those of you in a hurry to start your quests!

The Short Version of the Answer

Factor#1: Match with your Particular use-case

Factor#2: Support for your favourite software

Factor#3: Hardware Support and Proprietary Driver Support

Factor#4: Your level of expertise in Linux

Factor#5: Hardware Resources Needed to Run

That is just the short version of the answer, let’s go ahead and look at the longer and more informative version and learn more about these factors!

The Linux Distributions World

The word Distro is short for Distribution. Since the Linux source code is open for everyone to see, large communities started evolving to bring together Operating Systems suited towards specific needs/goals.

These “specific needs/goals” include, but not limited to the following.

  • producing documents
  • writing programs and creating software
  • editing pictures, videos, audio and multimedia-production related works
  • store sensitive information by securing the operating system so that no one can hack into it or
  • just browse the internet and consume media.

Say a community of people just wanted to browse the internet with their computers, then there is no point giving them the software to write programs in. Thus since every community’s needs and goals were different these communities started distributing built images of this operating system with all the essential tools installed. These prebuilt images are called distros!

If you wish to know more about the reason behind the presence of so many choices in the Linux World, I suggest reading the article given below.

Reasons Behind The Existence of SO MANY Linux Distros: An Analysis!

The goals we saw above is not the only differentiating factor between distributions. Let’s go ahead and see some of the other factors at play in the next section.

Factors that Differentiate Distributions

Some of the factors that differentiate these distros include the following

  • The goal of the distro (as we saw in the previous section)
  • Target use-case (e.g. Servers vs General users)
  • Business model (e.g. Community driven vs Commercial distros)
  • Usage of free software vs proprietary software (as some hardware like network cards and graphics cards always only came with proprietary software)
  • The package manager (used to install and uninstall software on the system)
  • Ease of Use (beginners vs advanced users)
  • Init system (sys init vs systemd)
  • Stability (Rolling releases vs Standard releases)
  • hardware architecture (x86, x64, ARM, etc.)
  • Security (decides the level of anonymity)
  • Resource constraints
  • Aesthetics (how the desktop and related apps look like)
  • Support (free and paid support)
  • Release cycles and Long-term support (for example Ubuntu’s Long-Term Support version is 2 years, which means you get security updates till that point and after that, you need to upgrade to their latest versions)

This list can go on and on. Hence it is important that we keep our focus on the most important ones while choosing a distro. Let’s have a look at 5 of these decision-making factors which I believe are crucial while choosing a distro!

Factor#1: Match with your Particular use-case

By use-case, I mean the type of work you are going to be doing
on your computer. This is the most important factor to base your distro choice on.

Linux distro world has a wide variety of choices each one suited for an extremely specific use case. Hence instead of choosing a distro which might not be the best for our use case and waste too much time tinkering around and customizing the distro, it is a better idea to get a distro with most of the work is already done for us!

Depending on what you are going to be doing on your machine, your use case will vary. I have written plenty of articles targeting various use cases which you can find in the links below. If you are lucky perhaps the work of finding a distro targeting your specific use case is already done by us!

Use case #1: Workstation

The setup programmers would need for coding will be radically different than the setup artists and video editors would need for content creation and editing! Hence some factors that are considered important for using Linux as a workstation depends upon the kind of work that you are planning to do with it.

But some factors are common across all types of work. These include

  • stability
  • performance
  • support &
  • security

You can always add your favourite software as most of them are available with all of the popular distros. You can read more about choosing a distro for a workstation in the link below.

Best Linux Distro For Workstation: Analysis and Comparison!!

Use case#2: Students

If you have done some research on finding the best Linux distro for Computer Science Students, you will find that most answers around the internet will say go for Ubuntu. While this is true for some students, this is not true for all the students with different goals and majors!

That is because a distro that is the best for programming might not be the best for other factors such as ease of use, stability, customizability, etc. Hence, we need to choose a distro based on the end goal of the student. Our goal of this analysis is to find out what factors are important for different categories of students and find the best distro that can fulfil these needs.

Best Linux Distro For Students: Comparison & Analysis..!!

In the article above you can find information about the best distros not just for the general category of students, but also the following subcategories!

  • Students who are studying Social Sciences such as Economics, Business etc, who need an open-source & stable operating system to do their homework, assignments, and projects in
  • Students who are studying Arts who need an operating system to do their creative work in
  • Students who are studying Engineering & Technology who need a good operating system with support for the latest tools they might need for their projects
  • Students who are studying Natural Sciences who need a customizable operating system to run their experiments in

Since most students who use Linux are probably Computer Science Engineers, I have written a separate article for focussing on the needs of computer science engineers which you can find in the link below.

Best Linux Distros For Computer Science Students!

Use case#3: Software Development

The following needs are the common ones among all programmers

  • A good code editor: VS Code, Atom, Sublime Text or Brackets.
  • Virtualization software to test your apps on several operating systems: On Linux, you have support for VirtualBox and GNOME Boxes
  • Source code management software like Git
  • DevOps tools like GitLab
  • Good community support for solving any issues that might come up

If you belong to this category I suggest you check out the article below where I have compared and chosen the best distros for several types of programming languages!

Best Distro For Programmers/Software developers: Comparison & Analysis!

Use case#4: Content Creation

If you are a content creator, the typical work you do on your machines will include the following

Typical work done by Content Creators on their computers

  • Making diagrams on the computer,
  • Editing music and videos,
  • Writing books and reports,
  • making presentations, etc

To do all the work mentioned above, the distro you choose must satisfy the following needs

Needs to be fulfilled by your distro

  • Support for graphics cards you might have
  • Support for the latest edition of the video editing software
  • Support for good drawing apps
  • Office suite of apps.

The article in the link below has the comparison of several distros best suited to fulfil the needs above!

Best Linux Distro for Content Creation: Comparison & Analysis!

Use case#5: Content consumption

There are situations when all you need is a browser on your computer. In such cases, it makes sense to have an operating system that is optimized for browsing to efficiently use the available hardware resources. In the article below we have compared and analysed 3 Linux distros that you can use to fulfil your needs!

Top 3 “Browsing-Only” Linux Distros

Use case#6: Gaming

Gaming on Linux is not what it used to be. Just a few years back gaming on Linux was limited to some extremely basic games and Windows was simply dominating the gaming arena. But all of this changed recently with 3 projects namely WINE, Lutris and Proton that gives us the ability to play Windows games on Linux.

Best Linux Distro For Gamers: Comparison & Analysis..!!

In the article above I have explained what were the factors considered, what choices you have and see which distros are chosen as the best for gamers along with some valuable resources for getting started with your quests!

Use case#7: System administration

For system administration, it is always a good idea to choose a distro based on what distro the systems you are going to administer are going to be running! The simplest way to do this is either go with the same one or go with one which belongs to the same family of distros.

Apart from Match, Stability and Security, the following are some of the most important needs of system administrators

Ease to automate tasks

System Administration will involve a lot of task automation, like backing up files, checking system health through logs, etc. The more of these features provided by the operating system, the easier your life as a system admin would be.

Ability to run virtual machines

As a system administrator in a big organization, you may face the problem of different machines running different variants of distros. To manage all of them from a single machine you are going to need good virtualization technology support!

Use as a system recovery tool

Time to time you are going to need to do some system recovery by booting from a CD or a USB. If the distro you choose has good Live boot support then you can do the system recovery tasks in a good familiar environment!

Latest Features

Linux is developing at an amazingly fast rate and hence it is a good idea to keep up to date on the latest technologies. In order to be able to do keep up with the pace, you are going to need a distro which focusses both on stability and support for the latest features!

The article below compares and analyses the best choices available for system admins and

Best Linux Distro For System Admins: Comparison & Analysis

Now that we have seen several popular use cases, let’s next go ahead and have a look at the next important factor for choosing a Linux Distro which is support for your favourite software.

Factor#2: Support for your favourite software

If your main work involves some specific software then that becomes a decision-making factor for choosing a Linux Distribution. So before fixing on a given distro, be sure to google if that distro has official support for your main software needs.

Refer to the article below if you wish to have a look at some of the top distros in terms of software support.

Best Distro For Software And Hardware Support: A Comparison!!

Factor#3: Hardware Support and Proprietary Driver Support

Not all Linux distros support proprietary drivers officially. For example, Fedora and RedHat family of distros does not support anything which is not open-source while Debian, Ubuntu and family have good support for even proprietary drivers as their focus is making it easy for the beginners who wish to switch over to Linux.

Depending on your computer’s hardware, you may or may not have open-source driver support from the manufacturers. This is especially true for hardware such as graphics cards and network cards. Hence it is a good idea to take “driver support” into consideration while choosing your next distro.

Refer to the article below if you wish to have a look at some of the top distros in terms of hardware support.

Best Distro For Software And Hardware Support: A Comparison!!

Factor#4: Your level of expertise in Linux

Depending on your level of expertise in Linux, the choice of distro you need will vary. For example, distros like Arch Linux and Gentoo Linux are not recommendable for beginners as the learning curve will be too steep.

Linux users can be divided into the 5 levels given below

  • Level#1: Complete Beginners
  • Level#2: Intermediate User
  • Level#3: Power User
  • Level#4: Advanced user
  • Level#5: Ultimate user

If you wish to gain mastery in Linux, then I suggest reading the article given in the link below where I have explained which distros to start with as a beginner and how to proceed to advanced levels to ultimately become a master in Linux.

Best Distro For Learning Linux: A Complete Guide to Choose!

Refer to the article below if you wish to have a look at some of the top distros if you are interested in taking tinkering as a hobby!

Best Linux Distro For Tech-Savvy Tinkerers: A Comparison!!

Factor#5: Hardware Resources Needed to Run

This is an important factor if you are planning to employ Linux on a computer with limited hardware resources. This may be an old machine or a new one with less than stellar specs.

Refer to the article below if you wish to have a look at a step by step guide for choosing a Linux distro for your computer’s specifications.

A Complete Guide For Choosing A Distro For Your Computer’s Specs..!!

Refer to the articles below if you wish to have a look at the some of the top distros which will run great on older hardware.

Best Lightweight Linux Distros: Comparison & Analysis..!!

Top 5 Lightweight Distros Under 100MB: Comparison & Analysis..!!

And with that, I will conclude this article!

I hope you guys enjoyed this article and learned something useful.

If you liked the post, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Related Articles

Here are some of my other articles that might interest you!

A Step By Step Plan To Learn Linux..!

Best Linux Distro For Workstation: Analysis and Comparison!!

A Complete Guide For Choosing A Distro For Your Computer’s Specs..!!

Best Distro For Software And Hardware Support: An Analysis.!!

Distro-Hopping, What, Why & How Explained!

Reasons Behind The Existence of SO MANY Linux Distros: An Analysis!

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Balaji Gunasekaran
Balaji Gunasekaran is a Senior Software Engineer with a Master of Science degree in Mechatronics and a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. He loves to write about tech and has written more than 300 articles. He has also published the book “Cracking the Embedded Software Engineering Interview”. You can follow him on LinkedIn

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