In response to a direct request, I will outline the Linux distros that I tolerate and why. Keep in mind that I think all operating systems suck, but some are more tolerable than others. The entire question is based on the person tolerating. I’m not a fan of any of them.
First, let me introduce my usage. I don’t care much for common computer entertainments. I do play a few puzzle and card games, and I do listen to worship music, along with a few secular favorites from younger days. Mostly I read, research and write. I spend a lot of my surfing time on the Net using a plain text browser to avoid visual clutter around the information I seek. I use a graphical browser when convenience matters or when the information is by nature visual and it’s worth the trouble to me. I also do my own book covers, so I chase down free-to-use images to modify and paste over it with titles and such. I’ve done some book covers and original artwork for other folks, too. By the way, I prefer to use laptops.
Second, I’ve done some work with clients in my computer tech support ministry testing how they do or don’t tolerate the difference between Windows and Linux, and what kinds of things they find tolerable. In this context, and in my own personal use, I’ve tested a lot of Linux distros that I don’t like and won’t be addressing those here. That leaves us with three that I can recommend to other people.
Please don’t ask me why I didn’t include your favorite if you have one. I’ve had enough of debates and disputes from fanboys when I somehow insult their current OS deity.
There are three primary use patterns I’ve encountered.
1. The common home user: For those who have the least time and attention to devote to computers in the first place, Kubuntu is the shortest path to Linux (thus, the title to the Kubuntu book I published). It has its own weaknesses, and I don’t care to use it much personally. However, it is the one most Windows refugees tolerate best because it demands less change in their usage habits. It requires less from the user because it automates a lot of tasks. I wrote the book to cover what I believe are the few things most users might not figure out on their own. I charge a small price for my book on this, but you can find drafts of the individual chapters posted on this blog.
2. The typical home office or business user: If you have more time to devote to the migration process and need something more business-like, CentOS is the way to go. The free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), it is the most reliable Linux distro I’ve used, and the release cycle is very long. Once you get it working your way, you can keep it for a very long time as is and the people behind it will support it with fixes and such. If you have money and need more accountability, use the commercial version, Red Hat. All software companies suck because they can’t stay in business and please everybody, but Red Hat is more responsive than some others. But if you have the interest and time to bother with learning it yourself, CentOS is the same software without commercial tech support. It’s a little tougher to get the entertainment stuff working, but it can be done.
The current version, CentOS 7, is pure 64-bit. If you have older hardware that can’t run 64-bit, you’ll need CentOS 6 — more work and fewer options because it’s a bit older. On CentOS 7, I cannot imagine a Windows user migrating easily to the GNOME desktop, so I recommend you install KDE. On CentOS 6, the default GNOME desktop is an older version that’s less difficult to grasp. In either case, your options are constrained just a bit on just about everything, but that’s where safety and stability are found.
3. The computer hobbyist: The most powerful and versatile Linux distro is Debian. It lies behind Kubuntu but requires a lot more from the user. It also does way more different kinds of things and invites you to explore in ways the other two cannot. If there is something you want that Debian doesn’t already provide, chances are very good you can build it yourself more easily on Debian than other distros because Debian tends to be generic Linux. Thus, if you really need to have it your way, chances are Debian will bring you closest to what you want. It’s more work because there are more options. It also tends to run on more different kinds of hardware than just about anything else.
Other stuff that I’ve tried disappointed me in various ways, and some was of no interest in the first place. I’m not that kind of hobbyist and I’m by no means a fanboy of any of them. Again, this is not meant as a sales pitch, nor an invitation to compare your favorites with mine. I refuse to debate any presumed objective superiority of any of them because there is no such thing. The user is the measure of all things, despite the fact most users want things they cannot and should not have. The whole point is to get them as close as possible, because this is not the venue for saving people from themselves. I’m pretty agnostic about how people use their computers, and the focus of my computer ministry is helping you get whatever it is you want.