The Cynic’s Guide to Desktop Linux • The Register

It is a universally recognized truth that all operating systems suck. Some are just worse than others.

It is also a comment under almost all Reg Linux article that there are too many choices and it’s impossible to know which one to try. So we thought we’d simplify things for you by listing how and how the different options suck.

It would be an incredibly long list if we looked at them all since Distrowatch currently lists 270. So the herd has to be reduced a bit.

If you’re interested in a comparison like this, you probably don’t have a favorite yet.

0. Tiny obscure distros. All.

Avoid all niche efforts. Here’s why. First, they are small. Not many people use them, so you’ll have a hard time finding people to ask for help. Second, third-party hardware and software probably won’t work out of the box, and if you ask the vendor for help, whether it’s a game, graphics card, or printer , he will not have heard of the Pi version of Ultimate SuperL33tOS. . Game over. Don’t. Stick to the mainstream.

1. ChromeOS Flex

The year of Linux on the desktop has passed and no one has noticed – maybe because it doesn’t say “Linux” on it. ChromeOS only works on ChromeBooks and ChromeBoxes, but they outsold Macs for a while before the pandemic. “Flex” is the version for regular PCs, probably named because that’s what Google does for $1.5 trillion. ChromeOS Flex works great because it only does one thing: browse the web. You can’t install apps, not even Android ones: only the official kit does that. You box run Debian containers: if you know what that means, run Debian. If you don’t know what that means, trust us, you don’t.


“Ubuntu is an old African word that means I can’t configure Debian.*

Ubuntu began as an effort to displace Windows from the top spot of the mainstream operating system by creating a Linux that was easier to install and run. It worked. So Microsoft threatened to sue because it looked a bit like Windows if you squint, and it all fell apart. Ubuntu decided that if it was questionable to look like Windows, it would look like Mac OS X instead. Then it went back to GNOME again.

Ubuntu used to be the obvious choice, but it has diverted attention from the “for human beings” Ball (good explanation there, folks) to grab servers – which, to be fair, is where the money is – and it shows. When it dropped all of its in-house features, it kept Snap, its universal app packaging format that no other distro uses. They work, but they gobble up disk space and slow startups. If you just want to keep using it rather than fiddling and fighting, try Ubuntu MATE or Xubuntu, but our caveat about niche distros applies.

3. MintLinux

Mint is an Ubuntu remix with buttons enabled. It was also a race for years, but when Ubuntu went all-Mac, it saw its chance and took it – with the top spot on the charts. It removes some of the questionable things from recent Ubuntu, such as GNOME and Snaps, but replaces them with questionable things, such as a confusing choice of not one, not two, but Three Windows-like desktops and overly cautious approaches to updates and upgrades.


Debian is the father of free distributions and the one who invented the idea of ​​a packaging tool that automatically installs dependencies. It’s easier than before, but mired in politics. It’s a bit like Ubuntu, but more outdated, harder to install, and with fewer drivers. If that sounds right your kind of thing, go for it.


Red Hat made billions going from giving away a freebie to selling an exceptionally boring enterprise server. This upset the freelanders. Fedora is the bone Red Hat threw them over the fence. It matured into something comparable to Ubuntu, but without the stable releases. You’ll be updating twice a year, unless you put it off until later, cross your fingers and hope that skipping all the other versions works. It’s probably not worth it unless your day job is trying to keep RHEL cases from falling or trying to create code that runs on RHEL cases without falling.

6. open SUSE

Six months older than Red Hat, SUSE is another vendor of expensive enterprise distributions throwing freebies over the wall. His innovative solution to the problem of unstable versions of Fedora is to have two different distributions. One, “Leap”, is synchronized with the paid SUSE Linux Enterprise – that is, it has an extremely slow release cycle. The other, “Tumbleweed”, has a progressive release pattern, signifying the exciting potential of breaking changes each day.

To compensate, it uses Btrfs and snapshots to make rolling back updates easier – but the package manager doesn’t know about snapshots, or the famous Btrfs inability to tell you how much free disk space you have, so it sometimes fills up your filesystem and corrupts it. Frustrated boredom or creeping terror, the choice is yours: have fun!

Both SUSE and KDE are German and it’s been the best distribution for KDE ever. Demonstrating its deep understanding of the Linux world, Novell bought SUSE, then GNOME vendor Ximian, then forced them into an arranged marriage. Now SLE doesn’t even offer KDE as an option.

7. A spin-off from RHEL

Red Hat, a subsidiary of IBM, remains the titan of the Linux world. Specifically, Cronos, who ate his own children. So he bought CentOS and then killed it, like he did with CoreOS.

Freely mixing classical allusions, it resulted in a hydra situation: many more heads sprouted. If Fedora is an alpha version of RHEL, CentOS Stream is a kind of beta version.

Or there’s Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux, which are RHEL with categorized serial numbers. Great for prototyping hardware you’ll later deploy to RHEL, or if you’re upping your game for a job at a Red Hat store, or if you just can’t afford the real thing. And there’s Oracle if you think it looks more reliable than the hat these days.

For your own laptop, this is all still a little behind: exactly what you want if you’re a big business, but not if you’re using it at home.


Pop!_OS is arguably one of Ubuntu’s most interesting remixes. While saying this, keep in mind the famous phrase about life in interesting times, and that a motto of the open-source world is to go fast and break things. If you have to, install it on a brand new PC and don’t try to dual boot. Also remember what we said about niche distributions, which apply to all Ubuntu remixes.

9.Arch Linux

Finally, we come to the 10th entry on our list, because Unix users are picky and like to count from zero. As one of the original streaming casts, Arch is the epitome of fast moving and breaking. Great if you’re a hobbyist or gamer, not so good if you have a job to do. This also applies to its offspring like EndeavourOS, Manjaro, and Garuda.


There are plenty of valid entries that didn’t make our sarcastic and (honestly!) affectionate list. It was a top 10 for a reason: everything on this list is one of the Linux mainstays, and every distro here is a good, solid contender in its own way.

The free software world came into existence because people have very strong feelings about the right way to do things, and as a result it has both a strong sense of community and deeply, fundamentally opposed factions, like the Debianistas versus the Hatters. And that’s without getting into desktop or editor wars.

There are many more with very valid reasons for existence. The Reg The FOSS office mainly runs a distro that is not on this list at all.

It’s perfect. Really. ®

*Jokes aside, Ubuntu is a word from the Nguni language (Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu) which is a broader philosophical concept in Southern Africa, to do with respect, kindness and generosity in a community. The idea is that it is only through pro-social interactions with other people that you are a human being: “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” – “I am because you are”.

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