Fedora, Mint, openSUSE, Ubuntu: Which Linux desktop is for you?

We look at the top four Linux distributions to find out which is right for which users.

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Target users

Each of these distributions is meant for a different kind of user. Sure, you could transform their personalities, but why bother when their designers have already done the work for you?

Fedora

Fedora is the desktop Linux for people who want to be on the bleeding edge. More so than any of the other major distributions, Fedora's creators take the newest of the new open-source programs and bundle them into the operating system to see what happens. For example, the next version of Fedora will probably include a radical new take on the syslog (system logging system) called Journal. In short, Fedora is for Linux developers and people who want to become one.

In addition, as the basis for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL ), Fedora is ideal for anyone who wants to keep current with one of the most successful business versions of Linux.

Mint

Mint is sticking like glue to the GNOME 2.x style desktop. It's the desktop for users who are already comfortable with the familiar and popular older GNOME desktops. With its large open-source and proprietary software collection, I believe that most users will like Mint.

OpenSUSE

OpenSUSE has twin personalities. On one hand, it's a fine KDE 4.x-based desktop -- on the other, it's also designed to work as a server that's easy to set up and use.

More so than the others, OpenSUSE comes with wizards and server tools via its YaST configuration tool. So if you want a free, community-Linux distribution that you can use both for desktop work and to run a Linux, Apache, MySQL or PHP/Python/Perl (LAMP) application server, then openSUSE is for you.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu
Ubuntu Click to view larger image

Ubuntu is being transformed into an easy-to-use desktop where the operating system is hidden so far away from the users that they may never even dream they are running Linux. While this has brought new users to Ubuntu -- Canonical is also wooing OEMs -- it's alienated many of its older users. Indeed, many Ubuntu users have fled to Mint because it feels more like the "old" Ubuntu.

Conclusions

Which Linux distribution is the best one? The answer is: "It depends."

If, for example, you're a Linux developer who plans on working with high-level Linux servers, then Fedora is the best distribution for the job. Just be ready to deal with GNOME 3.2's truly annoying interface. If, on the other hand, you're a long-term Linux user who cut your teeth on an earlier version of Fedora or Ubuntu, and want a Linux desktop that just works, then Mint is the Linux for you.

If you want a Linux that can switch-hit as both a server and a desktop and like the KDE interface, then say hello to openSUSE. Finally, if you're new to Linux, need a lot of support and would like a really easy-to-use interface, then Ubuntu is your choice.

Personally, I like and use them all on a daily basis. Mint fits my own desktop needs the best, and I suspect that will be the case for most users. However, if I need a server and can't afford Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), I'm using openSUSE every time.

In the end, no matter which one you choose, you can't go far wrong -- and switching out Linux distributions is easy enough for you to try several on for size.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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