Windows 10 has brought on a lot of frustration not only for the advanced user, but for the beginner as well. The operating system has a lot of shortcomings for beginners, making it more difficult to navigate, finding certain features and accessing select applications — managing updates is even more difficult than it needs to be. Since it’s release, things have gotten a little easier, but Windows 10 still isn’t something you can pick up and run with without asking a friend, watching some YouTube material on the OS or even asking Google a question.
If you’re one of those people that are just fed up with Windows 10, there’s other options. One of those is Linux, and within Linux, there are tons of options through the many different distributions. You might still have to ask Google a question about how to do something in Linux, but some distributions are a whole lot more user friendly than Windows 10 has become.
If you want something new to try, follow along below — we’ll show you what’s best for your situation.
What is Linux?
If you’re not familiar with Linux, it’s an operating system, just like Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10. However, it’s best known as an open source operating system. Basically, what this means is that the code for Linux — the under-workings of the OS — is freely available to the public. Anyone — at least people who have the appropriate skills — are able to load Linux up and edit it to contribute to the software. That’s essentially where different distributions come from (i.e. Ubuntu, Mint, Red Hat, etc) — people contributing to Linux and its different distributions.
So, what does this mean for the average user, or the beginner even? That means, with whatever Linux distribution you choose, you’re getting an operating system that is highly customizeable and open to the public — you’re not getting locked out of some of the most basic features that come with your system (e.g. controlling updates) and you have plenty of options for swapping out things like word processors, video players, web browsers and general applications.
That all might sound complicated, but to break it down into a single sentence, Linux is an open source operating system that gives control back to you, the user.
What about Linux for beginners?
Again, Linux sounds extremely complicated, but it can actually be very beginner-friendly depending on the distribution you go with. For example, Ubuntu and Linux Mint are great choices for casual users and beginners looking to dive into Linux. On the other hand, you might have something like ClearOS, which is still friendly to casual users, but has capabilities that go much further by combining a server, network and gateway platform. Then you have things like Arch Linux, which is most definitely not friendly to casual or beginner Linux users. In fact, it was designed with more competent Linux users in mind.
All of that said, it can be difficult choosing a distribution — it all depends on what your needs are. We’ve gone through and tested a few of them, which are all listed below.
If you’re a beginner (i.e. not an advanced user) the best place to start with Linux is Ubuntu. I’ve used Ubuntu quite a bit before — I’ve even ran it on my laptop for almost a year straight. I can honestly say that Canonical (the developers of Ubuntu) have turned Ubuntu into one of the most beginner-friendly Linux operating systems.
The UI is very easy to use. Ubuntu uses a file manager called Nautilus. It’s all very straightforward — it’s extremely easy to go in and find your photos, documents and different program files. There’s also a Search tool, which can bring up your applications in seconds (and your most recent applications even faster).
Ubuntu also has a sidebar where you can create a shortcut for many of your applications, whether that be Google Chrome, Firefox, a word processor and so on. It’s usually on the left side of the screen, but thanks to the great customization of Ubuntu, you can put at the bottom as a sort of Start menu a la Windows 7. Or, thanks to the endless customization options of Ubuntu, you can create a macOS dock or a replica of the Windows 7 Start bar instead. It’s all up to you.
All in all, it’s a very beginner friend operating system and is perfect for the casual user.
Download it now: Canonical
Linux Mint is pretty similar to Ubuntu and Windows 7 in a lot of ways. Mint is actually similar to Windows 7 in the way everything is laid out. That said, with Mint, you’re getting more of a classic desktop style instead of the more modern UI of Windows 10.
In our testing of Linux Mint, it’s a very intuitive piece of software. The user interface is clean, fast and very responsive. There’s also a thriving community behind it — a lot of user feedback is actually later built into Linux Mint through updates. Beyond that, aside from the UI differences, it’s very similar to Ubuntu.
Just like Ubuntu, Linux Mint is great for the beginner Linux user and the casual user.
Download it now: Linux Mint
Arch Linux definitely surpasses the beginner space. The OS itself focuses on simplicity, leaving it up to the user to add modifications or additions they require — Arch Linux itself is a base system and only comes with what is fully required. Everything else comes from the user’s configurations. It’s not an out-of-the-box operating system.
Arch isn’t made for any specific purpose. Rather, because of its Do-It-Yourself distribution model, the user can configure it to meet his or her unique needs, whether that be server-related, your standard desktop, a workstation and so on. It all depends on what the user builds it up as.
We tested Arch Linux ourselves, and while many people say that it can be a good option for beginners, the learning curve is massive. Understanding the basics of package managers and dependencies is an absolute must. Some beginners might be OK with it and able to rely on the Wiki and other resources, but coming from someone who has used Linux, if you’re not well-experienced, it’s most definitely an uphill battle.
Arch Linux also doesn’t have one “appearance” or user interface. Again, it’s all how you set it up, and since everyone has a different configuration, Arch Linux always looks different on another user’s setup.
Arch Linux is definitely for the advanced and more experienced user, but some beginners with a go-getter mindset would still do well with it.
Download it now: Arch Linux
Red Hat & Fedora
If you’ve done any research into Linux, you’ll know that Red Hat is a very popular distribution. However, it’s more focused on the commercial market for commercial applications. With military-grade security, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) servers are perfect for business infrastructure.
RHEL is a commercial distribution that came from Fedora. Fedora itself is free and is very similar to RHEL in many ways. That said, because of RHEL’s commercial focus, we weren’t able to test it, but we were able to give Fedora a run through.
Fedora is a Linux operating system that can run right out-of-the-box. There’s no skilled setup required like there is like Arch Linux. Fedora has a few different applications, with their most notable ones being Fedora Server and Fedora Workstation.
Fedora Workstation has a beautiful user interface that’s friendly for even the casual user. However, what was neat is that it has its own open source toolbox, giving the user access to the tools they need to distribute and improve their code. There’s not too many differences between Fedora and other distros; however, it seems to have the best implementation of the GNOME3 desktop environment (although that may change in a few years) — it’s extremely sleek looking and easy to navigate.
Red Hat is a fantastic option for large businesses; however, Fedora is just as good for personal use and smaller scale business use with Fedora Server. So, whether you’re a beginner or advanced user, Fedora is a great option.
Which should you choose?
If you’re new to Linux or are just a casual user moving from Windows 10, the choice is clear — Ubuntu or Linux Mint are going to be your best choices. Both are essentially the same operating systems, although Ubuntu seems to have a larger community. So, if you’re looking for something that’s easy to use with a lot of support and community involvement — Ubuntu is the obvious choice. If you want something with just as much support and looks reminiscent of Windows 7, Linux Mint is the operating system to go with.
Either of these options will work well for the gamer out there, too. Linux Mint and Ubuntu definitely felt like the most easy to get Windows games running in, while Fedora felt a little more difficult. Arch Linux was just a lost cause for getting that setup, at least for me.
Arch Linux isn’t ideal for beginners, but for those that want to dive into Linux, it could be a good option to start out with. There’s a massive Wiki available on it as well as plenty of resources for learning and getting Arch Linux setup; however, diving into a DIY operating system like this is a daunting task and certainly not for every beginner out there. On the other hand, Arch Linux is the perfect option for more advanced users looking for more control over their system.
If you run a large business that needs an extremely secure and reliable operating system, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is without a doubt the way to go. There’s no better way to keep your infrastructure secure and reliable than with RHEL.
On the other hand, beginners and advanced users will love Fedora. It runs right out of the box, so it’s easy for beginners to get started with. It also has a lot of open source developer tools, which many advanced users will take a liking to — you won’t find that on many other distros. I would definitely say that Fedora is a good thing to download for the beginner looking to really dive into Linux, learning about all it takes to be a System Administrator and the higher levels of that. Fedora, to me, seemed more like a space for learning and commercial use than anything.
How do you download a distribution?
Downloading a distribution can be a little complicated. However, most of these distributions are all free (except RHEL), so you can go ahead and go to their respective websites (at least the one with the OS you want to go with) and get the ISO file downloaded on your computer. From there, be sure to follow our guide on how to mount that ISO and boot off of it to start the installation process.
If you’re looking for an easier way to install it, you can sometimes find a install CD or USB drive off of Amazon, although that’ll cost you some money. We definitely recommend following our guide to do it yourself in order to save yourself a few extra dollars, as buying a pre-loaded CD or USB is totally unnecessary for getting a new Linux OS on your computer.
All in all, Linux is an excellent option for people who are Linux beginners and casual users. And, of course, Linux is a great option for more advanced and tech-savvy users as well. When it comes down to it, no matter what Linux distribution you choose they all have about the same power and ability to customize. Some are more user friendly than others, yes, but ultimately, you can learn everything you need to know about Linux on something as popular as Ubuntu.
There’s no distribution out there that’s better than another — some do things better than others, but ultimately, you’re still running Linux no matter what you choose. You could learn to be a System Administrator on Ubuntu just as easily as you could on Fedora. Sure, you might notice some differences between the two distributions, but again, it’s still Linux behind everything.
All you need to do is choose a distribution that fits you best, join the community, and start learning along with everyone else — that’s a big part of Linux right there, and a part you don’t want to miss out on!