Using Linux needn't be tricky, as these distros prove.

PCLinuxOS

PCLinuxOS

This one-man distro, developed by an army of contributors, is available in several varieties depending on your choice of desktop.

The hardware detection prowess of the distro leaves no room for complaint; PCLinuxOS supports a wealth of video cards, including Nvidia, ATI, Intel, SiS, Matrox and VIA, and there are tools for working with HP, Epson and Lexmark printers.

You can configure these and other hardware from the easy-to-use administration centre. There's no dearth of apps in the distro, although AbiWord is supplied instead of OpenOffice.org.

For your convenience, however, there is a GetOpenOffice menu entry that will fetch and install the OpenOffice.org suite. Firefox is equipped with plugins to play files in formats such as DivX, RealPlayer, QuickTime, Flash and Java.

To enhance your multimedia experience even further, there's Gsopcast for watching P2P TV, Me TV for viewing DVB broadcasts, Imagination for creating DVD slideshows and the Floola iPod manager as well.

If you want to share files, there's the Dropbox client and Tucan Manager. For running a clean ship there's Bleachbit to remove junk, the Nixory anti-spyware client, and Dupeclean to remove older versions of apps. To give you easy access to your online accounts, there's the Pino Twitter and Identi.ca client. Synaptic does package management, plus there's an app for selecting the fastest repository.

PCLinuxOS has tons of documentation as well as active forums, IRC channels and several mailing lists, so it's easy to get some help if you need it.

SimplyMepis

SimplyMepis

If you think Ubuntu is the easiest desktop distro around, you've obviously not used this one. It has loads of custom tools and is stuffed with proprietary drivers, codecs and software to give you the smoothest Linux desktop experience possible.

SimplyMepis's polished interface is based on KDE. In the Linux world, stability comes at the expense of outdated packages, but this provides a good balance of the two, since it's built using the latest stable version of Debian (Lenny) and updates selected packages.

Depending on the timing of Debian, the next version will be synced with the final release of the current Debian unstable release (Squeeze). This is a quick distro off the blocks. When you boot the live CD, you get passwords for both the demo and root users.

With the Mepis Welcome Centre, you can quickly query the user manual (which is distributed in the image), plus the online wiki and forums. You can also install popular apps such as Gimp, Thunderbird and Wine.

Besides the official repository, the distro also has community-supported repos that can be activated from the Welcome Centre.

Another great addition to the distro is the Mepis Network Assistant for setting up wired and wireless interfaces, which has NdisWrapper – and about a dozen widely used proprietary Windows drivers – pre-installed.

The Mepis System Assistant is useful for system maintenance, enabling you to free up disk space by clearing logs and package caches. From here, you can also create bootable USB keys from ISO images. The User Assistant also enables you to copy and sync caches and directories between users, as well as restore configurations to default values.

Besides the usual stash of apps, there's also OpenJDK, and all sorts of multimedia content.

Pardus

Pardus

Pardus, developed by the Turkish National Research Institute of Electronics and Cryptology, is proof that good things can come out of government offices. It's only available as an installable image, but what an installer it is.

The partitioner can try to find partitions with suitable free space or, failing that, looks for resizeable partitions (ext3 and NTFS) and alters them to create room. Partitions are formatted as ext4, and graphics and sound cards are automatically detected at the end of the installation.

Kaptan helps you tune your Pardus installation. It'll cover the basics, including mouse setup, themes, and altering the number of virtual desktops. It also enables you to choose from three menu styles: Kickoff, Lancelot or simple.

Pardus includes the Strigi desktop search engine, and the hardware profiler, which can also upload and share your profile. On the software front, there's the usual suspects, plus Knazar, a virtual amulet to repel evil looks; SuperKaramba for eye candy; and Kleopatra to encrypt docs.

Besides the officially supported repositories, you can also enable the contributor software repos, and easily set the software update frequency. Pardus's package manager, Pisi, is newbie-proof.

Finally, Pardus can play all sorts of media files out of the box, including MP3s, AVIs and DVDs.

Sabayon

Sabayon

When your distro boots to Pornophonique's Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, you know a great user experience will follow. As well as booting into the KDE desktop environment, Sabayon gives you the option to run it as a media centre with XBMC, or use a special environment for an ultramobile PC (UMPC).

It's got the Clementine music player with presets to online radio stations such as SomaFM and Last.fm. There's VLC Media Player for MP3s, AVIs and so on, and Dragon Player too.

Meanwhile, Firefox is equipped with plugins to play Flash and Java, and there's also a PackageKit plugin for installing apps. The distro is adept at detecting and configuring hardware. There are tools that will automatically configure various system components, such as OpenGL, wireless cards and printers.

Sabayon also includes proprietary video drivers for both Nvidia and ATI hardware. Sabayon uses its own in-house developed Entropy package manager to install additional apps. You'll find loads of proprietary software on the repos.

The distro has an unusual development model. It releases images daily to testers, and to the general public weekly. Official stable releases are daily versions that have been tested thoroughly by testers and the community.