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Best Linux distros for beginners in 2021

Included in this guide:

Fingers typing on a computer keyboard - using a Linux distro
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best Linux distros for beginners provide a simple and easy format to learn Linux for Windows and Mac users.

Choice is perhaps the biggest strength as well as the biggest weakness of the Linux and the open source ecosystem.

For instance, the sheer number of Linux distros means that there’s one for every use case. However, the same number can be daunting for new users who wouldn’t know where to begin. 

Here we roundup some of the best distros that cater to the sensibilities of beginners. These projects ship with sensible defaults to make sure their users can enjoy their new operating systems straight out of the box.

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(Image credit: Modicia)

1. Modicia OS

Best distro for editing video

Reasons to buy
+Attractive looking desktop+Good collection of apps+Lots of documentation

Although you might not have heard of it, Modicia OS is a modern Linux desktop with an interesting twist on the conventional desktop design. With an ISO that weighs over 3GB, the distro has a diverse and rather interesting collection of apps. 

It seems the distro is designed especially for audio and video editing tasks, based on the number of apps it includes for these tasks. That said, for all intents and purposes, Modicia is a general purpose distro that can be used for all types of desktop tasks, straight out of the box.

The latest release of Modicia is based on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS and uses the Xfce desktop that’s been very innovatively customized. The desktop has a slew of menus, including a unique circular one and its windows Exposè view is appealing too. Behind the scenes, the developers have also tweaked several aspects of the distro to maximize performance. The project is complemented by a diverse support infrastructure, which in addition to text-based documentation also includes several video tutorials for common desktop functions. 

All in all, Modicia’s desktop tweaks make the distro fairly attractive and do a nice job of hiding away the complexities of managing a typical Linux installation.


(Image credit: MX Linux)

2. MX Linux

Best distro for older hardware

Reasons to buy
+Attractive desktop+Slew of custom tools+Supports 32-bit architecture as well

Another distro that sports an attractively tweaked Xfce desktop is MX Linux. The distro looks great and performs adequately even on resource strapped machines.

MX Linux takes pride in its user-friendliness, which it achieves through a selection of custom utilities. The desktop boots to a welcome screen that contains useful links to common tweaks as well as its custom set of tools. 

In terms of apps, the distro includes everything to fulfill the requirements of a typical desktop user, including a handful of games. MX is built on the current Debian Stable 10 release but includes updated versions of several apps and also backports newer versions from Debian Testing. 

The custom MX Linux tools are all designed to assist users manage their installation. Some of the noteworthy ones are a snapshot tool for making bootable ISO images of the working installation and a remaster tool to create your own customized version of the distribution. 

Package management is handled by a custom tool as well, which is again designed to take the pain out of discovering and installing apps. The distro takes a pragmatic view and offers several popular proprietary apps in the mix as well. You can also browse and install Flatpaks from the flathub repository right from this utility as well.


(Image credit: Netrunner)

3. Netrunner

Best distro for KDE users

Reasons to buy
+Attractive KDE desktop+Loads of multimedia apps
Reasons to avoid
-No Welcome app

The development of Netrunner is supported by Blue Systems, which also sponsors the development of the KDE desktop. It’s no surprise then that Netrunner uses the KDE desktop as well. However, instead of the stock KDE, Netrunner ships with a customized rendition with some extra applications and other conveniences to make it attractive to Linux beginners.

Netrunner is based on Debian stable and includes several everyday desktop apps. By default it uses KDE’s full screen application launcher. The developers have also leveraged KDE’s famed configurability to ship with a desktop that’s easy to use. For instance, the task manager displays expanding icons and there’s a show desktop hot spot in the lower right corner. The developers have also tried to simplify the KDE System Settings so as to not overwhelm new users.

Netrunner highlights some of the apps for creating and consuming multimedia and also lists several popular webapps in its menus such as Skype Web, Telegram and WhatsApp. The distro doesn’t have an onboarding utility like some of its peers and also relies on the distro-agnostic Calamares installer to help users anchor the distro to their disks. 

Linux Beginners can use the KDE Discover app store to find and install apps, while there’s also Synaptic for the experienced campaigners. The distro also has adequate documentation and support options and there is a link to some introductory documentation on the desktop, which is really thoughtful.


(Image credit: Nitrux)

4. Nitrux OS

Best distro for under-powered machines

Reasons to buy
+Tuned KDE desktop+Custom lightweight apps+Out-of-the-box usability

Nitrux is an Ubuntu-based distribution that takes inspiration and components from the KDE Project.

Nitrux makes liberal use of the KDE Plasma 5 desktop and apps. Its NX Desktop has been specially tuned for inexperienced Linux users with the help of a host of plasmoids for the right blend of aesthetics and functionality. The developers have also fine tuned other key components of the KDE desktop for user-friendliness. For instance, the system tray and the notification center have been redesigned and the media controls have been rolled with the volume controls for easier access.

The distro packs in all the apps you’d expect from an everyday desktop distribution. While there are apps from the KDE stable along with a few mainstream ones like LibreOffice, and Firefox, a majority of the apps in Nitrux are developed in-house by the project using its MauiKit lightweight framework. There’s the Index file manager, VVave music player, Pix image gallery, Nota text editor and several others.

Two custom apps that deserve special mention are the NX Firewall and Kup backup, both of which try to simplify the rather complex tasks, and do a nice job of catering to both first time and experienced desktop users. They have simple interfaces, yet offer enough customizations to be of use to experienced users.


(Image credit: System76)

5. Pop!_OS

Best distro for gaming

Reasons to buy
+Keyboard-controlled desktop+Support for hybrid graphics+Full disk encryption by default

Pop!_OS is the result of Ubuntu retiring the Unity desktop, which pushed hardware manufacturer System76, into developing its own distro. 

Pop!_OS uses its own user interface over Ubuntu’s Gnome, dubbed Pop Shell. One of the highlights is the window tiling that is better experienced than explained. Also, Pop!_OS’s desktop can be controlled entirely using the keyboard, which makes navigation fairly simple and straightforward.

Pop!_OS takes a number of steps to diverge from its parent distro. For starters it has its own app store, known as the Pop Shop, which links you up with conventional .deb packages as well as Flatpaks. 

Pop!_OS also has hardware video acceleration enabled by default. It also uses the systemd-boot boot manager, which is lighter than Grub, and is also quite proud of the fact that it is the only Linux distribution that enables full-disk encryption out of the box.

Pop!_OS has also worked hard to get hybrid graphics to work on Linux and you can actually get your apps to launch on your GPU from the context menu or use the feature to toggle between power saving and performance modes. 

The distro appears attractive and the developers have made sure it remains approachable for beginners, while still being attractive to its more capable users.