I’m a sucker for every kind of “Top Five” (or Top 10 or Top 20) list there is. I love reading them and I enjoy writing them. There’s just one thing I’ve learned, never take them seriously. They’re just a way to have fun. They never speak anything like the whole truth, unless they’re listing something based on quantity, like the five best selling brands of soda. Even then, pay attention to who’s counting the quantity. Pepsi would probably come up with a different list than Coke.
There’s obviously no such thing as the five best Linux distros. There can’t be. To begin with, the category is way too broad and begs the question, the five best Linux distros for what? You wouldn’t likely see Red Hat or CentOS included on anybody’s list of best desktop distros, but they’d most likely be close to the top of anybody’s server distro list.
What if we confined our list to everyday use? What are the five best distros for the desktop–which would include the laptop, of course? Well, that too would depend on a lot of things, wouldn’t it?
Are we looking for distros that’ll keep an old underpowered box working until finances improve? That list might include distros such as Puppy Linux, which has a download size of only 132.6 MB or CrunchBang, which will work with only 128 MB RAM but which might not be completely appropriate for new users.
A five best list for new Linux users would be completely different. Here we might expect to see distros such as Linux Mint, which topped the list in our recent Best Newbie Distro poll, or Mageia, a fork of Mandrake /Mandriva, the granddaddy of all user friendly distros.
Even within the boundaries of these categories, we can’t really define a “five best.” Why? Because we have to consider the user. We’re all different. We have different preferences. We’ve developed different workflow patterns for getting things done when working. We even have different ways of entertaining ourselves when playing.
My roommate can sit for hours playing the simple game “Spider Solitare.” Myself, I won’t allow a game to be installed on one of my boxes. As they say, I don’t play games. But I do spend far too much time socializing with old friends in faraway places on Facebook and living in the 1960s by watching old clips of music on YouTube. Roommate does the YouTube thing too, as long as Cher or Adele is involved.
Some people want their computers to have every whistle and bell readily available, so their five best Linux distros lists would undoubtedly include distros that default to KDE. Others might’ve come to Linux by way of Apple and appreciate the user experience offered by Unity on Ubuntu. Others might find that desktop environments like KDE and GNOME get in the way and use too many resources. These people’s ten best Linux distros lists would include distros that install with a minimalist desktop like LXDE or a lightweight window manager such as Enlightenment.
All that being said and being true, Five Best or Top Five lists are still fun and most of us will continue to read them. I’ll even continue to try my hand at writing them every now and again. I think we read them because we want to see how our favorite distro fares. Often, however, we learn about a distro, a program, an application, or whatever’s being covered in the list that’s new to us–and that’s always a good thing.
Just keep in mind, there really isn’t a best Linux distro, or even a list of five best Linux distros. There’s only a best distro for you, the job you need it to do and the equipment on which you need it to operate.