Linux Distros That Don’t Suck


I, much like every other hardcore geek on the face of the earth, have multiple linux based distro iso’s laying around. Some of them are for testing and some of them contain tools that I use on a daily basis. I have had many people email me about the best distro out there. The only answer I have for them is “depends on what you want to do”. I have spent sometime working on a list of Linux distros and what they are good for.

Now, before I start. Discussion distro’s with people is like discussion religion. Everyone has one and everyone feels something different towards other people who aren’t of the same faith. I just want to remind everyone that this list is just what I see, and how I feel about each distro. It’s definitely not a “what’s right and what’s wrong” type of list. Enjoy.

Knoppix – The one that started it all. Knoppix was the first major LiveCD based distro to hot the scene and open up a whole new world of bootable operating systems. This is probably the best known and most complete LiveCD distro out there. It contains everything you need to act as a full production replacement system. Word Processing, graphics editors, media players, browers, mail clients. You name is, Knoppix has it.

SystemRescueCD – This one I keep with me all the time. SystemRescueCD is a massive collection of tools to help you get out of a bind. It aims to provide an easy way to carry out admin tasks on your computer, such as creating and editing the partitions of the hard disk. It contains a lot of system tools (parted, partimage, fstools, …) and basic tools (editors, midnight commander, network tools). It is very easy to use. Plus, it can also be booted via a USB flash drive. A must for anyone’s collection.

Dynabolic – Billed as a complete media distro, dyne:bolic is shaped on the needs of media activists, artists and creatives as a practical tool for multimedia production: you can manipulate and broadcast both sound and video with tools to record, edit, encode and stream, having automatically recognized most device and peripherals: audio, video, TV, network cards, firewire, usb and more; all using only free software!. Just boot off the CD and your ready to go.

BackTrack – The king of all penetration testing and security distros. If you’re worried about security or exploits then this is the one for you. With more than 300 different up-to-date tools which are logically structured according to the work flow of security professionals. This structure allows even newcomers to find the related tools to a certain task to be accomplished. New technologies and testing techniques are merged into BackTrack as soon as possible to keep it up-to-date.

NimbleX – This is one of my favorite all around LiveCD based distros. It’s full featured but a lot smaller than something like Knoppix. With everything you need to act as a Desktop replacement in a 200 MB CD image, what more can you ask for.

Gentoo – The hardcore Linux distro. What makes Gentoo unique compared to other distros is the need to manually compile every part of the OS. I know that their are gui installers now and pre built packages for the mindless, but having the ability to tweak and optimize every aspect of the OS will not only give you a stable system, but one hell of a quick one too. Mind you, all of this compilation could easily take you days before you have a base system, especially when you make Xorg and a windows manager like KDE or gnome.

Debian – My day to day OS. Debian is one of the oldest and most stable distros around. The core to a bunch of other distros like Knoppix and Ubuntu. If your looking for something that will give you no headaches and carries a very stable branch of applications, Debian is the distro for you.

Ubuntu – Ubuntu is Debian to the next level. It’s a fork of Debian that has quickly become the most popular Linux distro in the world. It’s easy to install, easy to use, and is probably the best Windows replacement OS that is Linux based. Ubuntu’s software repository contains applications that are more recent than say Debian, but the down side to that is the fine edge you walk on when it comes to stability.

Fedora – The big boy on the block, and by big boy I don’t mean popularity, I mean in size. Fedora comes chalked with what seems like every application ever made. Although to some this might be nothing more than bloat, to others it’s a full and complete experience. Install Fedora and you pretty much have every open source application that is useful at your finger tips. If you have never experienced Linux before this is a great distro to get your feet wet with.

I know there are other great distro’s like Slackware, DSL, and OpenSUSE, this list is just a collection of distro’s that I find useful or that I have had experience with. Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments.

Frank's the editor in chief of He can be found surfing the internet and playing with gadgets. Follow him on twitter @franklinhares

  • steam-powered lawngnome

    If you haven’t yet, you should give Slax a once-over. It’s got a unique package management system that makes it very versatile for liveCD or liveUSB uses.

  • truzicic

    Heh, too bad slack isn’t in your field of scope… IMHO, one of the simplest distro around… And, there is one beautiful mini distro, named SliTaz GNU/Linux. You should give it a spin…

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  • glyj

    I think you should add Mandriva to your list.

    The magical distro is around here for quite a while (10 years!).

    Why is it worth to write about it?
    The answer is simple : this is a distro for beginners thanks to the wonderful Mandriva control center and this is a distro for powerusers thanks to the big amount of packages available (~32,000!) and thanks to the ease of use with the drakwizards that help users to set up a web or ftp server very fast. We could say “automagically” :-D (yes, sometimes powerusers are lazy ! )


  • Frank

    Those are all excellent points and great distros. I’ll add them to my test bed so that I can work on “More Linux Distros that don’t suck”

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  • Mats Naslund

    Fedora/Gentoo for work-geekstuff and Knoppix. SystemRescue, Backtrack in the tool chest along with DSL and Puppy but I will definitely give Dynabolic a test run.

    For friends and family-kids that want to switch, I used PCLinuxOS2007 since it was at the top of the Distrowatch and have switched to the original ‘user friendly’ distro, Mandriva2009 with KDE4.2 (ive given up giving the choice since Windows users overwhelmingly prefer KDE when given a a choice).

    My dad switched with PCLinuxOS but my mid70s mom is using her first computer and Mandriva is really a delight (she loves Kwin’s magnifying tools).

    I would recommend Ubuntu only to more advanced users (people who know how to install and troubleshoot WIndows) because the only advantage they have to other distros is their community forums. If you are like my friend Andre and know how to search efficiently on Google and arent afraid to copy-paste sudo commands in terminal, then youre gonna love Ubuntu and troubleshooting things yourself.
    If you are mom and pops the ordinary user, if offers very little tahts different from the other top distros.(I had three different KDE distros on three laptops and my friends who were there laughed because they looked identical to them. theyre right, distros arent as important a choice for newbies as desktop)

    I was going to test the Bubuntu multimedia edition so I think Dynabolic will get a run too this week.

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  • Saph

    @Mats Naslund – What, ubuntu for more advanced users? Laughable. I jumped straight from OSX into Gentoo last year, haven’t looked back, may call that advanced, luck or just the state of being single. Whichever, advanced users may just as easily feel hindered in Ubtuntu’s enviornment.

  • meee

    Don’t forget…

    Linux Mint

  • Rubén R.

    Ubuntu is the bomb simply because you can give it to your mamma (LTS releases with 3 years support), your kidz (current stable release will do) and even put it in your servers (LTS or current stable, yout choice).

    For yourself just take the development branch: unstable and fun as hell!

    Why would anyone want to coupe with a different distro everywhere? Ever had Gentoo in a server? Or fedora that forces you to switch to a new version every 18 months?

    People want stability AND be able to plan. Ubuntu gives you 22K packages, a great community (forums AND locally) and it’s Debian baby!

    Ubuntu = GNU/Linux.

    Sorry, but it is true!

  • Bull Shit

    Seriously. Ubuntu = GNU/Linux? Ubuntu is the closest Linux gets to Windows and it is one of the youngest distros out there… Newbies; please stay out of such discussions. You’re just confusing people.

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  • Noam

    More of linux at:

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  • Han

    Linux MINT is the best new disto out there.

    Install it and its ready to go… all the codecs, plugins, and everything else you need for a modern desktop, browser, media playing is already installed along with a well tuned install of WINE and total integration with the menu system.

    • chris

      I agree I have used Gusty which was fine Apart from Configuring Wireless. I noticed that in Ubuntu my Wacom Tablet would work Normally but in Ubuntu it was Slow.Then I was Bored with ubuntu and needed something a little lighter on my Acer Travelmate 5310.Mint is Perfect plus the fact that Java and Flash Work out of the Box.

      • ick

        "I noticed that in Ubuntu my Wacom Tablet would work Normally but in Ubuntu it was Slow."

        • chris

          Sorry I mentioned Gusty which is Xubuntu. Unfortunately my spell checker does not see Xubuntu as a Word.

      • chris

        I noticed that in Xubuntu my Wacom Tablet would work Normally but in Ubuntu it was Slow

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  • jake

    I have been using Linux for years and have pretty much used them all including the BSD’s and Solaris and I’m pretty much set on Debian stable these days although I use Ubuntu on my laptop. Like others have said if your a newbie and want to learn Linux, Gentoo,Slackware and Arch are all good distros that will give you a good nut’s and bolts feel to Linux. And if you feel up to a challenge you might try LFS (Linux from scratch). If you wan’t a “Windows” replacement OS or just a nice Distro with all the bells and whistles and easy configuration try Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora or Opensuse.  Another important consideration is Linux as a server or LAMP and in my opinion this is where you will find some of the true advantages of using Linux (Servers and development/programming). For server or enterprise use I recommend Debian or Centos  and potentially maybe even Ubuntu server lts. And of course theres always Redhat if you can afford it and don’t forget Freebsd.