If, like myself, you have decided that you want a change from expensive, high maintenance computing, or you simply wish to sample the delights of open source computing, then one of the most frequent questions that appears is what distribution do I choose? There are so many wonderful and exciting distributions that have been created by communities and developers worldwide. But out of the many that are out there which one will suit your needs the most? In this article I will layout some guidelines in the hope that it will help you choose or narrow down your choice of a Linux distribution.

Please note this is not a review but simply a guide of what to consider when choosing a distribution. Everyone has an opinion, but it's generally best to have a look and try each distro for yourself.

What do I want from my computer?

This is the first question to ask yourself. It could be that you need a family friendly environment that is easy to use, and comes with a wide variety of applications installed, or it could be you have a netbook or laptop and want to get the most out of your battery life, but still have an aesthetically pleasing desktop. You might also want an environment that suits a specialist need, such as a business, educational, or programming and development enviornments, and have no use for unneeded extras that would clog up your computer.

What can I get out of my computer?

Well this depends on your computer's hardware specification. You might need a distribution that will work on an old desktop or laptop that you had forgotten about, or you have a brand new, top of the range computer that you want to have the latest cool desktop effects on. One of the great advantages of Linux is that most distributions work well with the majority of computers, old and new, and will list their minimum specifications on their distribution website. However, it's best to keep in mind what limitations and expectations you have from your PC or laptop.

What should I be looking for in a distribution?

If you're a new user to Linux, ideally you should be looking for a distribution that will ease you away from your previous operating system. Try to find a distro with a handsome user interface, drivers and codecs already included and useful applications such as a word processor, image editor, media player and web browser already installed for you. These distributions are aptly named 'Out Of The Box' meaning that your distribution is ready for general usage from the moment you install your new Linux OS. Examples of 'Out Of The Box' distributions include Linux Mint, Pinguy OS and Zorin OS. Another thing to look for is what the distribution is designed for. Are you needing a full featured distribution that includes all the latest software such as Linux Mint? Or do you need a distribution that is still easy to use but uses less resources to save battery power such as EasyPeasy or Aurora OS?

Now that I have an idea what I want, how do I find distributions that match?

One of my favourite sources for finding a distribution is an online dedicated site named  DistroWatch . This site not only lists hundreds of distributions, but includes an easy to use search engine that will give you results closest to your needs, as well as a small description of each distribution listed. You can also use this easy questionnaire to help guide you in the right direction
zegenie Studios Linux Distribution Chooser

OK so I found what distribution that looks good but what are KDE, Gnome etc?

These are desktop environments. These are the graphical environments you see when you are using your computer for example browsing the world wide web or creating a spreadsheet. Each Linux distro offers you a choice of looks, features or simply a more lightweight environment whereas Windows and Mac OS X have just the one static desktop environment. For users starting out on Linux for the first time, I would recommend the Gnome or KDE desktop environment. These are the full featured desktop environments that are similar to Windows or Mac for ease of use and functionality. For a more detailed outlook of some on the main desktop environments available to Linux click here  Linux Desktop Environments 
You may also come across what are known as window managers with extended features. The include Fluxbox or IceWM and more. These replace desktop environments making the distribution smaller and faster and work with older hardware.

I can't decide between a few distributions, what should I do?

Sometimes the choices look that good that you can't decide which to go for. Why not give them a test drive, so to speak? If you have some blank CD's or DVD's available then download the cd image (usually a .iso file) burn this image to the CD/DVD using image writing software such as  ImgBurn , restart the computer with the BIOS options set to boot CD first and run the LiveCD. There is no need to install to your hard drive, just run from the CD/DVD and get a feel of what the distribution has to offer. Alternatively you can use a USB Flash drive (recommended 4GB depending on the distribution) copy the image using bootable USB creators such as  linuxliveusb  and set the BIOS to boot from USB. Using a Flash drive is quicker and saves some CD/DVDs. Note: most older hardware will not offer an option or support booting from USB.

Once you have chosen your distribution and have installed it on your computer, then you're ready to enjoy the quick, free and open source world that is Linux. Keep in mind if you're having any trouble then you have a great Linux community online that is there to give you free advice. Check out your distribution's forum and also here at TSF for further help and advice.

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