Are you sitting there reading this and wondering how to get started with Linux? It almost seems like picking the right Linux distribution is about like picking the right college or buying a new car if you read some of the article out there. Relax… look at a few options and I think you’ll be able to confidently pick the distribution that is right for you. Rather than trying to tell you which version or revision of Linux you need to download and install right now, I would rather provide a little information about what is out there and allow you to make an informed decision for yourself.
The first things to really ask yourself are why are you getting started with Linux and what level of effort do you want to expend “getting under the covers” of the operating system. If you are a fairly new user and this is your first foray into an open source operating system, you might want to consider the mainstream Linux options out there such as Red Hat’s Fedora, SuSE, Ubuntu or something similar. If you’ve installed Linux before and you’re looking for a new challenge or the opportunity to go a little deeper in your understanding, maybe look at a Slackware, FreeBSD or Gentoo. Just like any other big decisions, you can easily weigh your options before you make a choice.
One big advantage that you can leverage with the various distributions is that many of them offer the ability to create a “Live CD” or “Live USB” where you can install the Linux operating system on the removable media, boot your computer using that media and test drive the actual operating system as it would run on your computer. There may be a few driver issues or some slowness since the whole operating system hasn’t been fully installed on your machine but this is the single best way, in my opinion, to see if the distributions you are considering are right for you. If you are a more advanced user, you could install a guest as a virtual machine to try out the Linux distribution you are considering.
Regardless of the Linux distribution you finally choose, the best way to pick the distribution that is right for you is to consider your needs, determine your willingness to resolve issues if you encounter them and find a distribution that matches your skill level. If you consider these factors and visit a few of the sites out there, you’ll find that you can narrow your choices down to a few distributions that you can then try out via a live CD. From that point, you can have confidence that you are headed down a path with a version of Linux you’ll enjoy and will run on the hardware you already have.