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Which Linux Distro for new users?

People ask how to get started with Linux all the time. But they need to know what the best distribution is for learning? Or for beginner users? Or to install on a spare laptop as newbies trying something different out. So I made a video. The script I used while recording the narration is below.

What version of Linux is good for beginners, or for people coming from Windows? Considering every year since about 1997 has been proclaimed the year of the Linux Desktop, it’s time to find out if that will ever come true. So today, I’ve set up 3 virtual machines and installed and tested 3 versions of Linux with a user who knows almost nothing about Linux, and asked them to test some basic things.

Our 3 Linux distributions or “distros” today are Ubuntu, LinuxMint, and ArchLinux – the Linux man’s Linux.

Ubuntu has made a push to be the most mainstream Linux distro out there, and even though if you were to buy a computer with Linux preinstalled you wouldn’t need to go through the installation process, we ran through it any way. It was pretty painless, and for the record, the Linux Mint install is identical. Arch Linux, however? We’ll come back to that.

With Ubuntu up and running, our “average user” was told to use the computer how they normally would. Clicking the button they believe is most like the Windows Start Button, they don’t find many apps. But, they quickly recognize the “Fox Fire” icon as they call it, and proceed from there. They load up YouTube, and can see that videos are playing, great. Before the advent of HTML 5, you would run in to problems with many browsers not supporting flash, and websites like YouTube being useless to first time Linux users, it’s great to see that’s no longer an issue.

Over on Linux Mint, the user clicks the “apps button” decides the “Internet category” seems logical, and first searches for Chrome, but settles for Firefox.

There’s no install button, so a quick double click should launch the app – but no, it’s just a package manager, letting you know the app is installed (we do a little scrolling here to make sure we’re not missing anything on the screen, since I’m running the VM’s in windowed mode). The screen shots perplex the user until they give up on the app manager in frustration. Scrolling down, we see something start-menu like, and navigate that until we find Firefox, once again – and, as expected, videos play just fine.

Over on Arch Linux… yeah, never mind. Even giving up on it seemed impossible for our test user.

Our end user has been taught to believe Chrome is the best, so I said go ahead and install it. It wasn’t built in to most Windows computers, so I’m sure many people have had to install it at one time or another, so this should be a piece of cake.

Our user finds the app manager for Ubuntu and searches for Chrome, but has no luck. So it doesn’t take long to dive in to Firefox, off to the Google Chrome website, and download it – but error messages abound, and they aren’t helpful. It LOOKS LIKE we opened the installer with the package manager, but nothing popped up to confirm it was installed – when we close the background, there it is in the background! Okay, sweet, we’ll just click install. But… nothing happens. No errors, not nothing. Checking to see if it’s installed, it isn’t. Sufficiently confused, our user abandons their mission.

Linux Mint: Our user not only finds CHROMIUM in the package manager, but is also able to simply visit the website and install Chrome. After a moment of hunting, they find their application installed and begin using it. Sure, Linux Mint is a little more needy when it comes to asking for keys, but it seems to be the best real world replacement for Windows if you’re looking to dip your toe in to Linux. If you’re a total newbie, Arch Linux? Isn’t for you.

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