There are many different flavors of Linux, and since most are free to use, there comes a point when you might feel compelled to try a bunch of them out. We call this distro-hopping.
Some people distro hop for only a few months. Others find that the experience never grows dull. If you’ve tried out a few distributions and are looking for one that offers something different, here are six options that are worth taking for a spin.
elementary is unique in the Linux world. A traditional Linux distribution provides different ways of offering and presenting what is largely the same set of open-source software. This is why the experience of using the likes of Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, or Debian can feel largely the same.
On each, you choose one of the many desktop interfaces and must weed through the app stores or package managers for apps designed with your chosen interface in mind.
elementary OS comes with its own desktop environment, by the name of Pantheon. It comes with its own app store, known as AppCenter, which comes with apps designed especially for elementary OS.
While elementary OS uses Ubuntu as its foundation, this is invisible to all but more technical users. Nearly every aspect of the visual experience has been designed to form a cohesive and consistent experience.
While desktop Linux as a whole has made big strides in this area, elementary OS has come the furthest and provides the best example today of what a desktop designed for everyday people using exclusively free software could be.
What makes up Linux distribution a distribution has a lot to do with how software is packaged and distributed. For this reason, Fedora Silverblue represents a rethink of what a Linux distro can be. The usual approach involves putting a system together using various programs individually packaged and distributed, with updates changing these packages one at a time.
By contrast, Silverblue provides core system components as a single image that’s identical from one system to the next. When you download updates, you download a new system image, rather than updates to a handful of packages.
This increases the likelihood that your system remains stable. Everyone having access to the same image means that the developers are using the exact same software that’s on your machine, and they will likely be able to replicate any bugs you encounter, assuming they have similar hardware.
If you do have any issues with an update, you don’t have to try to revert hundreds of packages back to how they were. You can simply switch from the latest system image back to the previous one that worked.
Silverblue also goes all-in on the universal flatpak format. This means most of your software comes with a degree of isolation from the rest of your system, improving your security. With the Flatseal app installed, you can fine-tune just what components and data each app can access.
Arch Linux is a popular distro, but with its involved installation process, it’s not ideal for newcomers or regular distro hoppers. Not a problem. There are many Arch Linux derivatives that make Arch easier to install. Garuda Linux is one of them.
So why pick Garuda Linux? In short, Garuda offers the speed and flexibility of Arch without you needing extensive knowledge of the command line. It gives you granular control over your system in a way that’s more welcoming to newcomers.
As a rolling release distro where updates arrive continuously, there’s the risk of a vital system component breaking, leaving your computer in a state where you can’t boot. Like Silverblue, Garuda provides protection against this.
Garuda uses the btrfs filesystem by default, which provides a built-in snapshot mechanism for rolling back to older versions of your system known to work. On most distros, this feature requires using the command line, but Garuda provides a desktop app that makes it more accessible.
Garuda is also a good version of Arch for gamers, and it comes with a colorful theme that, while perhaps not to everyone’s taste, is plain fun.
Some people feel that various Linux distros too closely resemble Windows or macOS. The KDE Plasma desktop’s default layout, for example, is reminiscent of Windows. And if you’re quickly glancing over someone’s shoulder at a cafe, their elementary OS desktop could easily leave you wondering how they installed macOS on a laptop that isn’t a MacBook.
But these resemblances fall apart once you start actually interacting with your computer. Most Linux designers are not trying to copy Windows or macOS, despite any similarities.
That’s not the case with Zorin OS. Zorin explicitly tries to imitate Windows and macOS, going so far as to ask newer users which interface they’re more comfortable with before downloading the distro. While Zorin still isn’t a carbon copy, it gives you an idea of how close of an impression Linux can make.
This makes Zorin worth a look for anyone who is switching to Linux out of a wish for privacy or out of necessity, but with no desire to leave behind the interface they are already familiar with. While no degree of theming will make Linux the same as Windows or macOS, maybe the similarities will be enough to take the edge off of learning something new.
Perhaps even more so than elementary OS, Endless OS isn’t like other Linux distros. Here is a desktop designed for use entirely offline. Endless targets communities and areas of the world where high-speed internet access can’t be taken for granted.
This means it comes with an abundance of apps designed specifically for Endless OS. Much of it uses freely available, Creative Commons-licensed content, but presents this information in fun and usable ways. The encyclopedia app, for example, provides an offline copy of Wikipedia, with an interface that might invite you to spend more time reading than you would on the Wikipedia website.
Endless uses a heavily modified version of the GNOME desktop environment, so the interface is distinct but not built from the ground up for this particular distro. Nonetheless, many of the apps are, so you will only get to experience them if you take Endless OS out for a spin. Heads up, though. As a distro intended to be useful offline, the installation file containing everything is rather huge.
Deepin is a distro that goes all-in on style. If you like the bubbly, vibrant look of a Samsung Galaxy phone and want something akin to that on your desktop, Deepin may offer the sheen that you’re after. But that doesn’t mean you will want to try Deepin out exclusively for its looks.
This distro emphasizes making software easy to obtain, and not just open-source software. Deepin has no issues with providing proprietary apps. You can even download software that’s only made for Windows. These apps will come bundled with the Wine components necessary to make Windows apps run on your Linux machine, saving you the hassle of having to configure Wine for yourself.
Deepin is made in China for a predominantly Chinese audience, so keep that in mind. Much of the proprietary apps are those that Chinese users may have more interest in than people living elsewhere, such as WeChat. And whenever proprietary software is involved, be sure to check your privacy settings the best you can.
Is There a Point to Distro-Hopping?
Distro-hopping can seem a waste of time. You get your computer set up, learn a new way of working, and just when you hit a rhythm, you start over.
But distro-hopping can be a good way to learn, and it can help you hone in on precisely how you enjoy using a computer. There’s also always the chance you will come across the distro that you fall in love with. You never know until you try it.