I have been using Linux for roughly 2 years now, and I remember when I first started, thinking Ubuntu was the only Linux out there.
I could not have been more wrong.
Linux is an umbrella term masking an entire world of operating systems varying in usage, purpose, and flavor. Some are more minimal for efficiency, while others are large and user oriented; however, in Linux, one had the freedom to piece together the perfect operating system from different parts scattered throughout the Linux world, as they are typically versatile and open source.
If you already know the basics of Linux, skip to part 3
Part 1: GUI
The interface used in Linux, unlike OSX or Windows, is more like a changeable plating cover Linux’s insides than a mandatory interface. One may run completely without an interface if they wish. The two main desktop managers for Linux are Gnome and KDE.
Gnome is very pretty and a hair clunkier than KDE, and feels like a distant cousin of the OSX interface. A “super-key” in one of the corners minimizes all windows on all desktops, with a side pane full of “favorited” apps, along with an app drawer for the rest. It is very smooth and ergonomic, and contrary to the above statement, run surprisingly lightly. Although this can be true of both desktop managers, not having a thick bar at the bottom of the screen will give the illusion that your screen is far bigger than it appears (I still think gnome would be an excellent interface for higher-end tablets, and if you use it for a while you’ll see why)
KDE is closer to the windows interface, with a start-button equivalent in a corner which lists more options. In fact, some believe the interface for modern Windows was based off of, or stolen from KDE. I am far less experienced with KDE than gnome, but KDE feels more minimal and simple, seemingly designed to conserve resources for processing-intensive tasks such as running a server.
I personally prefer gnome for my purposes, because I just can’t get over the smoothness and have always been annoyed by the start menu with my addiction to keyboard shortcuts; however, any desktop manager should run on any Linux distro, just be sure to download the installer for the desktop environment you wish to use (it is theoretically possible to change after installation, but it is not fun)
Part 2: Package Managers
Software installation in Linux works far differently than in Windows or OSX, as Linux uses something called a package manager. There are a multitude of advantages and disadvantages t o package managers, but overall they are a little harder to get used to, but will ultimately make software updates and uninstallation much cleaner and efficient. Different distros use different package managers.
Debian/Mint/Ubuntu uses Aptitude, or apt, along with deb, which is by far the most widely supported platform by software developers. Despite the support, I am not a huge apt fan.
Red Hat/Fedora uses yum and RPM, which have a little less software support, but I feel are a little smoother and cleaner. Also, I ADORE yum’s preset protocol to automatically try different mirrors until it finds a given package, which extremely useful in situations where I need to update or install stuff through a filtered and censored ISP.
openSUSE uses Zypper and RPM. Zypper is similar to YUM< but has even less available software, and is not as good as yum.
I am unsure about the package managers of more advanced distros, but I know Arch Linux uses pacman, which is hear is the best.
Part 3: Distributions
Linux distros, from my experience, fall into 3 catagories: red hat based, debian based, and other. I prefer the Red Hat distros, as they are really middle-of-the-road on ease of use, yet still let me do advanced things.
In chronological order, these are the distros I’ve tried (and hope to try):
Ubuntu: This was the first distro I’ve run, and I was far too excited about running Linux to care what I had. I did love the massive software support and community, but frankly, the interface drove me nuts (Ubuntu uses its own desktop manager, which I hated), and it was slow and clunky. Also, WUBI.exe is a very unstable and non-optimal way to install it.
Mint: Mint is essentially the same as Ubuntu, except it supports real desktop managers and allows the user some more choice in the matter. Again, it had a huge community and wide software support, but I ultimately left it because I had a bunch of issues getting ti to cooperate with my graphics card and dual-monitor system, and I felt to restricted using it (plus i hated cinnamon).
Fedora: My favorite distro thus far; I run it on both my desktop and laptop. I was traumatized at first by “apt-get install” not working, but this really opened some doors into learning more about Linux and how it works. I think at first the main reason I stuck with it was because it support my graphics card and dual monitor system straight out of the box, but I decided to stick with it later as I learned about how awesome it really is.
openSUSE: I never originally planned to use openSUSE, but after trying to install Mint, Fedora, and Debian on my laptop, my MBR spat out everything but openSUSE (I later discovered there was a problem with my Fedora disc, but I’m still puzzled about none of the Debian-based distros working). I ran openSUSE for a long time, but I ultimately found it to be a less stable version of Fedora, though I really miss the ability to right-click a folder and there be an option “open in Terminal”. Would not recommend, unless you’re a nerd like me with spare hard drives and a compulsion to try every distro ever (I literally have 7 live OS flash drives on me at a given time).
Slackware: Most of the setup and usage seems a bit over my head, but upon acquisition of an extra hard drive I’d love to try it.
Arch Linux: I really took Arch Linux’s philosophy to heart, and once I’m good enough to set it up properly, I believe Arch Linux will be my digital soulmate. I’ve questioned my whole life the concept of putting patched on top of patches on top of patches to get around fixing fundamental problems, and running a more immaculate system; however, I am far from experienced enough to attempt to set up Arch Linux on a system I depend on every day.
Part 4: Conclusion
Obviously this post has been biased already, so here goes some unfiltered opinion:
Debian-based distros aside from Debian itself are mainly for Windows or OSX users needing to run remote servers, or for newer users to learn on. Ubuntu has essentially been elected the public image of Linux, despite it being, in my opinion, the worst one.
Red Hat based distros are the middle ground, running efficiently with a little effort, and are a frequent choice of real server and network admins because of this. Linux Fedora is still my favorite.
Other really really bleeding-edge distros are mainly for pros and hobbyists attempting to squeeze every drop of performance and security out of a given device