Best Linux Distros for 2017

Monday Feb 6th 2017 by Matt Hartley
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An overview of the best Linux distro for 2017, based on various user styles and preferences.

What are the best Linux distros of 2017? That’s a big question as this new year gains speed. This article will present what I believe – based on various types of Linux users ¬– are arguably the best Linux distros for 2017.

Solus, best Linux Distros 2017 – “from scratch”

Despite its relatively new status in the hearts and minds of most Linux users, Solus is shaking things up in a big way. Some of the stuff that sets Solus apart from other distros is that it's Linux from scratch. This means it's not a derivative of anything old.

Solus is a rolling release distribution that provides access to the latest packages. Yet like fixed release distributions, you're free to keep updates fixed to security only if you so choose. This ability to choose how Solus updates, despite it's rolling status is a powerful statement. Solus is lean, fast and provides a very reliable working environment.

At its core, Solus is designed to provide a stable, well designed distro that just works. Its maintainers are always on the lookout for how they can do things better, even if it means scrapping something that some might feel works just fine. Solus focuses on quality over quantity. This statement is true of the desktop, the back-end and the software packages made available for it. If its developers feel a package is poorly put together, redundant or otherwise unworthy, Solus will not make it available.

One of the most recent changes to their package inclusion policy that helps out users who just want to use the software they prefer, is the adoption of using Flatpak packages.

I think this does two very important things for Solus: First, it allows end users to decide which software is worth using, not just the maintainer's vision. Secondly, it will likely relieve some of the pressure Solus devs currently contend with in trying to add new software titles to the repositories day in, day out. Choice is good and this is a great option to that end.

Arch, Best Linux Distros 2017 – “deeply personal”

For those people who want to dial in a deeply personal desktop Linux experience, Arch is a solid choice. Despite its geeky underpinnings, Arch is one of the most successful rolling release distributions I've ever come across. And like Solus, Arch is built from scratch and isn't based on any of the big named distributions out there like Ubuntu or others.

Its barrier to entry is really a matter of user perspective. At its most basic, Arch is a blank sheet of paper from which you can install whatever you wish. And should something package related be missing from the official repositories, rest assured it's almost certainly available from the Arch User Repository (AUR).

When you study up on Arch, you can't help but come across what is known as the "Arch way." This "Arch way" comes down to Simplicity (meaning free of unneeded additions or modifications), user-centric (a fix for all, not just newbies), and versatility.

I think all of this stuff, together, makes Arch a timeless distribution for all seasons. It's as fresh as the newest, but it's cutting edge approach to everything means it will never completely go out of style.

Elementary, Best Linux Distros 2017 – “design improvements”

When Apple released their latest Macbook Pros, there was a significant increase in people checking out pre-built systems with System76 along with various folks checking out Elementary. Like Solus, I see Elementary doing something truly unique instead of creating the "yet another popular distro spin" approach I see with other distributions. So even though it's based on an Ubuntu base, the distro has re-tooled the entire user experience from the ground up. The fact that so many of the applications are done in-house is surprising for such a small team. I also love how unified it feels with the Pantheon desktop.

I think what makes Elementary a Linux distro to watch for 2017 comes down to the fact that they're always improving, growing and focusing on design improvements. I also believe they "get it" in terms of what newcomers are wanting from a Linux distribution and over time, will give competing Linux distros a run for their money.

All of that put aside, I think the biggest thing that really surprises me of this is a desktop centric Linux distribution that isn't afraid to encourage payment for the download. It's refreshing to see a distro calling attention to payment in a world of people who still think that Open Source and Linux means free of cost. That's simply not true. The free in FoSS is freedom, not free as in free beer.

Linux Mint, Best Linux Distros 2017 – “unparalleled popularity”

I'll go on record in stating that I don't care for Linux Mint. It's simply not for me. That said, its popularity is unparalleled by anything else out there. When you ask a Mint user why they like it over Ubuntu or other Linux distros, they usually exclaim that it just works. Based on my own research, it seems to be the mixture of the customized desktop environments to its custom Mint tools designed specifically for Mint users.

Some of the best Mint tools that I think are worth a mention include the kernel selector and their backup tool. Their backup tool is nice in that it not only backs up your specified directories, it can also backup your actual software titles as well. It would be like having Aptik installed on Ubuntu by default.

Another difference with Linux Mint is that each release is based off of Ubuntu LTS releases. Arguably a good idea, but it does mean that over time you are likely to end up with older packages than you would be if you ran non-LTS Ubuntu releases.

Overall, Linux Mint and Ubuntu have very different views on how updates should be handled. Ubuntu has their update options labeled as Important Security, Recommended and Unsupported. Linux Mint on the other hand, uses a numbering system ranging from least likely to break something to "dangerous" packages that could potentially break something. Those Linux Mint packages rated least likely to break stuff, are tested or maintained by Linux Mint.

For newcomers, I can see the appeal of the numbering system as it makes things easy to understand. However from an advanced user's perspective, Mint's approach to keeping security patches applied is not a welcome one. Which mindset is the right one? That is a very personal choice that each of us must make.

What about other Linux distributions?

Some of you might be surprised to see your favorite distribution missing from the list. Don't be, as it wasn't accidental. Manjaro, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, all of these are good distributions. But each of these distributions were heavily celebrated in 2016. Outside of the "package wars" seen between Snaps and Flatpaks, there is simply nothing mind blowing happening here. Fedora and OpenSUSE continue to do great things for enterprise users. Ubuntu continues to pursue the mobile market. Again, this is old news we've already seen in 2016.

I think that 2017 will be a very exciting year for the Linux desktop and for the distributions covered above. What about you? Can you think of a distribution that is positioned to see an exciting year ahead? Hit the Comments, tell us about it.

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