Ubuntu is famous for being a distribution where newcomers can discover Linux in a community environment. With ample support and tons of software in the repositories, it's a distro that seems to have it all.
But like with all good things, sometimes it's nice to see what other options have to offer as well. In this article, I dive into my picks for solid Ubuntu alternatives for those of you looking to graduate to something new.
I've run Arch and distributions based on Arch for a few months now and I'll be first to admit, Arch is NOT for the faint of heart. If you genuinely want to "build" a customized experience free of fluff and the other stuff that distributions tend to come with, then this is a great opportunity for you.
Starting off at a command line, you're going to get to know the Arch wiki right away. Perhaps one of the best maintained Linux wiki's I've ever relied on, the Arch documentation is very detailed. The attraction to Arch Linux is often based on its bleeding edge packaging system, the Arch User Repository. It's a lot like Ubuntu's Personal Package Archive (PPAs), but with great front end tools for discovery and installation.
I'd even go so far as to suggest that it's by far, going to have ANY Linux software you might want, where PPAs are generally hit and miss. While many people are drawn to Arch solely based on its package management, I'll warn you now that if this is your only reason, look to a derivative instead.
Arch is a good fit for you if you're willing to spend time learning from their Wiki, and you understand that there is no Arch desktop unless you decide to install one. That said, it's a great experience to at least try once. And later on, if you so choose, you can gain a full Arch desktop using Antergos as it's fully ready to go out of the box.
Like Arch, Antergos is a rolling release distribution. This means you install it once, and you're good for life – just update, no re-installation needed.
If the bleeding edge aspect of Arch isn't what you're looking for, then you might want to try Debian instead. Unlike Ubuntu, there's plenty of stuff you'll need to configure yourself. But like Ubuntu, you'll be able to do so easily via apt as you install any needed packages from the repositories.
Debian is best positioned to run with the XFCE desktop, as it's both compact on a disc and keeps a minimal footprint in terms of resources.
Generally considered a Linux purist distribution, Debian lacks much of the bloat found under Ubuntu. While other distros are heavily focused on ease of use, Debian's main claim to fame is its security and stability. What this means to the user is that there's a trade-off in not having access to the latest packages without using the Debian unstable/testing repositories.
You'll also find that Debian adheres closely to the community mindset by avoiding software trademarks like Firefox or Thunderbird. Instead, they use IceWeasel and Icedove. Despite this, the FSF still doesn't consider it a recommended distribution for Free Software fans. Because Debian still has the potential of allowing non-free software, and the FSF doesn't approve.
It's worth noting that Debian offers you some interesting choices when it comes to stability. Most people chose Debian for their stable repositories. This is software that has been tested and tested again to ensure maximum stability. Debian stable users can get some newer software releases by adding the backports to their repository list.
The next choice is Debian testing. This contains software that is considered ready for the next stable release. Generally speaking, you'll see more activity in terms of newer software with this option. And finally, there's Debian unstable. Considered a developer's release, unstable provides cutting edge packages but isn't recommended for a daily use desktop.
Is Debian for you? If you value stability over bleeding edge software and hardware detection, then yes, it's a great option.
Based on Debian, gNewSense provides Linux fans a FSF approved Linux distribution that is free of all non-free repositories. If you want the truly Free Software experience, gNewSense is highly recommended.