Whether or not we like to admit it, we Linux users live in an Ubuntu world.
Still, some users out there may not be all that thrilled with Ubuntu or the Ubuntu core underpinnings. For these folks, I believe that it's worth exploring Ubuntu alternatives. There are plenty of Linux distros that aren't related to Ubuntu in any way, yet are still usable for new and intermediate Linux users alike.
In this article, I'll share some of my top picks for solid Ubuntu alternative distributions.
PCLinuxOS – Without any question, PCLinuxOS is the goto Linux distro that I point people to when they're looking to try something completely non-Ubuntu/Debian in origin. Based on Mandriva, PCLinuxOS took the best that the Mandriva core had to offer and built on it with great enthusiasm.
So, what in the world makes PCLinuxOS so compelling? For me, it's the distribution's speed while still offering great wizards and a solid control panel for getting things done. Another advantage is its stability. While it may not have the number of packages found on its newbie-friendly cousin Ubuntu, or with more advanced distributions such as Arch Linux, PCLinuxOS warms my heart with is rolling release cycle.
By rolling release, I mean that instead of finding yourself trying to map out an upgrade to a new release, all of the updates are simply hand delivered by the update manager instead.
Another bonus with PCLinuxOS these days is that it comes with a number of great desktop environment choices. Some fan favorites include KDE, LXDE, and my personal favorite. . . the XFCE desktop environment! Bundle these desktop environments with the various behind-the-scenes tweaks made by the development team and it leads to a solid distribution.
PCLinuxOS also has software that's provided in the repositories. These apps all work great without any hassles. Last but certainly not least, PCLinuxOS provides a "media usability out of the box" type of experience by providing needed media codecs by default. This is helpful for newbies who would not know how to install these things themselves.
Nosonja – For anyone looking to try out an Arch installation without the soul-killing experience felt by Linux newbies, Nosonja is the distribution to meet the challenge. Not only is it based on Arch Linux, but it provides newbies with an experience that allows them to benefit from the Arch User Repository via Nosonja's software manager. This means you gain access to the wonders of the great software available to Arch users, which is a plus for anyone wishing to be on the cutting edge of their favorite application's release cycle.
Nosonja also means you don't have to know how to configure anything! All of the critical stuff you need to enjoy a solid Linux experience is provided out of the box and then polished up a bit via the software update process. And if this wasn't enough to appear on your list of possible distributions, consider this – it's a rolling release. Never again concern yourself with the headache of reinstalling the OS every time there is a major version release – just update it and enjoy!
The only consideration I would point out is that Nosonja is reasonably young when compared to other distributions. Don't let this deter you from trying it, rather keep this mind as you get your feet wet with this Arch-based operating system.
Puppy Linux – I've been a Puppy fan for years now. Puppy Linux has been a goto distribution for anyone looking to breathe new life into an older computer. Even computers dating back tens years old can be made like new again thanks to the power of the Puppy.
For slightly newer PCs that support it, Puppy runs great off of a reasonably sized USB flash drive. This is an awesome tool if there is still data on the hard disk that you would like to access, without overwriting it. While it's certainly not mandatory for running Puppy Linux, going with a flash drive installation is my preferred method. Especially considering the fact that you can still save the system state information on the same flash drive that Puppy is running on. This means you can maintain an active installation of Puppy without ever needing to write to your hard disk.
Additional advantages include a handy method for software installation, network setup, plus other goodies such as CUPS support and ensuring that you're able to pick out the browser you want.
Overall, Puppy goes out of its way to make it as painless to use as possible. Even though some may say that Puppy isn't really as pretty as the desktop distributions listed above, I happen to have a soft spot in my heart for this lightweight Linux distro. Fact is, Puppy Linux will run on practically anything.
I've even found that troublesome video and sound hardware work out of the box when I try Puppy Linux. Speaking for myself, this is my "goto distro" when I simply need stuff to work without any additional hassles.
Additional considerations – Steam and Lightworks
As you can see from the distribution choices above, there are indeed some viable Ubuntu alternatives to choose from. And so long as you are planning on sticking to the software found within the repositories for each distribution, you'll be quite happy with the experience.
For those of you excited about the potential that will come from such events as Valve's Steam and the Hollywood-quality video editor Lightworks coming to Linux, there is something you need to be aware of. Both of these releases are specifically targeting Ubuntu.
This means if you're not running Ubuntu or at least an Ubuntu derivative, then you may be faced with some challenges if source packages aren't provided. Now it's possible that Valve may eventually provide a tarball for the rest of the Linux community, but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. More so, I know it's not happening with Lightworks as it's Ubuntu only.
So, how can users who want to use Ubuntu alternatives stick to their choice in distributions while still enjoying what Steam and Lightworks have to offer? While it's a bit far reaching, one could potentially convert the Ubuntu deb packages into something usable using the Alien conversion tool. This tutorial explains how you can take a Deb package and convert it into a RPM or even a tgz package. Clearly, this isn't a super-clean solution, but for intermediate to advanced Linux enthusiasts, it's an option.
For newbies however, my best advice is to stick to what works. This means running Linux native games and working with native-to-Linux video editors such as OpenShot or Kdenlive. Unless you're willing to lend yourself out to a *buntu base using an alternative desktop, you're going to find it's a hard road to enjoy Steam or Lightworks on a non-ubuntu environment. I realize this may sound absolutist, but as I explained above, this article is primarily aimed at folks who simply want a "working out of the box" Linux experience.