Also see: Best Linux Distro: Linux Experts Rate Distros
Wait, you doubt that there’s a best Linux desktop for work? Yes I know some users do. A lot of folks out there still believe you need a proprietary operating system to get work done.
But speaking as a user who uses various Linux distros everyday to get work done, I can tell you that for most people it’s a matter of preference. Sure, there are legacy software exceptions to this rule. However between the move to the “cloud” and new Linux compatible applications popping up all the time, I’ve found Linux is great for getting work done.
In this article, I’ll look at some of the most popular desktop Linux distros for getting work done, along with some software recommendations to make using Linux a smoother process overall.
Older Linux software, long term support
When it comes to using a simple to setup, “set it and forget it” distribution, you can’t beat Ubuntu-based distributions. For workstations, I find my choices range in terms of desktop environment but Xubuntu and Ubuntu MATE are my personal favorites. Both desktops are fully functional, yet they also manage to stay out of your way.
Others users may prefer Lubuntu or Ubuntu GNOME. If you find that you have tightly defined workflows, then perhaps going with Kubuntu makes the most sense. Thanks to the Plasma desktop’s “Activities” option, you can literally create different workflows that can be toggled into with a few key strokes. These Activities can be setup to cater to specifics tasks or even to specific clients. Once you get the hang of it, Activities can be very useful to staying productive.
My second suggestion in the same vein would be OpenSUSE Leap. While its release schedule differs a bit, it’s still a rock solid long term distro you can count on. Major releases are every 36 months (ie 42.x to 43.x) and minor releases are every 18 months (42.1 to 42.2). Leap also has YaST in its arsenal, which can do “nearly” anything one would otherwise need the command line to accomplish. Not something I personally need, but it’s a neat thing to have at your disposal.
Both Linux distros have no shortage of software availability, Ubuntu’s PPAs and OpenSUSE’s package search see to that. OpenSUSE goes one step further in that it provides a clean path to commercially supported SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop).
OpenSUSE Leap shines best with the KDE desktop, although other desktop environments are also available.
Cutting edge, fixed distro release
If you want a fixed release distribution for work that moves faster than Ubuntu, but isn’t a rolling release – Fedora’s a good bet. One of the biggest differences with Fedora is how they handle kernels. If you have a buggy kernel, odds are it’ll be resolved with a new kernel release in short order. A nice feature to be sure, especially if your work life involves working with newer hardware!
Fedora also tends to offer cutting edge features aimed at those in the RHEL/CentOS realm. It’s a favorite among many folks in the Linux IT field because it’s a natural flow from Fedora to RHEL/CentOS in terms of workflow. Then there is the access to software with Fedora. Anything not found in the provided repos can likely be found in Copr.
Fedora is best experienced with the GNOME desktop, although you’re not limited to GNOME as your only choice thanks to Fedora spins.
Linux software for all work distributions
No matter which distribution you decide on, in many respects it’s the software that empowers us to get the job done! Some universal software titles I recommend include:
LibreOffice: Putting aside the mere act of a word processor, spreadsheet and so forth, this suite is also loaded with hidden extras. Macros and Enterprise resource planning (ERP) extensions for Calc, save directly to a remote server, wizards for faxing/letters/etc, all in all there are a lot of features that enhance its usability.
Thunderbird: Most people think you need GNOME’s Evolution or KDE’s Kontact suite to dial into proprietary PIM functionality like Microsoft Exchange. Properly configured, Thunderbird is the best PIM I’ve ever used on the Linux desktop thanks in part to its extended functionality.
Filezilla: If you work with websites at all, this FTP/sFTP client software is invaluable. Filezilla can save countless server logins for easy access, change permissions on remote files, queue large file movement with a few mouse clicks.
GIMP: Even though I’m not hardcore into working with images, GIMP makes it crazy-easy to manipulate images anyway I see fit.
Nixnote: I’m first to admit that I prefer SimpleNote, but most folks are bent on sticking with Evernote. For Linux users, this means Evernote syncing Nixnote. This natively compatible Evernote client gives you a solid Evernote experience on your favorite distribution.
Kolab: Assuming you’re fortunate enough to be free from using a proprietary groupware solution, Kolab is among the best in class for those needing modern groupware software for their workplace.
Alfresco: There is life after Sharepoint, folks. Open Source and extremely powerful, Alfresco provides a fantastic alternative in the enterprise content management/business process management space. Anything not available by default, can be added through extensions and other community sourced add-ons.
BeanBooks: There are actually a lot of enterprise class accounting solutions for Linux users. BeanBooks is perhaps the most accessible to the Linux newcomer. Created and supported by the folks at System76, BeanBooks can help you manage your financial happenings without spending a fortune.
AMANDA: This long time, highly trusted backup resource is one of the most highly recommended methods for providing solid server backups. Whether backing up to metal or tape, trust AMANDA with your workplace data.
Scribus: Desktop publishing doesn’t need to be restrained to an OS X/Windows workplace. People all over the world use Scribus to create magazines, brochures and even product-specific instruction guides.
The secret to Linux distros in the workplace
Here in the States, we’re told that in order to be productive in the workplace we need proprietary operating systems. This has been proven to be largely false for general use case scenarios, as businesses and governments all over the world have had success using Linux powered desktops.
I’ll be first to admit that no matter what distribution you choose, the real secret to a successful Linux desktop rollout is in the training. Not with the distribution itself, as IT will manage this. No, it’s with the software. Learning new groupware applications and Sharepoint alternatives can seem daunting. But the truth is with a little extra time investment, the switch is much easier than most people think.
What say you? Do you have recommended Linux distributions for the average workplace environment? Maybe you work in a Microsoft shop and are considering the switch? Whatever it happens to be, hit the Comments and share your experiences.