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No one can make the claim that Ubuntu isn't becoming the de facto Linux distro out there in the world today. It's becoming especially true when looking at those using Linux here in the States. For new and die-hard users alike, Ubuntu has all but captured the community.
Sadly, there is also a problem with watching Linux being tied to a single experience. Choice goes right out the window. The fact of the matter is that not everyone out there thinks that relying on a single distro is the way to go.
So thankfully, despite Ubuntu's success, there are some fantastic alternatives out there that fit the needs of most people. Simple to install, easy to use and all of them fit onto a LiveCD no DVD downloads, thanks.
In no order of importance, here are my strongest Ubuntu alternative distros -- no, theyre not based on Ubuntu in any way.
1) Simply Mepis is Simply Fabulous
I consider Simply Mepis to be among the first distro to get it "right" for people looking for a no-hassle, stable experience with a generally consistent environment from release to release.
At its core, Simply Mepis is created to make things easy to use right out of the box for any Linux skill level. Despite being a KDE-only distro based on Debian, Mepis allows the end user to setup their network, video configuration and other settings from the Simple Mepis "assistants."
This is handy when you want to switch from the NVIDIA NV driver to a proprietary driver instead, yet wish to do so safely from a GUI environment.
Even better, you can repair a broken Xconfig, setup your various mouse needs (Wacom, Synatics, etc) and make display monitor changes all without ever touching the command line. For newer users, it's got Ubuntu beat about a hundred times over.
Youll find the same kind of goodness with Mepis's networking assistant. For instance, it provides a wireless tab that allows you to easily (via a pull down menu) select your networking alias for wi-fi devices, and the networking preferences are available for ipv6, ndiswrapper and firewall protection all in one area.
The icing on the cake is the troubleshooting tool. Hardware, associated drivers, both native and Windows (ndiswrapper) based. Did I mention you are able to blacklist drivers in the GUI too? Mepis destroys Ubuntu here. Completely decimates Ubuntu in this area.
The last killer feature Mepis provides is their user assistant. Repair, copy/export and delete all the settings associated with any given user easily. I also love how you can restore user preferred defaults, too. It's very well done.
The rest of the particulars include a fairly standard KDE desktop install, featuring Firefox as the default browser with Synaptic as the package manager at large. I also appreciate the fact that Open Office is installed, rather than using the typical KDE defaults for all applications.
Simply Mepis is a great alternative to Ubuntu/Kubuntu for new users and those who prefer to stay away from excessive terminal usage.
2) Fedora for the Fast and Serious
Definitely a distro for more advanced Linux users -- or those who prefer to setup things their own way -- a default install of Fedora using KDE is just what the doctor ordered.
Unlike Simply Mepis, you'll find that this Fedora with KDE comes with a slightly different menu style than Simply Mepis. Also note the addition of PulseAudio and the elimination of Firefox, out of the box.
Ready for your customization right away, the KDE Fedora installation lacks many of the niceties most advanced users honestly could do without. Any GUI benefits are provided by KDE immediately or are not available.
Other goodies like Open Office or Firefox, must be installed either from the package manager or from the specific websites offering the software.
Fedora is a well designed, serious distribution for the serious Linux enthusiast. Perhaps not as hardcore as Gentoo or Slackware, but not terribly far behind either. The latest efforts put behind Fedora are close to matching the release speed seen with Ubuntu, although perhaps not quite as frequent. Every release in recent years has been cutting edge for early adopters looking for that latest and greatest experience.
If you're looking for a fun, cutting edge Linux experience thats not going to leave you feeling like a complete newbie the entire way, then perhaps Fedora is something to consider. It's fast, easy to install and with the exception of any bugs given with PulseAudio, pretty stable to use.
3) PCLinuxOS is an OS Different From the Rest
Take distros such as OpenSUSE and Mandriva, then toss them into a blender with a few special ingredients added. You would likely come up with something a lot like PCLinuxOS.
Much like Fedora, PCLinuxOS is available in both GNOME and KDE flavors. The official release however, is the KDE-based distro.
At first boot, you can see how PCLinuxOS is very much of the same spirit as SimplyMepis. Features like PulseAudio -- focusing on stability over cutting edge -- give new users a chance of success with some of the best hardware detection out there.
Here's where it gets interesting. As PCLinuxOS is a distro very much like Mepis, the differences largely come down to preferences.
For instances, Mepis provides better tools to manage user accounts, while PCLinuxOS provides a vastly superior control center independent of KDE. The only problem is PCLinuxOS thinking that "Graphical Server" is going to make any sense to anyone who is not already familiar with Linux. Newbies would have no idea what this means.
On the plus side, I love that I am looking at real parental controls. I also like the fact that the PCLinuxOS control panel comes with a really great security settings group.
Both of these features are something that I would love to see made available in this format, on other distros. Fat chance perhaps, but it would be nice thing to witness.
What about [My Favorite] Distribution?
This article serves as a roundup of Ubuntu alternative distributions that I believe provide genuine value due to my own usage, their history and general availability. So this leaves out some distributions of Linux that others users may feel worthy of inclusion. That's fine. But I stand by my choices regardless.
The above distributions provide the following benefits. Stable, mature projects. Each of the above has a history of keeping things up to date and do well in addressing known bugs.
No DVDs. I am sorry, but distros that require DVD ISOs are simply out of the question as it limits options for those without DVD writers.
Not based on Ubuntu. Some people feel that Ubuntu code is simply not stable enough to put much faith in. Each of the distributions listed above are working from code not coming from the Ubuntu project.