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The best Linux distros for beginners: Expert tested

The best Linux distros for beginners are as easy to use as MacOS or Windows -- really.
Linux Mint | Best Linux distribution for beginners overall
Linux Mint 21.3
Linux Mint
Best Linux distribution for beginners overall
View now View at Linux Mint
Chrome OS | Best Linux distribution for beginners who are tired of Windows headaches
Chrome OS
Best Linux distribution for beginners who are tired of Windows headaches
View now View at Google Chrome
Ubuntu | Best easy-to-use Linux distribution for beginners
Ubuntu 23.10
Best easy-to-use Linux distribution for beginners
View now View at Ubuntu
Zorin OS | Best Linux distribution for beginners who are Windows fans
Zorin OS
Best Linux distribution for beginners who are Windows fans
View now View at Zorin
MX Linux | Best lightweight Linux distribution for beginners
MX Linux
Best lightweight Linux distribution for beginners
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elementary OS | Best beginner Linux distribution for those migrating from MacOS
The default elementary OS desktop is as elegant as it is easy to use.
elementary OS
Best beginner Linux distribution for those migrating from MacOS
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Contrary to popular opinion, Linux is an operating system that can be used and enjoyed by everyone and anyone. I mean, I taught my then-mother-in-law at the age of 79 how to use Ubuntu Linux, and we didn't even speak the same language! If she could do it, you can do it.

The real problem is picking the best beginner Linux distribution for you. There are literally hundreds of desktop Linux distributions to choose from. Some, such as Gentoo and Linux From Scratch, are tough to use, but most of them are easy-peasy.

Also: The best Linux laptops: Expert tested

With three decades of Linux experience, I'm here to help you choose the version of Linux that will get you started on the right foot, so your journey is not only as easy as possible but also fun, reliable, and safe. I've tested all these versions myself, and my pick for the best Linux distribution for beginners overall is Linux Mint because its interface is easy to use, and like all Linux distros it won't cost you a dime. Oh, and by the way, it also gives you everything you need from a desktop if you're a pro Linux user as well.

Read on for the rest of my picks for the best Linux distributions for beginners. 

Best Linux distributions for beginners in 2024

Pros & Cons
  • Free
  • Windows-like interface
  • Excellent software installer program
  • No proprietary drivers (Nvidia, ATI, etc.) are included, but they can easily be installed via the Driver Manager
  • Doesn't come with Snap support, but it can be added
More Details

Linux Mint features: Price: Free | Core code: Linux kernel 5.15  | Open source? Yes 

Tired of Windows? Then consider turning to Linux Mint, in particular, the version using the Cinnamon interface. I'm a Linux power user, and my current favorite desktop operating system is Linux Mint 21.3, but I can highly recommend it to anyone, even beginners.

Mint, with several desktop environments such as Cinnamon, looks a lot like XP or Windows 7. It uses a Windows Icon, Menu, and Pointer (WIMP) interface, much like the one you probably already know and love. It's not a one-to-one match with XP or Windows 7, but most Windows users will find Cinnamon a comfortable fit. Linux users who grew up with the GNOME 2.x style interface will also love Cinnamon since it's based on that classic Linux desktop interface. 

Check out: 12 best Windows laptops 

Like all Linux desktop distros, Mint is more than just an operating system -- it also comes with all the software you need. The distro comes with LibreOffice 7.3.7 for office productivity, Thunderbird 115.16.0 for email and calendaring, GIMP 2.10.30 for graphics editing, and Firefox 121.0.1 for web browsing. 

Also: How to choose the right Linux desktop distribution 

Pros & Cons
  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • Offered separately from Chromebooks
  • Compatible with PCs and Macs from 2007 onward
  • No support for overclocking CPUs or GPUs
More Details

Chrome OS features: Price: Free | Core code: Gentoo Linux | Open source? Yes

Do you use the web for everything? Do you write with Google Docs, use NerdWallet for your personal finances, and check Gmail for your email? If that's you, then what you want is a Chromebook, or to just replace Windows or macOS with ChromeOS Flex. 

Also: The 5 best Chromebooks 

ChromeOS may not look like what you think of as Linux, but sure enough, underneath its Chrome web browser interface, ChromeOS is Linux. Chrome OS is the operating system that runs Chromebooks and is based on Gentoo, which is an experts-only Linux. The good news is that you don't need to know a darn thing about Gentoo to use it. While you can get to old-school Linux from ChromeOS, you'd never need to look under the hood. 

Anyone can use Chrome OS. I mean, if you're reading this article via a web browser, which you almost certainly are, you already know how to use "Linux" enough to work with a Chromebook. 

You also don't need to buy a Chromebook to use Chrome OS. Neverware, formerly an independent company and now a branch of Google, offers ChromeOS Flex. With this ChromeOS variant, you can convert pretty much any PC or Mac that's been built since 2007 into a much safer and more usable Chromebook clone. No fuss, no muss, and a lot more useful than whatever you're currently running on an older PC. You can also enable Linux support in Chrome OS and install and run Linux apps.

To make this more appealing, you can also run Linux apps from your Chromebook, which helps to convert it to a more traditional OS.

Pros & Cons
  • Great for personal computers as well as companies
  • Some of the best hardware recognition available
  • Built in Snap support for installing thousands of applications
  • 12 years of support
  • The UI might take some time for new users to learn
More Details

Ubuntu features: Price: Free for individuals/Variable commercial pricing | Core code: Linux Kernel: 6.5.0 | Open source? Yes

Ubuntu was long considered the best Linux distribution for new users, and while others may take that title these days, it's still a great distro for newbies. That's because it's simple, beginner- and user-friendly, and has a great deal of community support. If you have a question, someone out there has almost certainly had the same problem and found an answer to it. 

By default, Ubuntu uses the GNOME 3.x interface. It takes some learning if all you've known before is Windows, but it's really not that hard. Once you get accustomed to the interface, you'll see that it makes perfect sense (and you might even wonder why other desktop operating systems don't follow suit).

While the most recent version of this Linux is Ubuntu 23.10, in April 2024, the next long-term support (LTS) version, Ubuntu 24.04, will arrive. That edition will have support for 12 (yes, 12) years. 

Pros & Cons
  • Free and paid options
  • No coding experience necessary
  • ChromeOS, Mac, or Windows look and feel
  • Works on both PCs and Macs
  • The Windows and macOS interfaces are only available in the paid version
More Details

Zorin OS features: Price: Two of the three versions are free; Pro costs $39 | Core code: Ubuntu | Open source? Yes

So, you really, really don't like the idea of even learning a little bit of GNOME. In that case, give Zorin OS a try. It's based on Ubuntu, as is Mint. But you can use its custom Zorin Appearance app to provide the desktop with a Windows look and feel. Or, for that matter, it can give you a Chromebook or Mac look and feel. Zorin's very flexible.

Zorin's whole reason for being is to help you move over from Windows or macOS to Linux. It also comes with documentation that's specifically designed to help you move from Windows to Linux. Zorin comes in three different versions: Core and Lite, which are free, and Pro, which can duplicate the Chromebook, macOS, or Windows look and feel, and costs $39. The Core edition really gives you everything you need, while the Lite version gives older machines a new lease on life. The most recent version, which is available for both the Core and Pro editions, is Zorin OS 17.

Check out: Want to save your aging computer? Try these Linux distributions 

If you prefer a Linux-style interface, all versions come with free GNOME and KDE front-ends. They may not be what you're used to, but they're still attractive, easy-to-use, and powerful. 

Pros & Cons
  • Works with much older computers
  • Great for beginners
  • Contact info for documentation and dev teams to report issues
  • No dual-boot option for Windows 8 and newer PCs
  • Doesn't play well with Ubuntu PPAs
More Details

MX Linux features: Price: Free | Core code: Debian | Open source? Yes

A few years back, one of my favorite Linux desktops was MEPIS Linux. This Debian Linux-based distribution worked well. Eventually, though, its founder and maintainer, Warren Woodford, had to turn his attention to other businesses. MEPIS's fans joined forces with the related antiX Linux communities and revived the project as MX Linux. 

Today, it's a good, solid lightweight desktop that uses Xfce as its interface. It works well, and it's very popular. What I like most about it is that it's beginner-friendly, easy to pick up, and you can run it on even ancient Pentium II gear. In short, it's ideal if you want to get your feet wet with Linux on a PC that would otherwise be collecting dust in your closet. 

But you don't have to take my word for it. On Distrowatch, the one site that tracks all the Linux desktops, in recent years, MX Linux is almost always at the top of the list. They must be doing something right.

The most recent edition available today is MX-23 2"Libretto."

Pros & Cons
  • Very elegant and user-friendly
  • Easy learning curve
  • Performs well on most machines
  • Consistent look and feel
  • macOS-like UI
  • Very stable
  • Limited apps in the AppCenter
  • Updates can be slow to arrive
  • Full OS upgrades require clean installation
More Details

elementary OS Features: Price: Free option available (Price is pay what you can) | Core code: Ubuntu LTS | Open source? Yes

For a stretch of about five years, elementary OS was my default Linux distribution. I initially adopted it because of the elegant Pantheon desktop, which made using Linux a real treat. I continued using elementary OS because it never failed me. It was rock solid, easy to use, and performed like a champ, no matter how much time had passed. Eventually, I gave up elementary OS because I started purchasing System76 hardware that shipped with Pop! OS. However, I do miss those days of elementary OS. It really is that good. 

The only caveat to using elementary OS is that the app center doesn't have nearly the amount of software found in, say, the Pop! OS Pop Shop or the Ubuntu Software app. Fortunately, however, elementary OS does ship with both Flatpak and Snap pre-installed, so you can install a wealth of applications from the command line (as neither Flatpak or Snap support is built into the graphical user interface). 

I would recommend elementary OS to any user looking to either migrate from MacOS or to a Linux distribution that offers a simple to use, beautiful interface and doesn't mind installing apps from the command line.

What is the best Linux distro for beginners?

My pick for the best Linux distribution for beginners is Linux Mint. It has a user interface that looks and feels very much like Windows for easier transitioning, as well as a free and open-source code for making your own tweaks. The best part is that Linux Mint doesn't collect your data at all, so you can use it with confidence that your personal info won't end up on a server somewhere to be sold to advertisers.

Linux distroPriceCore codeOpen source?
Linux MintFreeGNOME 2.xYes
Chrome OSFreeGentoo LinuxYes
UbuntuFree for individuals/Variable commercial pricingGNOME 3.xYes
Zorin OSFree for individuals/$39 for commercial licenseUbuntuYes
MX LinuxFreeDebianYes
elementary OS Free option available (pay what you can)Ubuntu LTSYes

So, ready to give Linux a try? It's worked well for me for over 30 years, and it can work well for you for the next 30. While most desktops seem to be heading to a DaaS model--including Windows -- I can guarantee you Linux will still be available for your PC decades from now.

Which Linux distro for beginners is right for you?

Choose this...If you want...
Linux MintWindows-like feel and operation
Chrome OSA pick-up-and-play operating system
UbuntuA more in-depth OS for learning code
Zorin OSSupport for ChromeOS, Mac, and Windows-style interfaces.
MX LinuxA robust online community for open-source code tweaking
elementary OS A user-friendly distribution with a similar UI to macOS 

In the end, the best Linux distro for you is whichever one feels the most familiar. Some of the picks on our list have user interfaces that are very, very close to older versions of Windows to make it easier to learn something new. Others allow for dual-booting so you can swap back and forth between operating systems when you want to poke around in Linux for an afternoon or need to get some work done in Windows. You also want to choose a version of Linux that is supported by a robust online community of coders, documentation teams, and regular users. That way, if you have any issues with installation, downloading programs, or just general questions, you can get the help you need.

How did we choose these best Linux distros for beginners?

While compiling these picks, I paid careful attention to each Linux distribution's ease of use, price, and core code. 

Check out: The 3 tiers of Linux distribution difficulty 

  • Ease of use: Since these systems are for beginners, I considered how a novice would interact with the user experience of an operating system that isn't Windows or macOS. These beginner systems should feel familiar but not overwhelming. 
  • Price: If you are new to Linux, you probably don't want to invest a sum of money into it if you are unfamiliar with the system. That's why I included picks that had free options as well as paid options. 
  • Core code: 

Is it hard to install applications on Linux?

It used to be hard to install programs on Linux, but that's no longer the case. Under the hood, things can still be complex, but now almost all distros have application stores. These make installing new programs as simple as pick and click.

Can you get more from Linux than Windows or MacOS?

Yes, you can get a lot more from Linux if you know how to do shell programming and the like. But that's also true of Windows and PowerShell. With both operating systems, you don't need to know the deep ins and outs of either one to get your work done. 

So why would you move? Well, for starters, Linux is far more secure than its rivals. Looking ahead, as Ed Bott points out, many of you may end up facing a security disaster if you keep using Windows 10

Also, Linux, unlike Windows 11, will run on pretty much any PC you've got lying around. Linux doesn't require much in the way of a computer to do just fine. For example, I have a 2007-vintage HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7360n PC with a 2.8GHz Pentium D 920 dual-core processor, 2GBs of RAM, and a 300GB SATA drive PC that's still running Linux to this day. Good luck running any modern version of Windows on that!

Sure, it used to be hard to install programs on Linux, but that's no longer the case. Under the hood, things can still be complex, but now almost all distros have application stores. These days, installing Linux programs is as easy as picking and clicking. 

If you still need some Windows programs, you can always try Crossover Linux to run them on Linux. It won't run all Windows apps by any means, but it runs many of them surprisingly well.

In any event, since most such programs, even Adobe PhotoShop are now available as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), there's less need than ever for Windows-specific programs. Indeed, we're moving to a business world where all you really need is a web browser to enable you to use a Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) platform

The future of the desktop aside, unlike Windows, where your only real choices today are Windows 10 or 11, there are hundreds of Linux desktop distributions. On top of those are numerous Linux desktop interfaces, each with its own distinctive look and feel, such as KDEGNOMECinnamonLxdeXfce, and many more. Most distributions have a primary user interface, such as Fedora and GNOME and OpenSUSE and KDE, but also enable you to pick from one to three others. Since you're just starting with Linux, I recommend you stick with the distro's main interface.

What's a would-be Linux desktop user to do? Luckily for you, you don't have to try them all out to find a good fit. The key question is: "What do you want to use Linux for?" For beginners, I look at what's the easiest to pick up, the best overall Linux desktop, the simplest Linux for Windows users, and the easiest Linux for users with older machines.

Can you run Windows programs on Linux?

If you still need some Windows programs, you can always try Crossover Linux to run them on Linux. It won't run all Windows apps by any means, but it runs many of them surprisingly well. Some Microsoft programs are now available natively on Linux. These include the Edge browser and Teams.

You can also run Windows 365 Cloud PC, a full Windows 10 or 11 cloud-based desktop, from Linux. This subscription service costs a pretty penny. Or, for free, you can run Microsoft 365 for the web (formerly Office 365), which gives you access to a subset of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote's functionality.

Do you need security software on desktop Linux?

No, not really. True, while Linux is much safer than Windows, it's not totally immune from attacks. But, those attacks tend to be much rarer than those that plague Windows or macOS. 

That said, you should still run a firewall, which Linux has built-in, and for stopping malware in its tracks you might consider installing ESET Endpoint AntiVirus for Linux or ClamAV

Are there other Linux distros worth considering?

As I mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of Linux distros. Many of these are also suitable for beginners. Of these, you might also look at the following:

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