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Gallery: My top five Linux desktop distributions

After almost twenty years of working with Linux desktops, here’s Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ pick of the litter.

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Topic: Linux
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As someone who's been running and testing Linux desktops almost from day one, I think I know a
thing or two about the top Linux desktops.So here, from bottom to top, is a gallery of my current favorites.

Number 5: SystemRescueCD

SystemRescueCD isn't a Linux desktop you'd use every day, but it's essential to anyone who's ever had to fix a misbehaving desktop of any sort.

 It's back to the past with SystemRescueCD's no frills boot-up . It's goal is to get you to the tools you need to fix your PC as fast as possible.

Note: You can click on any image in this gallery to enlarge.

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Once you're in SystemRescueCD though, you don't have to stick with a character-line interface. You can start up an Xfce lightweight X Window desktop with the
command “startx” from a command line.

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From SystemRescueCD's you can run tools like the GParted disk partition editor - perfect for bring dead hard drives back to life.

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If there's data you need to move and edit on a semi-functional hard drive, Midnight Commander Norton Com—which looks a lot like the long gone but fondly remembered Norton Commander - is a very handy file manager.

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Number 4: OpenSUSE

Welcome to the openSUSE desktop. This is a very typical KDE 4-style Linux desktop.

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OpenSUSE's YaST administration program gives the administrator unparalleled control of every aspect of his or her system.

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 OpenSUSE makes it easy to see what's what on your PC.

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 YaST also makes it possible to easily set openSUSE up as one of many different kinds of server. Here, I'm getting ready to set up a Samba Common Internet File System (CIFS) server.

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Number 3: Mepis 11

This is MEPIS' default KDE desktop. To my eye, even before I've customized it, it's a more attractive take on KDE than openSUSE's more standard KDE approach.

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And, after a very little fiddling with it, I'm very happy with my MEPIS KDE-based destkop.

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One of my favorite MEPIS features is that it comes with “Assistant” panels. These make it very easy to find all the settings you need for a particular feature set. In this case, it's networking.

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 To install software on MEPIS, you use the good old dependable Synaptic Package Manager.

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Number 2: Ubuntu

 When it comes to sheer pretty, it's hard to beat Ubuntu's radical Unity interface.

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Unity, which is based on GNOME 3.0, uses its left-hand launcher bar to start applications and gets you to the file manager. If that doesn't work for you, there's always the search everything, everywhere interface.

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Need a new application? Ubuntu Software Center, which works somewhat like CNET's Download.com, makes it easy to find, pick, and install programs.

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Under Unity, Ubuntu still makes it easy to manage your PC's settings.

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Number 1: Mint

Mint 11: Based on Ubuntu 11.04, but using GNOME 2.x instead of Unity, I find Mint 11 to be the best of the Linux desktops for daily use.

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Mint's GNOME interface may be old-fashioned but it still makes finding applications when you need them easy to do.

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Like Ubuntu, Mint makes finding and installing software programs easy.

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One Mint plus, as far as I'm concerned, is its use of the Evolution mail and groupware client.

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