Gone are the days when Linux was for those with long hair and beards and who communicated purely in binary. Now Linux is a viable alternative to Windows and Mac. It still has that image of being complicated and not very user friendly, which stops more people embracing the power of the penguin. That’s why I thought I would create this list of the five most accessible Linux distros for Windows and Mac switchers.
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The idea is to show you how far these distros have come and how shallow that initial learning curve can be. Yes there is a much steeper learning curve if you want to get into programming and customization, but so does Windows. On the upside, Linux rewards your learning with some pretty powerful and secure advanced features.
This list is going to be quite high level as most Windows users don’t know Gnome 2 from Ubuntu DE and don’t really need to at the beginning. If you want to know more about each distro I will include a link to its website so you can dig further should you wish to.
So let’s get to that list of the five most accessible Linux distros for Windows and Mac switchers.
Zorin OS was a new one for me but boy was it worth the wait. It is slick, well documented, fully supported and has a huge range of apps. It uses a supported lifecycle just like Ubuntu LTS (Long Term Support, which means it will be updated for a minimum of five years) so will be updated for the foreseeable future. It also has Wine and PlayOnLinux built in which is a bonus for gamers. In fact, Zorin OS has a lot of apps built in which removes another task the newbie has to contend with.
Zorin OS was designed with switchers in mind and has created a desktop that looks like Windows 7 to make you feel right at home. This is a real bonus as the mental switch from using Windows to Linux is lessened somewhat by a much more familiar UI. The usual drag and drop, menus and general layout really do look like Windows. You can stick with the Windows 7 look or change it with the Zorin Theme Changer app, it is entirely up to you.
Linux Mint is one of the most popular Linux distros in the world right now and for good reason. It is easy to get to grips with, simple to install and set up and has a range of built-in apps to get you started. Like Zorin OS, once installed, it works right out of the box and needs very little configuration to get started. You can of course dig as deep as you like once you’re comfortable.
Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu which in itself is simple enough to use. Mint takes it a step further by making it more intuitive and newbie friendly. The desktop has all the elements you expect to see where you expect to see them. Most common Linux apps will work fine and you can drag and drop, copy and paste and all sorts once you have it set up.
If a non-Linux user knows the name of any distro, it will likely be Ubuntu. It is the most popular distro by far and the codebase from which numerous others are built. Where Ubuntu leads, others will follow. It is powerful and feature-rich out of the box, supported by a large collection of followers, offers a regular update version and a long term version and will work with most hardware. It needs a little more configuration than Zorin or Mint but nothing a little web exploration won’t walk you through.
Ubuntu is very user friendly, has a nice burnt orange theme, simple desktop layout and a range of major drivers and apps built in. Ubuntu will also work well with touch, so makes an ideal laptop OS. Overall, it is a very good starting point if you’re switching from Windows or Mac.
Elementary OS would be ideal for Apple switchers as it looks more like a Mac than the others, but Windows users should quickly get to grips with it too. There is a real concentration on design and aesthetics with eOS and that makes the desktop a very nice place to be. It also works well too. While it isn’t as configurable as Mint or Ubuntu, there is a lot you can do with it once you get to grips with it.
Elementary OS comes bundled with the Ubuntu Software Center and some proprietary apps. Highlights include Geary, an email client and Noise, a very accomplished music player. Other proprietary apps are included but you also have access to the wider app repositories and can use what you like.
Kubuntu is another Linux distro based on Ubuntu and designed to be very user friendly. It isn’t quite as well known as the preceding four but it is well worth checking out if you’re considering making the switch. It is a very good looking desktop that is proving very reliable. It also looks and feels familiar as it has a taskbar, clock, icons, file explorer and other elements we know.
Kubuntu takes more system resources than the other distros in this list but should work on most fairly recent hardware. The installation is simple, bundled apps have everything covered and getting devices to work is a breeze as much of it is done for you during installation. The system works slightly differently to Ubuntu-based distros as it uses KDE, but unless you have tried the others, it won’t make a difference to a switcher.
Try before you buy
All of these versions of Linux have one thing in common, they can be dual booted with other operating systems. That means you can partition your hard drive so it can boot either into Windows or Mac or into Linux after you select which you like. That means you can try one, some or all of these distros before committing yourself to one and before giving up Windows altogether.
There are some pretty good guides on dual booting Windows and Linux, so check them out if you want to try it.