Distro Guide

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GNU FSDG Distro Hopper's Guide

Not sure which distro to choose? This article is here to help.

If this article does not lead you to a strong preference, many distros provide a "LiveISO", which allows you to try-out the system without installing. Trisquel is (arguably) the optimal option for most people to try first (where: "optimal" (arguably) means "LTS" and "Everyone" in the table below).

Releases Curation Audience Init-System Graphical Environment Strain
Dragora LTS Conservative Techies SystemV CLI, Trinity Independent
Freenix LTS Conservative Techies SystemV CLI, KDE Slackware-like
Hyperbola LTS Conservative Techies OpenRC CLI, MATE Independent
Trisquel LTS Liberal Everyone Systemd LXDE, KDE, MATE, Sugar Ubuntu-like
GuixSD Rolling Liberal Techies Shepherd CLI NixOS-like
Parabola Rolling Liberal Techies OpenRC, RUnit, Shepherd, Systemd, SystemV CLI, LXDE Arch-like
PureOS Rolling Liberal Everyone Systemd GNOME Debian-like

Explanation of Categories:

  • Releases: Indicates the repository stability (the time period between new releases). This is by far, the most significant distinction for most people, and so, the most important to understand. See the Rolling vs. LTS article for a primer.
  • Curation: Indicates whether most of the trendy, bloated, or opinionated programs are available or excluded, such as 'systemd', 'pulseaudio', 'pipewire', 'GNOME', 'KDE', and obese desktop GUI applications, web-browsers, etc. "Liberal" indicates that more of those programs are available. "Conservative" indicates that most of those programs are excluded, likely because those would not work properly (e.g.: without 'dbus', 'pulseaudio', etc), or the maintainers are designing for leanness or technical simplicity.
  • Audience: Indicates the general target audience. "Everyone" indicates that the distro strives to be user-friendly (e.g.: everything, including installation, can be done using a mouse). "Techies" indicates that the distro is highly-customizable, but requires some experience with the command-line, to install, customize, and/or maintain.
  • Init-System: Indicates which Init-Systems are available. Distros which offer only one Init-System, are said to be lacking 'Init Freedom'. However, Init Freedom has only a small intersection with Software Freedom. It extends only Freedom #0; and primarily for sysadmins and other experts. All Init-Systems serve the same purpose(s), necessarily and adequately. Most people never see nor interact with their Init-System, and so, need not be concerned about its form.
  • Graphical Environment: Indicates which Desktop Environments are the standard or defaults. Note that distros, especially those with "Liberal" package "Curation", may have many more Window Managers and Desktop Environments available than the ones listed (e.g.: all conventional UNIX-like systems expose a command-line interface _somehow_). The examples listed are the one(s) pre-configured by the standard installer(s) (i.e.: the most recommended or best supported).
  • Strain: Indicates the heritage of the OS design, most evident by its package management system, and to some degree, its FHS (Filesystem Hierarchy Standard) compatibility. Much like the Init-System, if you are not already familiar with a specific package manager or the FHS, then the distro strain is probably not relevant factors for your choice of distro.

This page was a featured resource in July 2023.