I had dabbled in Linux a few years back and followed the route of so many others, starting my journey into Linux with Mint OS. I did not document my journey, but I am going to, in general and broad terms, describe my overall experiences and impressions for those who, like I did, decide to plunge into Linux. I am a media guy by trade, mostly on the management and operations side of things. I am not a tech expert and I did find terminal command line work a tiny bit intimidating early on. That said, I’ve spent YEARS working in both Apple’s iOS and Windows’ various incarnations. I have used Android phones for the last several years, breaking with Apple iPhones due to frustrating tech support issues and hardware issues that Apple would not address on fairly new phones. So that’s my introduction to this piece.
I had a lot of aging computers lying around and decided to get some use out of them as travel computers, clunkers, beaters, gifts to folks like my brother who refuses to buy his own, but who is addicted to an Apple iPad. In researching how to convert those gen 3 and gen 4 i3 and i5 processors to a machine that would work, I dove into Linux. Mint was my starting point.
Remember, I am a USER, not a programmer, a hacker, etc. I found Mint perfectly acceptable, even good, but there was a lot I could see happening “under the hood.” Long command strings of text would appear at startup. Working inside Mint was not always fun for me. I like to work INSIDE of a GUI, not outside of one. Spoiled by Apple in the early days, I guess. I think a lot of Mint, but I found that its aging theme and layouts were a little too Windows XP for me. I stuck with it for a few months before folding the computer up and going back to my Gen 9 i7 running Windows 10.
After a bit, I decided to give it another go with a more basic but newer model running a Celeron processor. I dropped Zorin on it, opting for the “paid” version for $40 so I could mimic a Mac OS interface. This, I found, was a major upgrade for me from Mint. The layout, the way the GUI worked, the software repository… This is where I began to REALLY believe I could chuck Mac OS and Windows completely. But…
While I think a LOT of Zorin, I do not find it perfect. Sometimes it can be slow to load certain things. After periods of inactivity (sleep), it sometimes is glitchy and requires a reboot. So I decided this was due to hardware limitations and I did an install on a gen 8 i7 laptop. I must say, the experience was improved somewhat, but was still not perfect. That said, I was satisfied that it was something I liked well enough to call my primary OS.
Due to some strange events, a few “new” older laptops found their way into my study. One was a gen 8 i3 Dell with 8GB of RAM. It seemed like a good place to start something new.
On it, I dropped Ubuntu. I was instantly not a fan. I think Ubuntu is GREAT and it is the platform of SO many distros out there. Yet I found it was not as friendly for working (for me) the way Zorin was. I played with it for a few days and decided to go bare bones and I dropped Elementary OS on it. That proved regressive. Elementary is much better for those who like to work in the command line, who like to be frugal with system resources, who want total control of all of their computer’s processes. I do not. I want ease of use and reliability.
Setting aside Elementary OS, I gave Pop! OS a try. By contrast to my previous two experiments, Pop! OS was a stunning success. I LOVED it immediately. As I dove deeper and deeper into it, there were some quirks that caused some frustration, one being the dock. I read a lot about GNOME Shell Extensions (https://extensions.gnome.org/) and worked with that to customize my dock the way I liked it. I think I ended up with Cosmic dock. The process there was not intuitive and it took a lot of fiddling to get it the way I wanted it, but it worked in the end and I was totally satisfied with that experiment.
I would also note that I HATE Google’s spyware, including Chrome. But I am too committed to it to back out. My life is in there. I have found it frustrating to install it into a few distros, but I was able to work through those issues with some trial and error. If memory serves, getting it into Zorin was the most frustrating, followed by Pop! Yet I am typing in it now on my Zorin laptop.
So what’s the point of all of this? To say that, as a new Linux user with less than a year under my belt of real use, I find Pop! OS and Zorin OS to be among the easiest to use and to get running out of the box. I also tip my hat to Mint. It’s a good distro with an incredible support network.
If you’re new to the world of Linux and you just want to run a distro that works and that you don’t have to spend countless hours learning, my recommendation based on my experiences with the named distros (Zorin, Pop, Elementary, Mint, Ubuntu), my preference would be:
- Zorin - best for basic computer users using decent hardware
- Pop! OS - an interesting and customizable system that has great support and allows productive work.
- Mint OS (Cinnamon) - a rock solid platform with a dated design and theme, but that will be familiar to most users.
- Ubuntu - Best for power users, customizers, programmers and fiddlers.
- Elementary OS - bare bones. Great for older hardware.
Some distros I plan to play with:
Will report back once I do that!