Ubuntu is a popular choice among desktop Linux users, but it isn’t the only one. In fact, you have a dizzying array of worthwhile options. Trying them all would be a time-consuming task, but here are some pointers to start you in the right direction.
. Within the desktop Linux community, GUI preference is hotly debated. The stock Ubuntu distribution is based on the Gnome user environment, but many people prefer the look and feel of its competitor, KDE. Never fear, a KDE-centric variant of Ubuntu called Kubuntu allows you to select the GUI environment of your choice while keeping the same basic OS foundation. Other variants favor lower-powered PCs or computers used in education.
Suse Linux. Novell has been very active in Linux development in recent years, particularly on behalf of desktop Linux users. SLED (Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop) is a highly polished commercial Linux distribution that merits serious consideration if you must integrate your Linux workstations into a Windows environment. In particular, SLED handles Active Directory integration arguably better than any other distribution. It’s not free, however. If you’re on a budget but would like to see a bit of what it has to offer, try OpenSuse.
Xandros. Another distribution that specializes in mixed Windows/Linux environments is Xandros. Versions are available both for home and business users, but it’s probably the business version that offers the most value. Xandros should be of particular interest if you want the professional polish of a product such as SLED but prefer the KDE desktop environment.
Mandriva. More popular in Europe than in the United States, Mandriva remains a good choice for desktop Linux users because of its strong hardware support and ease of installation and configuration. It also bundles more commercial/non-free software than Ubuntu, which helps to get new users running quickly.
Linspire. Arguably the leader in bundling commercial software is Linspire, a distribution that aims to be a complete, out-of-the-box Windows replacement. That means supporting proprietary multimedia codecs that can be problematic for noncommercial distributions, as well as bundling CrossOver Office to facilitate running Windows applications on the Linux desktop. Longtime Windows users should feel right at home.
Red Hat Enterprise Desktop. Red Hat shied away from the desktop Linux market until recently, but it now offers a range of products designed for desktops and workstations. If you’re already a Red Hat customer for its server products, it makes sense to consider this option.