Top 5 Alternatives to Ubuntu Linux: After the Unity debacle, if you’re thinking about switching to Windows 7 or Mac OS X, there is no reason to lose hope that soon. The cute little penguin offers many good choices even for the new user. Although Ubuntu 11.04 “Natty Narwhal” provides GNOME 2.x as a fallback option, moving away from it isn’t as scary as you think.
Here are the top Linux distributions you can switch to, if you are planning to ditch Ubuntu:
1. Linux Mint
We’ve already compared Linux Mint 11 and Ubuntu 11.04 on various grounds such as User Interface, Software Applications, Performance, Ease of Use etc. It comes as no surprise that it was a very close fight. However, Mint came out as a winner at the end. Linux Mint 11 "Katya", by sticking to the familiar GNOME 2.x interface, keeps things simple and sweet. The simplicity by no means bogs down Mint’s performance or features. In fact, the simplicity compliments Mint’s fresh look as well as the powerful set of default applications it comes with. If you absolutely hate Unity, this is the time to switch as Mint offers an easy-to-use familiar interface with features that make any “Ubuntuer” envious.
There is still a huge myth among Linux users that KDE 4 is unstable and hard-to-use. Well, that may be the belief of people who haven’t used KDE before, but for the ones who have already used it, there’s nothing like it. KDE4 is a stable desktop environment made purely for the masses with the average user in mind. What’s more, it comes with all the fancy effects that will make a Windows or Mac user jealous. In fact, ZDNet Australia even did a survey demonstrating a KDE 4 PC and telling the users that it is the next version of Windows. Guess what, almost everyone loved it. The survey simply proves the point that KDE4 is a modern interface that is ready for the masses.
Bringing KDE to the Ubuntu fanatics comes Kubuntu, the KDE version of the world’s most popular Linux distribution. Kubuntu comes with a great set of applications like Amarok, Kopete and Gwenview. For the “newly switched” users, there are familiar applications like Libreoffice and Firefox. Kubuntu Natty includes the latest stable version of KDE 4 without much customization.
Ok, not exactly a Linux distribution, but a cool OS nonetheless. Chrome OS, which is the core of the new Chromebooks, is a Gentoo-based, browser-like operating system. It comes pre-installed on Chromebooks, which are already on sale in select countries. The operating system is not very different from Google’s popular browser, Chrome, but it includes various desktop-like features like a video player, music player, image browser and more. Chrome OS is the proprietary version of the open-source Chromium OS which you can freely try out.
Chromebooks, released on June 15th, have been received with mixed reviews with some sites deeming them a complete failure while others calling them a great product. Engadget, in its review of the Samsung-based Chromebook, gave it a 8/10 rating. Having said that, a Chromebook is not the only way to get a taste of the “browserish” OS. Laptops and netbooks based on the open-source Chromium OS are also coming out. Even though the Kogan Agora laptop, which we reviewed recently was a disappointment, you can still wait for more Chromium-based laptops to be released.
If you are a GNOME fan, you might have been slightly miffed at the placement of GNOME 3 below Chrome OS. But, considering the mixed reviews the interface is getting, the 4th position is probably justified.
Anyways, let’s take a quick look at what GNOME 3 offers:
GNOME 3 provides a consistent, self-teaching user interface based around the user’s day-to-day tasks. GNOME 2.x users will discover a completely new user interface with loads of unique features. GNOME 3.0 a.k.a GNOME Shell includes features like Activities overview, a new dash for applications, an Expose-style window picker and a messaging tray along with many others. Fedora is a hugely-popular distribution that brings GNOME 3 to the masses. Make sure you take a look at the review we did earlier comparing Fedora 15 and Ubuntu 11.04. If you aren’t a big fan of Fedora, you can try GNOME 3 on openSUSE too.
5. Joli OS
Joli OS is an Ubuntu-based operating system developed by the company JoliCloud. It has a UI that is built to suit older computers or netbooks but it looks and runs perfectly fine on newer desktops too. Despite being a cloud-centric Linux distro, Jolicloud includes almost all the features a modern operating system should have including a dedicated file manager. Jolicloud is social from the start, which means you can share your favorite apps with your friends and family.
Using Jolicloud requires you to create an account that saves all your data on the cloud. The App store includes a collection of popular web apps that are updated each week. Users will be glad to find their favorite applications like LibreOffice Writer, Spotify, Skype, Vlc and Dropbox. The sheer collection of applications itself gives it an edge over Chrome OS. Apart from running smoothly on a normal desktop computer, Jolicloud works across a variety of platforms including Firefox, Chrome, Safari and even iOS (experimental for now). The company also plans on introducing support for Android devices. As far as installing JoliOS on desktop goes, you can easily dual boot / triple boot it along with your other operating systems / distributions.
If you live in the UK, you can also buy Jolibooks, which like Chromebooks, are special lightweight laptops. The cloud-centric notebook comes with a great sturdy design and boasts of a battery that lasts more than 7 hours. If you are a little skeptical about installing Jolicloud on your computer, you can easily install it inside your Chrome browser and try it out. Of course, the app selection will be limited to web apps only, but it will give you a good idea about the general look and feel of the OS.
Other non-mainstream options:
The aforementioned options are for users who are looking for something other than Ubuntu and yet want to keep things mainstream. However, if you are a little more adventurous you can always try out other non-mainstream distros.
Crunchbang Linux: For minimalism enthusiasts, there is Crunchbang Linux which is a Debian-based distribution featuring the lightweight Openbox Window manager and Xfce desktop environment. Users can get all the features of a fully functional yet minimal Linux desktop without sacrificing speed and performance. If you own an old yet working computer, it won’t be bad idea to install Crunchbang on it.
Mageia: Mageia is a community-driven fork of the popular French distribution Mandriva. It is quite a new project with its first stable release being on June 1st 2011. The distribution brings the best of GNOME and KDE to the users by integrating the essential features of the popular desktop environments. The term mageia means ‘magic’ in Greek and it remains to be seen whether Magiea will manage to enchant its users or not.
Zorin OS: Zorin is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution that is designed for newcomers. It features a Windows-like user interface to provide a seamless transition to Linux. It comes with an impressive set of default applications, which includes popular apps like Firefox, Rhythmbox and Totem. To make things further easier for Windows switchers, it comes pre-loaded with applications like Wine and PlayonLinux. There are two versions of this software, one is free and other is premium. The premium model comes in four versions -- Ultimate, Business, Multimedia and Gaming and is priced from 7 to 15 EUR that includes the shipped physical disk.
Bodhi Linux: Bodhi Linux is one of the most talked-about Linux distributions these days. It has been heavily praised for its simplicity and ease of use. Bodhi Linux uses the Enlightenment window manager and is based on Ubuntu. It consumes very less resources and can run on a computer with a meager 128 MB of RAM. When pitted against the feature-laden Ubuntu, an independent test showed that GIMP started in 4.7 seconds on Bodhi when compared with the 11 seconds it took to load on Ubuntu. -A great distro to try if you’re looking for something minimal yet functional.