I just reviewed three of the most popular Linux distributions -- Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu -- and each one is great for the right user. That said, there are many other excellent distributions, so let me tell you about two of my other favorites: MEPIS and Mint.
MEPIS is easily the most obscure of my favorite distributions. Unlike most Linux distributions, it has neither a company nor a community behind it. MEPIS is almost entirely the product of one developer, Warren Woodford.
After playing with SUSE and Mandrake (now Mandriva Linux), Warren decided he could create his own distribution that met his needs better and so started what became MEPIS, also known as SimplyMEPIS, a Debian Linux-based desktop distribution.
It wasn't long after he created it in 2003 that I gave it a try. Ever since then, I find myself returning it to it again and again. I do it for a couple of very simple reasons. MEPIS, now at version 8.0, and on its way to version 8.5, has always worked like a trooper. Cutting edge laptops, dusty old PCs, whatever, I can always count on MEPIS working without a hitch on any machine.
I also like the additional utilities, the so-called MEPIS Assistant programs. These take what can sometimes be complicated tasks on other Linux distributions, such as networking and X-Windows set-up, and make them simple. Last, but not least, MEPIS has always done an outstanding job of using the KDE 3.5x to good effect. In the upcoming MEPIS 8.5, he's using the brand-new KDE 4.3.4 for those who like the KDE 4.x series. But for those who are still fond of KDE 3.5, and while I finally warmed up to KDE 4.x I also continue to like KDE 3.5x, he'll continue to support it in the MEPIS 8.x line.
I came to find Mint much later in its development. I'm sorry it took me so long to give it a try. Mint is based on Ubuntu and uses its GNOME 2.28 interface. Its developers add their own touches to its look and feel, and, I, for one, find it more attractive than stock Ubuntu/GNOME.
If that was all Mint had going for it, I wouldn't bother with it, as it's easy to customize Linux desktop interfaces. What I've always like about Mint is that it comes ready to handle proprietary multimedia. Out of the box, Mint 8, which is based on Ubuntu 9.10, can play DVDs and some proprietary formats, like Adobe Flash.
You can always add this functionality to any Linux distribution, but with Mint, you don't have to jump through any hoops. For more on Mint, check out my friend Jim Lynch's review of Mint 8 in his aptly named Desktop Linux Reviews site.
In my Linux review feature, I said that Fedora is good for Linux experts; openSUSE is good for general-purpose desktop use; and that Ubuntu is good for beginners. To that summary, I can add that MEPIS is also an excellent general-purpose desktop and that Mint is great for Ubuntu fans who want their Linux to come multimedia ready.
Those are my five favorite Linux desktop distributions; what are yours?