Five Linux alternatives to Windows 7

All the computing world hype this week has been about Windows 7: Cheap Windows 7; Microsoft's future rides on Windows 7; etc., etc. What what if you're not that excited about Windows 7? After all, it's still as insecure as ever, and upgrading from XP to Windows 7 is a major pain. So if you want, or are going to be forced by your aging PC, to move to another operating system, why not give Linux a try?

As I explained recently in the IT World feature "How to give Linux a try" there are lots of ways to sample Linux without jumping through elaborate hoops to make your PC a dual-boot Linux and Windows system or converting your PC altogether to Linux. If any of those sampling experiences persuade you that Linux is for you, or if you're ready to take the plunge, here are five great Linux distributions for you.

Before jumping into my list, I must say that, alas, Google Chrome didn't make the cut. Sources at Google tell me that Chrome — the operating system, not the browser — will be coming out very soon, but it isn't yet ready. Gosh, a company that waits until a product is ready to be revealed before releasing it! If only Microsoft had done that few years back with Vista. But on with the list.


Fedora is Red Hat's community Linux distribution, and it's a winner. It's also a cutting edge distribution. You'll find new features in the forthcoming Fedora 12, like kernel memory management via KSM (kernel samepage merging), that are may be a little too bleeding edge for some users. I like Fedora, but its target audience is Linux experts, not Linux newcomers.


MEPIS isn't that well known a desktop distribution, but it should be. This Debian-based distribution doesn't have the newest features — it still uses the KDE 3.5.x desktop — but it's as stable as bedrock and runs fast and well on older hardware. I've been a MEPIS user for years, and while I review every major (and many of the minor) Linux distributions every year, I always find myself coming back to MEPIS. It's the most dependable Linux desktop I've ever used, and I suspect I'm going to continue using it for many years to come.


Mint doesn't get a lot of press either, but this Ubuntu-based distribution has a lot of fans. It's easy to see why. In addition to all of Ubuntu's goodness, Mint has browser plug-ins, media codecs, DVD playback, and Java and other proprietary-but-handy parts built in. While you can't get Mint pre-installed on a notebook like you can with Ubuntu and SUSE, its developers are working on making it OEM (original equipment manufacturer)-friendly. I won't be surprised if I see at least one vendor offering pre-installed Mint over the next few months.


OpenSUSE, like Fedora, is also a major distributor's community Linux. In this case, Novell is the company behind this distro. But unlike Fedora, openSUSE tends to be less bleeding edge and more stable. It also includes software like Mono, which brings .NET programs to Linux, along with other Windows-friendly software. Free-software purists hate this and so tend to avoid Novell and openSUSE. Personally, I have little problem with that, and I like openSUSE a lot. The latest version, openSUSE 11.2, is almost ready to go. I'm not ready to review it quite yet, but I can tell you already that it's a winner.

Also, if you're looking for PCs for business, Novell is the only company that offers a Linux desktop, SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop), with all the enterprise support trimmings and Windows domain and AD (Active Directory) compatibility. If I were running a business today, my desktops would probably be running SLED.


I recently tested a late beta of Ubuntu 9.10, and I really liked it. It's fast and has great support, and you'll soon be able to buy it (or earlier versions) already pre-installed from vendors like Dell and System76. If you're the kind of person who just wants to buy a PC, boot it up and go, pre-installed Ubuntu is the best option.

So if you're not that excited about Windows 7, remember, you do have free, secure and — in some ways — better alternatives. If you want to know more about the Linux desktop, and you happen to be in the Orlando Florida area, I'll be speaking about the Linux desktop this Saturday, October 24th, at the Florida Linux Show. I look forward to seeing you there.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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