In this article, we will finally talk about individual distros. After reading this post, you can dive right in and download any of these to try them out. This is the third part of the list of distros and here, we will compile a list of the Ubuntu-based distros we think you should know. Ubuntu-based distros look and feel different, but they all use the DEB package format and are compatible to some extent.
These distros are built on top of Ubuntu’s codebase, but not officially supported or recognized by Canonical.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family → Zorin OS
Zorin OS is an unofficial Ubuntu derivative. This distro is made for absolute beginners that are coming from Windows, but in our opinion, it is so feature-rich that even Linux veterans will like it. Before we get to the features, we will say that this is the distro we use on most of our machines. You can rely on Zorin’s stability and get work done. It is not one of the superficially beautiful distro that only make a good headline on “best Linux distro” websites. In our opinion, Zorin OS can completely replace your old Windows or macOS system and is packed with features. By the way, on our less powerful machines, we always go for Xubuntu.
At the moment, Zorin OS can be downloaded and installed manually, like most distros, but there are Star LabTop notebooks with Zorin OS pre-installed. They come from Star Labs, a UK-based Linux laptop company. Forbes article
Zorin OS looks a lot like Windows 7 and basically any program you will need for the first few weeks on Linux comes pre-installed. That includes LibreOffice, Calendar, Contacts, the Evolution email client, Homebank, Slack messenger, Planner, View Your Mind (for mind maps), GIMP, Remina (for remote-desktop use), sound editors, a CD ripper and the Zorin Appearance app to customise your desktop. The Ubuntu base gives you great support for additional software. We really recommend this distro.
The Zorin OS Core version is free, but there is also the Ultimate Edition for 40€. Zorin OS Ultimate Edition includes more software and additional desktop environments. With those, you can give it a macOS look, Windows look, Touch layout, “vanilla” (unmodified) GNOME 3 and Ubuntu look. Therefore, it is ideal if you are coming from macOS, for example. The additional software belongs to the categories media, gaming and business apps. In the media category, you will find software for viewing or editing videos, photos, 3D-models and audio. There is also a free Zorin OS Ultimate Edition is also an Education Edition and a free Lightweight Edition for older PCs.
In our humble opinion, no distro has implemented the GNOME desktop as well as Zorin OS. They completely redesigned GNOME and made it look quite similar to the shiny KDE Plasma desktop. Everything just works and that is not only great for beginners. There are plenty of customization options, so advanced users will have a great time using Zorin OS too. The unwelcome change in Ubuntu 19.04 that removed your ability to drag & drop icons or files to the desktop, does not appear in Zorin OS. Drag and Drop is a very intuitive functionality and helps Windows users transition to Zorin from Windows. This change in Ubuntu 19.04 has basically ruined Ubuntu distros for former Windows and macOS users, so Zorin OS is a much better choice.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family → KDE neon
KDE neon is an unofficial Ubuntu derivative. KDE neon is a version of Ubuntu LTS with the KDE desktop installed. It is developed by the KDE team. In contrast to Kubuntu, it focusses on developer editions of software from the KDE universe, without maintaining stable releases of Ubuntu.
In our opinion, KDE neon is a bit more polished than Kubuntu, which is to be expected, since it is maintained by the team that develops KDE Plasma. The software centre “Discover” works much better than in Kubuntu and the desktop looks cleaner. The unwelcome change in Ubuntu 19.04 that removed your ability to drag & drop icons or files to the desktop does not appear in KDE neon. Drag and drop is a very intuitive functionality and helps Windows users transition to KDE neon from Windows. The issue in Ubuntu distros stems from the GNOME Project’s decision to make their DE more touchscreen-friendly, so it has nothing to do with KDE and is not a problem in KDE neon.
Unfortunately, KDE neon does not have many pre-installed programs, so you even have to install LibreOffice yourself. All apps that come with KDE neon are from the KDE universe. What software is available from KDE can be seen at kde.org. They have quite a large number of different programs from development and educational software to games, multimedia and communication programs. You can get them here. Many of them are even available for Windows and macOS. Some well-known KDE programs include Krita, digiKam, Konversations (chat), KMail, Konqueror/Falkon (browsers), Calligra (office suite), Kontact, Dolphin File Manager, Muon Package Manager and of course the Discover software centre.
All in all, KDE neon is the one distro that always has the most recent and bleeding edge KDE Plasma features. Unfortunately, that makes it not the most stable distro, since having new technology is more important than being bug-free. KDE neon is the distro used by the KDE community to show off their new KDE Plasma features. It looks impressive and is stable enough for a multimedia PC or web browsing, but not suitable for deployment in businesses or if you need a machine that works 100%. It is still based on the latest Ubuntu LTS release, so the performance is actually much better than one would expect from such new features.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family → Linux Mint
Linux Mint Cinnamon is an unofficial Ubuntu derivative and uses the Cinnamon DE. There are also versions available that use the MATE or Xfce desktop environment, as well as a version that uses the Cinnamon DE, but is based on Debian, instead of Ubuntu.
The latter one is called Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE). We will, however, focus on Linux Mint Cinnamon, which is definitely a community favourite and installed on around 11% of desktop Linux PCs.
This distro is very popular because the Cinnamon desktop looks and feels like Windows XP/7. It is very stable, but the team of maintainers is quite small and development mostly takes place online on GitHub. The Ubuntu base gives the distribution support for a lot of software. Additionally, Linux Mint is quite open to proprietary software, unlike most other distros. A lot of people from the Linux community recommend it and for good reasons. It is always based on the current Ubuntu LTS version, so it is very stable and supported for 5 years.
If the Cinnamon desktop is too resource-heavy for you PC, you can always go for the edition with MATE or the edition with Xfce for very old machines. That said, Cinnamon is not as demanding on the hardware as KDE or GNOME, so any PC younger than 5-8 years should be able to run Cinnamon. In case you really do not like Ubuntu distros or find them restrictive, go for the Debian Edition of Linux Mint.
Since the Cinnamon DE is the major selling point of Mint, we would like to comment on its history. Cinnamon started out as a GNOME 3 shell extension that gave it the GNOME 2 look back and created a more traditional desktop metaphor. The current Cinnamon desktop also uses GNOME’s code base, but is a desktop environment independent from GNOME.
We really like what Linux Mint has become over the years. It is a community-driven distro and decisions are based on user feedback. On the official blog or the “Linux Mint Idea Module” here, you can get into contact with the developers. The whole development takes place online, mostly using their GitHub page as a platform for the developing community and Launchpad for translation. The community has many individuals and companies as donors, sponsors and partners (source). The community website is here.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family → elementaryOS
elementary OS is another unofficial Ubuntu derivative. It is not only similar to macOS, but a real macOS clone based on Ubuntu. The macOS appearance is made possible by the elementary Project’s Pantheon desktop environment.
elementaryOS has been praised for its look, but we at BEaGHOST.com find that what is underneath matters more. They nailed the macOS look down quite well, but you will soon notice that the icon design is ugly and everything feels a bit off, as soon as you use it for a while.
This is a distro we cannot recommend to you, since it is quite restrictive. You do not have access to the full Ubuntu software repositories, only those that the developers see fit. You cannot install every program you want, neither through the software centre nor the Terminal, which is inconvenient. In fact, since elementaryOS Loki, the OS actively blocks installing software that the elementary Project did not authorize, which is quite scandalous in the Linux world. The developers had the goal to create a distro that does not require you to use the Terminal, which we think is a good idea, but implemented in the worst way possible. The desktop is indeed beautiful, but open a window other than the sleek settings menu and you will be disappointed.
All in all, customization options are limited. This is unfortunate, because it makes the OS just a limited macOS imitation. It looks nice, we do not deny that, but elementaryOS is not a usable OS in our eyes. Software is extremely hard to install and the small team is more focused on the looks than usability to be honest.
The OS is quite restrictive in terms of the software the developers choose to officially distribute and we find their selection of programs questionable. They want to use GTK+ applications for everything to give the distro a uniform look, but that means that some of the best Linux applications are missing, because they are cross-platform, e.g. Firefox and LibreOffice. In place of LibreOffice, you get AbiWord and Gnumeric, which are much harder to use and have less functions. Their own apps, e.g. Postler, Dexter, Nautilus-elementary and Lingo could also be better and limit what you can do. The developers also deactivated many daemons and services of Ubuntu that they found to be unnecessary. That speeds up the boot time, but again, limits your system’s functions.
The reasoning that the developers gave for blocking the installation of additional software is ridiculous. They said that this improves security, but that is nonsense. It is not a security risk when you install normal Ubuntu software, from the normal Ubuntu software centre. Maybe they should not have deactivated all the OS daemons and diminished its security capabilities?
An OS should give you new capabilities, not take them away from you. Please wait until it gets better or choose another distro. Actually, it seems to look better with every release, but the restrictions get worse and worse, so we strongly recommend ANY other distro!
Those were the most important unofficial Ubuntu distros. This chapter is part of our series on^Linux distros. You can also read the other posts at: