Updated: December 30, 2015
Year 2015 was one of the most turbulent, troubling periods for Linux. It started with so much hope, so much goodness, and then it all crashes come the autumn season, with distros failing one after another, almost like trees succumbing to a flood. Whatever emotional metaphor works for you.
Now, though, we must put the pain and elation aside, and focus on voting the best distributions of 2015. There have been many, and while we did not have any great revolutions like the last time, it was an interesting year overall. So let's separate the wheat from the chaff, and the wit from the chav. Shall we?
Some of you sometimes feel that I'm biased. But the best proof that I'm just an innocent bloke with passion for Linux is the inclusion of Fedora as the fifth best distro of this year, with, wait for it, GNOME 3 desktop! Ta-dam! Yes, for many years, I thought Gnome 3 was the stupidest thing to hit the open-source scene, and it still is a product of touch mania that should be eradicated with napalm. Nevertheless, plastered onto Fedora 23, it gave me a more than passable journey, and the distro behaved lovely and cushty, and it did not crash or scream or whine. So Fedora manages to sneak onto the list after all, and there's hope for human kind. But in all seriousness, Fedora 23 is a good product, and Gnome 3 is no longer the devil. Just a gimpy little elf that misbehaves.
Netrunner is based on Kubuntu. In a way, it is unto Kubuntu what Mint is unto Ubuntu. The same framework, plus tons of good software, codecs, plugins, and other extras that normal people crave. The 16th release, named after an Egyptian pharaoh, comes with a slick KDE desktop, both fair and stable, plus the software for your everyday spiritual enlightenment. Hence the best KDE title this year.
We shall soon see Horizon, the latest Netrunner release, in action. With Plasma. Hopefully, it will be the one distribution to redeem the whole Plasma fiasco, as neither Netrunner Rolling nor Kubuntu nor openSUSE Leap managed to deliver acceptable results. Abysmally so, in fact. But happy thoughts! Moving on.
Technically, this Chinese Ubuntu-based distribution was released last year, but it saw light on my test boxen only in February, which is why it is entitled for this selection. Again, we have a distribution that has its desktop roots in the most unreasonable of frameworks, Gnome, but it pulls it off with extreme flair and uniqueness. After an almost copy-paste look & feel of most distributions created in the Western world, Deepin provides its own flavor of rad aesthetics. Tons of good software, special touches everywhere. Not perfect, but definitely more than worth considering and testing. A most well deserved third place.
Zorin is an Ubuntu derivate. Yes, it might be trying too hard to be the stepping stone for Windows converts, and the theme might be too futuristic, blue and white and happy. But over the years, Zorin has mostly provided consistent results, culminating in a well designed autumn release that won't make you agitated. On the contrary, you will be pleased.
The combination of good looks, Windows friendliness, accessibility to software, and the fact you can do pretty much anything you please out of the box makes it a top contender, if not as highly polished as the winning entrants. Still, quite close. Furthermore, the Zorin desktop happens to be ALSO based on Gnome, which proves my hatred for certain things is functional rather than emotional or ideological. Zorin OS 10 is a pretty solid distro, and it could make your Linux experience happier.
What does the fox say? Anyhow, after being delighted by your participation last year, I decided to create another poll and ask you for your opinion. It does not impact the results presented above and below, but it reflects how the wider community feels. Sure, in a way, it comes down to whatever everyone likes and prefers, so in a way, it is also a popularity contest, but then, everything is.
This year, we gathered 1,719 votes, less than 1,900 votes we had the last time, but still a respectable number. The results are quite interesting, despite being predictable. Mint and Arch are in the lead two positions, just like 2014, with almost 50% of ballots. Kind of ends of the spectrum, noon friendly and noob hostile. Ubuntu is third, and openSUSE has filled in the gap left by elementary OS. Debian is in the fifth place, but it is only liked by about 6% of those who had cast their votes.
Technically speaking, the real third place goes to something else. With approx. 13% piece of the pie, ahead of Ubuntu with 11%, roughly one in eight Linux users do not feel the top ten table represents them truthfully, and that there is something else that grabs their attention. This is a nice end of the tail problem, but as long as there isn't any real critical mass, the outliers can't make much of a dent in the top ranks. All that said, here be the final verdict for this year.
This year, we have a joint first place, shared by Xubuntu and Mint, both spring editions. Apart from the desktop environment, they are near identical in terms of speed, quality, stability, ease of use, and sheer fun. Xubuntu has had a long continuous streak of successful releases, and it has been steadily climbing in Dedoimedo charts.
The spell has been broken with the mediocre autumn offering, I'm afraid, which makes Vivid Vervet as good as it gets for using Xfce. You get beauty, style, lightning performance, and all the extras that make day to day computing enjoyable.
Linux Mint is no stranger to success. It has almost always featured in the top five list, with some ups and downs, but mostly, it has delivered a consistent, predictable user experience. One of the strong sides of the Mint release is that it offers near as 100% ready desktop as conceivably possible. In this case, Mint 17.2 Rafaela is a prime example of a well-engineering operating system, with the right blend of all the right components for enjoyment. Much like Xubuntu, it delivers an awesome punch of goodies, flavored with some Cinnamon spice.
Alas, the same cannot be said of Mint 17.3 Rosa, which follows the awful trend of the recent autumn batch of broken, malfunctioning distributions. More about that in a separate review. But let us focus on the goodness. Indeed, Rafaela is near as perfect as it gets, and it's definitely the top picking of 2015.
If you look at the last year's score, things have changed considerably. Ubuntu and openSUSE are nowhere to be found, we have some new challengers, and the only familiar faces are the trio of Xubuntu, Mint and Fedora, which is somewhat comforting. At least the bulk of top players remains, giving some consistency to this rough, erratic year.
Looking across the last half decade, a vague pattern emerges, with Mint and Xubuntu taking the lead as the most reasonable choices for your desktop. Of course, we cannot disregard the parent operating system that makes it all possible, nor the fact Trusty Tahr is still one of the best distros ever baked in the history of code. But moving forward, the fickle quest for perfection continues with breathtaking uncertainty. This year, we had ups and downs, but at the very least, Mint and Xubuntu did not disappoint. Time to power up your boxen and start exploring. We shall see you next year, with fresh new reviews a-coming! Take care.