Updated: December 25, 2013
It's time to run the year's best distro competition. Like we did last year, and the year before, and unto ancient past, we will go through the top five operating systems and their spinoffs and such, all Linux of course, in an ascending order, all the way to the best and finest.
Year 2013 was an interesting one. It saw the rise and fall of Ubuntu, it saw the birth of Steam for Linux, and there's even SteamOS available, which I might test one of these hectic and busy days. Then, there were a few sad moments too, because several fairly popular and successful Linux distros and websites closed shop. But we will focus on the happy parts, right now. Let's declare the champions, shall we.
Fifth place: Linux Deepin 12.12.1
Now, now, here's a newcomer. Linux Deepin is an Ubuntu flavor, hailing from faraway China, loaded with colorful and unique goodies. Perhaps the area-centric approach is its weak side and may detract international users, but it still copes well against competition, using beauty and original styling, plus a fully functional array of programs and tools, as its cards. Elegant and refreshing.
Fourth place: SolydK
Funny name, right. It's also Debian based, with a fat layer of topping that makes it shine. The distro worked just fine, although I had to squeeze [sic] some extra juice. But the overall KDE experience was quite good, and I ended up with a beautiful system, replete with desktop effects, gaming perks, and a solid application base. SolydK surprised with its humble showing, and I hope it will remain around in the years to come.
Third place: Kubuntu Ringtail & Ubuntu Salamander
Unfair you may say. But that's how it is. These two flavors of the Ubuntu family seem to have reversed spots during this year. Ringtail shined pure and got rusty for the KDE flavor come the autumn, while the Unity-blessed distro sucked in the spring and got really good in October. And so we have a tie.
Kubuntu 13.04 was a very good, very polished and refined KDE edition, with just a few ugly spots. But it offered a flawless upgrade process, something I have struggled with in the past, and the Nvidia drivers setup was cushty, unlike Ubuntu. One iteration later, it was merely okay. The bigger brother, Mr. Ubuntu was quite bad seven months ago, but the dev team seems to have sorted out the bugs. Solid Nvidia experience, old issues are gone, and you have a very decent desktop for all uses and purposes. Saucy Salamander is a favorable candidate for your metal. Bronze medal for the effort.
Second place: Xubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander
Take a look at Wikipedia, under Xubuntu. One of the references there is for my ancient review of Karmic Koala, with the Xfce desktop. Full of sharp criticism and such. Now, for the past year and a half or so, Xubuntu has become one of my favorite distros. Not only has the distro improved its look & feel, it has ramped up in all aspects, including manageability and friendliness. The last incarnation is no exception. Ultra fast and lean, stylish, and rather quite fun after a few short minutes of pimpification. Almost perfect.
First place: Linux Mint 16 Petra
What can I say. There was really nothing wrong with this distro. You may find fault, but I could not. Honestly, for me, everything worked out of the box. A beautiful, well polished, streamlined, fast and elegant experience, which goes beyond everything else in the Linux world right now. Overall, in the past few years, Mint's kept steady at the top, with a very stable and consistent desktop, sometimes plagued with some of the Ubuntu leftovers and glitches, but still rather decent throughput. This autumn, it really peaked.
Could have been the best
There's one other distro that was quite spotless for me - excluding my own tinkering into the unsafe regions. But it is now the defunct Fuduntu, one of those fine products that closed shop this year. 'Twas an awesome system. Based on Fedora, it shattered all myths regarding Fedora's default look & feel and scant availability of fun stuff that normal users seek and crave. It was fast beyond reckoning, fully crammed with goodies, and one of the first distributions to offer Steam, as well as Netflix. Alas, it's no more. But the monument remains of what might have been a truly legendary distro. We miss.
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The hunt for the perfect distro
In a sense, Year 2013 is no different than its predecessor. Cinnamon and Xfce continue to party hard, leading the Linux world with a steady, solid, no-nonsense approach to desktop computing, with extras. This is an encouraging sign, because consistency is the key to pretty much everything else.
What is most surprising in this year's competition is that the top chart is dominated by the Ubuntu based distributions. Well, it's no surprise, but I'd love to see openSUSE make a nice comeback. And having a RedHat-flavored distro around is always a boon. Not this time, but perhaps in 2014. Fedora 20 almost made it. Well, the fun continues.
Well, that would be all. Happy New Year!