Updated: December 31, 2018
For the end is near. Of the calendar year, that is. Julian. And vote we must, declare the finest Linux distribution in the past dozen months, in the best of traditions since I started making this series of article, that is. We've already done the voting thingie on Plasma, Xfce and Gnome desktops, but now we do a collective one that covers all angles.
Back in 2017, Kubuntu Zesty won my heart. It was just delightful, and it was such a shame this was only one of the short-lived interim releases. One of the rare highlights of the desktop adventure in recent times. But then, 2018 has had its curious moments too. Let's see what happened in the land of Tux, shall we. After me, brave users.
Fifth place: Manjaro 17.1.6 Hakoila (Plasma)
Say what you will about Arch, but at least they are trying. There's so little true innovation and freshness in the Linux space, so every gem of cool and unique that is to be found on the desktop must be cherished. Manjaro will probably never be the ultra-robust and stable distro for the masses, because that's what people crave, as it combines the bleeding-edge gains with the bleeding-edge pains, but it will never be a system you feel indifferent about.
I had a reasonable dose of fun with it this year - the Microsoft Office Online integration is one of those great things that I just mentioned. Now, overall, Hakoila wasn't quite as suave and polished as Gellivara, but it's still a rather likable distro. I would like to see better hardware compatibility most of all, and more focus on fixing the papercuts. After all, Manjaro aims to be the bridge between Arch and the user, so it really needs to do all them fine details impeccably. Worth testing and exploring for sure.
Fourth place: Linux Mint 19 Tara
In my mind, the heyday of Linux Mint is behind us. There are many reasons for that, including the loss of identity across the Linux space, but it's also because the distro isn't trying to be as smart and noob-friendly as it used to do. Once upon a time, Mint did everything. Now, there are many distros that do a lot, and Mint does less than in the past. It's a comfortable step up from the Ubuntu defaults, but not by a huge margin, and you do need to invest energy polishing things up. This spring, the LTS Tara was adequate, but just so, and even though I did grow to like it after some spitshine, it didn't stir any deep emotion. If you're a newcomer to the world of Linux, this is one of the great candidates for your baptism of fire, but you still might get a singed hair here and there.
Third place: Kubuntu 18.10 Cosmic Cuttlefish
With Plasma getting better by the day - hint, the not-distro neon, hint - it seems almost too easy to have a great desktop experience. Well, not so. Many systems ship with Plasma as their favorite cape, and yet, the heroes are nowhere to be seen. A bronze medalist by the name of Cosmic blends lots of the good stuff in its offering, including great looks, decent hardware compatibility, media and such, and a small heap of problems that are entirely unnecessary. It wasn't cardinally worse than Bionic, but with a short life span and no significant advantages, Cosmic cuts a pretty if fleeting figure.
Second place: Kubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver
You are probably surprised that I've not nudged Bionic to the first place. After all, it is my new production Linux operating system. I rarely make big changes in my serious, big-pants environment, and when I do, the changes have to last. Hence, a lot of deliberation, and finally, the choice to go forth with Kubuntu 18.04 as the first candidate for my Slimbook Pro2 adventure. That ought to qualify, right?
Well, yes and no. Imagine for a second you aren't me, and you're only testing a system. That first impression has to count. It took a handful of months for Bionic to get rid of its early woes and become really usable, and I can't ignore those when writing this end-of-the-year manifesto. I do love the end product, and I'm more than happy with how Bionic is doing on the Slimbook, but it wasn't no love at first sight. Hence, no first place. However, if you do want a well-rounded, multi-purpose, long-term, robust operating system that has excellent looks and ergonomics and a solid record of productivity, Kubuntu Bionic is the one Linux I would use and am actually using right now. But philosophically speaking, it failed its audition.
First place: MX Linux MX-17 Horizon
From the very start, MX Linux behaved beautifully. It was elegant, robust and stable. It comes with many unique features and applications, including its MX Tools combo. It's one of the few distros that actually save the contents of the live session after the installation, so you don't need to go about redoing everything. You get blazing performance, excellent battery life, all the fun out of the box, and it's constantly, continuously improving, with great momentum by the team and the community. The top choice of 2018.
A pyrrhic victory in this regard. MX Linux didn't fail the audition. It nailed it. And the only reason I didn't choose it for my production system is because it's a small distro, with no LTS, and I can't play those odds with serious work. Because otherwise, Horizon is a magnificent system through and through. So perhaps it isn't quite ready to be my production system just yet, but it's marching in this direction with more focus and quality than pretty much any other small distro out there. And I believe it will get there. Soon.
All in all, Year 2018 was pretty neutral when it comes to Linux distributions. There were few big changes. Plasma remains the most vibrant desktop environment, having taken the crown over from Xfce, the latter is sort of quietly puttering along, fighting a chivalrous battle against MATE, and the rest is sort of lurking in the background, waiting. For what, me not sure. But that makes the Xfce-clad MX Linux victory all the more amazing, and in a way, not that surprising.
Year after year, MX Linux is getting better and better, climbing in me charts - and if you trust community reviews, then my experience reflects the wider impressions across the Tux sphere. Just remember that I wasn't too pleased with the early versions of this distro and its predecessors. Which only shows that care and attention and passion can do wonders. Whatever your take from this article is, I suggest you take the freshly coming MX-18 for a spin. And we're done.
Happy New Year!