There are various approaches to answering this question. The broad answer is: "any of them," but that's not very helpful if you're just looking for a place to start.
The problem is, there never can be one best Linux distribution for everyone, because the needs of each user tend to be unique. Telling someone who's looking for a good introductory distribution to try Gentoo, for instance, would be a mistake because for all its positive qualities, Gentoo is decidedly not a beginner's distro.
To help users discover the Linux distribution that's best for them, this resource will definitively list the best candidates for the various types of Linux users to try. The use-case categories will be:
- Best Desktop Distribution
- Best Laptop Distribution
- Best Enterprise Desktop
- Best Enterprise Server
- Best LiveCD
- Best Security-Enhanced Distribution
- Best Multimedia Distribution
Once you find the best Linux distribution for your needs, you can visit our Linux Migration Guides to assist you in installing and using the one you'd like to try.
Best Linux Desktop Distribution
There are a lot of Linux distributions that have the primary focus of becoming the next best desktop replacement for Windows or OS X. Of all the categories in this list, this is the most sought-after, and contentious, group of distros.
While it would be ideal to include many distributions on this list, the reality is that there really needs to be just one "best" Linux distribution. For early 2010, that distro has to be Canonical's Ubuntu.
Ubuntu edges out its closest contenders, Fedora and openSUSE, because its development team is constantly focused on the end-user experience. Canonical and the Ubuntu community have spent a lot of time and resources on bringing ease-of-use tools to this distribution, particularly in the area of installing Ubuntu and installing applications within Ubuntu.
In addition, Ubuntu's level of support for its desktop products is highly superior, which is important in this class of distributions since it is the most likely to contain users new to Linux. Both the official and unofficial Ubuntu documentation is robust and searchable, a big plus.
Best Linux Laptop Distribution
Laptop distributions almost fall into the same category as desktop users, but there are a number of key differences that make the criteria for evaluating a good laptop distribution important. Power management, docking tools, and wireless ease-of-use are critical to users on the go, as is having a distro that meets those needs.
Right now, the best laptop distribution is openSUSE, one of the lead contenders for the desktop honors. On the laptop, openSUSE shines with great connectivity tools, such as an easy-to-use networking toolset that not only handles WiFi connectivity, but also CDMA/cellular modem connections.