December 29, 2011, 5:55 AM — What a difference a year makes. Roughly 15 months ago, I put together a guide to the top 10 Linux distributions at the time, and Ubuntu was far and away the most popular choice.
It's a different landscape now in the world of desktop Linux, so as 2011 draws to a close and 2012 dawns, I'd like to take a look at where things stand when it comes to the many choices available in this free and open source operating system.
Anything could change in the coming months, of course, but here are the top 10 desktop Linux distributions as of late December 2011.
1. Linux Mint
Back in 2010 Linux Mint was only third in popularity; today, it reigns supreme among Linux distributions, according to DistroWatch.
Why the jump? Well, the biggest factor is that it really is a great distribution, designed to be easy to use and welcoming for newcomers. Mint is actually based on Ubuntu, but it adds a custom desktop and menus, unique configuration tools, and a web-based package installation interface.
As part of its goal to provide "a more complete out-of-the-box experience," Mint also includes browser plug-ins, media codecs, support for DVD playback, Java, and other components. It's also compatible with Ubuntu software repositories.
Probably the biggest difference today between Mint and Ubuntu--and widely considered one of the main reasons for Mint's recent popularity--is that it's taken a flexible approach to desktop environments. Rather than forcing users to jump into Ubuntu's controversial Unity or the equally controversial GNOME 3, Linux Mint 12 gives users numerous options for making such transitions gradually.
Then, of course, there's Ubuntu, which was long the clear favorite and certainly the distribution that first brought desktop Linux to mainstream attention.