How to choose the best Linux distro for laptops

The smart mobile user shouldn't overlook Linux. The question is, which distro should you pick?

You'll get a different answer depending who you ask. You'll probably be pointed in the direction of Arch for performance, Debian for stability and Ubuntu if you want easy access to the biggest collection of apps.

If that's not enough choice to make your head spin, Slackware has its fans too – particularly among people who use older laptops.

As you read on, we'll look at a range of different scenarios that should be familiar to mobile users, and explore Linux distros that will help you survive and flourish in these situations.

To make everybody's life easier, we'll limit ourselves to pre-packaged live Linux distros. We'll also stick to live CDs as much as possible throughout this tour. This is important if you're working on a corporate laptop and can't install software.

With our advice, you'll be able to work in Windows, and when you're done, transform the machine into a bespoke system, laser-targeted for your needs and wants.

Linux for gaming

Linux is a wonderful platform for gaming, whatever your preferred genre. There's plenty to choose from, including real-time and turn-based strategy titles, puzzle games and first-person shooters.

To get started in the world of Linux gaming, we recommend a trip to Here you'll find a huge collection of games.

The concept behind the distribution is boot and play – just pop a USB drive, CD or DVD into your laptop, the distro will boot and you can start gaming. This approach is particularly useful if your laptop has been configured by an overzealous system administrator – the sort who robs you of the right to even adjust the time on your work machine.

Usefully, segregates by genre, and offers them as two releases: a 'lite' edition that fits on a CD, and a 'big' edition with tons of games that fits on a DVD.

The distro also goes some way to curing a major Linux bugbear: graphics drivers. Games rely on getting the very best from your graphics card, so to help in this endeavour, the bootable live DVD contains your collection of games and also both the Nvidia and ATI proprietary drivers.

Moving on, you should also check out Fedora Games Spin, which has over 100 games built-in. If you can't find what you're looking for there, you should also try the SuperGamer2 distro, which only fits on a 7.8GB dual-layer DVD.

Finally, there's the Ubuntu-based Ultimate Edition for Gamers, which includes Wine and the PlayOnLinux app for playing Windows games on Linux. If Windows games are what you're after, you'll also need to download Cedega and CrossOver Games.

These tools aren't included in any distribution, but for maximum compatibility it's best to download the latest releases from the developers' original websites anyway.

Making movies

When it comes to editing movies you've captured while on holiday, there's no time like the present. You'll find it easier to edit footage when things are fresh in your mind.

To transform your hotel room into a movie-editing suite, you should grab a copy of Ubuntu Studio for audio, video and graphic enthusiasts. It's available as an installable DVD only, not as a live CD.

It's also well worth checking out 64 Studio. It's a cracking distro aimed squarely at anyone interested in creating multimedia content. Don't be put off by its name – it will work on 64- and 32-bit machines.

If you're not keen on committing to a full install of Linux, you can explore moviemaking with live distros. Top of your list should be Puredyne. It's got tools for streaming audio and video, along with information on its online wiki about how to use these tools.

Alternatively, ArtistX includes a huge range of video and audio editing tools.

Office work

Linux is ideal for working on the go, when you need a distro that's stable, secure and works well with the apps you need.

With this in mind, there isn't much choice beyond Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSUSE. Of these, the first two are fantastic desktop distros.

OpenSUSE looks professional, and is well integrated with the suite and Evolution email client. It's available in two installable live CD flavours, depending on your choice of desktop environment, as well as a 4.7GB DVD image with lots of software.

You also have access to a large collection of proprietary software on the mirrors or via the non-OSS add-on CD.


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