10 Top Most Popular Linux Distributions of 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, it is time for Linux enthusiasts to take a look at the most popular distributions of the year.

In this article we will review the 10 Linux distributions with most hits during the last 12 months as per Distrowatch, and discuss the reasons behind their popularity.

A note for new users: Distrowatch.com has been a reliable source of information about Linux distributions since 2001. As the use of Linux eventually took off during the early 2000’s, more and more distributions along with other Free and Open Source Software programs have been added to their listings.

That said, here’s the list of the top 10 distributions of 2016, in descending order, as of December 25, 2015.

10. Arch Linux

Arch Linux stands out in the Linux ecosystem because it is not based on any other distribution and yet it is well-known and extensively used by the community.

Traditionally, Arch is not recommended for new users mostly because the installation process is a bit complicated in that it will require a great deal of intervention on the user’s part.

This requires a certain degree of knowledge about partitions, LVM, and Linux in general in order to have a successful installation. The good news are that this is precisely what gives the user the freedom of customizing the system to his or her taste.

Arch Linux

Arch Linux

9. CentOS

CentOS (Community ENTerprise Operating System) is best known for servers. Its desktop version is not as popular but continues to improve its visual appearance year after year.

Although the is best known and most used as a distribution for Linux servers, its desktop version continues to improve. In addition, its robustness, stability, and 100% binary compatibility with RHEL makes CentOS the number one alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux on cloud VPS vendors.

This is perhaps one of the main reasons for the sustained growth of this distribution.

This is my personal choice for servers, if you ask me.

CentOS Linux

CentOS Linux

8. Elementary

Another Linux distribution aimed at Microsoft and Apple users, Elementary (or more appropriately Elementary OS), is also based on Ubuntu.

It was first made available in 2011 and is currently on its fourth stable release (codename “Loki“, which was released this year) is based on Ubuntu 16.04.

On a personal note, this is one of the best looking desktop distribution I’ve ever seen. Elementary’s well-polished visual appearance is certainly one of its distinguishing features.

Elementary Linux

Elementary Linux

7. Zorin

After not making it to the list of Top Linux distribution in 2015 and a modest 10th place in 2014, we can say that Zorin rose from the ashes this year.

This Ubuntu-based distribution was born and is currently maintained in Ireland. In order to appeal Windows users, it has a Windows-like GUI and many programs similar to those found in Windows.

The main goal of this distribution is to provide a free operating system similar to Windows while allowing Windows users enjoy Linux without issues. Zorin 12 was released last September.



6. Fedora

Fedora is built and maintained by the Fedora Project (and sponsored by Red Hat, Inc.).

The most distinguishing characteristic of Fedora is that it’s always on the lead of integrating new package versions and technologies into the distribution.

In other words, if you want the latest and greatest FOSS software, Fedora is one of the first places where you should look. In 2016, versions 24 and 25 were released.

Fedora 25 Gnome Desktop

Fedora 25 Gnome Desktop

5. Manjaro

Manjaro, a Arch Linux-based distribution experienced a remarkable growth during 2016. Without a doubt, by leveraging Arch Linux’s robustness and its features, the maintainers of Manjaro have been able to consistently ensure a pleasant experience both for new and experienced Linux users.

If you don’t remember anything else about Manjaro, keep in mind that it comes with preinstalled desktop environments, graphical applications (including a software center) and multimedia codecs to play audio and videos.

During 2016, 4 versions or major updates were released: 16.06, 16.06.1, 16.08, and 16.10. Last, but not least, do yourself a favor: give Manjaro a try.

Manjaro Linux

Manjaro Linux

4. openSUSE

Along with Ubuntu, openSUSE is one of the cost-free alternatives to the enterprise king (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). On top of that, openSUSE is (as per its developers) the operating system of choice for both new users and geeks alike (you may agree or not, but that’s what they say).

On top of all that, the renowned and award-winning SUSE Linux Enterprise products are based on openSUSE. A new versions openSUSE Leap 42.2 was released during this year.

OpenSuse Linux

OpenSuse Linux

3. Ubuntu

For those individuals and companies who require professional support by a distribution’s creators, Ubuntu stands out. Although professional help is available under a support contract, Ubuntu has a large user base and the community support is outstanding as well.

In addition, Ubuntu is available both in desktop and server editions, and being based on Debian, it is also a rock-solid operating system. The Long-Term Support (LTS) editions have guaranteed support for 5 years after their release date.

In addition, you’ll see on this list that several desktop distributions are based on Ubuntu – and that is another reason for its popularity.

During 2016, Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) released 5 versions (or updates to the current LTS edition): 14.04.3, 14.04.4, 14.04.5, 16.04.1, and 16.10.

Ubuntu Linux

Ubuntu Linux

2. Debian

With more than 23 years in the Linux ecosystem, Debian stands out for its robustness, stability, and well-oiled release cycle. In addition, it is the distribution with the largest number of available packages and one of the top choices for servers.

The current stable release (version 8, codename Jessie) will be replaced by Debian 9 (codename Stretch) around mid 2017. There are no signs of Debian reverting back to old SysVinit as default system and process manager.

Debian Linux

Debian Linux

1. Linux Mint

Linux Mint is a stable, robust, and elegant Ubuntu-based distribution. One of the reasons behind its popularity is the fact that up until version 17.x it included out of the box a lot of useful software (such as multimedia codecs).

However, this ended with version 18, leaving it up to the users to install those packages after the operating system is up and running. To make it clear – it’s not that Linux Mint has discontinued support for multimedia codecs and other software it shipped with up until not too long ago.

The reason behind this decision is simple: shipping codecs did not significantly improve the distribution and it meant a great deal of work on the developers’ side.

It is precisely because of this that Linux Mint often is the preferred distribution of both new and experienced users – a complete operating system ready for use after installation. During 2016, 3 releases came out: 17.3 (Rosa), 18 (Sarah), and 18.1 (Serena), based on Ubuntu 14.04 (Rosa and Sarah) and 16.04 (Serena).

Linux Mint

Linux Mint


In this article we have shared a brief description of the top 10 Linux distributions from 2016. Whether you are new to Linux and trying to decide which distro you’ll use to start your journey, or are a well-seasoned user wanting to explore new options, we hope this guide will allow you to take an informed decision.

I encourage you to use the comment form below to be a part of the conversation about this article. Your comments, questions, and feedback are welcome in Tecmint.com.

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Gabriel Cánepa

Gabriel Cánepa is a GNU/Linux sysadmin and web developer from Villa Mercedes, San Luis, Argentina. He works for a worldwide leading consumer product company and takes great pleasure in using FOSS tools to increase productivity in all areas of his daily work.

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34 Responses

  1. Bishmar says:

    My hard disk is field. so, windows ms office file and game run on pen drive or ssd card same as Linux software based to use?

  2. Nero says:

    I love Deepin most, a Distribution in China, you’ll love it after you try it.

  3. Theodore B. says:

    Thank you for the article, but it seems like the section on openSUSE is a bit rushed / incomplete. openSUSE has Leap, which is a stable distribution closely linked to SLES, and Tumbleweed, which is as a rolling distribution receives updates on essentially a daily basis.

    The article states “No new versions were released during this year”, but even distrowatch.com, which was apparently the source of the list, shows openSUSE Leap 42.2 was released 2016-11-16.

    If you’ve not spent any time with openSUSE, it’s really a great distribution that’s worth checking out more thoroughly.

  4. Kristiyan Dimov says:

    Why do you always use DistroWatch as source? I do not think this is reliable source. It gives enough information to select a distribution but to measure how popular it is… Why not create a poll where people to vote (results will be primary from your readers but it is something).

    For me personally this is not accurate statistic.

    • Gabriel A. Cánepa says:

      We use Distrowatch because it is the best source of information about Linux distributions out there. Of course we could create a poll but that would only represent the use among our readers. If you know about any other source feel free to let us know.

      • Michael Tunnell says:

        > Of course we could create a poll but that would only represent the use among our readers.

        So instead of representing one website you chose to represent a different website that suffers from exactly the same issue yet present as if it was foundational statistics.

        How do you not see the conflict in that statement?

  5. Hugo says:


    I would like to point out that Linux Mint 18 Sara is based on Ubuntu 16.04 instead of the reported above 14.04.

    For instance, on the download page you can see that Mint 18 Sara is supported until April 2021, like Serena 18.1, and Ubuntu 16.04.

  6. julian says:

    I decided to try Linux in the summer of 2015 when I lost my windows key as a result of a virus attack. Although a corporate friend provided me with a new Windows 10 key at no charge, I installed Windows 10 alongside Linux Mint 17.x with the dual boot method.

    Mint was love at first sight. Since then I have booted Windows a couple of times just to do the updates; I do not remember when it was last time. Now I am running Linux Mint 18.1 Cinnamon edition. I think it is the best OS for desktop & laptop computers.

  7. Heinrich Stoellinger says:

    I use Debian for my private server system and definitely can agree with the author as regards its robustness. On my LAN-connected Laptop I have been a loyal user of Mint/KDE.

    Unfortunately – up to now – Mint 18/KDE still seems to be somewhat “wobbly”, so I am forced to stay with 17.3, a rock-solid distribution. I do hope that the discouraging state of KDE 5.8 in Mint 18 will be taking care of soon…

  8. Kerry Walper says:

    MX 15 with xfce desktop is the best, you can get mx15 via antix at distrowatch.

    Plus it is super easy to add KDE desktop so I just switch back and forth between the two desktops as I want

  9. TJ says:

    I like to play with new software so I often run into stability problems. After repeated problems with Mint (specifically, the v17 upgrade) I switched to Majaro an haven’t run into any problems yet that haven’t been easily solved.

    But what really converted me to being a Manjaro fan is that it is the first distribution were I have succeeded at doing a complete, wipe-the-system-partition reinstall without losing *any* of my basic settings.

    Everything was saved in my separate user directory under /home, which I didn’t repartition. Everything else I’ve used seemed to save settings all over the place, including directories like /opt . I did save some /etc files separately but still… And I’ve never worked with a distribution as stable as Manjaro.

    Plus, when the Manjaro wiki doesn’t help solve a problem, the Arch wiki or forums almost always do. Sorry, Arch fans – having failed twice to get a workable install of Arch and peering, in my mid-70s, at a looming personal EOL, Manjaro did the hard work for me. At least I have donated to Arch in appreciation of the hard work they do (and the support I’ve gotten from their wiki when I needed it).

    • Michael Tunnell says:

      @TJ, I am glad you are having a successful time with using Manjaro. I personally don’t like Manjaro but to each their own. I would like to address certain things you said in your comment though.

      > Everything was saved in my separate user directory under /home

      This is the standard action done by all Linux distributions. You do not have to repartition anything in order for settings to be placed in /home, that is where they are suppose to go. Manjaro probably automatically partitions it that way during install so that would explain the lack of backups approach.

      Antergos offers this feature as well during installation. I’m not saying you should switch but just that Manjaro is not unique in that set up.

      > Everything else I’ve used seemed to save settings all over the place, including directories like /opt .

      All applications that are using the package manager properly place their settings and everything in /home because that is where it is suppose to be. However, there are some applications like Google Chrome that purposefully put everything in /opt but that is the app doing it not the distro.

      > At least I have donated to Arch in appreciation of the hard work they do (and the support I’ve gotten from their wiki when I needed it).

      That’s great to hear and I appreciate your willingness to support the base distro of what you are using. After all, Manjaro wouldn’t exist without Arch. :)

  10. Harrison Wells says:

    Mint no longer provide media codecs ootb. Low effort article.

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