What is a distro? It is an online web service that distributes Linux OS, and Linux apps, to you the end user. A distro has a default look, but do not pick a distro based on how it looks, pick one that has provides best software and the best service. Install your distro, then install any look-and-feel that strikes your fancy.
Rolling release distros like Majaro, Endeavour, Garuda, or Arch tend not to be beginner-friendly — though they can be easy to use — difficulties arise due to software needing daily updates, and missing updates for too many days in a row has a chance of breaking your computer system and requiring a re-installation.
Many people who first become interested in Linux first learn that
they have a variety of Linux
to choose from. Many begin shopping around for a distro that suits
them best, which means visiting a website
like DistroWatch.com, looking
at the various screen shots, and picking one that looks nice. But
you should really not choose a distro based on how it looks. Any
Linux distro can be made to look like any other distro without too
much effort, what you see in the screen shots is just
the default look. Really, the the screen shots should be the
least of your concerns.
What is a distro?
A distro is a service that distributes Linux OS, and Linux apps, to you over the web. (In the old days they used to distribute installation CDs or DVDs as well, not so much nowadays.) So a distro is a web service, a distro is not just an operating system in and of itself.
So how do you choose a distro? Well, you should choose the one with the best web service, and the best apps. But really you can choose any of 4 (or more) really big Linux distros which all provide completely reliable service, which satisfy the following requirements:
Is the service reliable? Do they have server computers in a country or city near you? Do they have a good team of people making sure the website is always online? You will need to download security updates from them, what does their upgrade schedule look like, is it fairly regular?
Do they have corporate, or non-profit, sources of funding? In what country are they headquartered? Linux is almost always free, but who pays their staff to keep the website up and running, and to keep the software up to date? Do they have corporate backing? Do you trust that corporation to not suddenly cancel the service, or to introduce spyware into your apps? Do they have a paid subscription version of the distribution? Do they have community backing? Can you trust that community? Can you join and contribute to the community if you want to?
Do they have the apps you want, are the apps up to date? Another job of a Linux distribution is to make sure they provide to you quality Linux software. Do they test their software? Do they have a place to file bug reports? Do they have a process for you to fix software for them if you have the means to do so? (Even if you can't fix software, other people can, do they have a process for accepting fixes from members of the community?).
Can you easily install software from their app repository? Do they have things you need, like word processing, presentation software, photo scrap booking, file sharing, video editing, music editing, personal organizers, video conferencing (can you install Zoom, for example?).
These are the things you should consider when choosing a Linux distro, not whether or not it looks nice. What makes a Linux distro look nice is the desktop environment (DE). Each distro has it's own default DE, and hopefully the software maintainers have spent some time making their default DE look nice. But you can install any DE onto any Linux distro, you can make it look however you want. You can even install multiple DEs side-by-side and switch between them without even rebooting your computer (just logout and login again) and it will feel like you are using an entirely different computer.
Don't stress it, don't over-think it
This may seem like a lot to consider, but fortunately, there are really 4 main Linux distros that are sure to satisfy all of the above requirements for you, and all 4 you can use freely, without signing up for anything, without paying a subscription:
Fedora, has corporate backing from IBM. It is one of the most user friendly distros, and will run smoothly on almost any computer you might own.
Ubuntu, stewarded by the Canonical corporation, is probably the most user-friendly of all Linux distros, and is probably the most widely used among professionals and casual users who are not computer experts.
Pop!_OS, is developed by the System 76 company, who are a personal computer maker that develops their own Linux OS for the hardware that they sell to their customers, but it works on most any computer, regardless of the hardware. It borrows heavily from the Ubuntu app repository, so is a variant of the Ubuntu distro.
Mint is also a variant of the Ubuntu distro. The founders of Mint broke away from Ubuntu because they felt that Ubuntu made too many bad choices for their default DE, and for the apps they provided. However is still very similar to Ubuntu. Mint is also notable for creating their own unique DE called Cinnamon, which is an up-to-date version of the old 2000's era Gnome 2 DE, people who remember Windows XP will feel comfortable using it. Cinnamon is the default DE, different from Ubuntu which uses Gnome by default. But of course, you can install Ubuntu's Gnome, or any other DE, onto Linux Mint if you would like.
So choosing one of the above 4 Linux distros, and you really cannot go wrong. You will be able to install without any problems (most likely), you will notice all of your peripherals (WiFi, BlueTooth, camera, track pad, touchscreen, graphics card) will all work properly. You will be able to install apps from the app repository, and get regular security updates.
What about Manjaro, Endeavour, Garuda, or Arch?
Also known as
rolling release distros...
These are all excellent distros that also satisfy all of my
requirements for a good, reliable Linux distro. However I
hesitate to recommend them to beginners. They are all based on the
Arch Linux distribution, which uses a software distribution model
known as a
rolling release. The goal of a rolling
release is to always provide the most up-to-date, cutting-edge
Apps on Linux are developed by many different groups of people around the world, and as soon as any single one of their apps are updated by the developers, the updates are pushed out to users. End users (you) you may find many software components are updated every day. As a result, it is incumbent on you, the end user, to regularly (meaning every day) install software updates from the distro's web service. This can be done automatically, of course, but people with irregular Internet connectivity, or people who get tired of accepting daily updates and decide to manually install update only after some weeks, may find that parts of their computer software inexplicably broken one day after a software update runs.
One of the hardest engineering problems to solve in computer
software is keeping a collection of inter-dependent software on your
computer system up-to-date as various separate groups of software
developers around the world all update their own applications. The 4
big Linux distros I mentioned above (Fedora, Ubuntu, Pop!_OS, Mint)
use a cyclical release schedule, meaning at regular intervals
(usually 6 months) all software updates from around the world that
have been made during that time period are gathered together, and
the most critical pieces of software are more rigorously tested to
ensure everything works together properly, then they mint a new
release, with a new version number.
Ubuntu names each release after an animal, and they also provide
long term support (LTS) releases which are guaranteed to
function, and will have regular security upgrades, continuously for
2 years without having to update after 6 months. This is one big
reason why Ubuntu is one of the most trusted Linux distros, the
quality of their software is as good as it gets. I would venture to
say that Ubuntu and it's derivatives (Mint, Pop!_OS) are of even
higher quality than for-profit operating systems like Microsoft
Windows or Mac OS.
What about Nix OS, or Guix OS?
Unless you are a software engineer, don't even try these. These are rolling release distros, but they use novel, cutting edge algorithms for solving some of the problems I alluded to in the previous section in making sure all software in an operating system are using the latest version of software packages, and that all interdependent software components are working together properly.
You could call the Nix and Guix software package repositories a
system, which by 1980s standards would be considered a form
of artificial intelligence. Although nowadays no one thinks of
expert systems as AI (the definition of
always changing), still it is a highly advanced algorithm for
building software. Unfortunately, most software nowadays, especially
are among the world's most often used programming
languages. Therefore I think it is safe to say, the world is not yet
ready for Nix and Guix, these distros are ahead of their time.
For the curious, I have a separate article on Nix, Guix, and declarative package management.