What is the best Linux distro for a new Linux user?
Lightweight distributions with a high degree of beginner-friendliness include:
- antiX - a Debian-based distribution designed especially to be suitable for old computers. By Debian-based (or a synonym would be a "Debian derivative") I mean they took a Debian minimal system and added their own software to it. It comes with a number of mostly small programs, like the web browsers Dillo and Links. They also include a few bigger programs (e.g. LibreOffice and Firefox) so that if the user has enough CPU power or RAM they can use them. It does come with a number of tools that the average user may not be able to use (e.g. Links), but it also includes a number most users could manage (e.g. Firefox). From my experiences with it, it is fairly user-friendly, but I do not recommend it as a first choice for beginners. I'd suggest trying the Ubuntu derivatives mentioned first.
- Bodhi Linux - a Ubuntu long-term support (LTS) derivative, that is truly minimal. It has its own lightweight window manager called Moksha that was forked from a fairly old version of Enlightenment DR17, along with just 5 applications: Midori, Terminology, PCManFM, ePhoto and ePad. Possibly due to its minimalism it is not recommended by some as a beginner-friendly distribution, but I think for really basic needs it would suffice for a beginner.
- Linux Mint MATE edition - perhaps the second best supported edition of Linux Mint, after the default Cinnamon one. Linux Mint is a derivative of Ubuntu LTS releases, one significant difference, however, is that distribution upgrades between major releases (e.g. going from Linux Mint 17 to Linux Mint 18) are more problematic as often things get broken. Despite this it is a nice polished distribution, with better multimedia codec support and arguably better graphical tools for package management and system management.
- Lubuntu - the official flavour of Ubuntu that features LXDE. It has a newer ‘Next' edition that features LXQt instead. LXDE's future seems uncertain compared to LXQt so if you plan to use this distribution long-term I'd give the Next edition a go. LXDE is the lightest desktop environment, even lighter than MATE and Xfce. LXQt is less light than LXDE but not by a lot.
- LXLE - a Ubuntu LTS derivative also featuring LXDE, with a few ‘improvements', depending on how you see them. They're designed to make the user more comfortable (i.e. with a larger selection of software) and improve the system's performance and functionalities.
- Puppy Linux - a Linux distribution that derives most of its packages from Ubuntu LTS releases, although the packages have been modified to be better suited to it. Despite this packages designed for the Ubuntu LTS release it was built from should be installable on Puppy. It has its own package manager, and boots from RAM which means it boots incredibly fast.
- Q4OS - this one is in a similar boat to antiX, as it isn't the first distribution I'd recommend a beginner use, but it isn't a really bad option either. Unlike the other distributions listed here it has an installer you can run from 64-bit Windows 7 or later. The installer will actually install Q4OS alongside your Windows installation. Although if you're asking for a light distribution I kind of doubt your PC can manage the CPU/RAM hogs that are Windows 7 and later. Q4OS' CPU/RAM requirements are the same as Windows XP had when it initially came out in 2001. So if your PC even ran XP you can rest assured it will run Q4OS. It features a fairly seldom seen desktop environment called the Trinity Desktop Environment (TDE) which has a similar appearance to the user interface of Windows.
- Ubuntu MATE - a Ubuntu flavour featuring the MATE desktop environment. MATE is a fork of an old version of the heavy GNOME desktop. As it is an old version it is forked from it is considered light by today's standards as back when it was forked (2011) PCs had poorer specs than they do today.
- Xubuntu - Ubuntu's official Xfce flavour. Xfce is one of the most customizable of the lightweight desktop environments, although it is fairly infrequently updated with new features. This can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. Downside is that it means new features are seldom ever added, upside is that it means it is very stable (as new features often mean new problems).