Whether you’re a Windows user looking to try out Linux or a seasoned user searching for new distros to experiment with, Linux on VirtualBox is a very convenient way to make the switch.
With hundreds of distros to choose from, though, picking the best Linux for VirtualBox is a common problem that many users encounter.
The short answer to this dilemma is very simple – pick whichever you prefer. For most users, pretty much any distro will be able to fulfill their general needs.
But at the same time, it’s also true that certain distros are better suited for certain use cases, like Ubuntu or Fedora for beginners or Kali for pen-testing and security purposes.
Depending on what you’re looking for in a distro, you should have a better idea of what Linux distro best suits your needs after reading this article.
We’ll start off our list with likely the most popular distro, Ubuntu. Ubuntu is based on Debian and receives large discrete updates twice a year, with long-term support (LTS) releases every two years, making it very stable.
Ubuntu has a very intuitive GUI interface and packet manager. Thanks to its popularity, you can easily find official documentation and forum threads for most issues you encounter, which further adds to its ease of use.
Most app and game developers also prioritize Ubuntu if they plan to include support for Linux, while the same can’t be said for more obscure distros.
While GNOME is the default Desktop Environment (DE), Ubuntu supports various other DEs as well, including XFCE and KDE. There are official Ubuntu flavors that use such DEs such as Kubuntu, Lubuntu, and Xubuntu.
The main difference between these is the DE used, which determines the look and feel, resource usage, and the packages installed right out of the box.
For instance, Xubuntu, which uses XFCE, uses the fewest resources. Users generally like the aesthetics of KDE, which somewhat resembles Windows. Or, if you wanted a Mac-like look, you could customize any of these distros or simply install something like Cutefish OS.
In addition to these, various currently popular distros are also based on Ubuntu, some of which we’ve talked about further in this article. Overall, Ubuntu is just a good, well-rounded option for newcomers and veterans alike.
Linux Mint, which is also based on Ubuntu, is known for its smooth and user-friendly experience. It’s essentially its nimbler version that’s well suited for VirtualBox.
It’s developed and maintained by the Linux Mint team and community. As a community-driven distro, Linux Mint actively takes user feedback into consideration.
Much like Ubuntu, Linux Mint offers 3 DEs by default (Cinnamon, Mate, and Xfce), with more manually installable. It provides a great GUI desktop experience, making it a popular choice among users switching from Windows.
Debian is one of the oldest distros out there, having been released in 1993. It’s the basis for numerous distros, including Ubuntu, Peppermint OS, Tails OS, and Parrot OS.
Debian has earned a reputation for being secure and stable. It’s a reliable distro with the largest number of packages (currently over 60,000 stable packages). For package management, Debian and its derivatives use Advanced Package Tool (APT), which is sort of a front-end to
The Debian project is community-focused, meaning the community support is also great.
Debian is also our recommendation if you’re looking to set up a home server. It’s lightweight, and the resource consumption is minimal compared to similar options like Ubuntu Server. This is especially important if your rig isn’t particularly high-specced, as you’ll likely want to maximize the amount of VMs you can run.
Debian may not follow a rolling release model, but you can still update and upgrade your systems without any downtime, which is another important factor.
Debian is great for home servers, but what if you’re trying to learn Linux for enterprise environments? In this case, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) will generally be your go-to option as it’s the most used distro in enterprise environments.
RHEL is free, but you’ll need a subscription for support. It does have a free subscription option for limited production workloads (16 systems or fewer).
CentOS used to be the ‘free version’ of RHEL, but RedHat discontinued its development in 2021. In response, Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux were released by other parties as alternatives to CentOS, so they’re worth checking out as well.
Do keep in mind that while RHEL is the most popular platform, the Linux distros used in a certain enterprise environment will ultimately be determined by what your vendors require. As such, you may be better off installing Amazon Linux, SLES, or whatever is best for your specific scenario.
As the upstream source for RHEL, the Fedora OS base is used to develop its new versions. In contrast to something like Debian, which is known to be unchanging and stable, Fedora is often described as cutting-edge.
Much like Ubuntu, Fedora is a general-purpose distro that comes preinstalled with a wide range of software, providing a great out-of-the-box experience.
For package management, Fedora uses RPM with DNF. It uses GNOME as the default DE, but other options, like KDE Plasma, Xfce, Cinnamon, etc., are also available. Official distributions with different DEs are known as Fedora Spins.
Fedora is available in five editions, with the main ones being Workstation (desktop) and Server.
When it comes to super lightweight distributions for very low-end systems, there are a number of great options. AntiX, Bodhi, Zorin Lite, Alpine, Peppermint, etc., are all very clean and resource-friendly distros.
You’ll be fine with any of these options, but we recommend going for MX Linux. It’s a Debian-based distro developed through a collab between the antiX and MEPIS communities.
With a focus on elegance and efficiency, MX Linux uses Xfce as the main DE. It has fairly low minimum requirements at 1 GB RAM AND 8.5 GB HDD space.
While Linux and gaming don’t exactly mix that well, some distros are tuned fairly well to meet your gaming needs, like Pop!_OS or Steam OS. For this purpose, our recommendation is to go with Drauger OS.
Drauger OS is a Ubuntu-based distro that ships with gaming utilities like Steam and PlayOnLinux. According to the devs, it’s designed for maximum performance (reduced swappiness, high-performance Xanmod kernel, intelligent library preloader, and Xfce desktop).
By user request, we’ve also decided to include some distros that give a Mac-like feel right off the bat. Elementary OS, Deepin Linux, and Solus are worth looking into for this purpose.
Of course, another alternative is to simply customize whatever distro you’re currently on to look like macOS. The route you choose ultimately comes down to preference.