Open-source operating systems and code editors for 2021

Recently, we discussed the essential open-source tool kit for the average user and also for artists and creators. Now, it is time for operating systems and code editors.

Fidel Chaves
9 min read

Open-source development

Recently, we discussed the essential open-source tool kit for the average user and also for artists and creators. It could seem like an article dedicated to developers but “regular” users might also benefit from changing to a Linux operating system or downloading a code editor, even if it’s only to familiarize themselves with the developers and software engineers' work environment. Today, free and open-source operating systems and code editors.


We will first review the available free and open-source code editors, most of which are available in all major operating systems. Then we will discuss the different Linux distributions. This article is meant to provide open-source alternatives you might want to check out. Even though it is a comprehensive review, it does not mention all the tools available, just the ones I considered most practical. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Code editors

Nowadays, most people use VSCode and Sublimetext, the two most known code editors. While it is true that proprietary software can sometimes be better for the user in daily operations, we believe that betting on open-source alternatives pays off in the long run. That is why we will provide you today with an extensive list of free and open-source alternative code editors for developers. Whether you are a senior developer or just starting out, in any case, I hope you learn something new with this article.


As we have said before, many probably know VSCode, but not everyone is familiar with VSCodium, the binary releases of Visual Studio Code without Microsoft branding, telemetry, and licensing. This way, VSCodium works like a clean build without the Microsoft customizations. Basically, it’s Visual Studio Code, but even more FOSSy! They end up very similar except for marketplace, UX, and telemetry functionalities.


Notepad++ is a free and portable source code editor and Notepad replacement that supports several languages. At first, I was hesitant to include it in this list, as it wasn’t our devs’ tool of choice, but after seeing so many people talking about it, I’ll give it an honorable mention. Notepad++ is simple, lightweight, fast, open-source; maybe not the best option for coding, but okay enough to replace notepad.


Vim, Vi IMproved, is an advanced text editor that allows syntax highlighting, word completion and has a massive amount of contributed content. It offers a way to edit efficiently, making it a non-user-friendly application but an extremely powerful tool. Think of Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer. We are talking about a program without a graphical user interface. That's why many argue that it is an elitist tool.


Atom is an extensible, cross-platform text editor with a rich ecosystem of plugins and themes. It is based on Electron and grants great extensibility with a built-in package manager. Atom is available in all major operating systems working perfectly in all of them. One complaint is that it needs a lot of space and system resources, putting it at a disadvantage compared to other more lightweight code editors.

GNU Emacs

GNU Emacs wasn't initially on my list, but when asking the developers in my team, one mentioned it while the others laughed as if he was talking of the benefits of a landline. In any case, GNU Emacs is an extensible and customizable text editor that kind of works like an operating system. It turns out that you can do plenty of things with GNU Emacs, even if the GUI looks like a 90's website. It seems that there are no limits for Emacs!

Operating systems: Linux Distributions

When talking about desktop operating systems, most of the users rely on Windows, 73% (to be precise) as of July 2021, according to Statcounter. Next is OS X, Apple’s operating system, with 15%; then a remarkable 8% accounted for Unknown OS (that’s intriguing) and lastly around 2% of Linux users. I don’t think I have to state who is dominating the market—the numbers speak for themselves, but why is that, that’s not so evident.


Well, there is always a simple answer, and while it might be incomplete, we will stick to it: both Windows and OS X come as the de facto operating system when buying hardware. People just want to open up their computer, whether a desktop computer or a laptop, and start using it. Linux is not usually provided by hardware manufacturers and implies a perceived tech-savviness, kind of like a certain savoir-faire, and we are all about quick and easy solutions.


That is why today, I will present a wide variety of Linux distributions. A Linux distribution, abbreviated as a distro, is an operating system based upon the Linux kernel and a package management system. Usually, most of the included software in a Linux distribution is free and open-source. There are almost one thousand Linux distributions (hello, choice paralysis), so let’s narrow it down to 8, an arbitrary number as any other.


The Debian Project presents itself as “The Universal Operating System”. It has led to many of the now very popular distributions like Ubuntu and, by extension, Linux Mint. Very stable and highly customizable, it has a good reputation as a server distribution. Plus, it has a solid, supportive community. But it might not be the best option when it comes to desktop solutions. You’ve probably seen the Linux memes, how long it can take to install something basic as a browser. Well, those jokes stem from distros like Debian. In any case, Debian was the foundation needed for user-friendly distributions like Ubuntu and Linux Mint.


Ubuntu is a Debian Linux-based open-source operating system for desktop computers. It is community-developed and perfect for laptops, desktops, and servers. If you are unsure about the programs you need, don’t worry; Ubuntu has everything you need, a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging, and much more. If in doubt check my article about the essential open-source tool kit.


For most people, Ubuntu is their first approach to the wonders of open-source, but it isn't perfect. As of 2018, the Ubuntu installer will collect data about user devices with an unclear clause with an assumed opt-in. Many users complain about its creators' poor record on privacy, including harvesting local searches and hostility to critics. That is not to say that proprietary software like Windows or macOS does not commit the same sins, but most people who turn to Linux distributions have higher expectations.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint is one of the most popular desktop operating systems and Linux distributions. Currently used by millions of people worldwide, it offers a modern, elegant, and comfortable operating system that is powerful and easy to use. It is an Ubuntu-based distribution, which makes it, in turn, also Debian-based (this never ceases to amaze me, it’s kind of a natural selection and evolution of software).


Compared to its predecessors, Linux Mint wants to provide a more complete-out-of-the-box experience, including plugins, media codecs, DVD playback, Java, and more. While it originated from an Ubuntu fork, it is currently replacing Ubuntu as the world’s most popular desktop Linux solution due to the high customization options, the ease of transition for Windows users, and the overall simplicity while still providing many valuable features.

Elementary OS

Elementary OS is also a free and open-source distribution based on Ubuntu. It has more of a MacOS feel, so it might be tempting for the people who come from the Apple market share. A cautionary note: keep in mind that Apple hardware works seamlessly with Apple software—it is one of the strongest points made by the tech giant—so you might want to double-check before running a Linux distribution in your Macbook.

Arch Linux

Arch Linux is an independently developed Linux distribution and operating system. It is the basis of very well-known distributions such as Manjaro Linux but requires more expertise for the setup and daily usage. It has a learning spike at first, but if you surpass that first mountain, the promised land will be waiting for you on the other side. The effort of learning always pays off. Even if it is just to try it out, Arch Linux deserves a chance. You might come out the other side with an unexpected tech-savviness.

Manjaro Linux

Manjaro is a user-friendly Linux distribution based on the independently developed Arch operating system. As we said before, Arch is renowned for its speed, strength, and lightweight. However, Arch is also aimed at more experienced, technical, or power users. As such, Arch is perhaps out of reach of an unassuming user as yours truly (I’ll have to try it someday, though). That is why we have Manjaro Linux, which provides all the benefits of the Arch operating system combined with user-friendliness and accessibility.


Many people enjoy using Manjaro because of the easy installation, the stability, the inherited Arch repository, and the cutting-edge software and rolling releases. In any case, Manjaro has overall positive reviews, so you might want to give it a try.


The OpenBSD project created a free and open-source operating system. Its main advantages are portability, standardization, correctness, proactive security, and integrated cryptography. OpenBSD can run on different hardware. It is thought of as one of the most secure operating systems, has ongoing development, and keeps customization and tweaking at a minimum. While it is a great option, especially if you are worried about security, it is not for beginners. A good alternative is to experiment with some others on the list before giving OpenBSD a chance.


Fedora is a community-supported distribution sponsored by Red Hat, an American IBM subsidiary. The idea behind the Fedora Project is to build a complete, general-purpose operating system exclusively from open-source software. Red Hat’s mission is to “provide an operating system more in line with the ideals of free software and more appealing to the open-source community.” Thanks to Red Hat’s support, Fedora has an ongoing development, a thing hard to find in the open-source community.

Honorable mentions

Before closing this up, I want to make two honorable mentions: MX Linux and Pop! OS. I came across these two while making the last corrections to this article but decided not to include them without proper research first. If you already use them, you can send me a DM!


At Awkbit, we value open-source and free software. We believe that open-source operating systems are the basis for a better usage of technology and even user education in the long run. We are not saying that everyone must use Linux distributions, but we know that, down the rabbit hole, there is a treasure waiting for you. Do you need advice with deciding on an open-source resource for your business?

Reach Out!

Sources & further reading