I can't sleep, so what do I do? Hit the Google Machine, and begin wasting time, hoping I'll get sleepy, and go back to bed. During my time wasting, I come across an old article (5 months old) about the top four alternatives to Ubuntu Linux. Of course, everyone who reads the article are going to have differing opinions, and I don't know anything about Matt Hartley, the journalist behind the piece. However, I have disagreements with the distributions he picked.
The first choice, openSUSE (it's not "openSuSE"), wouldn't be my first pick- maybe second or third, but it would still make the list. However, PCLinuxOS I thought was an odd choice. PCLinuxOS is based on Mandriva, the company with a failing business model. The only thing PCLinuxOS has going for it, is the plethora of non-Free Software applications they bundle, making the transition from Windows a breeze. Other than that, it's just a run-of-the-mill-everyday-linux-distro. Nothing special. Certainly nothing on par with Ubuntu. It had its rise to popularity just about half a year ago, but it seems to be slipping, as packages aren't fully tested, and the common experience overall is an unstable one.
What would have been my second choice? Fedora. Although I too am a heavy Debian/Ubuntu fan, and prefer DPKG to RPM, Fedora is an innovative distribution. In fact, I would reorder the list, and put Fedora first. Its only drawback is the focus on system administration over the desktop. However, they haven't neglected the desktop, and have turned out an overall pleasant experience. Fedora is more bleeding edge than Ubuntu, which could also be seen as a good and bad thing. Good, in that you'll be able to test newer software before others, bad in that this newer software will probably break something, and you get to figure out how to fix it. But hey, you're learning your operating system, right?
The other choice I found really odd was Freespire. I think the author chose this distribution, because he didn't want to put Debian on the list, but couldn't find a good enough Debian desktop replacement other than Freespire. Freespire is a dead distro. They haven't seen a release since September of 2007, and their parent distro, Linspire has had a bumpy road in the past, such as getting into a court battle with Microsoft over their previous name "Lindows". Kevin Carmony also was president and CEO up until June 2007, where he abandoned ship, and joined the Ubuntu community. In fact, Carmony himself, has noticed that Linspire is dead, after being sold to Xandros. Freespire was a very poor choice to put on the list, mainly for the fact that the users won't be able to find updates or support for this desktop choice.
Rather, he should have stuck with his gut feeling, and picked Debian. Debian has always been a rock-solid desktop, and from the looks of the upcoming release of Lenny, will continue to be so. The Debian developers do all they can to package the software in a manner that is most compatible with the majority of hardware out there. I've personally run Debian on my laptop and on my desktop, as well as countless VMs. There are so many advantages to Debian as a desktop, it's really quite silly that it didn't make the list. Plus, because of the Ubuntu community, Debian is growing, whether it be disgruntled Ubuntu users that switch to Debian, or Ubuntu working with upstream Debian to make it more popular, Debian is becoming a top choice among users. However, Debian has a few scars, and even a couple open wounds. Debian holds true to the Free Software ideals, which means they don't believe in shipping proprietary software. This results in Debian not working with as much hardware as distributions that do ship with it. It also means a lighter selection of software applications and codecs. Now, Debian has remained practical, and you can enable the non-free repositories to get access to that software, but it's not enabled for you, which means a new user is unlikely to know about it.
Lastly, Linux Mint was a good choice. I'll agree with this one as well. Linux Mint is a fork of Ubuntu Linux, where greater usability is top priority. DVD playback, Win32 codecs, browser plugins, Java, Flash, and other software is bundled by default, and makes for a good comfortable choice for someone coming from the Windows camp, and wishing to not do a lot of work.
So, those would be my picks, in order of first Fedora, then Debian, then openSUSE and then lastly Linux Mint. it also seems that Distrowatch agrees with me, although our orders might be a bit mixed.