Adventures in Linux Ep. 5: The gaiety of having the choice
As I mentioned recently, I don’t recommend any Linux distro specifically, because someone’s preferences are determined by their hardware and software needs, their tastes regarding UX or ergonomics, and other criteria; I can however list the reasons for which, in my opinion, someone would choose one or the other of some of the most popular Linux distros.
- Ubuntu 👉 The choice of the disciplined people who accept anything, such as the transitions from GNOME2 to Unity and then to GNOME3. Or maybe of those who have the nostalgia of their first Ubuntu and want to stick with whatever the “main” official flavor has in store. Generally, suited to those without much of a personality.
- Pop!_OS 👉 The choice of the “rebellious” GNOME3/GNOME40 lovers who want something “more customized” and “hip” without being able to tell what’s so great in an Ubuntu derivative that only adds a cute theme (GTK-only! Qt apps will look like shit) and a few drivers. Oh, I forgot about the COSMIC tiling! Generally, suited to dumbish Americans with unexpected taste for elegant-looking UIs. Don’t get me wrong: it looks fantastic (albeit unusable, because GNOME3 has zero usability), but even in version 21.04 they don’t pre-install Qt5ct, which conveys the typically arrogant American message, “you must be dumb to use a Qt-based app in our OS.” Well, fuck you.
- elementary OS 👉 For macOS lovers willing to pay a few bucks to get the latest version of an Ubuntu LTS derivative that should have been completely free. Such people shouldn’t be using Linux anyway.
- Zorin OS 👉 For really confused people, some of which are even willing to pay €39 for the Ultimate edition hoping it will look better, as promised (I don’t think it does). Such people don’t know how to theme Linux, and given their strange esthetical taste, they should also try deepin.
- Xubuntu 👉 For XFCE lovers who wrongly believe that XFCE in Xubuntu is better than in other distros, or that Xubuntu is the “de facto” official XFCE distro. It’s not, and it’s not. They don’t even patch the vulnerabilities fast enough! For misguided losers, generally.
- Kubuntu 👉 For KDE aficionados who are also loving Ubuntu. Generally, not a bad choice, especially for those who are plain average, but they think they’re smarter than that. (Sometimes, not only a dog, but a Linux distro too resembles its master.)
- KDE Neon 👉 For KDE addicts who want the latest and greatest KDE features without the need to rely on something like Arch. It’s however based on Ubuntu LTS, and it’s by no means “the official KDE distro.” Are there people who really use it?
- Linux Lite 👉 For those who like a snappy, elegant-looking Ubuntu/Xubuntu LTS derivative, especially if they’re self-declared noobs, otherwise the distro’s maintainer will tell them their feedback is irrelevant. Suitable on modest hardware, despite XFCE not being so light anymore since the transition to GTK3.
- Ubuntu MATE 👉 For conservative people (as in “I loved GNOME2”) wanting to use “the official MATE distro”; yes, it is, and their forum is quite helpful even to those who use MATE in other distros. But they stick snaps in your ass, and they kick you out if you complain. Even the gorgeous Yaru-MATE themes are installed as snaps! Still, not a bad choice per se. As of 21.04, the best Ubuntu flavor by my standards.
- Linux Mint 👉 One of the most popular distros, despite being based on Ubuntu LTS, and despite having rather boring themes. Being “the official Cinnamon distro” means this is where the latest and greatest Cinnamon DE is to be found (although I just cannot use it for several reasons); not anymore the #1 MATE distro, it’s the second-best choice after Ubuntu MATE nonetheless; and its XFCE flavor is possibly the best choice for a XFCE 4.16 distro, now that they upgraded to it! All flavors are designed for people coming from Windows, not for the idiots who want macOS-like docks and the app menus shown in the system menu bar! Mint tries to help the user by creating snapshots via Timeshift and by providing helper tools unique to this distro (although
mint-toolscan be used in other Ubuntu-based distros too). As Mint lacks both KDE and GNOME, I should probably recommend it 😉
- Debian stable 👉 For conservative people (as in “
apt-getand Synaptic or maybe
aptitudeare my Gods, but Ubuntu LTS sucks”) who really don’t care that the software they use is antiquated. Once Debian 11 is released, it will look relatively fresh, but KDE 5.20.5 is already obsoleted by 188.8.131.52 (available even in Fedora 34), and GNOME 3.38.2 for at least two more years when GNOME is at 40.2 is just grotesque. Possibly a marginally better choice than Ubuntu LTS, but requires the use of the “non-free” ISOs to avoid fiddling with unsupported firmware.
- Debian testing 👉 For moderately conservative people who feel still young, with a touch of liberalism and the willingness to accept moderate risks. Frankly, more stable than many “stable” distros, so it should have been much more popular than it is. Paradoxically, I don’t feel like using it, and I don’t know why.
- Devuan 👉 Used by the members of the religious cult “
systemdsucks” who otherwise would have used Debian with XFCE. Avoid them.
- PCLinuxOS 👉 Used by those who still remember the times of the old PCLinuxOS (when the website wasn’t looking like grandpa’s cheap blog), who also consider
systemdto be Satan, and who are fine with a distro with a limited number of packages (by the way, Synaptic for RPMs). Oh, only KDE, XFCE, MATE. Suitable on modest hardware.
- MX Linux 👉 One of the most popular distros, for reasons that can’t be explained. Could it be that they ship with
systemd, but it’s disabled by default? Based on Debian, but with many packages rebuilt by themselves, including “Advanced Hardware Support” kernels, firmware and video drivers, this distro definitely has some appeal, despite its theming being ugly, its XFCE panel sitting at the left (someone must be on fentanyl), and its “pyramids with an X added” logo strongly suggesting “road works” to people in Europe (UK; Germany; Russia; Italy old; Italy new; Romania new; France). Recommended in CHIP 7/2021 “for beginners” (click on the images in the tweet to get 2 pictures of 3 pages each). Suitable on modest hardware, for which there’s also its cousin antiX.
- Fedora 👉 For people who refuse to believe that Red Hat stopped caring about them and about “Linux on the desktop” long ago, and who still consider Fedora a community project, not a corporate one. The corporate mindset is apparent e.g. in the decision to add in Fedora 35 “a filtered view of Flathub” that “a) will not cause legal or other problems for Fedora to point to b) does not overlap Fedora Flatpaks or software in Fedora that could easily be made into a Flatpak c) works reasonably well.” Otherwise, most Fedora users love both GNOME and RPM. This being said, there are excellent Fedora Spins and even some Labs flavors, so people could be using just about any DE they like. XFCE is actually great in Fedora 34 (it even has
xfce4-panel-profiles); KDE is so-so; MATE is suboptimal and bare (no
mate-applet-brisk-menu). DNF-Dragora is atrociously slow, but this is the price to pay for using a rather solid distro that doesn’t actually care about usability. (Linux Torvalds still uses Fedora with GNOME, but he’s not a good reference; for one, he still prefers C even to C++.)
- openSUSE 👉 There are still people who believe openSUSE is like the old SuSE, meaning user-friendly and KDE-centric. Bollocks. After having been bought successively by Novell (defunct), Attachmate (defunct), Micro Focus, and a subsidiary of EQT Partners (an equity firm), what’s SUSE’s identity? Zombie? Open Build Service is useful to the Linux ecosystem, but openSUSE is a niche distro even in Germany. YaST is still bloatware, and openSUSE is still buggy. GeckoLinux tries to polish what can be polished, so it’s typically a better choice.
- Mageia or OpenMandriva 👉 Typically, people who once used Mandrakelinux or Mandriva might find a reason to try one of these successors. Technically alive, none of these distros are having a raison d’être, and even less of a future. PLF is no more,
urpmiis still with us. OpenMandriva is a bit like Gérard Depardieu, being based on a Russian fork of Mandriva called ROSA. Really, only a lunatic would use such distros.
- ALT, Astra, Calculate or ROSA 👉 They’re Russian, and only used by Russians, despite also having English-language editions. ALT and Astra Linux also have special commercial editions certified for use within the Russian government.
- Arch Linux 👉 The masochists, the lovers of tiling WMs and the ricers are most of its users. Using Arch directly (i.e. not via a derivative) is for nuts, as its non-installer (the new
archinstallis unusable) means installation can’t be automated. I still can’t imagine a sysadmin manually performing separate installations for each and every machine they need. Living on the bleeding edge (being a rolling distro) makes it even more challenging, and I’m not even talking of AUR. Its package manager,
pacman, has the most idiotic and illogical switches I’ve ever seen in a piece of software, and the GUI version, Pamac, can’t even sort alphabetically the final list of packages to be installed or updated (in the last dialog box that lists the added dependencies). Definitely not recommended.
- Arch rebuild: Manjaro 👉 For those who want Arch without its roughest parts. Manjaro rebuilds Arch’s packages, and sometimes it delays or skips the updates that would break the system. Also, it has a great installer. This doesn’t mean it never breaks! Somewhat recommendable (despite using the same
pacmanas Arch), but my love for it faded long ago. Still, incredibly popular (part of the 3 Ms: MX Linux, Mint, Manjaro).
- Arch derivatives: EndeavourOS, ArcoLinux, HefftorLinux, Garuda, RebornOS, Salient OS 👉 Some people want to claim “btw I use Arch” without bothering with the medieval Arch installing spell. They want the freedom to use the latest version of everything, which is understandable. EndeavourOS is preferred by beginners (great forum, mediocre distro); ArcoLinux offers countless editions to the point of giving you nausea (the website plays its part, being a huge mess); HefftorLinux is an eye-candy spin-off of ArcoLinux; Garuda only swears by Btrfs; RebornOS was on the brink of dying (apparently, the former distro leader, Keegan Milsten, had serious personal problems, and he just disappeared without leaving to anyone all the credentials), so it should be called ReRebornOS; and Salient OS is more of a niche distro, with focus on gaming. Countless other Arch derivatives exist, but the major ones usually have their own extra packages, so that the users shouldn’t necessarily activate AUR. For those to which failure (to boot, to run, to work as expected) is an option.
- Solus 👉 Why would anyone use a desktop environment that claims to emulate GNOME2 while being totally stupid (Budgie), in an independent distro that has very few packages (but can use Flatpaks) and that uses a sui generis package manager derived from PiSi and called
eopkg? Other desktop environments are available too, but why would anyone use Solus? No clue whatsoever.
- Void 👉 Rude developers, unimpressive independent distro. Its derivative AgarimOS might help with its rough parts. Do people really prefer
glibc? Are they so much into a distro that feels a bit like Arch, minus the community? Was there a need for yet another package manager with an illogical syntax? People who use it should be avoided, they can’t be normal.
- Gentoo 👉 Nobody uses Gentoo.
- Slackware 👉 Nobody uses Slackware nowadays, except for some zombies.