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Help me choose a Linux Distro


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#1 +Majesticmerc

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 22:03

Hey all,

I'm need a little help picking a new Linux distro for me to migrate to. The problem I'm up against is that my knowledge of the advantages of various distros is quite low. I'm not a complete Linux newbie, but my knowledge with Linux distros is limited basically to only what I've ever needed to know (i.e. Ubuntu), so I could use some expert opinions on which way to go next.

Firstly...


Some Background
I've been a Linux user for some time. My university taught it's CS students primarily using RHEL, and have had a Linux distro installed in some form or another (either on a partition or in Virtualbox) since 2006. Originally, I went for Fedora simply because it was based on Red Hat. But I abandoned Fedora in 2006 when twice it managed to do... something to my partition tables and wipe out both Fedora and Windows XP irrecoverably. Between then and mid-2008, I went Windows only simply because I could go to the labs at the university if I needed to do any Unix-based work.

When my dissertation rolled around in 2008, I decided that I needed a copy of Linux installed to do some of my Unix work at home, since it was very laborious travelling to and from the university to do 30 minutes of work, only to return home to do 3 hours of development in Windows. This time around, I went for Ubuntu, since it was all the rage at the time. From 2008 to the end of 2010, I used Ubuntu inside Virtualbox to do my development, and it was an arrangement that worked well, however I often found myself spending more time in the virtual machine than I did in Windows, so at the start of the year I got hold of a hard drive and installed Ubuntu 10.10 on it. I have been a happy Ubuntu user ever since.


Reason for Changing Distro
I've been warily watching Canonical's work on Unity for a while, and there are two things that I disliked about Ubuntu and it's direction. Firstly, I disliked their take on Gnome. I like the black theme they had going on, but the massive unnecessary integration of things like evolution, Ubuntu One and the like annoyed me. But things weren't all lost, since I could just remove the panels, and did so. This massive integration of services I didn't need felt very... Vista-like, and I ended up spending most of my Ubuntu setup taking out various service panels and pre-installed stuff that I didn't need. Again, this wasn't a big deal.

The two major thumbs down for Ubuntu for me has been...
  • Unity. I don't like it, at all. I know you can turn it off, but the whole of Gnome 3 looks like ass to me, and so I'm not interested in the direction that the Ubuntu GUI is headed.
  • Old Software. I mean Jesus, Firefox 4 has been out since mid-March, and it didn't appear for Ubuntu until 11.04, and it's still not available through the 10.10 repositories. Same applies to the Eclipse IDE. Eclipse 3.6 has been available since mid-2010, and it still isn't available in Ubuntu 10.10.

The kicker however came today. I decided that I was going to upgrade to 11.04, since I knew I didn't need to use unity, and I wanted access to newer software via the Software Centre, instead of manually installing everything (no big deal, but Software Centre is still easier). After spending no less than 8 hours running through the damn upgrade process, I rebooted my PC only to find that Ubuntu will not boot. I have tried everything that everyone else on the Internet has suggested, and I just cannot get it to load. It's looking more and more likely that I'm going to have to reinstall from scratch.

That being the case, combined with the fact that I'm not particularly interested in staying with Ubuntu, gives me the opportunity to switch distros.


What I need
I mainly use Linux as a general purpose OS. I do some basic word processing, some spreadsheets, some games, and so on, but mainly I do programming, usually using Eclipse. I have little interest in spending weeks and months tweaking it to suit my needs, and preferably I'd rather not build everything from source, so an equivalent to Ubuntu's "Software Centre" would be a plus but not entirely necessary if it has enough advantages for me to use it.

Primarily though as long as it...
  • Runs an office suite
  • Lets me use Eclipse
  • Lets me browse the web

... I'm open to any suggestion, I'd even be happy to go stick with Ubuntu if it really is the best distro for my needs. Mainly though I'm looking for a list of pros for each distro so that I can pick the best one for me, since I do spend most of my time in it. If you can, please give a reason WHY you're suggesting it. Blank suggestions of distros won't help me, since I can reel off a list of distros already.

Hopefully this can be a stimulating conversation comparing Linux distro's, please please please don't turn this into a flame war.

Regards, and many thanks in advance,

-- Majesticmerc :cat:

p.s. TL;DR: I need suggestions (with reasons) for my next Linux distro to install

p.p.s. Apologies for the wall of text!


#2 pkubaj

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 22:17

Arch Linux
- You won't find any more bleeding edge distro
- You have to customize it yourselft, there's no bloat
- Very easy to set up, there's like five files you have to edit
- No Unity
- GNOME 3 already in stable
- Rolling-release, every upgrade is totally painless.

#3 Jen Smith

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 22:17

Personally, chuck it all and go BSD ;) But since you want to stay with Linux..

Well, if you like how Ubuntu does things, how about switching desktop environments, or try the minimal installation and skipping GNOME entirely? (Or one of it's derivatives, Kubuntu and such.) Or, if you like how the system works and you dislike the 6 month thing, could always go with Debian Sid.. don't let the "unstable" scare you off, it's actually rather good. I hear Mint is pretty nice as well, although haven't tried a recent build.

As far as Linux goes though, I'm a big fan of Arch. Very up to date, stability isn't typically an issue as new updates are tested first and then pushed to the general repository once deemed stable.. no waiting for months possibly for new packages. Rolling updates, install it once and that's it... let Pacman handle the updates as you see fit and never worry about a full blown dist-upgrade again. I love the BSD style way it does things, very fast and lean. Build it from the ground up to your exact specifications, this is totally opposite from Ubuntu's "everything and the kitchen sink" approach. Very easy to configure as far as *Nix derivatives go, the core of the system is handled in one single file. I also prefer how they handle source code as well versus the Debian style, but that's just personal preference. First time through you might want to have a copy of the wiki handy to follow along with as there's not much hand-holding. It's also very "pure" to the source with pretty much no third party meddling, you get it as the authors intended.

#4 OP +Majesticmerc

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 22:20

Personally, chuck it all and go BSD ;) But since you want to stay with Linux..


Frankly, if there's enough goodness in BSD, I'd be happy to join that bandwagon too :).

#5 pkubaj

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 22:25

Frankly, if there's enough goodness in BSD, I'd be happy to join that bandwagon too :).

If you want BSD, go for FreeBSD. Arch is the best Linux distro I've used, but FreeBSD is the best OS I've used. You just need to read much more than on Arch.

#6 B0mberman

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 22:27

im still on 10.10, but won't bother with 11.4 at all. Saw some decent things about Mint Debian, speedy is one thing...

#7 Jen Smith

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 22:35

If you want BSD, go for FreeBSD. Arch is the best Linux distro I've used, but FreeBSD is the best OS I've used. You just need to read much more than on Arch.

Second that, and probably one of the reasons I prefer Arch for Linux is just that a lot of it is done in a similar method. Not a fan of the typical Linux Sys V init system for example, it has a Ports work-alike (huge plus), etc etc. BSD has some significant differences from Linux too though, so not something you'll want to jump into blindly.. it is a different operating system and all, not just "the same but different" as you get with various flavors of Linux. Personally, I'd start with Arch (or one of the other quality distros) and start from there. Give that virtual machine a good workout.

#8 tiagosilva29

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 22:54

Arch or Fedora (15 will be released by the end of the month)

#9 FireTalon

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 23:06

I myself was in the same boat as you having used ubuntu since version 8. Unity has royally messed that distribution up. I used archlinux on and off for awile before I switched to ubuntu, and have went back to it. I currently run openbox as a wm, and tint2 as a panel, and only have the stuff I needed/wanted installed, no more of that bloated crap ubuntu wants to instll with everything. gtk themes still work, and arch has one of the best forums ive ever had the pleasure of reading. I migrated every pc in my house from ubuntu to arch saturday, took about 6 hours for them all, and I have super fast systems that do the same thing I used to do on ubuntu, faster. I doubt ill ever switch again. (unless arch forces you to use gnome 3 or gnome 2 with unity :p)

#10 ViperAFK

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 23:09

Arch, Fedora, or Opensuse

#11 Flawed

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 23:18

Frankly, if there's enough goodness in BSD, I'd be happy to join that bandwagon too :).

In truth if you want the goodness of BSD (ports), then Gentoo Linux (portage) is the best option. It's definitely the most bare bones and developer orientated distro. Although a tool chain build installation is not for the faint of heart :D But if you want absolute control over how the software on your system is optimised, and what is installed, then Gentoo is perfect.

#12 Whinges

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 23:49

I've been warily watching Canonical's work on Unity for a while, and there are two things that I disliked about Ubuntu and it's direction. Firstly, I disliked their take on Gnome. I like the black theme they had going on, but the massive unnecessary integration of things like evolution, Ubuntu One and the like annoyed me. But things weren't all lost, since I could just remove the panels, and did so. This massive integration of services I didn't need felt very... Vista-like, and I ended up spending most of my Ubuntu setup taking out various service panels and pre-installed stuff that I didn't need. Again, this wasn't a big deal.



I feel the exact same way as you. I'm not really liking the way Ubuntu is heading so on the weekend I started to use Debian 6 and I love it. It's a bit stricter in the way it does things but that's also a good thing, so I suggest maybe giving Debian a try.

#13 ipeters61

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Posted 02 May 2011 - 00:06

Arch, Fedora, or Opensuse

He said he wasn't looking for Fedora, he already had a bad experience with it.

I would suggest you go for something like Linux Mint Debian or Debian itself. It's a good operating system.

#14 ViperAFK

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Posted 02 May 2011 - 00:18

He said he wasn't looking for Fedora, he already had a bad experience with it.

5 years ago :laugh:

I had bad experiences with pretty much every distro back then.

Anyway I am really loving linux mint debian right now. It is based on debian testing so its fairly up to date (still doesn't have firefox 4 though). If you want rolling release definitely go for arch or something debian based. I didn't suggest debian before because even testing can still have some out of date packages and it looks like the op wants more bleeding edge.

Opensuse is a good compromise between rolling release and normal releases. It comes with many repos you can enable to get the latest firefox/gnome/kde ect...

With arch you get a really fast, customizable distro with very up to date software, and an excellent package manager. But it takes a while to setup and requires reading lots of guides :) (its not really that difficult though, and its fun!)

Fedora is very good with keeping up to date packages, but I have some pet peeves with it. Namely the atrocious font rendering (even with freetype-freeworld) and even with the rpm fusion repo its not as good for multimedia as other distros.

#15 ipeters61

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Posted 02 May 2011 - 00:20

5 years ago :laugh:

I had bad experiences with pretty much every distro back then.

Whoops...sorry about that. I remember playing with Linux back then, it wasn't pretty...