The needs of a desktop user are unique, when it comes on hardware and software. Most gamers use Windows, due to out of the box games support (though this will hopefully start changing, mainly due to the rise of the SteamOS platform). Some users use Apple software and hardware, mostly due to the echosystem and the Apple culture.
For me, Linux is the way to go. The freedom of choice, the freedom of use – no licences and hardware locks. But with choice comes questiong, which distribution, which desktop environment, what programs etc.. When searching online, articles for the “best” Linux distribution are common on the Internet. This post is mainly applicable for my needs (and distrohopping craziness).
As I previously wrote, choosing the right Linux distribution is based on one’s needs. From a technical background, I am a Linux newbie of sorts, but have used the terminal more than a few times and i want to know more on the Linux system (what makes it tick).
Linux consists of many subsystems interconnected to make a whole desktop experience. My choice is made based on the base system Operating System (Debian, Ubuntu, Arch, Gentoo etc) and the Desktop Environment (GNOME, KDE, XFCE, Cinnamon, Openbox etc).
Base Linux OS (my picks):
Debian : Is the one of the oldest distributions still active, last month Debian reached it’s 21st birthday. Is being considered one of the most stable distributions (it’s stable branch) and is the most widespread used distro around. Ubuntu is a derivative of Debian, and has many common elements, like the aptitude command line package management interface. Debian currently has 3 releases :
- The stable release codenamed Wheezy, which should be frozen (no updates, only security fixes) by November, which is rock solid, that’s why Debian stable is the no1 server distribution, with the only disadvantage of outdated software and system components.
- The testing release sports more current software and system components, kernel etc, and is based on the next Debian release codenamed Jessie. Testing also comes to a freezing status pending the next official release, but this can be easily overriden to have a true Debian testing installation.
- The unstable release, always named Sid, is a rolling release cutting edge distribution, meaning you only need an one time installation which will be updated as long as Debian exists. One drawback is that with the newest, sometimes untested software, may come crashes and less common unused installations.
Arch : Arch is a true rolling release distribution following the K(eep)I(t)S(imple)S(tupid) principle, which is being translated in simplicity and minimalism of a system. Arch has no default desktop environment and installed applications, rather gives the user the absolute power of creating his system from the ground up. Being a cutting edge distribution though means occasional crashes are common. One of the major elements of the Arch distribution is its Wiki page, one of the most comprehensive guides on all things Linux (meaning that many of the guides are applicable to other non-Arch based distributions).
Ubuntu : Is based on Debian unstable, though with many differences on it’s core components. Ubuntu is considered the defacto Linux desktop for the masses due to it’s hardware support and huge user base. Ubuntu has many derivatives (Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu Kylin and maybe Ubuntu MATE are the official spin-offs), too many to mention them here. Based on Ubuntu (which in turn is based on Debian), is the Linux Mint distribution, a distro currently sitting on the no1 of Distrowatch. The default desktop interface of Ubuntu is Unity, a fresh look on desktop environments, something between a touch interface and a traditional desktop. Ubuntu has a six month release cycle, and every two years an LTS (Long Term Support) release with a five year support cycle. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has sparked some controversy with its’ move to display products from Amazon’s site in Unity lenses, among other moves which have alienated a portion of it’s users base.
What I want/need? An one time installation with good hardware support and, if possible, minimal crashes would be ideal. Ubuntu has the best support, and I like Unity but the six month release cycle along with the direction Canonical is taking Ubuntu, brings it to the last place of my choices. I will not currently deal with the countless Ubuntu based distributions. Arch is a true rolling release, with a great wiki though it needs a great deal of tinkering to get it up and running (which is not bad), a viable option, which has really intrigued me, is Antergos, a vanilla Arch distribution, with an installer and minor tweaks (like custom icons, and one custom package repository). Finally Debian Testing is my choice from the Debian distribution, because of it’s semi-rolling release with a small freezing period and the high adoption of Debian (also I’m more accustomed to aptitude than pacman).
So Debian Testing or Arch (Antergos to be exact). The technical knowledge required I believe is on par (with the help of Arch Wiki), as is the hardware support. Antergos has newer software, but Debian Testing is more stable. Basically it comes down to personal opinions and tastes. Arch’s view on building a distribution and maintaining it, plus it’s leniency towards adopting controversial technologies (systemd) versus Debian’s social contract for providing free software, along with it’s use for major Linux “players” like Ubuntu, SteamOS and powering a lot of Linux Servers.
In order to continue my saga to part 2 (Desktop environment), it is time to finally decide on one distribution. And for me this distribution is Arch, to be exact Antergos Linux! It’s a rolling release, lightweight, with a very nice comprehensive installer, a nice forum (no internet divas there), which along with Arch Wiki are great tools of, hopefully, having a smooth distro-sailing.
Off to the second part : Desktop Environments