Which Linux Distro To Go With?


Internal Development
Mar 11, 2003
Ahoy my friends.

I'm going to just babble like an idiot here; ignore if you like. The question is -- 'what distro are you using, and why?'


I'm a looooong time Unix-nerd (by which I mean I've used most of them at home and at work.) So I'm no noobie. Historically I've been a big fan of FreeBSD, as the BSD sensibilities appeal to me, and I really like th eintegration of the userland and kernel and so on, and the overall file layouts and system tools just felt at home to me. (As opposed to Linux where every distor has different tools and different random file locations, always drives me batty :) Anyway, I'm one of those devs who builds for _everything_, so I've got a stack of machines in my basement and use a lot of VMs.. so really, its that Ijust can't decide on what is 'home' ;) Used to be FreeBSD, but as I was building apps to make a living, I tended to prefer to 'live where my customers lived' and thus switched to Windows .. using my own apps and using the OS my customers used is a good way to 'keep the perspective', so you lessen the alien decisions you make. (ie: Being a dev is bad enough, but being a dev in an alien OS tends to make you goofy for some default decisions you impose on your customers....)

Anyway, for Pandora development I've been keeping kubuntu around (since I prefer KDE to Gnome), but I'm not sure I approve of Ubuntu in general. I'm more a fan of Gentoo since its more BSD-styled and is coder oriented... but these days, with life being super busy I'm getting lazy, so perhaps joe-consumer oriented distributions are okay.

Anyway, I'm pretty comfortable in how I work, but its never bad to shake things up once in awhile right?

My wife (also a developer) lives in Windows on her ancient laptop, but rather than buy a new laptop she fiugures she'll just flip to Linux to get better performance (right off the top, no need for McAfee eating a GB of RAM and half your CPU right? :) So I figure we'll fire up a LiveCD for her, so she can pick a distro that doens't explode on her laptop, and see how she likes that particular one first.

But this got me to thinking about screwing around some more myself......


So what Linjux distro are you using?

I'm tempting to set up FreeBSD 8 (beta) or 7.2 on my laptop (in a VM, since almost every BSD/Linux kernel hates variious components of my laptop :/), or maybe using Wubi/etc. But maybe I'll jusyt update my Kubuntu 8.10 to Kubuntu 9.04 or 9.10 ...

But Mint looks pretty good; ie: For a 'consumer' lazy distro, their website seems ot suggest it should 'just work' with flash etc a lot better; certainly, slinging my wife a distro without workign flash/etc would be a deal killer for her ..

Anyone know offhand if *buntu works with youtube out of the box, say? Kubuntu uses Konquerer which is okay, but annoying to me.. a shame the LiveCD doesn't include FF :)


Anyway, I'm just curious.. which distro are you guys using, and why?

I'm sucking down Mint right now, but for me I dunnoo.. FreeBSD, *buntu, Mint, Gentoo .. I can't decide :) (Currently I run XP32, Vista64, OSX Leopard, FreeBSD, and Kubuntu. My Solaris setup is offline, as I've been trimming down :)

My grandma is running Ubuntu on her ancient Thinkpad and she seems to like it. Of course, she doesn't know anything else. The great thing about standard Ubuntu is that you will always find a solution for every obscure problem you might have. The bad thing is that there are still obscure problems (middle mouse button not working out of the box, random graphics crashes, auto updates breaking...), so I can't leave my grandma alone with it. YouTube does work but I think I had to install a closed source flash player for it. Not sure if an open one would have worked as well.
Linux Mint is a great choice to get most multimedia stuff working out-of-the-box, with all the user friendliness of Ubuntu. Personally, I prefer Debian, it's what Ubuntu is based on, but lets me slim things down a little :)
For maximum performance, Gentoo or Arch seem to be the way to go. Problem is they take so much work to get going, and maintainability isn't always easy on systems like that. I've never been happy with a Gentoo or Arch install myself. I always seem to miss something along the way and regret it later. Seems like you have to know your hardware a bit too intimately for my liking.

Myself, I just run *buntu. I don't run Kubuntu, I prefer Gnome, and it's not that I haven't tried to like KDE. it's just not as responsive as Gnome. It's a difference I can feel, and that's not good. KDE really needs to get the old responsiveness back. I use Xubuntu on machines with less than optimal specs. XFCE looks and feels a lot like Gnome, but runs so much better on older hardware. If you're trying to get some work done, and don't need all the spit and polish, Xubuntu is a great choice. Mint is an Ubuntu deriviative anyways, so you're basically getting all the repo-ease of Ubuntu with the "who cares about dirty liscenses, I just wanna play mp3's" attidtude of Mint. I just don't like some of the other stuff they jam in there.

If you want to stay in the *buntu camp, without getting all that Minty-ness. You can get easy access to Firefox 3.5, Flash, codecs and hordes of other "essential" software without having to jump through hoops by using the perfectbuntu script made by Robbie Ferguson of Category5.tv. I run it immediately after any fresh install of Ubuntu and it saves me a bunch of time. Category5.tv is a good show for picking up useful *buntu nuggets, btw. People running Windows who are interested in Ubuntu, but are scared to try should definitely check it out.

The main reason I choose Ubuntu is hardware support. Ubunutu makes it easier than just about any distro I've tried to get good working 3D acceleration, regardless of the manufacturer you choose. I want a computer that just works, and that I can tinker with until it breaks, and then fix it again without too much headache. Ubuntu makes it easy to live in *nix land, and not have to worry about breaking things so badly I can't get my machine back to working condition.
I run Arch but have run many distros in the past (including Slackware, Redhat, Mandrake, Gentoo, Debian, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD). Arch's package manger kicks ass and their documentation and forums aren't bad.

Also being busier like you, I don't have time to setup multimedia packages and mime types for 2 weeks straight just to get flash and movies working. That's why these days I use Windows with Arch Linux under a VirtualBox VM. I just enable virtual networking and use Putty to telnet in and do dev work. I installed some sweet custom TTF fonts for putty and use screen/vim from both my desktop and my laptop machine.

In the future I will probably go back to using Linux full-time but man it's so much easier to use Windows for multimedia. No buggy flash crashing all the time, Media Player Classic and Dscaler are pretty hard to beat, all my games work.
I'm running Ubuntu on one machine and Linux Mint (KDE version) on another. Both are quite nice, I believe Mint is more resource-consuming (but not much more).
gentoo, it's always current and it stays fresh. There is no huge version 10 to 11, 11 to 12 upgrades where your best hope is to nuke everything and start fresh, it's already up to date. If you've got good reliable internet connect and plenty of horsepower to compile it's still great. On the stuff like my firewall it's fedora, installs off one disc with minimal intervention and it's complete, nuff said.
I'm using Xubuntu and I'm actually growing to like it more and more than regular Ubuntu. It's feels a lot more responsive than the Gnome based Ubuntu and it's supposed to be a lot lighter on resources.

My only gripe is that I don't have pretty status icons for SVN. Although there is a nice plugin for Thunar you can install to manage SVN repos similar to Tortoise in Windows.
Apart from that... I dunno I'm kinda settling into how Xubuntu works and I've only tried Ubuntu previously... I'm not exactly the authority but I prefer it to XP. :)
I've used Xubuntu for about six months and now I think I am going to try regular Ubuntu for a while but I cannot bring myself to actually switch. I like Xubuntu too much!
Linux Mint user here (since version 5), I have version 6 installed on two laptops (one dual-boot with xp) and a usb-key (live-cd) created via unetbootin (also version 6) For general installation and usage when i haven`t got one of my own machines with me. It`s the best experience i have ever had with Linux (Though the other time`s haven`t been a nightmare either). Too easy/simple/straight forward for the hardcore, But definitely the best introduction a newbie could ever have to Linux.

Tried Debian (Lenny) a few days ago, Net-installed via command-line (bash), And enjoyed every minute (hour) of it, But eventually uninstalled it as the repositories are quite old (outdated), Pain in the ass to add extra repositories (Or damn near impossible), Because they require an authentication key before they can be added. Plus i could never get the nvidia graphic drivers to install, So had crappy video performance. I will try it again some time in the future, But just not now.

Well, since you're a fan of Gentoo, I'd suggest Sabayon. It's based on Gentoo, but it has an installer based on Fedora's, so it installs like a normal distro. They also added a really good binary package manager, but you can still use portage too. There's usually a cd and a dvd release, the dvd one being huge and having nearly everything you could want on it already (but taking forever to download), and it has better wifi and graphics card compatibility than most distros. The basic idea (for me) is, if you're advanced, you can delve into the system, do things by hand, etc; but when you don't have time, you don't have to worry about it. That's the main reason I use it, since I have school and I don't always have time to mess with stuff, but I do like to.
I'd used Gentoo for years, and I'm a big fan. The only gripe that I have with it is that installing packages from source takes time. HUGE amounts of time for certain packages - it varies greatly from package to package. Sometimes you just want to use a program without waiting an hour for it to compile.

I recently decided to try Arch, as it has a rolling-release schedule (which I absolutely LOVE, by the way), and I'm a big fan so far. It installed quickly, with no major issues. It doesn't have a "very" graphical installer (it's more or less like the kernel's menuconfig), which could be an issue for some people, but coming from a Gentoo background, it wasn't an issue for me. One nice thing about Arch for KDE users is kdemod, which is a set of packages specifically for Arch that are basically KDE split into many packages, separating out apps from the base and from each other, etc. It allows for a stripped-down install of KDE, so you don't have tons of bloat installed along with the parts of KDE that you actually care about. The package manager is quite good as well. I actually didn't have any real issues with Arch setup. The only hardware issue I have is that I sometimes have trouble connecting to my school network, but that's probably just because it uses WPA2 with inner authentication and wants a certificate. Sound works with no issues out-of-the-box, and actually works better than I could ever get it working in Gentoo. In terms of development, it's worked well for me so far. IIRC, there's a core-devel "package" option in the installer that will automatically install a whole bunch of packages that are important/essential to software development. If what you need isn't in there, chances are that it's in one of the repositories. I wholeheartedly suggest trying out Arch, it's treated me well so far.
Hey skeezix.. I would echo absolofdoom's comments and suggest Sabayon Linux if you want Gentoo as a base and KDE sitting on top. As for me I'm using Mint - its the most productive linux distro I've found and takes no time at all to setup. Uses Aptitude / APT for repositories, recognises my ATI card and sets up compiz effects automatically.

Kubuntu I kind of kicked to the kerb since the 9.04 live cd wifi doesn't work, also Debian doesnt support WPA on its live cd installer - so meh to that one too! (can anyone verify that WPA works if you by-pass this bit of the installer and just create a base system?)
Ubuntu. Stable, full featured, easy to set up, huge repository. Because it has so many users, almost all questions you can think of are already asked and answered and easy to find on internet or ubuntu forums.
Puppy. Fast, probably the easiest distro to set up. I can install it and browse the web in 5 minutes. On most hardware everything works out of the box, without any tweaking. Nice community. Linux can't be more fun than this.

Ubuntu is my default distro, and sometimes I use Puppy for a couple of weeks just to have some fun and keep up with the latest versions. Also installed it on my eeePC.
I've been using Sidux for half a year. It's basically debian unstable (sid) with some patches that make it more stable. It's great if you want a rolling release with the latest and the greatest while not wanting to leave debian's comfort zone. Occasional problems for sure, but generally it works nicely. They support KDE4 and XFCE, but not gnome. Doesn't bother me as I've switched to kde4 and it's actually quite nice. You CAN run gnome, it just doesn't get the patches.
I've been using Debian for about 10 years. The reason I first choose it was that you could install from floppy disk on a SUN SparcStation5 (which I still have).
I've used Mandrake, BLAG, fedora and Ubuntu. Ubuntu is my favourite now, fedora comes second.
There's the NetbookRemix for both Ubuntu and Kubuntu - the one with 9.10 not older ones. Also, 9.10 is going to have ARM official release.

If you want to have a rolling-release distro, Arch and pacman are very nice.

Peter R said:
I've used Xubuntu for about six months and now I think I am going to try regular Ubuntu for a while but I cannot bring myself to actually switch. I like Xubuntu too much!
You can install [ubuntu-desktop] meta-package in Xubuntu, and you'll always have a choice between the two at login screen. And unless disk-space is a concern for you there shouldn't be problem, both uses gtk libraries anyway.
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Parkydr said:
I've been using Debian for about 10 years. The reason I first choose it was that you could install from floppy disk on a SUN SparcStation5 (which I still have).

I have one of these too, but I prefer to use the SS10 of mine: I have 256MB RAM, dual 75mhz SuperSparcII CPUs, 7200RPM Seagate 9GB w/ SBUS SCSI-2 card, quad-port HappyMeal 100BaseT NIC, external SCSI Plextor CD-R, and a 17-inch color monitor.

I can't let the thing go :( It just sits there waiting for me to get the once-a-year itch to tinker with it.. I currently run NetBSD on it because, can't remember all the details, I had trouble using SMP Linux on it and only have one 75mhz core is a bit too much loss to take.
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I recommend Arch as well, mainly because that's what I'm using, and because you get a Linux distro that is (very) up-to-date and that isn't constantly being patched by the package maintainers, which is a huge plus if you want to have a *insert favorite program name here* experience the way it was meant to be.
I've been using Ubuntu for a couple of years just because it's the well-supported, but not perfect distro that everyone recommends to first-time users.
Now that I have some experience, I'm going to switch to Arch whenever I have a few days to spare. I'm not really tired of Ubuntu, but Arch seems a bit better in terms of features.