Linux distros

Over the years I’ve tried many different distributions (distros) of Linux, running a variety of Desktop Environments.

I bought my first desktop computer back in 1995. It was extortionately expensive for what you got. Around $3,000 if I recall correctly. It came with Win 3.1 (soon upgraded to Win 95), 8MB of memory (yep, you read that right), a 540MB hard drive (yep, again), a 3 1/2 inch floppy drive and not much else. Years before that I had owned a Sinclair Spectrum which connected to a TV and used a cassette tape for storage and loading programs.

Anyway, back to my Linux journey…a few years after buying this desktop in 1995 I purchased a packaged version of Red Hat - replete with CD and instruction manual. I think I installed it but couldn’t really make much progress with the window manager it came with. The box and contents were eventually tossed.

Arrive 2004 and I moved into a new job in the accounting field but one of my roles was as pseudo systems administrator for a Unix box that ran the companies application software. Realising my knowledge of Unix was as complete as my grasp on quantum mechanics, I thought I’d better get a move along. That same employer was disposing of some old desktop computers so I purchased one (about $50 worth) and proceeded to locate a suitable Linux distro to learn with.

My first distro (apart from the failed Red Hat experiment) was a Knoppix live CD running KDE to check the compatibility of my hardware. Once satisfied, I opted for Fedora Core. My guess is either version 1 (Yarrow) or 2 (Tettnang). It came with the Gnome desktop which I preferred to KDE as it seemed to be cleaner and more spacious.

A few month’s later came a new Linux distro - Ubuntu - which promised an easier user experience. I jumped from the Good Ship Fedora to the SS Ubuntu - again running Gnome. This would have been for Ubuntu 4.10 ‘Warty Warthog’.

Ubuntu served me well for about 7 years. A few years earlier the cruise ship Linux Mint had launched so I disembarked from Ubuntu and embarked on Mint (no idea why I’m using boating terms!). One of the driving reasons was I didn’t like to look or feel of the Unity desktop. Mint took easy desktop experience to a new level. My guess is this would have been around 2012 in the days of the ‘Maya’ release. My desktop environment of choice was Mate.

Having used Mint for quite a while, I thought it would be a good idea to begin to delve into the engine room of a linux distro so farewelled Mint and sought passage on Debian. I’m guessing that was very late in 2015 - coincidentally just a few days after the death of Debian’s founder, Ian Murdock.

I was after a leaner desktop that would suit some old notebooks we had - less memory usage hopefully translating into faster response. I looked into both LXDE and XFCE running on a variety of distros. I liked them both but LXDE let me down by not allowing natural scrolling for both the mouse and touchpad. XFCE allows both, but I find it a touch ugly (and the logo, too).

That voyage lasted a while until I thought I wanted to go deeper. Arch Linux promoted itself as a leading edge distro that the user could develop almost from the ground up. That appealed to me so I plunged after Arch; but the constant breakages took their toll. Whilst I liked Arch, I didn’t like having to be continually searching for band aids for things that cut themselves on its leading edge. The SS Arch was scuttled in shallow water probably in mid-2016.

Next up was OpenSUSE (42.2 and Tumbleweed). Many promote its YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool) as the bees knees of system management, but I couldn’t really get me head around it. I also experienced some breakages and couldn’t get my wifi and video codecs to function consistently. OpenSUSE began to take water and the ship was abandoned not long after its maiden voyage in early 2017.

Coming almost full circle - circumnavigation almost complete - I’ve returned to Ubuntu and have opted for Gnome. I tried 17.04 for a while but came across a few breakages - or at least incompatibilities with my now nearly five year old notebook. I’ve chosen 16.04 with Gnome rather than Unity which is a long term support version supported for three years.

I like the clean looks and functionality of Gnome 3, and will consider upgrading to the next Ubuntu LTS when Gnome becomes their default.

Has my Linux experience always been plain sailing? No. Plenty of breakages and some things just not working, but the bug-reporting process for many Linux programs is clear, and roadmaps for packages are generally available so you can see where the developers are taking a package.

I like the philosophy of free and open source software (FOSS) and prefer to use it where practicable. There are still a few things I need to do on Windows (such as opening some ebooks with Adobe Digital Editions), but they are few and far-between.