Tuesday, November 20, 2012

good distros

Opinions will vary on what makes a "good Linux distribution," which, I guess, is why there are so many distros out there. You can probably go to DistroWatch and pick any distro from the list and find users who say that distro is the "best" one out there.

Some factors here:

- The distro doesn't have to be super-easy to install, but I also don't want to have to work too hard. I want to be able to boot into a desktop right from the start; I don't want to have to install everything on my own, or to have to do it all from the command line.

- I want the distro's documentation to be good enough that I can find information without having to ask questions at the distro's forums.

- I prefer a well-established distro -- one that's been around for awhile, and one that I'm confident will be around, say, five years from now.

- The distro should have a strong development team. So-called "one-man distros" are great for the Linux world, but sometimes going with a distro that has a single developer or a small group of developers turns out to be less than ideal.

- Package management should be sensible and not too difficult, and the repository set-up should give me access to most of the apps that I want or need.

- The default desktop environment isn't real important to me (I can always add what I want later), but it's nice to have a choice of DEs/WMs at installation time.

- I prefer a distro that puts out releases that I can stick with for at least a couple of years. It doesn't have to be a "rolling-release" distro, but I think those are nice, at least in some cases. I can live with doing a fresh installation once a year (I prefer fresh installations over an upgrade path, for various reasons).

- Communication from the developers. I want to know what's coming, have a sense of what direction the distro is likely to go in, and of the general philosophy behind the distro. I want to have a feel for the commitment level of the developers to keep the distro going forward into the future.

For other people, some or many of these factors aren't important, and would be replaced by others; I'm not trying to describe "what makes a good distro," only "what makes a good distro for me."

Right now, I've settled upon Debian, Ubuntu, and openSUSE. With Debian, I go with "Debian Stable," although I sometimes install the current "Debian Testing" a few months after Testing is "frozen." With Ubuntu, I normally use only LTS ("Long-Term Support") versions.

And, to spice things up a little bit, I'm also running a couple of more "cutting-edge" distros -- Fedora and Sabayon. These might be less "stable" than the three I mentioned above, but they seem to be fairly solid, put together well, and not excessively prone to "breakage." They're both also quite pleasant to use.

All of these distros fit the criteria that I've outlined above, more or less. All are "good distros," in my opinion, but no doubt there are many, many others that a user can be happy with. And, as always (as the expression goes), "Your mileage may vary." :)

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