Archive for October, 2010

Minimalist Distros are the Way to Go (Not Ubuntu)

October 26, 2010

Ubuntu, the most user-friendly of the Linux distributions; Ubuntu, the harbinger of the day of the Linux desktop to the world; Ubuntu, the crowned king of all distributions; Ubuntu — the Operating System that has now killed my desktop for the third consecutive upgrade in a row.  This is ridiculous.  I have been an Ubuntu user and supporter since the seventh grade, when I first started using Linux, but this is just too much.  I know I’ve denounced Ubuntu and then reconsidered at least once in the past, but this is different, this is intolerable.

My final unfortunate experience with Ubuntu began last week.  I had just run the upgrade to the new release, version 10.10.  When turning the computer on in the morning, I had expected to be greeted by my customary desktop with maybe a new theme at the most.  However, I was welcomed by a bleak login prompt on tty1 — the command line.  The new upgrade had ruined my configuration so that the X server would no longer start the graphical display.  Fail.  Ubuntu has ruined my desktop three times in the last two years, not coincidentally in the wake of each six-month release.  That makes its record of stability in my experience worse than both Gentoo and Arch, each of which are supposed to be horribly difficult to use.

I’ve come to the counterintuitive conclusion that if I want to get anything done on my computers, I’ll have to use minimalist distributions with rolling releases.  The rolling release system is convenient and unobtrusive enough to not get in the way, while being reliable enough to not destroy the computer every few months.  Further, having an at least cursory knowledge of most of the things running on a system makes it a lot easier for me to troubleshoot in the case that something does break.  The legitimacy of this argument is confirmed by my experiences with Gentoo, Sabayon, Arch, and Ubuntu — the four distributions I use most often.

Both Sabayon and Ubuntu Linux work great out of the box, look good, and function smoothly.  They have a well-designed appearance and many flashy extras that other systems cannot boast.  However, when things get serious both of these distros fail to deliver.  First off, they apparently have problems when upgrading.  Moreover, it’s difficult to modify the system configuration without a very rational fear of causing an avalanche of errors to come down upon your head.  On the other hand, Arch and Gentoo have more involved installation processes (especially gentoo), and user interfaces that are as plain or intricate as you could want, assuming you know how to set them up.  Once in place, they work well, they work fast, and they work with you — you can configure them to whatever extent you want.

This brings me to my conclusion about Linux Distros: although the ‘user-friendly’ and ‘convenient’ distributions are great for new users who simply want to try out Linux or carry out simple tasks, the more an individual wants to get into Linux, the more they will find the need to gravitate toward the minimalistic distributions.  I’ve made the decision to replace my Ubuntu installation with Arch on the recently destroyed box.  Although I am heavily disappointed in what has been my favorite distribution in the past, some good has come of this experience.  The computer rescuscitation project led me to convert the desktop into a dedicated Apache server running several virtual hosts with various new and old projects.  Further, I stumbled on some scripts from last year during the file-saving process and continued work on the backup box I’d begun just before summer (it’s currently halfway done).  More news on my new projects later; for now, go replace your bloated underperforming machines with a simple, light Linux distribution like Arch.