Minimalist Distros are the Way to Go (Not Ubuntu)

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.


11 Responses to “Minimalist Distros are the Way to Go (Not Ubuntu)”

  1. Arup Says:

    Having tried Arch and sidux as well as Debian unstable, RR is more of a dicey game with more breakage than other. If you have to update, do a clean install, otherwise stick to tried and tested LTS and upgrade key programs via PPA, this is the best way to run the best Linux distro around.

  2. Fitzcarraldo Says:

    “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.”

    A recent post in the Sabayon Linux forums:

    “A vote of thanks
    Post by dunsurfin » Sun Oct 24, 2010 11:05

    Despite the occasional difference of opinion with lxnay (especially during my time as a tester 🙂 ) I feel I need to offer congratulations on Entropy. I’ve just updated my girlfriends system for the first time since August and there were over 550 packages! It was a flawless upgrade and I was fully expecting to have to reinstall. A wonderful experience. Thank you.”

  3. dogbert0360 Says:

    CLI that would have fixed your problem….

    sudo apt-get install nvidia-current (or whatever video driver you are using).

    Sounds to me like you had the same problem I had when I upgraded to 10.10. Luckly I was able to do some researching on another PC and was able to fix it using that sudo command.

  4. dogbert0360 Says:

    ….One thing that I forgot to mention after installing your video driver was that you would have to reboot your PC.

  5. Algol Says:


    I agree with the article (I’m a fan of apt and have resulted to base installations of Debian) but allow me to suggest an alternative to leaving Ubuntu or even Sabayon (I don’t use either distribution and am merely acting as Devil’s advocate). How about installing a base system using either one? Install only the applications that you want or need and keep all of the extras that you don’t use out of your installations. That should reduce the likelihood that you’ll break your system.

  6. Doug Says:

  7. Barnabyh Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. My sentiment. Replace with Arch or Zenwalk, basically anything based on Arch or Slackware and you’ll be alright. I probably should mention Debian proper too.

  8. Jeff Cooper Says:

    Very well written. You’re on your way to being like me: The only graphical application I use is a web browser, with tiling window management and not enough wasted screenspace to bother counting the pixels.

  9. twitter Says:

    I’ve noticed some changes to kernels and X recently, especially the move to a “configurationless”, that can break things in a frustrating way To get around these problems I still have a copy of an old xorg.config with trappings from xfree86. Before an upgrade, it is best to make a copy of your current, working xorg.config in case things work as smoothly as ACPI hardware does.

    My bad experiences have only happened, however, on upgrades from Debian stable to testing. Moving from one version of Debian stable to another is a much smoother process. The software might feel a little stale, but it rarely leaves me stuck. Debian does a good job of walking the line between cutting edge and stable for me.

    Ubuntu has not worked like that for me. It has never been able to lure me away from Debian for myself. Nor has it been able to replace Mepis as a distribution of ease for family members and other people who demand Adobe Trash players.

  10. Deia Says:


    […]Minimalist Distros are the Way to Go (Not Ubuntu) « Dabbling in Technology[…]…

  11. Frieda Says:

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already
    😉 Cheers!

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