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Cover image for Au Revoir, Gentoo - Sell Me A New Linux Distro

Au Revoir, Gentoo - Sell Me A New Linux Distro

deciduously profile image Ben Lovy Updated on ・3 min read

Is This What Growing Up Feels Like?

I have been an avid, dedicated Gentoo user for about seven years (gulp). I love the flexibility of the package manager, and the extremely granular level of control over my system it gives me. Installing and administrating a Gentoo system for this long is the reason I know as much about Linux as I do, and I don't regret a minute of it.

However, all that configuration comes at a cost - my time. When the system works, it requires little to no maintenance, and should generally continue to work. If it breaks, it's because I changed something. However, it does require frequent updates to ensure smooth roll-forwards, and that means rebuilding components from source, a lot. If nothing else, it's ecologically irresponsible to repeatedly rebuild a whole Linux distribution for negligible gain.

At the end of the day, my needs are pretty run-of-the-mill, which is kind of a misuse of Gentoo's flexibility. It's finally time to part ways.

This is the list of alternatives I'm considering. I've actually installed and used each of these before as a secondary exploratory distro, but never used any as a daily driver.

This is currently my top choice, but this may just be a reaction to where I'm coming from. Debian's "elevator pitch" is stability. A Debian system should be expected to be rock-solid once installed. I don't want to futz with my operating system, I want to turn on my workstation and do work. Debian enjoys a massive package set and widespread compatibility, but I am concerned that the stable branch lags in terms of updates. I could use Debian Testing, but am I then forfeiting the whole purpose of using Debian in the first place? How easy is it to selectively use updated (or upstream) package repositories for software I actively use a lot on a largely Debian Stable system?

Manjaro is my second choice. I came to Gentoo from Arch Linux, and clearly connect with the "lego set" style of DIY linux distros. Arch was also a highly pleasant, highly stable experience, but this time around I no longer feel the need to build up completely from scratch. I had a positive experience installing Manjaro back in 2016, and can only assume it's further improved since then. Arch-diehards - why shouldn't I just use Manjaro and instead keep it strictly Arch?

I have much less familiarity with RPM, so it would be nice to learn, and hear this is a solid choice for developers who need their system components to remain relatively tight with upstream but still need a stable, cohesive system that all works together. This is the furthest from what I know, so it's tempting, but the whole point here is to think less about my OS and just get stuff done.

OpenSuSE has the somewhat dubious distinction of being my very first Linux distro, about six months before I discovered Ubuntu Breezy Badger back in 2005. I also tried and liked using Tumbleweed in 2018 for a bit as a daily driver, but still ended up running back to Gentoo. This distro has some serious brand loyalty, though. Why should I give it another look?

Most of these distributions actually differ somewhat minimally. It's a choice of a package manager and a default set of applications. I have already settled on KDE Plasma as my desktop environment of choice, so if I don't much care about the base, why not just use their distro and get the most polished KDE experience? Would this limit me in any significant way? The Ubuntu LTS base actually ticks all my boxes too.

Not likely, and not Linux, but Gentoo's portage is the whole reason I like Gentoo so much and is inspired by the BSD-style ports system. Is this actually a viable choice for a daily driver for development work?

I am also using and enjoying Void Linux on my rapidly aging laptop, but it's not quite as "just forget about it" as I want for my more modern desktop, and every so often I have trouble getting something installed (most recently, for example, dotnet).

Is there something awesome I've missed? Other reformed distro-hoppers, what's your Linux forever-home and why?

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Discussion

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dm17 profile image
dm17

Maybe you're bored and want to bikeshed in a new distro? :)

I'd prefer that you went with Gentoo because I'd like to see experienced devs stay with it has as much help as it can get.

One criterion for me has been distro's support for the zen kernel and hardened kernel - not all have the same patches or default options.

I'd rather see devs like you pick a distro based on virtue and then apply your virtue to improving that distro in the way(s) you're passionate about.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

I'll still keep Gentoo in my life, it's just no longer what I want from my main work OS. I'm trying to pick based on virtue, but my virtues have shifted.

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dm17 profile image
dm17

What about precompiled Gentoo? Then you'll be familiar & not wasting time on compile, which is the main virtue that's currently being violated - right?

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

I hadn't thought about that. I'm running precompiled Gentoo on a raspberry pi right now (and plan to for the foreseeable future), and it's a great solution there, but it's perhaps a little too static for a desktop system. I will inevitably want to make changes and apply updates, which just puts me back at square one.

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dm17 profile image
dm17

Surely there's a way in Gentoo to use precompiled when you want and still have access to the normal config options...

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Yep, absolutely, and it's more configuration and (likely, in my case) trial and error. I'm a little burnt out on tailoring Gentoo, I guess.

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dm17 profile image
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dm17

Yes, but after all these years your Gentoo config should be pretty dialed in by now, right? And these days you can basically 'emerge world' in the background while you're working, right? I'm not really clear on the problem, but perhaps you're a convert to the climate change religion - in which case you should probably use something like ChromeOS. The globalists would prefer you have everything in the cloud.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Not sure why you're getting abrasive and political about this, I don't really have a response to that part of your comment.

Yes, when my system works, it works well. It's still held together by years of my own configuration, and when I decide to make changes, there is a chance I break something and it's not always clear what the fix is. There always is a fix, of course, it's Gentoo. I am at the point that when I do run into an unclean merge, I am frustrated that I have to then go digging to resolve it. Maybe it's a problem with my expertise, but it's happening right now - some update recently introduced some ABI incompatibility that's at odds with some hardcoded change I made years ago, and undoing the change caused more problems, so now I need to dig to find the source of the issue into order to get a clean merge. It's not a huge problem, for now I'm ignoring it and just not merging some updates and my system works fine, but it's annoying that I will eventually need to fix it. I don't want to play the game anymore on my work OS, just on side projects (like the Pi).

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iz0t0p

Chrome OS is modified Gentoo

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Yes, but tailored to this specific web-focused use case. It's not a replacement for a general purpose OS, even though it's built from Gentoo's meta-distribution tooling, and I don't think the suggestion was made in earnest.

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dm17 profile image
dm17

Maybe a reinstall is due. I haven't had to mess with anything since I started using Docker for questionable stuff. Meaning stuff that I thought might mess with my system in unforeseen ways.

Your views might be the reason you find my reply abrasive. I don't think I can be accused of making it political when your article says it is "ecologically irresponsible" - that's political. This happens often when someone says a strong (and what I believe to be an ideological) political view... And if anyone opposes it, then they get accused of "bringing up politics." Trying to divorce technology and politics completely is impossible.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

The globalists would prefer you have everything in the cloud.

Replace "irresponsible" with "wasteful" and its an even more objective observation, and a very secondary point here. Before this thread, your only other comment is some crap about "globalists" and political correctness in an unrelated thread, so it's hard for me to believe you're commenting in good faith.

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dm17 profile image
dm17

Wasting electrons? Wasting your money on energy? I don't think compiling software from scratch is absolutely wasteful. Energy neither created nor destroyed. Quantifying how Gentoo affects a desktop users energy bill would be a challenge to do fairly.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Sure, it's nuanced, and probably interesting to dig deeper in to. My point is that's not really my point here at all, maybe it was a mistake to even mention that at all in the OG post.

You're probably right, a re-install would help me with today's frustration about my Gentoo install, but I don't think Gentoo has to be the be-all, end-all of my Linux experience. I'll always have a Gentoo install around, and appreciate it for what it is, but there's lots of tools out there.

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dm17 profile image
dm17

Gentoo's stage3 builds & funtoo.org seem like good options + that reinstall.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

I go back and forth on funtoo. I ran it for about two years but eventually ended up back on Gentoo. It's got some cool ideas, but I'd prefer to stick with where the brunt of development is focused. Maybe when I learn a lot more about software I can try again and be a more active participant in the distro's development, I hope it stays around for a long time.

As for the reinstall, I keep a SystemRescueCD flash drive around, that's usually all I need to start fresh.

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dm17 profile image
dm17

I will still have to try it to recommend it, but maybe having an immutable workstation will reduce your issues. Someone here mentioned Silverblue, but Darch can do the same with Gentoo, Arch, etc.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Yeah, for sure. It's not something I've spent much time looking in to, but does seem like it would address my problem from the limited understanding I have.

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Ernie

Ditto!

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Alexplay

I started with Ubuntu, and also liked to tinker a lot, when I had too much spare time, I went to Debian, Gentoo, Sabayon, Arch (in that order, note how I grew tired of compiling and wasted time, with each hop, I started to look for precompiled again).

Finally I read a comment Linus said about Ubuntu that really clicked with me and made sense, I needed to work and be productive with little hassle, need the most compatibility and focusing on my work, not fighting the distro to make it do what I want. So it was Ubuntu, it just works. Simple as that.

I don't regret using those other distros, they taught me a lot though, but I think it's a natural transition to simplicity after you see it's not worth the extra milliseconds of performance, at least for a user that besides being a developer, does the usual things with his PC.

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STrRedWolf

I have to agree. I'm now tempted to switch from Gentoo to Ubuntu, namely because Gentoo is a time sink... and I'm wasting my time. On my laptops, I'm using a flavored version of Ubuntu called Xubuntu, using the XFCE desktop environment. I've used KDE and Gnome -- they've moved too far from "Choose reasonable defaults with a large base of options, don't yank 'em away, don't think you know better than me, and don't get in the way of me doing what I need to do."

I think I'm switching soon, probably with my next hardware swap.

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STrRedWolf

A small update. I switched.

Why? I use Chrome Remote Desktop. Gentoo had a package for it that needed a maintainer to keep it up. I had a problem a filed a bug.

The response was to remove the CRD package.

That broke the camel's back. I switched that day.

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Ben Lovy Author

Very relatable. Is the usability gap between Debian and Ubuntu really that large?

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Alexplay

I gave Debian a last shot before going back to Ubuntu because I liked the idea robustness, but even with the "less stable" Debian I was missing a lot of the bleeding edge and features I needed at that moment in my day to day job, I felt crimped at times and having to revert back to, you guessed it, compiling from source and installing a parallel version. Ubuntu has really been stable for me, I think the Debian idea of robustness is not really meant for the end user, but more oriented towards servers and other target audience, definitely not a developer's distro IMO, because we need to be on top of the latest most of the time.

Usability-wise, there's always something ready-made for Ubuntu; commands, binaries and tutorials are Ubuntu-first because it's the consumers distro, that's what I wanted, if I needed a program I don't wanna know the inner workings, I want to copy paste the command, install and keep on moving with my thing.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Awesome. Right now I'm leaning Debian, and got a working install up on my hardware in no time at all, but I think I just need to have this experience for myself as I use it more. There's a decent chance I'll end up on Ubuntu for similar reasons, we'll see.

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alexplay profile image
Alexplay

Experience is never bad, at the end of the day it's what you feel most comfortable with. Debian for me is right there next to Ubuntu in terms of what I need, so it's a close choice.

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Preston L. Bannister

At least for development, needed bits are more likely to "just work" on Ubuntu, in my experience, more than any other distribution, even Debian or Fedora.

Mostly, I want to get stuff done, and want the least friction when using new bits. That is what you get from the mainstream.

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Michael Kohl

I used to be a Gentoo developer/package maintainer way back when it was relatively new (2004-2006 if memory serves). I stopped for pretty much the same reason you outlined above and went back to Debian-based distributions. At several jobs I used Fedora as my main OS, mostly because it tends to have much newer packages/libraries than Debian which makes for a more pleasant development experience.

I actually prefer FreeBSD and used it as my daily driver on the desktop before, but it didn't work so well on laptops back then. Admittedly I haven't tried that in ~10 years, but I'd bet Linux is still ahead there.

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Ben Lovy Author

At several jobs I used Fedora as my main OS, mostly because it tends to have much newer packages/libraries than Debian which makes for a more pleasant development experience.

Sounds like despite this Debian is still the safer choice, though?

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Michael Kohl

It depends. If you want to use it as daily desktop OS, you may potentially end up with testing or unstable anyway, since stable can be quite dated. Honestly, I consider most major distro nowadays to only differ marginally, so unless you care about nerd street cred, just use whatever you're most comfortable with.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

only differ marginally

The core of it to me is the package manager, not necessarily the set of stuff on the install disc. That said, is DEB vs RPM pretty much cosmetic?

use whatever you're most comfortable with

Unfortunately at this point that's Gentoo, and not much else, which makes me think Manjaro might be the right call here. I don't care about nerd street cred, but I do care about using the "best" tool for the job. I guess the better question is whether not subscribing to one of the more mainstream package managers shooting myself in the foot in any significant way?

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ghost profile image
Ghost

Depends also on what to dev and if you usually try a lot of new SW, with AUR Arch has an availability second to none. And if you have used Gentoo, admin Arch would be a breeze. Debian feels too outdated for a desktop.

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Michael Kohl

The core of it to me is the package manager, not necessarily the set of stuff on the install disc. That said, is DEB vs RPM pretty much cosmetic?

People will disagree, because arguing is half the fun of being a Linux user 😉, but as far as I'm concerned the differences nowadays are mostly cosmetic.

I do care about using the "best" tool for the job.

Overrated in my opinion. Using a "good enough" tool for the job seems to often be the better choice. Unless you plan on switching every time a shinier distro comes out.

Also "best" on what axes? It's hard to beat Debian in stability, but that also makes it less attractive as desktop OS. Similar trade-offs apply to others. I'd wager you can use any of the top 20 or so distributions on Distrowatch and be happy with it, and if you have your home directory on a separate partition switching at a later point comes with marginal overhead.

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ghost profile image
Ghost

To round up a bit this point I would say, for someone who was using Gentoo, distros are reduced to: how new are the SW in the repos and how annoying is to install Steam if you care about that and as far as I've heard with Proton that's not even a problem anymore.

  • Default WM or DE? you can change that.
  • Package manager, in the past 10 years I don't think I've ever had a dependency problem. And for dev are less and less relevant, nowdays you have: pip, npm, cargo and that's besides Docker, Flatpak and AppImages.
  • Default programs, you'll probably install your own prefered ones anyway.
  • Ease of install, well, you had Gentoo, you'll be fine.
  • Stability, not sure about this, I used Arch for years and never had a serious problem, maybe a program update a little raw, but in those cases the fixed update came the next day if not sooner, so nowdays I'm not sure if having software from the middle ages is worth it. And even for servers, you endup just with systemd + Docker so in that case distros are even less important to me.
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ghost profile image
Ghost

and by the way "... arguing is half the fun of being a Linux user ..." I don't think is half, I would say is about 67%, it was 50% years ago when ....

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Right now, the "best" tool is one I won't ever feel tempted to switch out. I think we're saying the same thing, ultimately.

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dm17 profile image
dm17

Perhaps temptations have an inward rather that outward cause. In more modern language: it is the dev, not the tool.

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Willem Mobach

My personal favorite has been KDE Neon as it ticks all the right boxes for me and most of my dev team.

Why Neon:

KDE is for me best DE right now, as it's mature, secure and can go from windows clone to tiling WM in minutes.

KDE Neon prevents me from hacking and upgrading my base OS as I feel like I'm having a fresh experience continuously. That stream of improvements to the software you interact most with on a daily basis allows you to just enjoy your computer instead of feeling that tinkering need deep down.

Experience:

KDE Neon is super stable and upgrades haven't failed me so far. Integration from discover (UI package manager) with flakpak and snap has been seemless for a few months now. PKCON (console package manager for KDE Neon) has also worked flawlessly with apt backend.

Sometimes you do run into an incompatible package from base ubuntu as that was packaged for an older QT/KDE libs version. Usually I then install that bit of software using snap or flatpak as it then ships with its own libraries anyway.

Hope this helps!

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Ben Lovy Author

Ive heard Neon doesn't always play well with non-KDE software. Have you found that to be the case, beyond the qt versioning issue?

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Willem Mobach

No absolutely not - all gnome library based software works absolutely great, and theming integration has gotten much better over the last few months as well.

As root filesystem editing is protected in KDE I usually use thunar for example, works fine. Same goes for Firefox, which has full integration with the taskbar for example.

I can't recommend NEON enough if you're a KDE user, it's super stable for us and it just feels great to get the latest and greatest in KDE land without the fear of complete system meltdown / full rolling release distro.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Awesome. I'm leaning more and more in this direction.

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Khoa Dien

I'm also a KDE neon user and it's just fantastic! Very stable and well-supported Ubuntu LTS base + new and shiny KDE software on top which is super polished, intuitive, and somehow light on system resources. Definitely recommend it!

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Giuseppe Caruso

I'm following KDE Neon development lastly and I see that in the lasts months it's becoming more and more integrated also with Gnome applications making it a kind of universal OS for Linux plus its own niceties.
But what's the difference with something like Kubuntu since they are both Ubuntu based distro with KDE on top?

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Khoa Dien

Kubuntu is Ubuntu with KDE Plasma, so it'll get more updated packages from Ubuntu and you could also get a non-LTS base.

Neon on the other hand is always based on Ubuntu LTS, so Ubuntu packages may be a bit more behind, but you get the latest and greatest KDE stuff.

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Laughing Raven

The question though is how long will this distro last. Seriously sir, stop the anguish and just use Ubuntu. They are a stable company that is financially solvent and will still be around in a few years.

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David Wickes

So you're after something that's

  • super stable
  • a good daily driver
  • Unix, but not necessarily Linux

Have you considered using a fork of BSD? It's supported by a multimillion dollar corporation, who've built a custom window manager on top of it. It's tailored to a very specific hardware setup, but under the hood its mostly vanilla BSD, with the same utilities and philosophy. It's a great development OS, and you'll never spend any time messing around with the OS.

One catch: you'll have to buy one of said corporation's computers to use this OS, or hack one together yourself.

Other than politics and price - why wouldn't you use an Apple Mac running OSX?

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Michael Kohl

why wouldn't you use an Apple Mac running OSX?

  • Dropped support for 32-bit apps means that many people sit on Steam libraries full of (indie) games that they can no longer play. Also true for some audio/video software and plugins, where people don't want to pay for expensive upgrades if an older version serves their needs.
  • Useless apps (Stocks, Stickies, etc.) are forced down our throats on desktop and you can't even uninstall them unless you muck around with csrutil and even then the next update will bring them back.
  • Constant popups if applications are allowed to access my Downloads folder or other locations. It's a computer, not a phone.
  • Catalina write protected the system volume, wiping the Nix stores of all users. This almost made the Nix developers drop macOS support, but luckily there's a workaround that involves creating a separate volume and mounting that via a synthetic symlink (man 5 synthetic.conf). This is true for everything that wrote in the root directory, not just Nix.

Apart from that, almost every Apple laptop I ever owned had some sort of hardware issue. For example, I'm typing this on my newly replaced butterfly keyboard, and I almost forgot how nice it is to not have doubled and/or missing letters.

I bought the new MBA last year around Christmas and it's most likely the last Mac laptop I purchased for myself. And I'm saying that as someone who got into Macs with Mac OS 9 and used them as his primary devices since the first Intel Macs came out.

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richardhowes

I’ve been an Apple groupie for more than 10 years. Loved the iPhone revolution and the incomparable build quality.

Note in exploring Linux again fire a few reasons, mainly price, ports (lack of), and boring OS.

Never thought I would abandon Apple but I just can’t stomach the changes abs costs any more. And a super expensive laptop with only four USB C ports? It’s driving me insane - my Laptop often looks like a Christmas tree.

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Ben Sinclair

Other than politics and price - why wouldn't you use an Apple Mac running OSX?

Because of its terrible UX, bug-ridden UI and lack of customisability or compatibility.

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Ghost

and to go from the most flexible and configurable distro to Apple tiny box? go from, compile this package but only with this features I'm giving to you; to "feedme Apple gods", and please be nice to me... I'll pay you more if you love me back! and don't take more ports away from me plz! or do, if you think I don't deserve or need them...

... seems a big jump to me.

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Ben Lovy Author

It is, but it's partially precipitated by the fact that I no longer care much about that as long as I can use the tools I want to use. There are other reasons why this is not on my radar, though.

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Ben Lovy Author

You're not wrong, of course.

Other than politics and price

Those are reasons enough for me, though. I'm good with the hardware I've got, have no plans to upgrade for several years, and got the specs I needed by watching prices of components individually, ending up spending a fraction of what Apple hardware would have cost. The hackintosh route is also just that - a whole project in and of itself. I want something I can install today on my hardware as-is. Also, you still need to buy a license, right? If I can get most of the way there without spending money, that's worth it to me.

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Bo

How about Ubuntu LTS ? For saving time I think it is a good choice. For installing packages, It has both apt install and snap install

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Ben Lovy Author

What's the benefit over just using Debian?

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Bo

Ubuntu has more apps since it contains both free and proprietary applications. Also since 18.04 LTS, it has snap pre-installed, for some software it is really easy to install, for example, to install a rocket.chat server, it is just one line snap install rocketchat-server, although you can install snapd manually in debian too.

I mean for advanced user like you, there may not be many differences, but on the "saving time" purpose, I think Ubuntu LTS is better since it targets Linux beginner users with a lots of apps pre-installed or pre-configured. I was using Debian and FreeBSD before, while customizing the system is fun, my current main focus is getting things quickly done without spending too much time on trouble shooting software installation problems

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Ben Lovy Author

Awesome.

it contains both free and proprietary applications

I don't believe I currently use anything non-free, but this is an important note, thanks. I've never really tried snap, it does seem pretty painless.

Good food for thought, I do feel I've kinda gotten my UNIX ricing days out of my system already, so this may actually be exactly what I need.

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krkd

Another upside of the LTS-versions that alot of people, quite ironically, neglect is the extended support that you'll get. Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, which was released almost two years ago, will receive security updates until 2023.

Obviously if you wait that long to upgrade you'll suffer from dated packages with a potential lack of features, but no matter what, you'll still receive security patches.

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Ben Sinclair

Arch-diehards - why shouldn't I just use Manjaro and instead keep it strictly Arch?

Manjaro includes a lot of junk apps you won't use out the box, including things like menu items for Microsoft products and associations with .doc files, etc.

It doesn't offer anything I can think of over Arch except a GUI installer, and installing Arch takes ten minutes if you follow the steps on the website, which is possibly even faster than the GUI method.

It's more like, "why shouldn't you use Arch?"

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Ben Lovy Author

Good points, all - true enough re: install time. Doesn't Manjaro keep its own package sets on top of the base Arch stuff?

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Charles Banas

It has a few packages written by someone who clearly has no clue what he's doing, but no, all it does is hold packages back a week, and occasionally backports security patches and doesn't publish the PKGBUILDs for them.

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Ghost

something you have to consider is that if you come from a GEntoo install, Arch would be even easier given that most of your config would be just copy files from your existing Gentoo /etc; when I moved from Void - Arch - Gentoo, the whole install where mostly just copy/paste. So maybe in your case Arch maybe is actually faster to install than Manjaro.

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Kovacsics Robert

Excellent, I get to recommend my favourite, NixOS (I am not affiliated with

them, apart from submitting packages and occasional bug[fixes]).

First, some vocab:

  • Nix Expression Language -- the core lazy functional language in which the packages and the OS configuration is written.
  • Nix -- the package manager, can be used on non-NixOS, e.g. MacOS or any other Linux distro.
  • Nixpkgs -- the set of 'upstream' packages. This is actually quite a lot, see repology, so hopefully you won't have to do any packaging.
  • NixOS -- an OS built from a configuration written in the nix expression language

So you can try out Nix without going all the way to install NixOS first, but only some of the points may apply.

Pros:

  • It's very different, not just different command names, great if you want to learn a different way of doing packages.
  • Offers very easy rollbacks to a previous configuration.
  • Offers declarative config, in a single consistent way (i.e. not just a git repo of the files under /etc). Also offers imperative installation of applications (e.g. you don't need to rebuild the whole declarative config to install a program, though putting programs in the declarative config makes the system easier to reproduce, e.g. for reinstall or different computer).
  • Non-root package installs (AFAIK you cannot install e.g. setuid packages, so you cannot use this to write a package that just opens a root shell and non-root install it). Multiple installs of the same package share the disk-space, so no duplication.
  • Allows a language-agnostic variant of something like Python's virtualenv for projects. E.g. This also applies for Nix, not just NixOS so you can use it with colleagues who don't use NixOS.
  • Can override packages, so perhaps some of the benefits from Gentoo? E.g I prefer the X toolkit emacs to the GTK one

Cons:

  • It's very different, not just different command names, packaging software might be more annoying, especially for proprietary software (there are bypasses, e.g. it has a (easy I think but I haven't used it) to set up an FHS chroot (systemd-nspawn, no root user needed AFAIK).
  • Need to learn the Nix Expression Language, a fairly simple functional programming language but still might be a bit of a learning curve.
  • Non-root package installs make quotas difficult (there might be a solution to this, I didn't really look into this, just a potential heads-up).
  • Fairly memory hungry (when installing packages or when rebuilding the system). I do use it fine on a 4GiB RAM netbook though. Possibly partly due to the sheer number of packages.

I have managed to reinstall my system after I discovered my old hard-drive was having problems, in 45 minutes. This might seem like a lot, but it included getting back to the exact configuration, which would otherwise be a week of tweaking things. Also, the actual install only took 5 minutes, the rest of time was:

  • Partitioning (figuring out how to use parted) 10 minutes
  • Waiting for the screen to turn on, cumulative 10 minutes (for some reason my screen takes about 2 minutes before it shows a picture, so this was just spent waiting for the right boot prompt, and some pressing of DEL key).
  • Fixing a bug in my config 10 minutes -- I wrote a custom script to show random backgrounds because the feh default is prone to the birthday problem, but this had a bug when there were no images to set as background.
  • Installing bootloader and getting UEFI to boot that drive by default, 10 minutes. This ties in with both the partitioning time and the waiting for screen to turn on time.

If you love Scheme/Guile and/or lack of any proprietary packages (Nixpkgs has proprietary packages, but hidden/disabled by default -- easy to enable though) try Guix. Ideas based off Nix, but different set of packages (AFAIK, I haven't played with Guix much).

If I have you interested, perhaps try installing it? For learning the nix expression language, the manual and nix-pills are useful, but to give it a spin, you don't need to read everything right away, for basic things the examples in the manual and some intuition should do you fine.

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Ben Lovy Author

Hah, was wondering if this would come up. I actually have a Nix install on this hardware too, it's my second-in-command and I LOVE it. I'm going to have to do some serious thought about why I'm not ready to go exclusive with it - mostly it's just so, so different.

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Wael Nasreddine

+1 NixOS. I've moved to it from Arch for the same reason as you, Ben. Broken Vim installation caused by a :PlugUpdate on a very busy day is what broke the camel's back for me; curious what it was for you.

I've written about my motivations for the move here: kalbas.it/2019/03/24/why-i-use-nixos/

Happy New Year!

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Ben Lovy Author

To be honest, I don't remember - I don't know if it was any one specific thing, or a sudden realization that I was wasting a lot of time. The specific "straw" is probably irrelevant - it was a long time ago, in any case.

Great write-up, thanks for sharing. I'm hoping that NixOS will someday be the answer I'm looking for here, it's incredibly cool.

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Kovacsics Robert

That's fair enough, especially if you want/need to use arbitrary proprietary packages, e.g. I sometimes need Quartus for work then sticking for something well known or FHS abiding works much better.

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Heiker

I vote for Manjaro.

Before Manjaro I used Ubuntu for years, the user experience has been almost the same, stable. Didn't have any problem with the hardware (but that just luck). I've been using Manjaro i3 edition for more than six months and everything has been great so far.

I installed all my development tools from the main repository without any problem. Didn't even bother to learn about the package manager the first month because the graphical frontend (pamac-gtk) was so convinient and easy to use.

If you do need to do some maintenance I believe they have some helpers scripts that automate some stuff for you. I came across one of those while browsing the options of bmenu.

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Ben Lovy Author

Didn't even bother to learn about the package manager the first month

Heck of a review. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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tastyminerals

Have been an archlinux user for 5 years and dropped it for exact same reason. I learnt a lot and don't regret a single minute.

You are asking for a new distro? It's either Ubuntu or Manjaro these days. Anything else is a personal bias. Because it is all about hardware support and the size of repos official and unofficial. Both Ubuntu and Manjaro excel in these, everything else lags behind.

Debian -- (stable) old, outdated packages, limited repository, you will eventually be forced to compile stuff and one day you will regret it believe me. Debian (unstable) is better but then again it won't be "stable" anymore so why bother. Debian is for ppl who use a fixed list of applications and have same fixed workflow. Development experience under Debian is also worse than on Ubuntu.

OpenSUSE/Fedora -- again, limited repository of packages, RPMs and other differences which might be good or bad but just not worth the time to learn.

Mint -- very nice distro, basically a version of Manjaro from Ubuntu world. I found its forum quite outdated and not very responsive. Also, long ago it was not as stable as claimed and after an update DE crashed into white screen on my wife's laptop leaving me speechless and my wife laughing at me while I was trying to defend the Linux superiority over Windows :) It was over 5 years ago of course but here you go. I left Mint and never returned afterwards but I believe it is a good distro.

BSD world -- for purists. Quality software and repos but good luck getting support for new hardware. Limited community and development. Again this is a good niche world.

Overall, since I was and arch user I use Manjaro. It installs some junk apps (like any other out-of-the-box distro on this planet) but you can go with netinstall iso if you like. Both Ubuntu and Manjaro have very good hardware support (good luck dealing with Nvidia cards on something less popular). So good I am using Manjaro on surface book 2 now and I had much less problems with both these distros throughout the time on different modern laptops. Besides Manjaro repos and AUR size is second to none. Best forum among all the many distros I tried, very active and responsive. I would however advise you against Manjaro as I think it is less stable than Ubuntu. It is developers distro of choice for a reason. So look no further.

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Ben Lovy Author

This is a great overview, thanks. I'm still surprised at all the Debian Stable hate, I really had a different impression of it vs Ubuntu. Good to know.

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tastyminerals

Well, there is always a day when one of us gets introduced into a beautiful world of deb package installation for one specific package version that you need to have on your machine. Here is a glimpse of it: semitwist.com/articles/article/vie...

And this article on HN: news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19353010

Can totally relate with the author, no wonder Ubuntu is trying to find a substituion for deb packages via snaps at least partly :)

There was a good Debian distro I enjoyed and it was Crunchbang (discontinued).

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andresdandrea

There's is a fork currently supported on crunchbangplusplus.org ;)

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Matt Curcio

After spending years tinkering around with different Linux boxes. I hate to say it but I am now a LinuxMint person. It has 90 percent of the software I need preloaded and it is good to go in 2 hour from a clean ssd. I have gotten to the point where I want 90 percent to work right away.
My 2 cents

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Ben Lovy Author

I also had a great time with Linux Mint! At this point I think if I go Debian-based it'd probably be plain Debian, but this is definitely one of my standouts.

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techcodenet

Not sure how you missed Gentoo derivatives like calculate-linux.org/en/

After trying Sabayon long time ago - I quickly gave up on it's promise of "It's Gentoo, but with binaries", mostly because it's not really Gentoo if you can't use emerge/portage.

Then some ~3 years back I gave Calculate a try and haven't looked back.

Yes occasionally even it's mighty cl-update (cron friendly though I keep doing it only manually for no good reason) will run into situation where several things all align (switch to 17.1 profile, old portage/emerge, old python) needing some manual attention.

Even then it's only dealing with blockers/masked packages, and still mostly pulling in binaries.

And if at this point you're looking for even more YOLO thing...

Simply use cl-install that by default does automatic flip/flop between two root partitions (kind of like having two BIOSes on motherboards or routers).

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Ben Lovy Author

Actually, I wasn't really aware of Calculate, only Sabayon, which I'd written off already for exactly the same reason. Will definitely take a closer look, it's good to know you're having a positive experience.

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techcodenet

At this point I'm also not sure how I've ran across it myself.

Use flags binaries are built with are IMHO almost completely spot on - to the point where even CUPS automatically finds and configures network printers in corporate settings.

Only time I really wished it did things differently was remotely installing it on Hetzner dedicated server. And that was only because their software KVM mounting custom ISO was not really working and calculate doesn't provide Stage3.

On the other hand it's exactly because of that I know Calculate is "real Gentoo".

Starting with Stage3 it's a matter of setting some Layman repos, installing a few packages and your stock Gentoo becomes Calculate.

PS: Only packages/flags I override are:

# because one shouldn't use ithreads in Perl5
dev-lang/perl -ithreads

# Don't recall what/why, might not need it anymore
net-im/pidgin gtk

# For places where it's not yet NginX and each domain has separate user/account and there's suexec/plack/mod_fastcgi
www-servers/apache suexec -threads
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Ben Lovy Author

Don't recall what/why, might not need it anymore

My Gentoo installation, in a sentence... :)

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David Boh

Do you think Arch is the same as Gentoo? I'm realatively new to the Linux world, but I'm loving it so far. Started with Ubuntu, now I use Fedora as my daily driver.

I always saw Gentoo and Arch as excellent distros to learn, but not to be used as daily drivers considering they can affect your productivity. Some people seem to disagree.

I have been using Linux for six months, I jumped from Ubuntu to Debian, and from Debian to Fedora, and I know I don't have enough experience but I can tell you I have no complaints about Fedora whatsoever, it works beautifully for me, at least it has worked perfectly for me so far. I chose it because I saw excellent opinions about the distro online, and I love how most software is updated. I really love how Debian looks and feels, and the stability, but i think that stability has a cost, which is outdated software.

I have tried Manjaro and I think those guys made an excellent job with it. I would suggest you choose between Fedora and Manjaro. They are updated and fairly stable. Imo they have that nice balance between updated software and stability. Also, you don't have to babysit your OS that much.

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Ben Lovy Author

Do you think Arch is the same as Gentoo?

No, but they're similar in a lot of important ways. I generally prefer Gentoo to Arch, it's a little more "just Linux" whereas Arch has some idiosyncrasies.

they can affect your productivity.

They definitely can, but in general it's still a choice. I've been using Gentoo to do work for years and years, and only getting in the weeds with OS configuration when I want to. However, it's always tempting, and it is possible to screw up your box pretty easily if you're not careful and don't do your research, which is absolutely a productivity drain

outdated software

From my understanding, Debian ships with a bunch of outdated (but highly tested) software, but still gives you the ability to pick and choose some software to keep closer to upstream. That seems like the best of both worlds to me, what remains to be seen is how easy it actually is to manage on a per-package basis. Most of my software, I don't care if it's years out of date as long as it works reliably.

Thanks for your take!

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David Boh

I gave up on Debian because I felt I was too "noob" to use it, but perhaps I'll go back to it when I feel I'm more experienced with Linux. I really like the Debian Project in general.

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Ben Lovy Author

Totally. That's a huge barrier, and I had a similar experience when I was getting started. I think Ubuntu addresses that need well. However, I now do have enough familiarity to overcome pretty much anything it throws at me - the basic setup I needed to do to get graphics and WiFi running on Debian Buster took me about ten minutes yesterday, which is acceptable especially because I probably won't ever need to touch it again, even though Ubuntu would have likely done it for me out of the box. It was only that fast because I've been down that road before many times, though, and I remember wasting hours my first time around.

I really like the Debian Project too, and would rather use their OS than Ubuntu's if it doesn't get too much in my way.

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Florian Rand

Debian user since Potato (2000).

Debian is great, rock-solid, bloated-free and always feels snappy.

I always run stable and only upgrade every 2 or 3 years. I have my system configured in a way that I can install packages from testing/unstable and not worry about breaking anything, however, those few packages installed from testing/unstable don't have a lot of critical dependencies, like nvim, for example. (Be aware of creating a Frankendebian wiki.debian.org/DontBreakDebian)

Once you get used to not worry about updates (you get security updates and a few bug fixes), with a rock-solid system there is no coming back. I respect the rolling release bandwagon (in fact a very good friend is an Arch Linux zealot <3) but in my opinion, it's overrated. I use this workstation precisely for that, work, the last thing I want is more excuses for procrastination.

When I want to toy with another OS I have QEMU and an old laptop for that.

Be aware that this is boring asf, never breaks, as I said, sadly nothing to procrastinate with. You will find yourself suddenly with more time for your family and friends, even more productive at work, and that's unacceptable. So install Debian at your own risk.

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korla-plankton

"Arch-diehards - why shouldn't I just use Manjaro and instead keep it strictly Arch?"

Because Manjaro isn't Arch. It maintains its own repositories with the attendant risks, for whatever that's worth. Also, my anecdote is that I tried it and its default XFCE desktop did weird things. I don't have much patience for spin-off distros that don't work as well as their parents so rather than try and figure out what weird thing Manjaro is doing differently, I just threw my hands up and installed Arch with its perfectly functional (if not as pretty) XFCE.

You came from Arch. You went to Gentoo. You're thinking about going to Debian. So you have a lot of experience with rolling-release distros and you're thinking of going to a scheduled-release distro. That's something worth thinking about. If you go from Gentoo to Debian you will be downgrading a lot of your software. Make sure there aren't any features you're currently using that don't exist in the older version or get ready to manually shoehorn in a newer version and hope nothing breaks. Also, be aware that the apt and dnf package managers in Debian and Fedora do a lot more hand-holding than pacman or emerge. IMHO they're overly complicated and try to do too much and as a result they're relatively easy to break. Just interrupt dpkg and have fun with dpkg-reconfigure. (actually, i don't know if that's still a thing -- it's been a long time since i broke dpkg)

Anyway, that's my perspective, maybe you'll find it useful :)

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Ernie

Sounds like you need to try them all out to see what suits you. But it also sounds like you'll get bored with a "stable" distro when you've got nothing to configure..

For stability I use Pop!os on my 'modern' laptop which I share with my wife. However, on my old x230 ThinkPad I run NetBSD for that barebones Nostalgia feeling.

You said your needs are "run-of-the-mill" but you use Gentoo so you obviously enjoy spending time in the terminal hacking dotfiles? So I say stick with Gentoo. Why install anything else if you know it well? If you know what you're doing you should have a stable enough system anyhow. Otherwise, if you must distro-hop and you really want to "forget about it", don't use Debian, use Ubuntu or an Ubuntu derivative. It'll be less hassle for more gain. But it probably won't make you happy.

If you want stability but with more options when you get the itch to tinker, use Manjaro. Manjaro is the real MVP. It's just a pity the logo is so ugly.

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Ben Lovy Author

I think this is accurate for me five years ago, but not anymore. I don't want to do more configuration, I got that out of my system. I wouldn't say I enjoy dotfiles so much as I don't mind them, but a boring, stable, static OS is precisely what I want. I do think Manjaro is a good option for that reason, but honestly think the likelihood of getting funky with dotfiles again is low.

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Ernie

In that case give Pop!_OS by System76 some serious consideration. It comes with gnome by default but install KDE if that's your flavour.

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Ben Lovy Author

This has been mentioned a few times, and definitely does look interesting. I thought part of the whole point of using Pop!_OS was their customized GNOME experience. If I install KDE instead, why not just install Ubuntu?

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Ernie

I know this is the lazy response, but all the info you need is here: pop.system76.com/docs/difference-b...

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Ben Lovy Author

Awesome, thank you

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Matt Palermo

Manjaro. Hands down.

After 17 - yes seventeen - years of using Gentoo for the exact reasons you did, I decided that useflag hell was getting old (especially the python 2 and/or 3 moves...). I tested out Arch proper for a bit in a VM. I found that I was still running into similar package conflicts and on top of that sometimes the SAME package would be updated 2 or 3 times in one day. Why? Lack of testing. YOU are the Package Guinea Pig when using Arch proper. That's not the way I like to roll.

Manjaro has full system updates "only" about once a month (though critical updates happen anytime) because everything is actually tested and allowed to bake for a while before being released to the masses. After 2 years with Manjaro, I have not had one single problem (that I didn't cause... ;-) ).

M.

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Ben Lovy Author

YOU are the Package Guinea Pig when using Arch proper.

That's precisely why I hopped ship in the first place! This is a great review, we're definitely coming from the same place. Good food for thought, thanks.

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Matt Palermo

I wanted to throw one more wrench in your gears.

Manjaro, like Gentoo and Arch proper, is a rolling distro. I know you know that, but where I'm going with it is that I use Dumbuntu ( :-D ) on my work laptop. It's sometimes maddening to use such old libraries, etc. I've since kinda converted it to Neon (KDE's "distro") so I can have a Desktop environment that's not 2-ish years old.

Sure you can add a bunch of 3rd party repos to get newer-ish packages here and there. However, that only helps the NOW. Good luck trying to update your machine to the next major distro release. I'm not saying you WILL get mushroom clouds, but I am absolutely saying you've drastically increased your chances of it.

These "versioned" distros, Ubuntu/Fedora/SuSE/etc, are kinda nice in the sense that package updates are almost guaranteed to work. They're also almost guaranteed to be OLD.

You won't get much/any of the Wizz Bang Cool Stuff (tm) that you read around the intertubes until the next release - a year or two or so from now. With rolling distros, you get them as fast as the package maintainers can tag them for release. In the case of Arch proper, it's often before they've been verified to not eat your kitten (as we've already agreed). Manjaro? Middle of the following month (give or take) you'll get baked and blessed packages that you don't need to hide your kitten to install. Ubuntu/etc? Next year sometime. Maybe. If you're lucky.

Just a little more food for thought after being back at work and trying to update my laptop...

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Ben Lovy Author

This is a good point, and my biggest hesitation about choosing Debian. At least right now, I don't think I care about having a system that's years behind, but it's the sort of thing I can't really judge until I run into problems that arise from it. If I do want to try something out, I'm also running NixOS, which should be a little more up to date if I want to take a test drive.

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jeezacheops

I have been using linux since the 90s with redhat 5. I am new to the developer/programming scene. I would suggest Manjaro KDE as it is the most stable and beautiful version of kde I have used,even over neon. I have been using it on my gaming desktop and haven't looked back. I do however use Fedora with gnome for my work laptop. Hope this helps.👍

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Andrei Pavel

Manjaro has an additional layer of filtering for their system, extra & community packages which gives the feeling of being under unnecessary control. Also delays their delivery by a day or two. This is why I stick with Arch. The AUR is the same I think.

There should be lightweight custom installers out there. I'll take a look.

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Ben Lovy Author

Good to know, thanks!

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Ben Lovy Author

Ah, cool! Thank you for the links.

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Tore Pettersen

Have you considered Solus? It will definitely be my next Linux distro.

Solus is a rolling release, that is not based on any other distro. But it is still considered to be quite stable and easy to install.

It also looks pretty nice although it is supposed to be quite lightweight. I can't wait to give it a try.

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Ben Lovy Author

I've heard of it but don't know much about it. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts once you do!

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tastyminerals

Solus is very nice distro. Very fast to boot with neat ecosystem and I seriosuly considered swithing to it from Manjaro if not for the lack of CUDA support (resolved now) and some missing hardware drivers.

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Philippe Baril Lecavalier

However, it does require frequent updates to ensure smooth
roll-forwards, and that means rebuilding components from source,
a lot. If nothing else, it's ecologically irresponsible to
repeatedly rebuild a whole Linux distribution for negligible gain.

I'm sorry, but what!? Ecologically irresponsible??

I've been using Gentoo for about 4 years, and I hardly do more than one or two complete/deep update per quarter. That's anything but "frequent updates". There might be one or two blocks once in a while, often perl update, which means a separate call to emerge just for that, with backtrack. You may be required once in a while to adjust a few masks if you have libreoffice-bin or firefox-bin (gave up building those two a long time ago). And that's it, done.

Say, what tinkering you do to trigger whole system rebuilds "repeatedly"? That happened maybe just 2-3 times since I started using it, namely ABI changes. Of course using another distribution will not cause such delays, because you will be seriously hampered in your ability to tinker with the system!

I've always been using "stable" Gentoo (+ a few well chosen "unstable" when I want or unavoidable). I once glanced at unstable and decided it's not for me, as that makes pretty much a full system rebuild far too often to my taste. Another thing: I also use KDE, and I learned to avoid the meta packages and trim-down my installation to just what I need. To rebuild a kde web browser when you don't need it is not fun (qtwebengine takes 2+ hours here to build, and I don't need/want it).

I concede that Gentoo is a very questionable choice if you want to quickly try/experiment a bunch of stuff. It shines when you know what you need and don't have suddenly changing requirements on a regular basis, such as:

  • frequently switch to another desktop environment (just trying that DE might take less time than building it);
  • something you need or want to try has a dependency which in turns needs say rust, go or some specific llvm version, and if you don't have it already, well I'm sorry, but you wait an extra 40+ minutes, if not more (bummer!).
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Ben Lovy Author

Ecologically irresponsible??

Yeah, this was not really a valid point, I regret adding it to the post because it's not actually an issue for me and ended up being distracting here.

whole system rebuilds "repeatedly"

Also a wording problem - I don't mean to say that every world update rebuilds my whole system, but over the course of, say, a year, a decent chunk of it will rebuild for (almost) no reason. It's a valid point that that may not be a real problem at all.

It shines when you know what you need

That's precisely it. I don't, actually, I just pretend to, and it's mostly been working for me as a hobbyist. It's becoming a roadblock as I start to do more serious work and collaborate with others on my path towards professional, and I am spending too much cognitive energy "translating" Debian stuff to Gentoo. I'm interesting in software engineering for now, not necessarily Linux administration, and I want to be able to just use the exact same workflow as most other people for now. I'll probably come back some time, but for now that's not a good use of my time or energy.

seriously hampered in your ability to tinker with the system!

Again, it's an impulse control problem, not an inherent Gentoo problem, but that's what I want right now. I don't actually have needs beyond the basics, and run into problems trying to do things off the beaten path.

I do generally agree that stable Gentoo is rock solid, and I will likely be back after some time. I plan to continue running it on my Pi home server for that reason - it's static.

In short, my problem is a human one - with me - not a technical one with Gentoo.

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Philippe Baril Lecavalier

That's precisely it. I don't, actually, I just pretend to [know what you need]

a.k.a. software engineering!! Mandatory xkcd.

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Ben Lovy Author

Hah, exactly :)

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Dave Cridland

I started on Slackware, on kernel 1.1.59 (I forget the Slackware version). Back then, distros were largely about getting a system installed - after that, you were really on your own.

Compiling my own kernel became routine. Compiling an upgraded libc wasn't unheard of, and I don't recommend that. Switching manually from a.out to ELF.... Yeah, I try not to remember that. But I certainly compiled nearly all the software I used myself.

Now? I run Ubuntu on my desktop, almost exclusively from packages. I'm sure there are exceptions - besides the code I write for a living, but I can't think of any.

Steam, Jetbrains, Slack, and Google Chrome are all packaged, and the PPAs support my more esoteric needs.

The reason I switched away from self-compilation was actually Gentoo - I've never used it, but I was in a kitchen at a party, and someone else made the comment that they never understood why anyone would want to compile someone else's code unless it was their job.

The person was Alan Cox, who was at the time the Linux stable kernel maintainer. If he's not interested in compiling everything himself, why on earth would I want to?

So I shrugged, and next time I reinstalled, and I went with Ubuntu. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good out of the box, well supported commercially, and the PPAs give it whatever bleeding edge you need.

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Ben Lovy Author

Awesome answer - even just reading "[s]witching manually from a.out to ELF" made me feel kind of queasy.

never understood why anyone would want to compile someone else's code unless it was their job.

This is going to stick with me. I've never heard it put quite so bluntly, but, like, yeah.

I've got a Debian 10 experiment going now, but I think long-term Ubuntu or a derivative makes sense for me too.

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Dave Cridland

The glibc switching was worse than ELF, especially when it went wrong. You had a shell, but quite often no new processes would run. Gave you a crash course on how to use echo * instead of ls, and so on.

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Ghost

I did the same, years of Gentoo and then left it, but not long after I felt the call back, everything felt so "not Gentoo" I used Arch, Void, Debian, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, Fedora, even Slackware for a while; but that feeling that something was missing, even the little things like the lovely colors of the emerge output, how OpenRC looked at boot, to manually install the kernel with every new version and browse the menuconfig, I know you can do that with any distro but why bother if is not Gentoo; just like the call of the sea finally came back, like the prodigal son.

I think Gentoo did something to me and now I can't run of it. I use other distros for other machines, but my home is Gentoo. So run if you can, be free!

PS: I really like Void, it's 2min install is awesome, the first time I thought that something went wrong with it and everything was fine. Did it put a lot of trouble? or just a bit? I used it about 2yrs ago and it had some administrative troubles after that.

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Ben Lovy Author

To answer your void question, I never got it working. .NET not an essential tool for me so I didn't try very hard, but it's a no-go as a total replacement for now. The administrative troubles are also...troubling. I do really like the experience in general though, xbps is good stuff.

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Ben Lovy Author

Hah, I'm worried I'm a lifer too but I don't want to have to be.

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Shaurya Shubham

Manjaro

I would suggest manjaro mainly because of the following -

  • The AUR - never have problems with finding packages or building them or having to mess with your $PATH
  • Out of the box awesome user experience with a well-thought UI and some useful packages installed by default
  • If you want to customize your installation - Manjaro Architect
  • Rolling release - never reinstall your OS for updates and get the latest and greatest packages quickly. [note: manjaro uses it's own repos that are delayed in comparison to Arch.]
  • Arch based - Fast.
  • Allows the user to change the system kernel easily and reliably.

Also, in my experience, Manjaro has been pretty stable and works without a hitch.

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Ben Lovy Author

Great list, thanks!

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Luis R. Anaya

Hi:

I have never been a Gentoo fan since the first time I tried to install it it ended up bricked with the black screen of death. With that said, I had my share of compiling Linux kernels and running "configure;make;make install" to install open source programs. Therefore. I see why you want to move out of building every time there is an upgrade.

Debian is a good choice, but I am biased being that most of the desktops that I have at home are Debian or Ubuntu based. If your intent is to have a system that is stable, then it is certainly a way to go as your desktop computer.

Fedora is ok, but I was turned off by the frequency of updates. My RPM system of choice happen to be CentOS but it is mostly because the systems at work are Red Hat. I rather have a system with a long support lifecycle than having to upgrade the whole installation on a relatively short period of time. I feel that the release cycles in Fedora are too short for my liking.

I am surprised that Arch was not on the list being that it is preferred by many advaced Linux users. I had several installations of Arch mostly in old PogoPlugs. But considering what you wrote on your article, I understand if it is not considered being that it is a rolling release distribution. I personally had issues with pacman that made me think twice of using Arch as my main desktop environment. Some folks love Arch, I am in the camp of "not so much".

Whichever you choose, I hope that it makes you productive. :)

Best of lucks.

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Ghost

I tried FreeBSD years ago, it had a lot of draw backs, OpenBSD worked better for me but in both cases the lack of Docker (unless there is something to emulate it), and small inconveniences like some video/chat client not working, etc. Sometimes you hit some HW not supported. And that was before systemd took over, so I would expect even more incompatibilities issues nowdays.

I think you should add PopOS! to the alternatives list, I recently installed it to my sis and it felt really well polished and she haven't reported any inconvenience yet.

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John Mercier

I was in this situation a few years ago. I love gentoo but couldn't get my hd configuration to work with other distros. Then I found NixOS which made it easy to use my config. NixOS caches the binaries for common builds and isolates dependencies.

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Ben Lovy Author

I love Nix too and have it on a secondary partition, but I'm not quite ready to use it as a primary driver - I think I want something closer to the mainstream for that.

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Eric Ahnell

Funnily enough, I come from the other side: Someone who has tried plenty of distros other than Gentoo, along with a few BSDs. As far as my favorites go, Ubuntu LTS isn't a bad choice (you'd want the Kubuntu variant, with KDE as the main desktop). I also liked Manjaro a lot, but found that it left a loader shim on my SSD which I cannot figure out how to get rid of. I've tried FreeBSD, but was unable to get it to boot correctly post-installation. Others I've tried: Zorin OS, a variety of now-gone macOS-like distros, Damn Small Linux (hasn't been updated in ages), and Calculate Linux (which I found interesting but ultimately not for me).

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FJones

Particularly with the background of wanting easier - and less time-consuming - configuration, I'm definitely going to recommend Debian. If the hardware doesn't give you hassle, that is. Debian is often somewhat picky about the systems it runs on smoothly, and you'll fall into the same configuration hell on those it doesn't like. In all honesty? Abandon ship if you run into larger blockades - at least if configuration hell is a crucial factor for you.
As for your question re: selective updates - it's reasonably easy. You can pin existing packages, request specific versions, limit your updates, and restrict (or widen) your upstream repositories more or less at will. A common factor with debian is doing major distribution upgrades purely by switching the upstreams, though this does reduce stability substantially.

Manjaro is often more like a "slightly less painful Arch", so I'd advise against it.

Fedora I have little experience with, but generally seems stable and easy-to-use.

OpenSuSE is okay. I worked at a place in public service that mandated it, and it was painless. But I never dug deep enough into it to give a solid recommendation.

FreeBSD I can't speak to, because I've been avoiding it like a plague - but from personal preference. Don't let that discourage you.

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Ben Lovy Author

Awesome, this is helpful. Thanks for your perspective!

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Jay

Having read through your post av few times now, I honestly think your best bet is a Manjaro KDE install. Manjaro will give you the power and flexibility of Arch, with the stability you're looking for in a daily driver, and you'll have access to both the Manjaro repo as well as the AUR. It's far lower maintenance than Arch, has an additional layer of "security" by way of the Manjaro package vetting process, and will always have newer, more up-to-date packages than Debian (even testing or unstable). I think you'd be very happy with this choice.

Another distro for you to consider might be Solus though. It's a rolling release, built from scratch distro with a great community, responsive devs, and is a very stable and powerful distro. The package selection is far more limited than what you'll find with most other distros, but during my year+ with it, I didn't run across an issue with package availability. I was able to get my dev environment set up just fine. There is a KDE version of Solus, but if you give it a spin, I'd highly recommend at least kicking the tires on their Budgie DE.

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Ben Lovy Author

Great answer, thanks for your perspective. The only holdup for me is that I'm interested in Debian-compatibility, but everything else about this route resonates with me.

That's two votes for Solus, too, which admittedly wasn't really on my radar. Will definitely take a closer look.

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Jay

I know a couple of others have mentioned this, but if you're interested in Debian compatibility, Pop!_OS is worth a look. It's currently my daily driver, since it supports my System76 hardware, but outside of that, it's just a great distro and an excellent example of Gnome at its best. What's kept me using it (besides the hardware support) is the baked-in live environment for recovery. It's saved me a couple of times over the last 12 months, after making stupid errors that otherwise may have forced me to reinstall. Having a live recovery system like that is really a great feature, and one that no other distro (to my knowledge) has yet.

Another interesting point about Pop is that they're in the process of implementing a lot of optimizations from Intel's Clear Linux project, so if you've got an Intel-powered machine, some serious performance improvements are in the near future. I believe Solus has some of the Clear Linux optimizations as well, since their former lead dev, Ikey, actively worked at Intel on the Clear Linux project.

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andresdandrea

I started with Ubuntu Studio 5 years ago, then did the usual distro hop for a while, then landed on vanilla Debian 9 Stretch couple years ago.

Customized it with XFCE and Gnome Software Suite supplying me snaps and flatpaks, additionally to Debian official repos from the terminal and Synaptic package manager if I wanted the GUI.

First on my laptop. Then on my home's desktop, then on my wife's laptop as well. Got a Windowsless home and haven't look back since then.

I can say that with this setup, plus docker and virtual machines, I haven't had any thing I couldn't do regarding my work of web development and even electronics circuits design.

Currently running exactly the same but based on Debian 10 Buster which comes with python 3.7 pre-installed, and updated packages.

As a side note, I recently got a pretty old laptop as a gift from someone who renewed hardware last Christmas and was about to scrap it for being "too old and useless" .

Intel Centrino and 2g of Ram.

Tried to get Manjaro XFCE running in it and it did, but broke some hard drive volumes couple times, so I desisted of Manjaro and tried doing my usual setup.

It worked the first time... Of course is slower, but here I have a perfectly running laptop running Debian 10 besides my main machine.

I wanted to test the limits of Debian regarding how long it could go for repurposing old computers.

Got out my old Toshiba that's been sitting for 10 years in windows XP home edition, useless... pentium 4, 1.5 g ram.

Burned a Cd with Debian net install using the new "old laptop" Cd burner.

It worked...

Long story short: Debian is really serious about their statement of "rock solid stability" , and that works pretty well for me :)

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Ben Lovy Author

Great review, pretty cool it could handle whatever hardware you threw at it. I've come to a similar conclusion :) Thanks!

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Steven Trotter

Personally, ideally I must admit I use OS X but only when work pay for one, I refuse to part with my own cash for it. Failing that I tend to just fall back on Ubuntu and I always find it's pretty good these days. I've used 18.04 since it came out on my personal laptop and always been pretty happy with it. Reason is mostly because I know whatever hardware I have Ubuntu will almost certainly support it. I've had problems with Ubuntu in the past but ultimately always gone back to it and these days it seems better (could just be me hacking about less with it though to be fair).

I kind feel the same way these days, that I've done the Gentoo/Debian/OpenSUSE/Fedora/all sorts and I just can't be bothered to deal with problems any more. If it starts sinking my time into administering it when I just want something that works I start getting annoyed. When I set one up I do tend to try and use Ansible to set the whole thing up from scratch. Probably a bit sledgehammer for a walnut admittedly but it does have the advantage that if it goes really haywire I just trash and restart again, though still annoying when I need to do that for obvious reasons.

Would be very interested to hear what you end up going for in the end and what your experiences are.

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Ben Lovy Author

I haven't tried the Ansible thing yet, probably should this time around...

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rgaiken

I like fedora. I've used it both for personal and work (not at current job, unfortunately I'm stuck with osx here). It just works by default -- I haven't had an issue with out-of-date packages or mismatched dependencies or anything.

I'm also weird and actually enjoy GNOME3, so take what I've just said with a grain of salt.

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richardhowes

Interesting discussion - especially as I’m ‘buying’ myself - looking to ditch macOS.

Interesting that there’s not much love for Ubuntu. I tried Pop OS and my recent MacBook Pro wouldn’t run the bootable USB. Ubuntu worked perfectly.

That said, this conversation makes me think I’m being too conservative. If I’m changing I want something cool and different as well as well supported and stable (but leaving towards cool - I realise those two are trade offs. I want to have some fun with the UI and aesthetics are important (I know they shouldn’t be).

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Ben Lovy Author

Ubuntu is a super boring choice, which is actually exactly what I want. It does show up in my list in the form of KDE Neon - that distro is built on an Ubuntu LTS base.

I think Manjaro might be the middle ground you're looking for. My only hesitation with it is that after being on a non-mainstream package manager for so long, there's something appealing about getting back to a Debian-derivative, but it sounds like it's designed for what you describe.

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Ruslan Shashkov

In my opinion, only the one thing matters in current days OS is the UI. Especially if you a frontend either backend developer. All those containers and virtualization give you the ability to run any type of software and tool that you need. Even VScode these days can run inside containers, that's crazy! So I think you can choose one that gives you the ability to concentrate on what you do, not on how you do. Time is a very precious thing to spend it to configure and update tools. ✌️

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Ben Sinclair

But they can all use the same UIs?

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Benny Powers 🇮🇱🇨🇦

I have very fond memories of administering my own Gentoo home web server on my old Pentium 3, with fluxbox for a UI. I felt like I was hacking the Gibson every time I sat down at it.

Hey, do you remember poopmup? That game was stellar.

Good luck finding a new system.

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Gregory P. Smith

Debian. Been using it since at least 1996. Ubuntu is a Debian derivative of you want someone's idea of desktop gloss.

If you feel the need for frequent updates follow the Debian testing track instead of stable (sometimes snarkily called stale due to the old days when stable release declarations were far and few between).

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Ben Lovy Author

That's my impression as well - I think this is the winner.

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Gayan Hewa

Arch would give a decent balance IMO. You still get full control over your system. AUR is fine for some extend and ports don't mess up the package tree. I had the urge to use BSD but it requires a lot of time. Where as that's something I don't have much to spare, like I used to. Ubuntu is too bloated, but the commercial support around it actually makes most of the basic stuff work out of the box.