A friend of mine recently pointed me to an interesting map of current Linux distributions. This got me thinking about my quest for Linux nirvana and all the distributions that I have tried over the years.
What I find important in a distribution has changed throughout the years. Initially Linux was just a hobby OS installed on spare hardware or a secondary partition. Then it started filling special needs. Like a dedicated combo router and firewall. Now I use it as one of my primary desktop OSes. I especially like Linux for most development stuff.
Criteria that is important to me now is getting a distribution to a completely useable state in a short amount of time. By completely useable I mean that I don’t have to install alot of extra stuff after the initial installation. I like having some support for things like Java, Flash and other browser plugins right out of the box. I have also come to prefer KDE.
Have I found the perfect distribution? Probably not, but here is a list of the ones that I have used or evaluated that are still active.
- Red Hat – The last Red Hat I tried was in the pre-Fedora days. It was once my primary distribution and I used it as a dedicated router for a couple of years. I finally dropped it for Suse when I got a new PC that had hardware that required a newer kernel than Red Hat supported at the time.
- SuSe – I really liked SuSe for a couple of years. I purchased two or three copies of the Professional package as new versions became available. YaST was a nice touch. I finally moved on after getting the feeling that it had become too bloated for my needs.
- Slackware – Slackware eventually replaced SuSe as my preferred distribution. I used it as my primary distribution for a couple of years. Slackware is awesome and I still have a fondness for it. But I guess my criteria has changed over the years and it seems to lag behind some of the other popular distributions when it comes to things like kernel versions and package management.
- Vector – Vector was based on Slackware with some nice extensions in installation and package management. It seemed really nice, but in the end probably too much like Slackware at a time when I decided to try something different. I think I’ve had some installation issues with the latest versions and my newest hardware — perhaps it is time for me to try Vector again.
- Arch – Nice distribution with a cool package manager in Pacman.
- Yoper – I’ve only taken a quick look at Yoper. It is a 686 optimized distribution.
- SLAX – SLAX is a cool Live CD distribution based on Slackware. It was a life saver on a trip to Disney World a couple of years back. It booted nicely on a laptop I had brought along and provided hours of in-flight gaming entertainment for my daughter.
- Mandriva – I tried this distribution back when it was still Mandrake. It had some nice features, but just never met my fancy for some reason.
- PCLinuxOS – I was impressed with some of the soundcard detection PCLinuxOS did on a PC that seemed to give other distributions problems. Still though, too much Mandrake for my tastes.
- Gentoo – The ideas seem cool and I’ve tried it once or twice. But I guess I’m just too impatient to invest as much time as seems to be required to get the OS to the state I want. Nonetheless, emerge and portage are really cool.
- VLOS – VLOS is basically a nice packaging of a Gentoo stage 3 build. Nicely done but still more time that I want to invest these days.
- Debian – Debian is the base of my current favorite distributions. I find Debian itsself to be too draconian in what it allows in the distribution proper for my tastes. All the Debian based distributions have excellent package management in Apt and Synaptic makes a nice GUI frontend to Apt.
- Ubuntu – Very nice, Debian based with more uptodate stuff. Used it as my primary distribution for about one year. This was my first time to stick with Gnome for that long. In the end, it was probably Gnome that made me switch to something else.
- Kubuntu – Ubuntu with KDE as the window manager. When I tried Kubuntu, it seemed to lag behind Ubuntu and didn’t seem to be getting the same kind of attention. Perhaps things have changed.
- Knoppix – Knoppix has got to be the best Live CD that I have used so far. It has helped me recover data from dead MS Windows installations more times than I care to remember.
- Mepis – My current favorite distribution is Mepis. Based on Debian with non-free stuff Debian will not include. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with it so far. It includes many things that other distributions require you to install after the initial installation. Things promise to get even better now that Mepis is switching to Ubuntu as a base. With KDE as the primary window manager, Mepis appears to be a better Kubuntu than Kubuntu.
- FreeBSD – While not a Linux distribution, I’ve tried it numerous times and always enjoyed the experience. The ports package management system was the inspiration for Gentoo’s portage.
That said, I still have some spare partitions reserved for trying new or updated distributions.