/ linux

Choosing the best Linux

As I see it, choosing one out of the hundreds of Linux distros is easy. You've just got to have your priorities straight.

There are many aspects to a good operating system, but these are the three "can't live without" points:

  1. Third party software needs to be at arms length and updated automatically.
  2. The distro has to be stable, fast and secure.
  3. It has to be easy to install, use, customize and fix.

There are three steps to choosing the best Linux distro.

  1. What is the best base distribution?
  2. What is the best spin-off of the base?
  3. What is the best window manager?

Base Distribution

The base distribution is to the distribution like the manufacturer (Audi) of the mark (A6). If you know the base you know what to expect from the spin-offs. The base is the core, where all the main logic hides.

The base pretty much dictates how the end distro will deliver it's software to you. Speed, stability and security starts here, but the spin-off has a lot to say in this.

So how do the main base distros stack up against our priorities?

Debian

Ubuntu, one of the most popular distros of all time, is great for the average user as the developers work hard to automate and dumb stuff down to the point that Windows users can switch easily. It's also stable and fast enough, but it shares the same pitfall with Debian.

When installing popular software like Firefox it's a breeze. But how about Sublime Text 3 (which is actually widely used)? I need to search online for a repository, add it into my system and then I can install it. Not only are the commands hard to memorize, but these community repositories go offline all the time and new ones need to be searched for. That is if you know you're software is out of date in the first place. No thanks.

It's worth to note that Ubuntu is infected with spyware by design. That's how they pay their bills and that's fine if you're into that kind of stuff.

Slackware

Slackware is one of the best when it comes to stability speed and security. But software delivery is not built in and none of the distros has so far improved on this. I did find OpenSUSE pretty good on this part, but it was still a hassle and that system broke itself at one point so as far as my experience goes - not a good distro.

Red Hat

Red Hat is great for enterprise clients. It's best feature is the professional support you can get. I imagine this would be a great benefit in a corporation environment. Delivering software is not it's strong point however.

Fedora is the most popular branch from this tree and it still has not got a better way to install software than Ubuntu. Pass.

Arch

Arch's philosophy is to keep it simple. It must be why it is incredibly stable and fast. Security is good, but apparently not the main focus for the developers.

KISS or "Keep It Simple, Stupid" is also why installing it is such a pain. Luckily there are a few spin-offs that improve this.

Sofware managing is as simple as you can imagine. To install Sublime Text 3 (which is also not in the official repositories) I write yaourt sublime text 3 and choose the software I want from the search results. Yes, it's console based but it's faster and more reliable than any GUI I've ever seen.

Arch has also got one of the best communities I've ever seen. The main result is that pretty much everything you need to know about is properly documented in the wiki. Only once did I not find help and that was because I was using the wrong spin-off.

Gentoo

"Extreme performance, configurability and a top-notch user and developer community are all hallmarks of the Gentoo experience." - yeah, that sounds awesome.

Searching the package repository (where all the software resides) returns no results for Sublime Text 3.. next distro please!

OpenBSD (Unix)

This is what is regarded as one of the most secure operating system of all. It is not user friendly though, let's not even talk about software delivery. You should however a little more about it.

Best Spin-off

Spin-offs are created to improve an already well established base. Ubuntu improves the user experience of Debian. Fedora does the same thing to Red Hat. What is important to ask here is "Are these developers on the right track?"

Since we already picked out Arch Linux to be the best base, but not the best distro (it's too bare bones to install and use easily), let's look at it's derivatives. The list is huge, but since what we want is Arch in an easy to use package (without too much alteration) then that leaves with the "speciality distributions" list as follows:

✓ Antergos - ready for desktop users
x ArchAssault - for hackers and security professionals
x ArchBang - OpenBox is not easy to use
x BBQLinux - Android developer oriented
x BlackArch - for security researchers
✓ Bluestar Linux - ready for desktop users
✓ Bridge Linux - ready for desktop users
x Evo/Lution Linux - only live CD
x TalkingArch - for the visually impaired
x Tux Hat Linux - only live CD
x Manjaro - strays far from Arch, but check it out if you've got complex graphics card needs.

Window manager

The window manager is what creates the desktop experience. How windows behave, what settings you can change, how responsive everything is. The cosmetics, basically.

This is where the article gets subjective.

If you have a look at my setup you can tell, I'm very picky about my window manager. This is what I need:

  • 3x3 grid workspace
  • fast and responsive, don't care for animations
  • customizable to the point where there are only taskbar icons on the screen (everything else is hotkey'd)

For the three distros we've picked up there are the following options:

x Gnome 3 - very comfy, but no grid workspace
x Cinnamon - slow, no grid workspace
✓ Xfce - fast, grid, good customizability
✓ Razor-qt - should fit good, but a bit too new
x KDE - animated, bloated
✓ E19 - fast, grid, good customizability
✓ LXDE - fast, grid, good customizability
x OpenBox - fast, but not easy to use

Conclusion

So that leaves us with four options:

  1. Antergos with Xfce or Razor
  2. Bluestar with E19
  3. Bridge with Xfce or LXDE

I advise you to try them all out. Not in a virtualbox or liveCD, but actually install them one by one and build up a preference.

The last time I did a clean install, I picked Antergos with Xfce and it's been a pleasure ever since.