A Bit of Distro Advice

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A Bit of Distro Advice

Postby Spangwiches » Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:07 am

I'm essentially looking for a bit of distro advice. This is likely to be long-winded, I apologise for that. And I do hope this sort of question isn't unwelcome here.

And I'm being a bit Goldilocks about it. I've been using Linux off and on (more off than on) for years. I've always wanted to make the switch (for 'values' reasons rather than pragmatic ones) but I have, in the past, been weak. I've given up when it got tough.

This past year I've been a bit more successful, partly due to being a bit more resolved about and partly (predominantly, probably) because it's much easier now. Desktop stuff is far better than it was a few years ago.

So I've been distro-hopping, but I want conflicting things:

1. Well stocked repos and an easy to use, fully featured package system
2. ... which have the latest stuff in them
3. Something robust enough that it's not going to break every five minutes
4. But not so pre-built that I felt like I had no involvement - I want to learn, I want it to challenge me
5. Ideally rolling release. This just makes so much sense

I started off with Mint and also LMDE, as I've always liked that in the past. But it feels a bit too windowsy and a bit too sort of... packaged. I didn't feel like I could really mess around with it. There's something about the Mint approach which I can't really identify which puts me off.

I also stumbled into Gnome Shell somewhere around this point, which I love. So that became a must-have.

I've always been fond of Debian so I gave that a pop. It's much easier to install than it used to be, almost too easy (in that I didn't feel like I was learning anything). Getting Gnome Shell on Debian was... interesting. It was only in the experimental repos which... left everything very messy (general bugginess and I was wary of running a hybrid of testing and experimental).

I tried Ubuntu somewhere along the line. I've tried pretty much every release of Ubuntu over the years. It's ... ok. I dunno, like Mint there's something about it which bothers me. I can cope with Unity, so long as I can install others. It just feels a bit like it's trying to do too much at once and not doing any of it particularly well. Seems unfocussed. I love what it's done for Linux, the role it's had in raising Linux's profile on the desktop and so on but... I don't enjoy using it.

I've never got on well (though this is based on experiences 5+ years ago) with RPM based distros but people kept praising Fedora, so I installed that. And... it's really quite lovely. Seems to be very nicely put together, Gnome Shell as default (and very easy to install other WMs too - I like having a poke around). Just very solid and polished. I never thought I'd find something as good as apt but yum seems to rival it these days (if you ignore speed).

So I actually made the switch. I've been running Fedora for weeks on end, only booting to windows for games I can't get running in Wine (I do love PC games (which means being able to install proprietary drivers in a way I can comprehend is essential too)).

But, and here's where I get all Goldilocks about it, it's a bit too well put together. I'm not really learning anything. I mean I am, I made a little bash script which reads websites using espeak while I play games, which made me very proud of myself. But there's so much *stuff* on there and I have no idea what a lot of it is or what it does. I'm not learning anything about how this all works.

So the obvious choice seems to be Arch. But... I feel like I'm missing an intermediary step. I don't really know enough to make informed choices as to what I need and what I don't need, I'm not that knowledgeable. Arch sounds ideal in terms of: I would certainly learn about how this all works and my system would feel like it was really mine - everything on there was put there by me for a reason, which is appealing. But then I don't want simple things to be unnecessarily hard. When I want to just get something done rather than learn how everything works, then I want it to be easy.

I realise I could go spend a couple of weeks reading and learning what I need to know but... I learn much better by doing/fiddling. I tend to forget what I read five minutes ago, whereas if I go through the process myself I understand it better and remember it.

So.. what's the next step? What's the bridge between distros which do it all for you and distros built around enabling you to do it yourself? (while retaining well stocked up to date repos)

So yes. If I just wanted to use this thing I'd stick with Fedora, because it really is lovely. But I want to learn and fiddle and break things and fix them too. But not something which difficult for the sake of being difficult, that would be silly. When I do have it set up I want something which is easier to use both intrinsically and also because I understand it better and tailored it. i.e. I don't want to get to a working desktop and then have to read for three days to figure out how to get, say, Wine on there.

So yes, sorry about the length of this. I realise, as I say, that I want contradictory things to an extent. And I hope I've explained myself well enough. I'm just looking for advice - maybe it is time to take the plunge with Arch and someone knows of a really good noob-guide, maybe there's another distro I'd not considered - that sort of thing (I should probably list what I have considered and dismissed to save wasting your time. Though feel free to make a case for any of those too :D )

And yes, I'm sorry if it's rude to come here and ask for so much and bombard you with so much text in my first post!

Ok so big list of stuff I've tried/considerd:

Debian: love it bit it's so old (naturally, that's its schtick)
Ubuntu/Mint/etc.: Great for newcomers and probably also great if you're already knowledgeable enough to know what to remove.
Fedora: Amazingly polished, easy, boring.
Suse: Tried it years ago and detested it. Also the MS thing makes it a 'no'.
Mand<s>ake</s>iva: Tried it years ago and hated it slightly less than SUSE.
Slack: Used it off an on over the years. Very customisable. Respect what it's doing but it never grabbed me.
Gentoo: I can't be arsed waiting for things to compile. I am an impatient gentleman. Also people seem to use this primarily so that they can brag that they use it, I'm not into that (I'm 100% sure this doesn't apply to any Gentoo users here, I've clearly just met the few annoying ones)
Sabayon: Preconfigured Gentoo, not sure how much I'd learn. Also I don't like the logo and that matters a lot of course.

I think that covers most of the prominent not-based-on-ubuntu ones.

Wow this got long. I'm saying sorry again: sorry.

Thank you!

(why's my HTML off, it's on in settings? Oh well)
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Postby johnhudson » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:04 am

As you seem happy to try out distros, Arch.
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Postby heiowge » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:13 am

I'm in a similar situation to yourself. I'm looking for a challenge.

Why not make things easy for yourself? Install a decent distro that covers your day-to-day needs, then install virtualbox and learn to install Arch there. If it takes you a month to get it running, you still have a working system in the background.

I tried to install Arch on an old laptop a few days ago. I got completely stumped at wireless setup. I instead decided to put Xubuntu on it and give it to my daughter since her eeepc700 is pants. I'm gonna find a free slot and put Arch on virtualbox myself. If I get it working and working well, I might take the leap to using it as my main distro.
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Postby Spangwiches » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:18 am

Yeah that makes sense actually, heiowge, and I'd not really considered it. I shall do that, I think.
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Re: A Bit of Distro Advice

Postby nelz » Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:37 am

Spangwiches wrote:Gentoo: I can't be arsed waiting for things to compile. I am an impatient gentleman. Also people seem to use this primarily so that they can brag that they use it, I'm not into that (I'm 100% sure this doesn't apply to any Gentoo users here, I've clearly just met the few annoying ones)


That is one of Gentoo's killer features, so few annoying users :D
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (Albert Einstein)
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Postby Brian Hunter » Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:57 pm

I gave Sabayon a go a few months ago, and to tell you the truth I haven't looked back. I was really surprised, it's been a joy to work with, and that's even using KDE!

Equo is a really nice package manager.

But hey, I am a serial distro hopper, what do I know! I used Arch previously, it was fun to mess about with too. I'm really happy with Sabayon though.
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Postby Spangwiches » Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:15 am

Brian, if you don't mind could you tell me what you were dissatisfied with in Arch? And why/how Sabayon is better?

(I realise of course that our preferences and expectations will be different, but it's interesting anyway I think)
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Postby ScannerDarkly » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:58 pm

Install Gentoo, stage 1.

Or Linux From Scratch.
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Postby Brian Hunter » Sun Sep 25, 2011 9:46 am

Spangwiches wrote:Brian, if you don't mind could you tell me what you were dissatisfied with in Arch? And why/how Sabayon is better?

(I realise of course that our preferences and expectations will be different, but it's interesting anyway I think)


I don't think I was unsatisfied with Arch, I am just a distro hopper and I like to try new things.

Sabayon just took me by surprise. Being Gentoo based (which I had never used before) I thought it was going to take as least as much configuring as Slackware and Arch to get my usual tasks running (auto mounting, dual screens, that kind of thing), but it's been as easy as any debian based distro I have come across.

I keep meaning to document my thoughts as I go along on the distro's I am using, and I think my inability to answer your question has convinced to me start.
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Postby Spangwiches » Sun Sep 25, 2011 9:51 am

Thanks, that's interesting.

I've been playing with Arch in a VM and I'm enjoying it. I've only got as far as installing a WM but I've learnt a ton already.

I keep meaning to document my thoughts as I go along on the distro's I am using, and I think my inability to answer your question has convinced to me start.


That'd be cool, I'd be interested in reading that. There's plenty of info about comparing distros of course but after you've got your head round roughly what each distro is about, it's nice to read something a bit more subjective and anecdotal.
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ArchBang will give you a taste of Arch

Postby Farcry » Mon Sep 26, 2011 3:21 pm

If you're wary of Arch but want a taste of what it can do, try ArchBang. You can play around with the live image or install it and hack it about to tailor Arch to what you fancy. Less work than starting from scratch!
:wink:
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Postby Spangwiches » Mon Sep 26, 2011 4:08 pm

I did have a look at archbang but thought if I'm going to do this I may as well do it properly. Also wasn't sure how compatible archbang is with arch itself, and presumptions about such things is what usually gets me into trouble :D

Anyway! I've installed Arch!

Was actually really easy. The wiki is as amazing and people say.

It took me two days to do, but that was mainly because I was working out how I want to handle wifi and reading up on the choices and just reading up on the config stuff.

The actual install went without a hitch, far easier than I was expecting. Then had Xfce and Gnome3 installed in no time at all. And it boots so lighting-fast (not that I care about that, I do it once a day. But it's a nice indication of how light it is).

So far, I love it. It's nice to feel in control and understand what's going on underneath it all. Oh and pacman is as great as people say it is and so fast after yum.

I rate this distro: seven pieces of eight out of a possible tasty malt-loaf.
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Good on you becoming an Archer

Postby Farcry » Mon Sep 26, 2011 6:17 pm

Spangwiches wrote:I did have a look at archbang but thought if I'm going to do this I may as well do it properly ... Anyway! I've installed Arch! ... I rate this distro: seven pieces of eight out of a possible tasty malt-loaf.

Excellent work and glad you found the wiki very good. I've been using Arch seriously for about 3 years now, and have gone through various evolutionary steps: KDE, Gnome, Openbox, Awesome, Icewm ... and now finally back to Openbox + Fbpanel (on 10 systems)! You learn a lot, sometimes a bit painfully and slowly, but there are a lot of resources to help and the AUR is pretty excellent too. And as for speeding things up and keeping memory low, you can tweak things till your heart is well and truly content ...
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Postby Spangwiches » Tue Sep 27, 2011 6:31 am

I kinda went the other way. Started with KDE about... ten years ago (though I didn't use Linux a great deal then). Then went all out minimal and used blackbox (one of the boxes anyway, I get them mixed up) on both Linux and Windows. Then didn't use Linux for a long time. Then gnome and through to gnome 3.

Still loving Arch. Sorry, this is becoming a diary.

It's very elegant. And yeah, the AUR is great. Can you recommend a frontend for that btw (not GUI, I prefer command line for this - just something which does it in a pacman-like way. I've seen a few but it's difficult comparing them)? I'm fine using makepkg but that could get tedious if I do it a lot.

And man it boots fast. I counted this morning and it's 27 seconds from power on to a working Gnome Shell (and 7 secs of that is getting to grub). Fedora/Ubuntu and even Debian were at least twice that (after grub).
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AUR helpers

Postby Farcry » Tue Sep 27, 2011 7:50 am

Spangwiches wrote:And yeah, the AUR is great. Can you recommend a frontend for that btw (not GUI, I prefer command line for this - just something which does it in a pacman-like way. I've seen a few but it's difficult comparing them)?

Yes, the range of AUR helpers is quite daunting. I currently use aurget which is only for AUR packages (tweak its configuration at /etc/aurgetrc and 'aurget --help' to see its options). If you want to be more daring and try a wrapper for both pacman and the AUR, packer seems to be a front-runner. (I used to successfully use clyde, but it's no longer developed; yaourt is one of the oldest and creakiest maybe.) With aurget, I set my build and package directories to /tmp in the config, then simply run:
Code: Select all
aurget -Sb <packagename>
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