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Notes About Choosing a Linux Distribution⁠🐧︎
Updated  2022-10-10

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News

2021-November-2  Published this evolving⁠[1] article.

Introduction

I’m in the midst of choosing a Linux distribution to put on one or more of my computers. This article contains my ongoing notes about this process in reverse chronological order. This is basically a note to self, but maybe it will be interesting to others.

 

Why I want to use desktop Linux now

Because of Windows 11 Home and other Microsoft invasions of privacy,⁠[2] I’ve decided I want to try to change my primary desktop operating system from Windows to Linux. To read some of my thoughts about this, see Thinking About Windows 11 Pro and Desktop Linux.

 

My nix-nux background

I’ve been using Unix-like operating systems since the 1980s, but most of that experience has been at a command line, including …

I am a newbie to the world of Linux desktop environments (GNOME, KDE Plasma, Xfce, etc.).

 

Features I do and do not want in an operating system and desktop environment

I do want

I want out of the box support for:

  • multiple monitors

  • keyboard shortcuts to move a window between monitors, maximize a window, etc.

  • easy backups via something like snapper

GUI package manager that makes it easy to get the latest apps I use, including:

  • extended hugo

  • gvim (note to self: on KDE, use Muon to install vim-gtk or vim-gtkN)

  • qutebrowser

File manager that includes context menus for:

  • duplicating a file

  • checking checksums

 

I do not want

I want a system that out of the box…

  1. does not require an account at any remote service provider and

  2. does not phone home (e.g. to send telemetry info).

This means:

  • I do not want Windows 11 Home, which does #1 and #2.⁠[2]

  • I do not want Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu, Ubuntu MATE, or Xubuntu, all of which do #2. I learned about this from distrochooser.de, which told me “We cannot recommend this distribution for you because: Connects to third party sevices by default” — thank you distrochooser.de!

 

Reverse chronological timeline

 

2022-10-10:  Thinking about FreeBSD

I’ve been using openSUSE Leap 15.4 for more than 5 months and it’s fine and maybe it will be my ultimate choice. But, because Linux package management is a pain in all distros, I’m thinking about giving up on Linux and trying FreeBSD.

 

2022-02-23:  openSUSE Argon

While researching the problems I had trying to install openSUSE Leap 15.3, I learned about openSUSE Argon, which might be what I really want anyway.

Unfortunately, I had the same problems I had trying to install openSUSE Leap 15.3 (see below) so for now I’m using Kubuntu.

 

2022-02-22:  Kubuntu 21.1.0

  • The package managers KDE Discover and Muon are pre-installed. Unfortunately, neither of these make it easy to install extended Hugo.

  • I installed Snap Store Desktop App because I was in search of a GUI package manager that could install extended Hugo. This Snap Store Desktop App works because there is a drop-⁠down menu in the upper right labeled Source that lets you choose extended/stable or extended/edge.⁠👏

  • I spent a lot of time trying to turn off telemetry, which I’m not even sure Kubuntu does. I was worried about telemetry because…

    • distrochooser.de told me that Kubuntu “Connects to third party services by default”

    • and there was a pop-up notification that disappeared before I read it that said something like “help us”. My pessimistic guess was that this was notification about telemetry.

 

2022-02-19:  openSUSE Leap 15.3 with KDE Plasma

Trying to install openSUSE Leap 15.3 produced this message:

Suggested Partitioning

It was not possible to propose an initial partitioning layout even after adjusting the Guided Setup settings:

  • do not enable snapshots for /

  • do not propose swap

Please use "Guided Setup" to adjust the proposal setting or "Expert Partitioner" to create a custom layout.

Clicking Guided Setup produced this:

Select Hard Disk(s)

Select one or more (max 3) hard disks

But there were no hard disks listed. Since I’m a newbie, I do not want to mess around with the Expert Partioner option.

 

2022-02-14:  KDE neon 5.24 with KDE Plasma 5.24

Latest thought

Even though KDE neon is not considered a rolling release, every day there are a lot of updates so, unfortunately, this is probably not the distro for me.😞

 

KDE neon logo

 

💡

TIL that Calamares sometimes fails with this error message: The installer failed to create partition on disk… but (rebooting and trying again)n fixed it. Weird.

 

2022-02-05: Manjaro Linux 21.2.2 “Qunos” with KDE Plasma

This distro confirms that I like KDE Plasma but I’m probably not going to stick with it because:

  • I’m having a lot of issues with the default GUI package manager, Pamac,

  • and I’ve decided I do not want to use a rolling release. Instead I want to be left alone about OS updates.

 

  • Today I used zsh for the first time.

  • TIL that the Calamares universal installer makes it easy to “Erase disk” and install a Linux distribution on an entire SSD (without me having to think about partitioning, etc.).

 

2022-01-30: openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma

Thanks to KDE neon, I’ve decided that I really like the KDE Plasma desktop environment. Because there are some things about KDE neon that are harder than they should be (IMHO), I’m still distro shopping and am now trying openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma.

 

2022-01-14:  KDE neon 5.23.5

As of 2022-January-14, my ~$400 HP laptop (discussed below) is set up to dual boot Zorin OS 16 Lite (discussed in the next section) and KDE neon. One of the things I like about KDE neon is that the following keyboard shortcuts work out of the box:

  • Meta+Shift+ moves the active window to the next monitor

  • Meta+PgUp maximizes the active window

 

💡
TIL that the Windows key is called the Meta key in some Linux distributions, for example in KDE neon.

 

2021-12-23+:  Zorin OS

After a couple months of reading, experimenting, shopping, and mulling, I’ve deleted Windows 11 and installed Zorin OS. I’m not sure this will be my ultimate choice for a desktop Linux distribution, but it’s good enough for now.

 

Zorin OS logo

 

12-25+  Zorin OS 16 Lite

Because I couldn’t figure out how to easily put a random app or file icon on the Zorin Core GNOME desktop, I’m trying Zorin Lite. The good news is that…

  1. Zorin Lite’s XFCE destop environment does not have this issue and

  2. for me, it’s usually a good idea to use a “light” system so that most of my system resources can be used for the apps and hundreds (literally) of browser tabs I often have open.

 

12-23:  Zorin OS 16 Core

I tried Zorin OS 16 Core and liked it enough to install it (rather than running it off a USB drive).⁠[3]

💡
TIL that the Windows key is called the Super key in the nix-⁠nux world.

 

2021-11-29:  Taking a break from distro shopping

Since…

  • this process is overwhelming and time consuming,

  • and I’ve decided I don’t yet want to (accidentally or on purpose) remove Windows 11 from this computer,

… I’m going to take a break from this decision-making process.

 

2021-11-28:  EndeavorOS

EndeavourOS, which is based on Arch, is a maybe but I have a lot to learn before I can decide yay or nay about this distro.

💡
TIL that using a USB 2 drive is significantly slower than a USB 3+ drive (both when burning an ISO and when launching a Linux distro).

 

2021-11-18:  Ubuntu 21.10 (Impish Indri)

I like that it’s called “Impish Indri” (which has the initials ii😃) but probably I’m not going to use this. Details about this Ubuntu release are at discourse.ubuntu.com/t/impish-indri-release-notes/21951.

 

2021-11-14+:  Playing with my new laptop

OMG Windows S Mode⁠[4] is a PITA⁠😱. As of 2021-11-18, I’m trying Linux distributions on this new laptop and I don’t care if I destroy all remnants of Windows 11 that are on it.

BTW, it took me a couple days to figure out that F10 was how to get into the BIOS.⁠[5] I finally got F10 to work by pressing it repeatedly during boot (rather than holding it down).

 

2021-11-13:  Bought USB drives

Before I started using my new computer, I decided I better buy a bunch of USB drives to use for a Windows recovery disk and Linux distribution ISOs. So I went shopping again.

 

2021-11-12:  Bought ~$400 HP laptop running Windows 11 S

Since this Costco HP Windows 11 S laptop was on sale for $379.99 (instead of $499.99), I bought it with the plan that I would 1) try Windows 11 and 2) use this laptop for Linux. Here are some of its specs:

  • 14" Display (1920 x 1080)

  • 8GB RAM

  • 256GB SSD

  • 11th Gen Intel Core i3-1125G4 processor

  • ~3.24 pounds

  • Windows 11 Home in S Mode

 

2021-11-03:  Linux Mint 20.2 “Uma” Cinammon Edition

This version of Linux Mint is my current first choice for a Linux distribution I might use on my computers.

 

2021-11-03:  Elementary OS 6 “Odin”

Nope because it’s a macOS clone and I dislike Apple even more than I dislike Microsoft.

 

2021-11-03:  Solus 4.3 Budgie

Solus is lovely but I had to do a lot of fiddling to get a configuration I liked, for example I want:

  • a maximize button on each window

  • a light theme

 

2021-11-01:  Pop!_OS 21.04

My first test was Pop!_OS by System76. I carefully followed the instructions on these pages:

The second page above recommends etcher.io for burning an image to a USB drive. I used this and I was shocked and disappointed to discover that it includes two things that are forcing me to leave Windows:

  1. advertisments

  2. default auto update (aka phones home)

Despite this disappointment, I tried Pop!_OS and, after sleeping on it, decided this is probably not the distribution for me, mainly because of Etcher, which reminded me that “Oh yeah, system76.com is a for-profit company and probably they are getting a cut of those (and other) ads.”

 

References

See also

Endnotes


1. Many Infinite Ink articles, including this one, are evergreen and regularly updated.
2. Windows 11 Home requires a Microsoft account during setup. In February 2022, Microsoft announced that later this year Windows 11 Pro will also require a Microsoft account during setup.
4. According to Microsoft, S Mode is “designed for Security and performance” but to me it means Stupid Mode.⁠🤣
5. Nowadays most computers use an Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) rather than a BIOS firmware interface. For details, see wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_Extensible_Firmware_Interface.

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