Monday, July 07, 2008

Four favorite distros

It is difficult for me to say that these are my four favorite distributions, period, without any qualifications. On the Ubuntu project alone, I am always torn between the XFCE based Xubuntu derivative and the KDE based Kubuntu derivative, and the 8.04 release is no exception. I like the boot screen and the default wallpaper on XFCE better, but those are only window dressings, so they do not form the full basis of any evaluation of mine - I often change them anyway with pictures of my children in scenic backgrounds, such as a view of New Hampshire's White Mountains, a pose at a rock, or an appearance at some event they are in. XFCE is a light desktop, so Xubuntu is always a consideration on any of my machines. But since I have XFCE anyway in sidux (always add it to sidux) I can afford to test elsewhere. Therefore, here are my current favorites with that caveat:

1) What else could it possibly be? sidux has impressed me more than any other system that I have used in three or four years. Only the old Libranet was even close. Given that sidux has newer technology, sidux wins. Why? First, it has a very fast kernel and always detects the hardware I use in my four systems, two desktops and two laptops. These systems span seven or eight years in time, so I believe sidux will do well on most systems, but a sample size of four, of course, is inconclusive evidence. sidux installs very quickly. It is very similar to the speed in which the original would install - you'd throw it on your system, and ten minutes later it was there. The difference is, with sidux, you have a working system. sidux has very good network setup procedures. You can change from a wired Ethernet setup to a wireless setup or you can roam from place to place very easily. Some would argue that there are easier setups on other systems and I would grant them that. The thing is, the sidux setup works and works well. Updating software with sidux is a breeze, especially if you include the community written (by h2) well known (at least in sidux circles) smxi script. With it you can update kernels, packages, or the complete system, and it does a great job of insulating you from instabilities in the Debian Sid packages. Finally, to keep this reasonable in size, sidux has cutting edge software that actually works.

2) Ever since I found MEPIS in May 2003, I have like the MEPIS systems. I really liked the first Live CDs that I ran across. They were my favorite Live CDs. Unfortunately, when MEPIS went for the "Simple" in SimplyMEPIS (my favorite stable distribution), they also significantly upped the size of the CDs by moving from a lightweight window manager to a full featured desktop system. So when anticapitalista began to interact with Warren Woodford about creating a moderate sized Live CD based on SimplyMEPIS, but replacing the desktop, going from KDE to a choice of the default Fluxbox or IceWM as an alternative, I was real interested.

At first, I thought that antiX was giving up a bit by making that change, but the more and more I use antiX, the less and less I feel that way. antiX boots even faster than sidux, has the potential to have much of the same software that sidux uses (at your option). It already uses ceni, the network setup program used by MEPIS, but it also includes, at least for now, two other network setup programs, the mnetworks program included in SimplyMEPIS, and the wicd network program and daemon requested by many of anti's forum members. The new upcoming version of antiX includes the smxi script that sidux fans rave about.

3. Given that I have been so complementary about it in my previous blog posting and I have found it to be so much improved over the past two years, I have elevated Mandriva back to the spot I once had it in the Mandrake 8.0 timeframe as one of four regular partitions I include on my best system - which right now is my Lenovo laptop. Mandriva has among the best hardware detection in the business, urpmi packaging program that almost rivals the Debian packaging systems (except that the RPM packages STILL seem a bit slower to unpack than Debian .DEB packages). Mandriva, like Debian, has a number of repositories. You can get free, non-free, backports, testing, and Cooker repositories with Mandriva, so you can go moderately conservative to cutting edge, depending on your mood and your ability to manage risk. For me, since this is but one of many systems, I choose to go cutting edge, since I have stable systems to back me up, should any issues arise. I have not run into major issues with the Cooker in the past, so I am looking forward to using it more once again.

4. I am giving this spot to Kubuntu, since I have a nice steady Xubuntu on at least one, but probably both, of my desktop systems. I am also giving a spot to the KDE 4 remix, in spite of frequent complaints about it on the 'net. Kubuntu has actually worked for me, even with KDE 4. So like Mandriva, I want to give it more air time. Like Mandriva, it has earned the time and deserves it. Kubuntu is extremely easy to install, manage, update, and use. Should I actually run into a serious issue, it would take about fifteen minutes to set up another instance of it, completely reinstalling over what is there now, so that is a risk I am happy to take. It seems to be a reasonable risk, too, because I have had better results with the KDE 4 remix than a lot of the negative critics. Positives: installs, configures, and runs quickly and easily. Package manager is capable of running with very little interaction, but you can also update using manual conventional ways, such as apt-get or aptitude commands. Negatives, (or to me, risks): KDE 4 technology that is not 100% ready in all cases; little feedback during installation or upgrade if you use the "easy" tools (but as I said, you have a choice there, so not really much of an issue.

All of these systems have upgrade mechanisms of some sort. I like the sidux one best of all, but the others are quite close in functions and capabilities. I would not hesitate to use or recommend any of these systems, and indeed, all four are now the "keepers" on my Lenovo laptop.

By the way, on my Dell Latitude laptop, only sidux gets permanent status. Other distros get, at most, Virtualbox access there. In practice, I have not been doing Virtualbox there, but I do plan to do some Virtualbox test instances on the Lenovo in the future.


Arjen said...

Thank you for your article; it's nice to hear your opinion on these different distributions!

I'm a happy sidux user, but one of my concerns is that I might end up with a broken system after an upgrade if things go wrong in the Sid repositories. I'm happy to spend some time setting up my system, but once running I would like a reliable system that doesn't require a lot of time to keep it up to date and running. I consider myself a developer that wants to get work done, not a "system tweaker".

Maybe Kubuntu offers an advantage here, since once installed it seems to require little maintenance. However, I have more sympathy for the philosophy and community of sidux.

That's why I would be interested to hear how you think sidux compares to Kubuntu. How do you think they compare...

- speed-wise; start-up time and in daily use?
- in the process of updating the system? Is Kubuntu easy to update (keeping all installed apps and user settings) when a new release comes out? How do you think this compares to the dist-upgrade system of sidux?
- considering stability? Do you consider either of the two to be more stable than the other one?

Brian Masinick said...

If you are really concerned about stability, save and back up your data, and consider using a stable distribution. For that, I recommend SimplyMEPIS as the top choice.

I cannot think of a better cutting edge system than sidux. While you have to update it often to really take advantage of it, you can just use it day to day as well. It works great?

Where does Kubuntu fit into all of this? Well, if you get the LTS (8.04.1) version of it, Kubuntu is nearly as stable as SimplyMEPIS and it makes a reasonably good choice as a desktop system. I still find SimplyMEPIS to be a bit more stable, and possibly a tick or two faster as well (well optimized kernel, not too many services enabled).

sidux is more cutting edge, but still really usable. SimplyMEPIS is more stable, though not by all that much, if comparing to the LTS.

One thing you can get in Kubuntu that is not yet stock in either sidux or SimplyMEPIS is KDE 4.1.2, maybe even KDE 4.1.3. If you like the latest version of KDE, that would be one reason to go with Kubuntu 8.10 over these others. Possible reasons not to do that are that KDE remains a work in progress. If you have some tolerance for occasional errors, but want something current that mostly works, KDE 4.1 is a really state of the art desktop, so you may find it worth your while. I have it on one of my systems and it is usable.

Brian Masinick said...

I rate sidux easily as faster than Kubuntu. I'd put Kubuntu in third place in a speed race with sidux and SimplyMEPIS. Add in antiX, and I'd rate that first, sidux second, SimplyMEPIS third, and Kubuntu fourth. Kubuntu is not a slow dog. It may be a middle of the pack Grayhound in a good race, just not the winner. It is a good all around distribution.