At a LUG meeting recently, someone asked which distributions I used and why. My choice of distro is not random by any means. It was a carefully thought out reason, which fits my requirements.
Which Linux distribution?
Picking a Linux distribution can be a trivial thing since it is very easy to switch between them. Even switching between different package managers like Debian-APT to Redhat RPM really is not that big of a deal anymore. There are many APT-to-RPM cheat-sheets available on the internet.
So my answer to the 1st question – which distros do I use is – Ubuntu LTS.
The answer to the 2nd question for – why? is a little more complicated.
- First, I prefer APT-based distributions because I ran RPM for a few years and was in RPM-Hell for much of that time. What is RPM-Hell? It is when the package manager becomes corrupted and cannot be used for any updates to the system. Once the system was hacked because of the RPM-Hell situation. I’d been unable to patch for a few months, yet kept the system on the internet. Burn me once, shame on you …. I’ll avoid RPM systems going forward for this reason, even though I’ve heard they don’t have the same problems anymore.
- Second, I wanted a distribution that was widely used, extremely stable, but not too far behind on packages. To me, that left Ubuntu and Slackware. Arch is too unstable and not widely used. Debian Stable was too far behind on packages and Debian Testing was too unstable. Slackware, which I ran for a number of years, is more like Arch and the package management basically sucks. Setting up a system with commonly needed stuff takes hours. Ubuntu was the answer for me.
- Third, Long Term Support? Why limit myself to a distro every 2 years? Simple. When I install a system, I’d like to use it for a few years. Non-LTS Ubuntu releases get between 6 months and 12 months of support. They are meant to be used until the next release only – usually just 6 months. When running servers, swapping out the OS becomes a huge issue. Heck, swapping out the OS even after 2 years is a hassle to be avoided. For my needs, Ubuntu LTS support for 5 years provides the best mix of stability AND long term patches. It lets me decide when to migrate the OS since Ubuntu LTS releases happen every April of even years. For example, 8.04, 10.04, 12.04 and there will be another LTS release in April of 2014 … 14.04. Count on it. I do.
I’ve played with non-LTS releases from Ubuntu a few times. For a short-term desktop, that can be fine, but for a server, forget it. I won’t even consider it anymore. I’ve been burned by crap releases from Canonical where trying something new was more important than stability. I need stability more than anything else. Check out my other article here Why Ubuntu Users Should Run an LTS Release to learn more.
Why use Ubuntu at all? Certainly Canonical has made choices that are anti-user recently, right? Well, that is true, but Canonical hasn’t changed the underlying packages for the OS. They still follow Debian enough that the base OS is great. Swapping out an entire OS just for a GUI seems stupid to me. Sorry to all the Mint people. I run servers, not desktops. Desktop users have very different requirements from me, but I can easily have whatever desktop installed and running on Ubuntu in about 5 minutes. Mint is also slightly illegal in my country, so there is that concern too.
My desktop machine(s) are Ubuntu Server with LXDE loaded. When I remote in using NX from a different continent, I use fvwm (an old school Window Manager) and no DE (Desktop Environment) at all. Much of what a DE provides, I find annoying anyway. I’ve been using the same ~/.fvwmrc file since around 1995 with very few changes. Fvwm is an amazing window manager – AMAZING. It provided virtual desktops and transparent layers years before anyone else did. At the NASA lab where I learned about it, everyone there used it regardless of OS being run – SunOS, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, Irix, Linux – OSF, Digital UNIX – it didn’t matter, we all used fvwm. Check out a few screen shots here to be impressed: http://www.fvwm.org/screenshots/desktops/index.php?num=50 You can be as simple or complex as you wish with fvwm.
To load a new desktop environment on any APT-based system, it is trivial.
$ sudo apt-get install lxde
That’s it. Now at the GUI login screen, there is a way to select different DE/WMs – a list should be displayed. Pick it. Yes, you have to logout and login, but there isn’t any need to restart the OS. All the dependencies are pulled in automatically. With LXDE, almost all the dependencies already exist on an Ubuntu install already. Want xfce instead? You can figure out what to change in that command, I hope. Want KDE, Gnome3, any other DE? I’m sure you can figure it out. No need to replace an entire OS just to change the GUI – this isn’t OSX or Windows-whatever. You can even load Unity if you like, cough.
Servers and Lite-Desktops
Also, I don’t only use Ubuntu, though it is used on 30+ servers and 3 desktops. I use TinyCore inside a VM for online banking. It is very fast and so limited in capabilities that I can’t imagine someone finding a hackable back door. It runs Firefox and Chromium great and starts almost instantly. Everything we want from a banking OS – small, fast, hard to hack, limited other uses. Perfect. I’ve liked TinyCore for a few years
- Minimalistic Linux – TinyCore 3
- What’s in my VirtualBox List?
- Learning Linux-Easy to Hard
My Mom ran Lubuntu (my choice, not hers) for the last 3 years after her Windows XP system was hacked. Originally, her PC was a Pentium4, but it was upgraded to a Core i7 machine with a workstation-class GPU last fall. She didn’t want any more cheese, so Lubuntu stayed. Sadly, my Mom died earlier this month, so we’ve lost another Linux user.
Ok, there you have it, my reasons for picking Ubuntu LTS releases.
You probably have different reasons and might have made a different choice. I don’t think there are any wrong answers.
So, which distribution(s)s do you use and why?