Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What defines the qualities of a certain distro

When I installed Salix it was a new distro for me and it was interesting to note what made a difference for me in the process of getting to know a new Linux branch.
First you have to make a distinction between the different Linux branches; installing a different flavor of Debian or Arch does make a difference but the differences between Arch, Debian, Gentoo, Fedora and Slackware are more profound.

I made a wish list before about what my ideal distro would be:
1. systemd free,
2. rolling release ( I don't want a regular re-installation);
3. binaries, no need to build everything like in gentoo,
4. good dependency handling,
5. a good package manager ( I hate synaptic but updating in aptosid should be done in init 3 and works great, although slower than pacman.
6. not the latest packages are needed but also not too slow updating of packages.

Aptosid or siduction are the only ones that fit the full bill, but I am open to experiences of others and heard from Archvortex  much good things about Slackware that I wanted to try it out. Although it doesn't have automatic dependency handling and much less binaries than deb and Arch. And it isn't a rolling release.

But there was one problem: Slack comes with Lilo and I hate Lilo from bad experiences in the past.   I like grub legacy the best but can settle for grub2. Anyway I found a solution for the grub/lilo problem. As you can read here. I like to prepare the partition before the installation process with gparted; again after a bad experience with some partition manager ruining my rather complicated partition table. I like best to install from a liveCD, so I get a preview what  the installation will look like and then to be able to partition form that liveCD (the extended partition has to be unmounted to do repartitioning). Even ArchBang doesn't have that option any more.
The version I installed first was Slackel, had problems booting the installation and retried with Salix. I had no clue if the problems were  caused by some hardware incompatibility or because I did something wrong in the boot process (this was before I had installed the bootloader). That is another reason why a liveCD is nice, because then that possible problem of incompatibility can be excluded.

So what is important for me during or preparing installation are: the availability of a liveCD 2. preferable with gparted on it 3. choice of bootloaders.
I choose the LDXE version as this is closest to the openbox set up I always want to realize. With the *Box window manager I'm home; completely satisfied and no reason to look any further. Salix doesn't have a liveCD version of this one.

The Salix 13.37 OS LDXE set up is nice. Maybe I should have gone for the fluxbox version, but I was curious to see what they have made of it. And with gslapt and sourcery they made it quite user-friendly regarding package management.
And here we come to the second element of what makes a distro interesting and good.
How  the system is configured. What I notice directly is that the video or the graphic card is not configured at its best; font rendering is mediocre, there is some lag in using some applications. The system is not so responsive as I 'm used to in aptosid and Archbang.
Also the way the sound card is configured gives some problems; I have to kill one program to get sound from another. The mixer (volti) doesn't work exactly as it should. And it is the same when installing all kinds of applications I face small problems.
The lack dependency handling gives a lot of problems. I'm only able to install fontmatrix after I install k3b. Viewnior is no problem to install but gthumb is. Google Chrome is only installed after quite some research and so on.
The best package manager (pacman) and package distribution system is at Arch's imho; with AUR and the official packages; the wonderful packer for building packages; the dependency handling in Arch is quite good. I have the impression much better than in Ubuntu where I faced a lot of problems, although that was when I started with Linux, so maybe I tried foolish things.. aptosid is also great in this respect.

So why I bother with Slackware?
Probably because of its conceptual clarity and the consequence they adhere to it.
The KISS principle, that was left by the Arch devs, is still a reality. The anti-fashionlike stability of the whole project attracts me too it, its anti-commercialism ( one of the reasons I lost interest in Ubuntu and was never attracted to RedHat, Mandriva or Fedora).
So they don't use systemd!!

What also is important in choosing a distro is its community and its products: forums and wiki. The Arch forums are very problematic as are the aptosid forums.  Forums should be open and non-conformistic in the sense of open to new and critical questions. Diversification, dissent and experiment are essential to a thriving community.
The Arch wiki is great, although not as up to date as it used to be. I'm not ready to give an opinion on the Slackware community and documentation and forums. Great point of Salix is its Startup Guide that is also available as a free PDF download.
To be continued, I hope..


Tim said...

I have arrived at Siduction Linux after testing quite a few distros for several months. For the same reasons you have expressed. It has now been my sole distro for about five months.


Hgndrn said...

Hi Pablo, to me your post screams "Gentoo". Let's look at the points you mention, hop I summarized this correctly. Y means Yes for Gentoo, N means No, P means Partly.

Y 1. systemd free,
Y 2. rolling release ( I don't want a regular re-installation);
N/P 3. binaries, no need to build everything like in gentoo (Gentoo IS source based but you CAN install binaries.)
Y 4. good dependency handling,
Y 5. a good package manager ( I hate synaptic but updating in aptosid should be done in init 3 and works great, although slower than pacman.
Y 6. not the latest packages are needed but also not too slow updating of packages.
Y/P 7. the availability of a liveCD 2. (you can have a live CD of Calculate and later move on to full Gentoo)
? 8. preferable with gparted on it 3. (is this really important? you can make partitions and filesystems before installation)
? 9. choice of bootloaders. (don't know to be honest but given Gentoos reputation I'd say the answer is yes)
? 10. sane default configuration settings
Y 11. conceptual clarity
Y 12. non-commercial
Y 13. community, forums and wiki (open, non-conformistic)

The other 'distro' that seems to fit is Debian Sid. To me a disadvantage of Debian are the unclear websites and forums, and of course the walk/run/freeze way of "rolling".

We communicated on your Dutch blog about a year ago. At that time you mentionned Aptosid to me, but I found that scary. I had a few years experience with mainly Crunchbang. Since that time I've been through some distrohopping phases: Arch, Archbang, Chakra, openSuse, Sabayon, Mint, Salix, Fedora and various Sid-versions (Siduction and LinuxBBQ).

I like your list of desired distro features. My own list is roughly the same:
1. conceptual clarity. I am lazy and I'm not an IT guy. It must be logical, otherwise I don't understand it.
2. community driven (non-commercial, open, non-conformistic, responsive)
3. good documentation
4. large repositories, with choice between bleeding edge, sane, and ultra stable packages
5. rolling release ( I don't want a regular re-installation);
6. package management (dependency handling of course, but also things like easy roll back etc.)

No distribution ticks all the check boxes. Closest come Debian (Sid), Arch (+spin offs), Gentoo (+spin offs like Funtoo and Exherbo), Slackware, Crux. I am interested in Gentoo which I will install along my LinuxBBQ (=Sid) and Mint partitions.

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