The Perfect Distribution

Distros

Jon says:

Today, I've sat down to begin work on the newbie guide for issue 155. The first part of my day was great fun. I read through everyone's suggestions (60+!) and made a note of everything that I should include. There were so many helpful suggestions, it really was interesting :-)

The second part of my day has involved trying to decide which distribution to base the guide on - this has proved to be frustrating.

It seems that, while looking at the Linux desktop eco-system as a whole, it's getting pretty close to perfect, there's no project that pulls it all together in to what I imagine would be the perfect distribution. So, after spending some time thinking about which distribution to base the guide on, the pros and cons of each, here's what my perfect distribution would look like:

  • Ubuntu's installer and support for proprietary drivers.
  • Ubuntu's boot up and shutdown sequence - their patched grub is a small but important improvement.
  • Ubuntu's software center, with Pacman as the backend.
  • Mint's support for multimedia codecs, including DVD playback.
  • Gnome Shell with a shutdown button turned on by default.
  • RHEL or Debian's solid kernel and associated lower level stack.
  • Arch's rolling release for userspace applications.
  • Arch's kiss approach to configuration.

What do you think? This doesn't seem like that much to ask for...

Just to throw in a little controversy, too, I don't see why all distributions can't be built around the same packaging system and just be respins of the same distribution. What am I missing here? How much effort and time in packaging would be saved! This wouldn't take away choice, people could still respin with whatever packages and settings they liked, it would just create a stronger base.

Anyway, it's time I stopped procrastinating and decided on a distribution for the newbie guide. Have a good afternoon!

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Your comments

Time to choose

...so Mint it is then? lol.

What about OpenSuse Tumbleweed?

OpenSuse has:
- a nice installer
- good hardware support
- OpenSuse boots fast too, same for shutdown
- Codec, multimedia support in Packman repo
- There is Gnome Shell, but heaven forbids! ( :-p ), KDE user here
- Kernel is very stable and solid as well
- Tumbleweed offers a bit of rolling release while still being very stable when using it
- Most of the configuration is KISS and YAST is a very useful tool.

So... we just shave off a few quirks of OpenSuse Tumbleweed and there it is! :-)

Portage

Use Gentoo's package manager to generate the packages that binary distributions use and you could have all distributions "be respins of the same distribution".

Fedora + install guide

Go for a solid Linux like Fedora, with none of the packaged hand-holding, and include a guide explaining how to locate and install codecs etc.

There are far too many low-level introductions to Ubuntu, most of which teach the reader nothing about Linux, and most of which contain nothing that is not on Canonical's home page.

Linux would benefit from more users trying a variety of distributions and sharing their set-up experiences.

A couple tweaks...

BOOT-UP/SHUTDOWN:

The last time I used Fedora it was on F14, but I still have fond memories of the boot time speed, despite the fact that I hadn't touched the configuration.

DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT:

For a newbie Linux user, I think XFCE would feel more like home-sweet-Windows XP, but I do agree that GNOME 3 has come quite a way since its controversial first release, as has KDE 4.7. The sun has come out for all of the problems our favourite DEs experienced earlier this year, but I still think that XFCE is the best foot forward for Linux.

Other than that, I think it's a great list, and I also think it sounds exactly like Mint 12.

Mint

I'm mostly an Arch user myself, but whenever a frustrated Windows user asks me how he can get this Linux thing, I pass him a Mint CD - and so far I have only heard good experiences.

- Extremely simple installation process (a quite unexperienced friend managed to partition the HD and set up a dual boot with the existing Windows installation without any help)

- Good support for proprietary drivers if necessary

- Everything works out of the box

- Configuration and installing software is much easier than any Windows version

- Good choice of default applications

- and it looks great (Newbies have the tendency to switch back to Windows if all they get looks like 1994).

I can't think of any distribution better for new users. If you want more later, you can switch over Ubuntu / Fedora / SuSE to something like Arch.

No such thing....

I don't believe I'll ever find a distro that I just install and start using without making some changes. I also believe that statement holds true for probably the majority of Linux users.

Take for example my perfect distro, Mepis. It's only perfect because once it's installed, it's stable and familiar enough for me to tweak it to my needs. Personally, I think it may well be on a par with Mint in terms of noob friendliness, albeit with slightly less 'polish' which is understandable of a smaller distro.

gNewSense?

Just kidding, I find the name ironic.

cty

There is no such thing as perfect distro it is not possible and it would not be perfect and some points would contraadict others:
-Installer is nice, but it leaves no place to configure system. SUSE on DVD installer fares way better in this aspect.
-Boot sequence in Ubuntu doesn't seems really big improvement in boot speed, but it is nice and Grub2 is nicely working, thought not easy to configure.
-Pacman is superior to any package backend. However I doubt that nice but clumpsy Ubuntu would be the most beneficial tool. But Synaptic pacman port would be nice.
-Easy to do if distro creators would have balls and don't care about "patents". There are many local respins of Ubuntu,Suse with codecs included, also it is Mandriva feature.
-Well Gnome-shell has more flaws than that, thought new ectensions site is catching up.
-Solid kernel is nice, but as general rule it means little driver compatability and halts rolling release stuff. Kernel utils development is halted too, like IO interfaces, modules so programs dependant on lower level tools is at dead-end.
-Contradicts stable kernel at some time. Userspace tools require some base libs evoliution. But Debian Firefox of two years policy is dumb. New stuff always is nice.
-Advanced conf is biggest enemy of Ubuntu style install. Arch is leader here.

Linux From Scratch

How about using a basic distro like LFS. What better way to bring newbies into the fold.

It pretty much

comes down to multi media support for most people..

Have a Minty fresh Christmas

P.S. Good luck.

I like Cheerios

I'm an Arch user too and I have to say Arch is the easiest-to-use distro I've ever tried. The whole KISS thing really works, it's easy to maintain and fix and the documentation is amazing. Every time I've had problems on other distros there have been countless possible causes because there are so many bits and pieces trying to do the same thing. With Arch, because of that simplicity, it's usually obvious where a problem lies.

And yet it's impossible to recommend to a new user because there are so many caveats, starting with the installer. You have to be prepared to do a bit of reading and you really have to have a rough idea of how linux works.

I'm really not sure whether you could automate Arch's install without ruining it. I mean of course you could ask simple questions in a graphical manner. For example you you could ask what language the user wants and then automatically edit the locales file and generate the languages. But... editing that file gave me a better understanding of how things fit together. Because I'd edited that file, I knew where to begin looking when unicode wasn't working on the command line. It all kinda flows through as a cohesive whole, not hiding things isn't just some abstract philosophical position, it has practical benefits. It makes things *easier* (but that's so hard to get across to people).

I have to disagree with a poster above about Xfce. It's a great desktop if you actively choose it, it's a good one for just getting stuff done without having to worry or think about the desktop itself. But I think it would give new users a very bad impression of what Linux *is* (I think to a lot of people coming from windows the desktop *is* the OS. And if the desktop looks like Windows from 10 years ago, regardless of what power that's sitting on, they'll think Linux *is* a poor clone of Windows from 10 years ago).

I don't think we have to mimic Windows to attract new users. People don't mind difference when it makes sense (they seem to migrate from Windows to OSX without much fuss for example). I think Gnome 3 is a good choice - it's easy to use, pretty discoverable (aside from the 'power off' thing) and reasonably attractive.

I suppose there's something of a responsibility to go with the popular new-user choice, which currently seems to be Mint. I'd be tempted to choose Fedora though (but good luck explaining to a complete beginner how to get graphics drivers installed and not to judge it too harshly before having done so and no, it doesn't really look this bad, you need to get those graphics drivers installed and yes it is a lot of typing just to install a graphics driver but there's a reason for that and no, not much longer now...).

Let's remember it's for newbies...

It's likely that all of us have experience with more than one Linux Distro, and with the benefit of experience, might probably feel right at home with many of the popular choices.

Windows and Mac users have effectively paid for a decent user experience, and although us Linux users may have the last laugh, you can't deny that in most cases, Windows and Macs do work pretty well out the box.

I think a newbie needs to have that experience, and so a newbie-friendly distro has to be chosen. They need to see it boot without issues, run useful and relevant apps out of the box, and support the hardware that works with Windows. I started off with Mandriva back in 2007, which was excellent (and still is), but I would recommend Linux Mint these days. I use Mint 10 KDE myself (which I've vastly expanded and modified way beyond it's default settings) but even in it's default setup, it's very welcoming and familiar. However, the standard Gnome version is probably preferable, because it now features the best of Gnome 2 & 3. Ubuntu or PCLinuxOS might be other considerations.

Linux Mint Debian Edition

Linux Mint Debian Edition

Mint + Xfce

I too am an Arch user, and would recommend it to any user who has developed a good understanding of Linux and is looking to switch distros.

Of course, for the newbie, we need to ease them in to a familiar environment, yet with enough differences to get them learning and interested in learning more.

For this, I would recommend the Xfce spin of Mint. Xfce provides the familiar environment, Mint provides the love and attention to create the visual appeal, and Mint's tweaks upon the Ubuntu base gives the 'works out of the box' experience demanded by those less familiar with/inclined to Linux config.

I don't recommend Gnome, I just don't think it is there yet, and the experience may be too foreign to hook the newbie. Although I am not entirely familiar with Mint's Gnome2ifications (it is a word I tell you!), I believe this still needs polish in itself.

So I think Mint with Xfce ticks all your boxes, except for pacman.......did someone mention porting synaptic to pacman? Now that would be interesting!

Cheers.

RPM based for me

I don't really care about distro, so long as it is RPM based. Both professionally and at home, I ran Redhat and Fedora for years, and I've dabbled with SuSE. I'm now running Mandriva, but my next home upgrade will probably see me going back to Fedora. I've also administered Debian (sarge, etch and lenny) and Ubuntu (which I think has too frequent release cycle), so I know DEB releases too.

For me it's all about the front end and the apps. I *used* to like KDE, but I find KDE4 too resource hungry compared to KDE3.5, so I now use IceWM. It plays well with the KDE apps that I use - kmail, konqueror, ksnapshot, kruler, kcharselect, kcolorchoser, k3b, konsole, kcalc and kedit.

Linux = freedom to do what you damn well want to, and I jolly well do!

The first distro that I installed was Redhat 5.1 Manhattan, which explains why I've run Redhat distros the most. I rate Redhat 7.1 Seawolf as being the most perfect, certainly the best looking out of the box. I ran it for 5 years at home.

No united distro, please!

I often hear comments on TuxRadar (and other places) along the lines of "I wish all the distros would simply unite and focus their efforts; then we'd have an awesome killer-distro", or (in this case) "wouldn't it be better for all distros to use the same packaging system"?

This would make sense for a marketing and business perspective, but it would *destroy* hobbies. I love the fact that different distros do things differently. I love Pacman because it keeps things simply and easy to understand. However, it wouldn't work for Mint, which needs much more automation and must not rely on user intervention.

Different distros cater to different needs. And what about the duplicated effort? Well, it's also a *hobby*, people! Has it occurred to anyone that many people enjoy the effort, even if it's duplicated? After all, we have to learn our skills somehow, and sometimes the best way is to do a respin of something that already exists, with an added twist from our own creativity.

Good Lord NO!

Step away from the Debian Edition.

I use Debian and wouldn't recommend it at all.

Would anybody really recommend Debian to a first time Linux user?

Using a base distro is the wrong approach.

If writing a guide to a distro, or even a guide to a distro as a way into Linux in general, then something that is user-friendly is required. Mint might be a good choice here. I installed Mint 10 a while ago and found the process straight-forward but I haven't upgraded to a newer version since, as it is not my distro of choice, so I can't comment on the current release.

However, if writing a guide to Linux (as per the originally stated intentions), one can't use any distro as a base for such a guide. New users need to decide for themselves what Desktop Environment, Package Type, Release Pattern and Text Editor they prefer. For sure, those new to computing or those already using other OSes may find the choice on offer bewildering but careful navigation through the Linux landscape will make them into better computer users and Linux users. Newbies need to learn that Linux is modular and by demonstrating this modularity and choice at the start, it should encourage them to further explore the Linux landscape after the guide as finished.

I strongly favour a general approach to such a guide. Assuming that they are going straight into installation, start with some sysadmin: how to make room for a distro on their computers. I recommend the GPartED live CD here, then a general explanation of partitioning, a guide to shrinking existing partitions and then the setting up of either one of (no more than) two basic Linux-type partition schemes (/ and swap or /, /home and swap).

Next, a top (no more than about) 4 approach to the choice on offer. The top 4 distros that are most appropriate for newbies. Pros and cons of each. After that, the top 4 desktops and again, pros and cons of each. Which distros favour which desktops. Next, where to find these distros (download, cover disc [I appreciate size constraints here]) and general aspects of installation. Then the many suggestions already made in other posts here and on the original page.

This approach might seem like over-complicating things and risking information overload but I see it as necessary if one is to introduce newbies to Linux, rather than to just particular distro. Sure, space in the mag might be tight, but consider splitting it into parts and making use of the cover disc for extra information (further text or even narrated video walk-thoughs, etc.) will help.

Finally, I have to say the distros considered above represent quite a narrow region of the landscape as a whole. If I may summarise: there is Arch, RHEL (a paid-for product), Debian, a Debian derivative (Ubuntu) and a derivative of a Debian derivative (Mint), most of which are rather Gnome-centric. As someone who uses KDE on none of these distros, it does grate when I come across articles that purport to be newbie guides to Linux, only to find that they fail to consider anything other than Ubuntu (or similar) and Gnome. That's fine for a guide to Ubuntu and/or Gnome but not for a guide to Linux.

I think the Mint4Win and

I think the Mint4Win and Wubi installation methods are great for newbies who are afraid to mess on with partitioning, surely they should be considered in a "perfect" distro.

Also, unsure which users (ie home/power/developers/business) this perfect distro is aimed at but there is no mention of server tools in the article.

difficult

Your going to start disputes when you say perfect distro. Especially when more than half have a debian heritage

For me, the perfect setup would be an LFS system - I can then pick and choose everything from the kernel up to the DE with no one elses decisions screwing things up, or high level apps changing low level configs.

Bodsda

Stimme mit dem Jon űberein

@Jon
"Just to throw in a little controversy, too, I don't see why all distributions can't be built around the same packaging system and just be respins of the same distribution."

Exactly :)
My favourite distro of all time ever ever ever (CrunchBang) is basically just Debian with an ultra-slick OpenBox desktop. In fact the things I like about any distro are nearly always related to desktop experience. As long as it 'just works' (which nowadays it usually does) I couldn't really care less about what package manager, etc. it's using under the hood.

Any 64 bit distro

Oh wait, this is the magazine that doesn't think that people actually use 64-bit distros but some times has a 64-bit image file on the DVD.

Really what matters is Freedom (hmm didn't your editor say something like that) ie maximize open source solutions and minimize the proprietary stuff. Thus, Fedora works for me.

64 bit

@Fred: I take it you have made your feelings known where they count, in the poll on linuxformat.com

The perfect distro is in Heaven

The best distro for newbies? Dunno - there are too many candidates.

The best distro I have come across is Arch Linux. 64bit, of course. In combination with KDE it is perfect. For me. However, like most newbies I had to suffer a number of other distros until I had learnt enough to see the light!

Bless the newbies, who keep the other distros alive ;)

Iraqi Linux User

I would say Arch.
Fast, stable, up-to-date, and simple.
I run arch on my desktop with KDE. and on my netbook with xfce4.
I can play HD movies on my netbook with 1.8 GHz one core atom.
My desktop flys with it.

Pacman and rolling-release system beats all other distros.

Chakra may be closing in

I've been a Linux user for 10years. Not a developer, just a user. I'm about to replace my aging Pentium D with a new AMD APU system, so I've been sampling the most popular distros recently.

What I've discovered- much to my surprise- is that this new version of Chakra has won the contest for my new machine. Even though I've tried a variety of environments (Unity, Gnome 3, Gnome/Mint,E17) I grew to appreciate the combination of polish, familiarity and maturity that is KDE4. Chakra, although quite new, has a terrific, fast package manager (are you listening, Sabayon?), configures itself well to various systems, and appears very up to date without causing problems.

To each his own, yet I am thrilled with Chakra and eagerly await what its developers have in store.

Distrohopping

I think the #1 n00b distro is Mint. Having multimedia codecs work out of the box puts it at a huge advantage above others. Even an experienced Windows user could balk at the simplicity of installing these just because the system is unfamiliar.

However, I didn't stick with Mint once I had become experienced in Linux. Fedora, to me, is a fantastic distro because it plays much nicer with my hardware, has better boot times, gives me a pure Gnome Shell (Mint's Gnome Shell breaks in various areas if you disable all the extensions), integrates applications into the desktop really well, and solves various problems in programs such as Audacity. Firefox wouldn't start because of a version error, yum is having difficulties, and there are constantly notifications telling me something has crashed; but these are all things I can fix/ignore with a bit of Linux know-how.

I assume I'll get restless and try Debian soon, and then maybe Arch, Slackware, and even Gentoo if I have time. As I get better at Linux, I intend to move down the scale of n00b-friendlyness and up the scale of customization and control. Although this distrohopping is not for everyone and people tend to be loyal to certain distros, I think, for me at least, it will make me a smarter Linux user with a computer more optimized for my use.

Pclos

Pclos works out of the box, good repro, easy to use for ex-windows. Good all rounder

Ideal distro? Hmmm a toughy

I've just finished data transferring files on my wife's Windows M$ box running Win7.

I now use Kubuntu,

Previously Ubuntu 10.04LTS was my favoured distro, the change was forced by the dictates of Shuttleworth's Decree to move away from Evolution, with the latest release of Ubuntu 11.10, which for me was a bad move. I knew I would have to leave Ubuntu with release 12.04LTS.

I rely on my archive of e-mail to produce a column in a model railway magazine and have perhaps 1000 mails and 50 directories/folders to move along with over 250 addresses.

I spent many hours installing and testing a selection of distros and ended up with Kubuntu which is not perfect but currently the KDE desk top best matches the operation of M$ 7 for the casual user. I think this is the way things need to go if Linux is going to seriously challenge M$.

Where all distros fall down is the lack of a simple program to match Windows Easy Transfer file transfer program. Rsync and Unison are not quite there yet.

Until this can be implemented Linux, whatever distro you choose, will remain the poor relation and home to the geeky and non conformist types.

It took me about 7 hours to upload and sort all my files from the Ubuntu archive to converted and sorted under Kubuntu. In contrast the change from Win XP to Win 7 took just 55 minutes for a 4.9 Gb transfer.

IQMaster

If we all went the Linux way from the beginning and Unix-like or any open source free software was supported the same way windows did by hardware and advertisement, Linux would have been unmatchable and easily beat Windows.

For me at the moment

Re the poster above - Why switch a spin of a distro for the sake of a e-mail client!? you could have just installed Evolution mail with a few clicks or the apt-get command.

anyway - at the moment for me as Im still teaching my self Linux with the help of many Penguins out there, Im using flavours of Ubuntu on all my systems.

Work laptop - 11.10 with Gnome-shell with custom theme - works really well and great to use.

Home Workstation - Win7 and Ubuntu 11.10 with Gnome-shell
Old Dell 505 laptop for Girlfriend ubuntu 11.10 with XFCE or LXDE desktop.

My torrent Download system uses CrunchBang.

I've tried loads of Linux Distros over the last few years, Distros with KDE always seem confusing and seem very slow (the only one I likes was Kubuntu 11.04, was super fast for me and usable, guess I like APT..)
I would still call myself as a total Linux noob (Im a IT support manager for a MS based infrastructure) - People keep telling me about Arch and how good it is - that may be the case but after a hard days work , when Ive sat down to try and get it installed its far to complicated - its 2012 not 1997 - why cant there be a base installer which asks what desktop you want and get that up so you would have a total Basic system with a Desktop and then you can install what you want from there?

I dont want to program it all from command line for an hour just to see it potentially fail!

ubuntu\suse\fedora etc all other modern distros have this ease of install down to a T

Snapafun

I believe one needs to understand why a user wants to go over to Linux as this is required because of Windows availability when initial purchases of a computer is made.

Basically, I think and have acted on myself, that a look at Linux for a noob is the result of currently owned hardware not keeping up with Windows compatibility requirements - so a distro that installs and runs well on an older spec machine ought to be given consideration for these folk.

For me, I settled with PCLos - LXDE for a PIII machine and have had no problems.

So what of your exercise to introduce a noob to Linux? I believe you must settle on a distro and run with it as it will allow you to target the requirements of the distro specifically which would be of great help to a newbie.

Regardless, I wish you well and look forward to your endeavours.

as melhores

live voyager 11.10, moon os e pc linux zen mini são as melhores...

Pacman ftw

I love Arch and pacman. I wish every distro used pacman and with the new addition of package signing it has become a whole lot more secure. Also the level of customisation available is great. I have Arch with Openbox installed on my desktop at home and it runs brilliantly. One niggle, however, is that there is screen tearing, presumably because of an incompatibility with the Nvidia card I have. Windows tear when I move them, videos tear on DVDs. I even have some sound issues when watching DVDs. This never happened when I was running Arch with Gnome. So if there was one thing I would change about linux in general it would be a more unified approach to things like sound and video, that's all that's missing from the desktop in my opinion. If that were sorted you'd be free to configured your system however you liked. Anyway, nevermind; I'm keeping my Arch/Openbox system because it looks beautiful and is otherwise stable.

minimal

Minimal commandline install from mini.iso, then sudo apt-get install gnome-shell gdm gnome-terminal. Thats all. And some extensions from extensions.gnome.org, GS and GTK themes from Satya at deviantart.com, and Tiheum's iconset.

Well for a perfect distro,

Well for a perfect distro, I'd say Bridge Linux. It's based upon Arch and uses xfce as it's desktop, imo the one thing that would make it (and all distro's) better is the inclusion of Anaconda.
If you're writing a noob's guide, you need to make it as unbiased as possible and not point anyone in the direction of a particular distro; give people the pro's and con's of each distro only.

slackware

slackware is my only perfect linux flavor =)

Ma Victor M. Escano, Pangasinan Linux Users Group c. 1999

AtlasX?

Maybe AtlasX is a nice distro for linux starters... The installed system is exactly the same as the live session, pre configured. About making some changes: The completely "ready to use operating system" doesn't exist...

Mint + cinnamon

Mint 13 + cinnamon. (32bit with no codecs).

Install via usb stick and unetbootin for speed and simplicity.

Best chance of getting a good out of the box experience.

I'd go for a frozen 32bit ubuntu for beginners, for maximum stability and simplicity. Cinnamon for the simple, windows like interface and start menu.

Then introduce PPAs to add the latest versions of apps.

OPenSuse

I choose (open)SuSE use it since SuSE7.1. Why? Most everything works out of the box, few repo`s add if not.
Virtual I hop a little, From Debian to Slackware, But please no M$ replacements such as Ubuntu,Mint or PclinuxOS...

I didn't read the article, I

I didn't read the article, I just wanted to say xubuntu is awesome

I have been using Ubuntu and

I have been using Ubuntu and I like it. The things I hate about Ubuntu are: Unity and too much shit already installed. I have been trying to find the perfect OS, but there doesn't seem to be one.

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