Hey, your distro sucks!

March 26, 2009

I’m sitting in a room at HeliOS Solutions West/Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with computers running primarly Fedora. However, there are also boxes (going clockwise from where I’m sitting) running OpenSUSE, AntiX Mepis (it’s old), Debian, Xubuntu and Ubuntu.

“So?” You’re asking yourself, and that’s a valid question. This first-paragraph revelation will make more sense at the end.

Having said this, there are few things I like more than working a booth — usually dbEntrance or Fedora — at various shows, whether it’s a large one like LinuxWorld or the Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE), or even talking up Free/Open Source Software in the minuscule venue of a LUG meeting.

Discussing in good faith the likeness and difference between distros, between desktop environments, and between FOSS programs is something that is part of the process; the process that helps uplifts all of us — those using different distros, different desktop environments and different FOSS programs — in this thing called the Free/Open Source Software community.

Helping in good faith people who ask — whether it’s something in Fedora that doesn’t work for a user or something in another distro that is not working — is a common and unavoidable occurrence at all show levels, and it’s good to be able to get someone’s problem solved, assuming you show him/her what’s wrong. It’s the teach-a-man-to-fish-and-feed-him-for-life concept in action.

In good faith: Those are the three key words here.

I bring up those three simple words because invariably at Linux shows like LinuxWorld and SCaLE you have some who don’t follow the “in good faith” part of this equation. You know who they are (and you know who you are): These are the folks who will come to any given booth and essentially tell you what’s wrong with your distro/software/hardware, without offering a shred of evidence, an inkling of cause, or the remote possibilty of a solution to their, um, “revealing discovery.”

They’ll continue by asking why your distro/software/hardware can’t solve world hunger, put astronauts on Mars and cure cancer, among other impossibilities.

In short, their schtick is simple: Your distro/software/hardware sucks and you’re pretty lucky I’m here to tell you why.

A word to those who persist in this behavior: Stop.

It may come as a shock to you that you — and you alone — are the only one impressed with your knowledge and self-importance. In reality, everyone else thinks you’re a world-class, Olympic-caliber annoyance. Rather than helping, you’re getting in the way of those who are trying to assist others who may not be as experienced, and certainly aren’t as arrogant, as you.

So either help us with your degree of knowledge without rubbing anyone else’s nose in it, or just step the hell aside.

Folks tried to spar with me at SCaLE last month, but I blew them off — different strokes for different folks. This issue, however, actually came to a head when Red Hat’s Karsten Wade and I were getting dinner to take on the road on Sunday evening and I was confronted by one of the dogmatards whom I had spoken to earlier in the day. Not being in the mood for hearing an additional litany of what was wrong with Fedora, I just nodded and shrugged while being “schooled” about what was lacking in the distro. But Karsten took a more proactive approach, which was described by Karsten’s response to an item in the previous blog post.

Now the reason I brought up Felton: I’m primarily a Fedora user and prefer Fedora over the rest of those mentioned in the first paragraph. However I use the other distros mentioned above. I’m also game to try others; the history of this blog bears me out — google “eight distros a week” and see what you get. Some of the machines here run GNOME, some KDE, some Xfce, and one on Fluxbox. I’m not an expert at any of them, nor am I married to any of them.

Naturally, I’m open to sharing what I do know with anyone who asks. With nearly three years under my belt on the GNU/Linux side of all things digital, I realize that I’m a relative “newb” at this. Surprisingly I’m at peace with that, despite the fact I continue to learn.

So while I’m always interested to hear the error of my ways, whatever they may be, I’m really not interested in matching wits for the sake of matching wits. You want to prove you know more than I do? If that’s the biggest challenge of your day, then let me make this easy for you: You win.

Like most others, I have more important things to do.

[FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs HeliOS Solutions West/Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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  1. citizen42alpha
    March 26, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Slackware or Arch.


  2. March 27, 2009 at 5:28 am

    After rolling my eyes, I’ll allow discussion, provided I can go first.

    Slackware: Tried it a while back, but I couldn’t get it to work. I have used a distro based on Slackware called Wolvix and liked it a lot, especially the control panel, which I thought was top notch. It was part of the Eight Distros a Week series here:


    Arch: Everyone I know who has tried it likes it. I haven’t tried it, but it’s on my list of distros to try when I get a chance. You’ll know what I think when I try it and blog about it.

  3. March 27, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Hey, ALL distros suck. But if we work together maybe
    all distros will be the best.

    This isn’t a sporting event where there has to be winners
    and losers. GNU Linux we all win.

  4. truzicic
    March 27, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Slackware, definitely… I find Arch somewhat unstable… For me, Slack works like a Swiss clock XD… But, Arch is my second choice…

  5. March 27, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Larry, this is a great post. Even if you and I as individuals prefer one distro/system over another, I suspect we both look to the best tool for the job. Part of that equation concerns what runs best and configures easiest on the given hardware, plus whether or not the applications needed in that situation are available, easy to install and of sufficient quality.

    Part of it also is what we know best. If you like Fedora and know how Fedora works better than anything else, I can understand why you would favor it over other distros. I’m the same way with Debian and now OpenBSD.

    Like you I think Slackware is great. I have had some hardware issues with plain Slackware, mostly related to video, that I can’t seem to resolve in the xorg.conf. And on the particular machines I’m talking about I can run Ubuntu or even OpenBSD (which at this point out of necessity and sheer will is more familiar to me than most Linux distros) with no xorg.conf at all. And I’m running a few pre-i686 machines that won’t boot many “modern” distros.

    I also agree about Wolvix. It’s my absolute favorite Slackware-derived distro. The installer and configuration utilities are among the best I’ve seen. Not coincidentally, I also really like the Anaconda installer from RH/Fedora. (Too bad my last few installs of Fedora and CentOS were over the network, so I didn’t get to enjoy all that GUI goodness.)

    As far as Wolvix goes, it looks like version 2.0.0 will be out of beta soon. When I use Wolvix, I do a traditional hard-drive install and then let Gslapt update it. It cleverly draws on both the Slackware and Wolvix repositories to keep the base as well as the add-ons up to date. The reason I like Wolvix is that it has just about every app I like in the Hunter default configuration.

    I’m not a fan of KDE only because I’m just not as familiar with it as I am with GNOME, Xfce and the lighter window managers like Fluxbox and Fvwm. The three biggest Slackware offshoots — Wolvix, ZenWalk and Vector — all put their focus on Xfce. Slackware’s KDE concentration tends to weaken the Xfce side. You end up needing too much KDE to manage the box. I do love the Slackware console utilities like xwmconfig and the ones that add and update packages, configure the network and the mouse.

    The reason I gravitate toward Debian is that I’m very comfortable with its installer and package management. And I’m pretty much happy with GNOME.

    But just like with Slack, I’ve had too many video problems with Lenny over the past year and for that reason run Ubuntu on a couple of laptops that used to run Debian.

    As I touched on above, I’ve been using OpenBSD on my main laptop rather intensively for the past three months. It’s been quite a learning experience, and while it tends to run great, I do miss having up-to-date Flash. I did manage to get Java support in Firefox. That took DAYS to get working. And if I really needed to edit video, I’d have to return to Linux.

    (Sorry about this long comment … I’m almost done).

    I’ve got to tell you, the Fedora booth was one of the best parts of the SCALE show. Everyone was so friendly, enthusiastic and helpful. I’d like to run Fedora soon. It could be my next workhorse distro. Those repositories look really good, and they give me a “comfort level” that I don’t have with CentOS.

    What I’d like to see in Fedora is a “dist-upgrade” feature like Debian/Ubuntu. I’m not saying I wouldn’t just do a full reinstall every release (or every other …), but I’d like the option to upgrade the current system with a utility.

  6. March 27, 2009 at 9:17 am

    I’ve been evolving into an uncomfortable reality-set in the past 6 months. Almost everyone I’ve encountered that HAS heard of GNU/Linux expresses that knowedge as “knowing about Ubuntu”.

    At first I would launch into a practiced spiel about different distros. It became clear that about 90 % of them would begin having their eyes glaze over by the third sentence.

    It dawned on me that we had pushed their perception of reality enough by telling them they had a choice in how they used their computers. Too much choice however, as in sub-choices left most in a slobbering stupor.

    So ok…ubuntu it is for now…just for now.

    Stage two will commence when the eyes regain focus and you understand the term “distro”. Please take into account that most of these folks still don’t understand the right-click vs left-click dynamic.


  7. March 27, 2009 at 9:34 am

    @Steven Rosenberg: Good points, all, and you’re not the first one to bring up the ‘dist-upgrade’ issue in Fedora. In fact, it’s this kind of discussion that fosters progress, as opposed to “RPM sucks. Apt is much better” (someone actually said that to me at SCaLE. My reply: “So use it, then”). Not to worry about the length, too.

    @helios: Not to worry. Many of those who start with Ubuntu do one of two things: Stay with Ubuntu, which is fine if it’s what works for them, or experiment with other distros until they find one they really like.

  8. March 27, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Loved the article. It is so true, there are so many people out there that do what you said, and it is also true that the best way to get rid of them is to agree with them and move on.
    The problem as a distro maintainer, is that they then expect you to fix everything that they’ve listed, even if it isn’t within your power, or the scope of the distro. If your distro cures cancer, they will want it to cure their acne too.

  9. trey
    March 27, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Your distro doesnt suck, your distro looks every other one which uses the same desktop.

    I have Mandriva 2009 on our desktop, Kubuntu 8.10 on the Dell Mini, Gentoo on my work laptop and also running Mint KDE virtually and running KDE 4.2 on all of them and give me a break, they all look the same!

    The difference between desktops is the big thing, not distros.
    Liking one distro more is a question of which one has crashed less dramatically on you and people choose distros based on perception as well.
    Ubuntu is the ‘user friendly distro’ now but how is it different than what Mandriva has done for years?
    And PCLinuxOS and Linux Mint both are even better than their legendary forefathers of usability.
    People identify themselves in their choices once they get the hang of it, its more of statement about where you belong in the community.

    I love XCFE on my old machines and think KDE is the best to get people to switch to Gnu-Linux. I will use whatever is the best distro at a certain time and am ready to changed at a moments notice.
    The past two years my distro of choice for friends and family who wanted to try Leenux was PCLinuxOS2007 w.KDE3.5.1. I have now moved on to Mandriva 2009 w/ KDE4.2 which is the version that I think is now raedy for my mom (its on her 5 year old laptop and she loves it)
    But once that Linux Mint KDE reaches maturity, it could very well be the one.
    Until I find the next one.

    Distros dont matter as much as people claim.

  10. Golodh
    March 27, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Well … the article is totally reasonable. There is nothing I can say about that.

    Save for one thing perhaps. And that is that some distributions really do suck and should be wiped on sight, never again to be released.

    Because they haven’t been tested. Or their installation isn’t automatic and isn’t documented. Or they include mismatched library versions. Or whatever else can go wrong with a distribution that was created by one man and his dog for little reason other than to have one’s “own” distribution. Now “rolling your own”distribution is fine with me. But have the decency not to inflict it on mankind in general without proper testing, will ya? And testing, me boy, tends to take a lot more time than any fly-by-night distributioneer has available.

    • March 27, 2009 at 3:48 pm

      Golodh — I think that Darwin (the biologist, not the OS) comes into play here because if a distro truly sucks, it will tend to atrophy to oblivion.

  11. March 27, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Hey, all —

    I have a correction: Karsten Wade’s post which I refer to in this blog appeared in the “Larry the Fedora Guy” version of the Road Trip of the Penguins: Epilogue (which was the same blog under a different name — long story there).

    Here it is:


  12. March 28, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Thanks for your article. Fun to read, and I totally agree. I’ve been 100% GNU/Linux since 2001, starting out with Slackware 7.1, then using Debian, Libranet and CentOS… but then, you name a distro, I probably at least gave it a spin. Right now I’m running a small IT business using a mix of CentOS and Fedora, on both servers and desktops, and I’m quite happy with it.

    I’d say the best distro is the distro the admin’s most comfortable with. It’s not the distro, it’s what you make out of it. In my everyday life and work, I’ve seen folks do astonishing things on Debian, SUSE, Gentoo, FreeBSD, whatever.

  13. mack
    March 28, 2009 at 6:56 am

    I downloaded Fedora 10 and installed a minimum amount of packages. I removed their Java; installed Sun Java; installed Open Office from openoffice.org; added rpmfusion repositories; used some recommendations from http://www.mjmwired.net/resources/mjm-fedora-f10.html [Personal Fedora 10 Installation Guide]. What do I call my distro?

    • March 28, 2009 at 7:20 am

      How about “Fred”? 🙂 This is a trick question, right?

  1. March 27, 2009 at 6:25 pm
  2. September 12, 2010 at 5:38 am
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