The ease of choosing a distro

July 7, 2013

If you’ll permit me a “get off my lawn” moment, I just have to wonder where this particular tool has been all this time.

You see, I’ve said ad nauseum that choice is good, and the fact that there are more than 300 Linux/BSD-based distros is a good thing. In fact, I’ll keep saying that until I die, hopefully several decades from now, but not before creating an OGG file to repeat this statement for the, ahem, “benefit” of others once I’m gone.

One of the complaints that sometimes flies against this position is that there are too many distros. This argument is made by those who can’t easily enter a Baskin-Robbins without breaking into cold sweat — 31 different flavors? Too many! — or have a hard time with choosing what color socks to wear. In many cases, the “too many distros” argument stems from this premise: “There are too many distros, so you and everyone else should use my distro,” and my distro, wait for it, always seems to be the vowel-laden one which goes light-years out of its way to say it’s not a Linux-based distro.

Meanwhile, back at the original point: Distro-hoppers know first hand that trying out a vast range of distros is a time consuming task, and that there must be an easier way to find that special distro.

Leave it to TuxRadar to provide you with a tool to help you out there. TuxRadar’s Linux Distro Picker can help you if you just can’t decide which distro you want to run.

Using a few different ratings systems, whether it’s ranking desktop environments or using a slide bar to enter your preferences, the Distro Picker helps you choose your ideal distro, and offers several other options below ranked by the TuxRadar Match Score in percentages.

So, I keep all the desktop environment settings at 1 (not important at all), slide the Desktop/Server choice to Desktop 99, Server 1; leave “Stability or Bleeding Edge” (because you can’t have both) in the middle, slide the “New or Old” slightly toward the old (no new hardware for me, sadly) and Package Manager set to “don’t care.” Press the button and . . . .

Debian. Hmmm. Not bad. Also falling in the 90th percentile and higher are SalixOS, Porteus, CentOS, Crux, PureOS, Frugalware, Foresight and Damn Small Linux.

Changing the settings, of course, provides you with different results, complete with a helpful description of the distros as a guide.

Give it a shot if you’re not doing anything at the moment. You may find a new distro.

Well played, TuxRadar.

Meanwhile, I still have Schrodinger’s Cat out of the box and I’m still putting it through its paces. A report is forthcoming.

See you next Sunday, if not sooner.

(Make a few changes, push the button . . . What? Slackware? Let’s slide this over and . . . CentOS?)

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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  1. July 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Great tool, it knew I liked Puppy Linux and Bodhi. It also mentioned a few I wanted to investigate also. Korora looks interesting. It also suggested CrunchBang- you will be happy to know 🙂 Yay Penguin family!

  2. Colonel Panik
    July 7, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Not funny Larry. You have POed the Colonel to the max.
    Get some one else to open the front door and start your car.

    That wonderful “Distro Picker” said UBUNTU.
    I have never been so insulted in my life. UBUNTU.

    So, obviously Choice is not good.


    • July 7, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Change your settings, young Skywalker. That should fix it.

  3. Paul Sams
    July 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Sounds like a pretty good tool. I tend to like having a lot of distros to choose from. Full confession though, I keep coming back to Debian Stable, even when I think it’s gotten stale. I used to like Ubuntu when it was still “Linux”, now it seems half baked. In the interest of honesty, I am also biased against Ubuntu as they seem to have the attitude of “We know best, but we don’t give back.” Crunchbang showed me how great openbox can be, Debian show how good Linux can be. Fedora is good, but for some reason, I cannot seem to like it. The problem is me, not Fedora. I’m one of those who think “debian got it right.” I acknowlege a lot of others have got it right also. I turn 60 in a few days, got to go drink some fiber and water. 🙂

  4. ruel24
    July 8, 2013 at 9:19 am

    The Linux Distro Picker is dumb. Let me say that there are great starter distros. Ubuntu, Mint, Mageia, PCLinuxOS, and a relative newcomer – Korora (Fedora made easy). Many choose to stay with those. Many choose to move to distros that require more knowledge, like Debian, Slackware, Sabayon, Gentoo, OpenSUSE or Fedora. IMO, people should really avoid Ubuntu and look to Mint, first, but that’s my opinion. It’s not a knock against Ubuntu, but Mint makes Ubuntu that much better and uses standard environments that are available on most other distros, too.

    I highly recommend starting with KDE, then looking into others. KDE is more like Windows than any other environment, and will be more immediately useful.

    After that, the door is wide open. Choice is good!

    • July 8, 2013 at 10:00 am

      I would disagree that it’s dumb. It’s a handy tool that sorts out what you’re looking for and gives you a list of distros that could suit your needs.

      As for “starter distros,” let me suggest that you not fall into the trap that non-Linux users are complete morons who can’t figure out how to use a computer that doesn’t run Windows. While Linux Mint is a fine distro — my daughter uses it — I am sure anyone with a normal learning curve can use Debian, Sabayon, openSUSE or Fedora quite easily.

      In fact, a few years ago I had an 80-year-old grandmother ask me about Linux in my office (she asked me if I could fix her ThinkPad — I do FOSS program conversions for small businesses and not repairs, but I do know ThinkPads so I did it for her as a favor). She showed an interest in trying Linux, so I gave her two live CDs — Ubuntu and Fedora — and I showed her how to use them in the office. She tried the Ubuntu one in the office and took the Fedora CD home.

      The next day, she asked me if I could install Linux for her. I asked if she was sure and when she said yes, I backed up her hard drive and installed the one CD the handed to me. We had a long talk about programs she would have to use (OpenOffice, at the time, instead of Word, etc.) and I gave her specific instructions to call me if she had any questions. She only called once — to ask about whether she should update after getting a message (and I walked her through that).

      Again, that was a few years ago. I haven’t talked to her for about six months, but whenever I ran into her around town she said that the laptop was fine and she found Linux to be just right for what she was doing (checking e-mail, writing letters, etc.).

      By the way, the distro she chose and asked me to install for her? Fedora (and, yes, I installed Flash for her as well, since it doesn’t come with it).

      I use CrunchBang Linux now as my primary distro, and many Linux newcomers to that distro have had little trouble adapting to the Openbox window manager (instead of a desktop environment). So with the exception of Arch and Gentoo — which I have never gotten to run in six years (and it’s operator error, I freely admit) — I think most distros can be used by the curious.

      • ruel24
        July 11, 2013 at 4:15 am

        I avoid recommending OpenSUSE, Fedrora, and any other distro that requires getting 3rd party repos setup to get non-free stuff to beginners. It’s that simple. Moving to Linux is enough of a shock on its own, let alone complicate things. Debian and Sabayon for a beginner? Are you serious?

        No one said everyone was dumb, but I never recommend someone jump in with both feet and attempt a distro that takes more work than is basically necessary to run Linux out of the box for the first time. Let them see how easy it can be, before introducing how rich it can be, as well.

        And the distro picker is dumb, I purposely answered so that Korora should have been my top answer. I told it I wanted KDE, easy to use, and bleeding edge bars all to the extreme and chose RPM as my package manager. So, I get PCLinuxOS as my 2nd choice? It’s _not_ bleeding edge, as I’m a full time user of it, and it’s motto is that “it’s ready when it’s ready”. I got Rosa as my first choice, but I have no working knowledge of it, so I can’t comment on that selection. Korora was actually waaaaay down on the list. It doesn’t work well at all, IMO.

      • July 11, 2013 at 10:02 am

        Actually, it’s not that big of a “shock” for those who have already used computers, so I stand by the statement that there are a wide variety of distros you can give a beginner and he or she, assuming he or she is not a moron, will be able to use them. Debian, Sabayon, Fedora, openSUSE — yeah, I’d give someone interested in trying Linux a live DVD of all of those so they can see for themselves. All are user-friendly enough.

        If anything, it would be best to not show Windows users Unity or GNOME, since it might be different from what they’re used to. KDE, Xfce or anything that’s relatively close to the desktop icon menu and point-and-click environment that Windows users are familiar with? That’s all good. It’s up to them what to choose what feels best for them, and if they don’t choose Linux, you have to respect that, too.

        Also, I continue to work under the assumption that people are going to put into learning a distro what they want to get out of it. Want just to check e-mail and surf? Fine. Just about every distro will do that. Want to do more? You can, depending on how much more you want to do. It’s really that simple.

        The fact of the matter is there is no “average user” anymore, and it’s pretty much an insult to people to treat them like children, unless they actually are children.

        As for the distro picker, you may have noticed — or maybe you didn’t — that you have several options, and not just one, listed in desending target percentage to what you dialed into the site. Maybe Korora came up for you, but did you notice a list below of other distros that were close?

  5. July 8, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Do feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions about anything you encounter in testing F19, Larry!

    • July 8, 2013 at 11:27 am

      Hi, Adam — Smooth sailing so far. Fedora 19 has been exceptional, and it always seems Fedora’s odd-number releases stand out for some reason. I’ll be writing about it soon.

  6. Paul Sams
    July 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Larry: I’ve used Linux for ten years now, as a user, not an expert by any means. But when I used Crunchbang, I was amazed! I was always intimidated by openbox, but Phillip has made it easy “out of the box.” I will admit, that to a new user they may need some help, but the Cruncbang forum is second to none. In fact the Community that comes with Crunchbang makes it outstanding to a new Linux user. Disclosure: I know you are one of the moderators, but Vast One and others I can’t remember at this moment are also very helpful.

    • July 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Truth in advertising: Yes, I am a CrunchBang user and a mod in the CrunchBang forums 🙂 (along with VastOne, pvsage, corenominal and bobobex — I think that’s all the mods).

      Even experienced users need help (raising hand here), and you’re right about the CrunchBang forums being a great place to find information (and if you can’t find it there, it’s probably in the Debian forums). So that said, you are right when you say that the distro has a lot to offer the new user, and I’m proud to be part of that community.

      By the way, Paul, you and I are not far apart in age, as card-carrying members of the “get-off-my-lawn” club (Colonel Panik, too, for that matter). As they say in Santa Cruz, “Old Guys Rule!”

  7. david
    July 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Great little tool – almost got it right for me.
    It recommended Gentoo (oh pulease) with Slackware a close 2nd. I was already using Slackware.

    Every so often the Spirit of the Great Distro Hopper visits me and we go off on a wild goose chase through all the latest distros and then sanity returns.
    And with it comes Slackware.

  1. July 8, 2013 at 10:16 am
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