As one of the new features of BitBurners is that we are now Linux friendly. Our web servers have always been built on free open-source Linux technology, our tech admin uses Linux as his primary operating system, and I use it as my secondary system on my IBM Thinkpad T41 laptop. From now on we will start bringing the Linux aspect to our content as well. I spent a lot of time trialing and testing Linux distributions during the year 2007. My goal was to find a suitable free operating system for my 2nd hand laptop. In the process I tried just about every popular distribution, but now in late December I finally feel like I have a winner.
I have been using computers since the early 80’s and they have been PCs since 1987. I am rather advanced Windows users, and I have used all of them extensively, except for the new Windows Vista which I have barely tried. I have always had an eye for Linux and I had my first touch with it the early 90’s and I have spoken with Mr. Linus Torvalds himself on the phone. I have tried Linux distros as a desktop every now and then over the years, but my experiments have always failed and I have returned to Windows. So I am a real novice in Linux, although I have learned a LOT during this year, even though I know my way around computers very well in general. I will not go in-depth in this article. I simply want to bring out my personal and totally subjective overlook of the currect desktop Linux distributions.
The best Linux distributions for the year 2007:
The winner: openSUSE 10.3
openSUSE is closest to a commercial quality operating system among all Linux distributions. From installer to first boot it has professional design, visuals and it offers a good balance in between the ease of use and configurability. openSUSE has traditionally been considered as an KDE oriented distribution, but interestingly they also have the best Gnome offering as of today. No matter which you pick, you will get very pleasant visuals out-of-the-box. YaST2 offers good tools for various configuration and administration tasks, and make a Windows refugee feel like home. One-click-Install adds simplicity to certain installation procedures, such as Compiz Fusion or restricted formats.
However openSUSE is not perfect. The packet management (Zypper) is much better than the old ZMD (openSUSE 10.2 and older), but still a pain in the butt in comparison to Apt and Synaptic. it is slow, the GUI is awkward and dependency issues can occur. Luckily one can install Smart package management as well, which seems to be a much better choice. The release also has/had a handful of nasty bugs, but updates are rolling at a good pace. The installation seems to have issues with computers that have both IDE and SATA soft RAID hard drives installed – it does detect and even suggests mount points for Windows RAID partitions, but for some reason the installation of GRUB fails. If someone knows a fix for this, other that disconnecting hard drives or disabling SATA from BIOS, please let me know. I think it is a real show stopper and such an error should not occur in a stable release.
The 2nd: Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon
In many aspects the strength of Ubuntu does not seem to be the distribution itself, but the popularity of this distribution, which results in a lively community. If you have any issues with your setup, then Google is your friend and you can be almost certain to find a solution. Ubuntu is so popular that at least all of my issues have been reproduced by someone else and help was found – I can not say the same for any other distribution!
In general Ubuntu works well out of the box. It uses a very basic implementation of Gnome combined with an ugly orange/brown theme. For some reason I always find the font rendering of Ubuntu worse than with openSUSE (KDE or Gnome), even with MS Fonts installed. Ubuntu offers an excellent and well working starting point, but I presume that a lot of people want to change some things to make it look and work better. Luckily in the Linux world one can change and modify just about everything as one sees fit.
In terms of software quality, the Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy seems to be a bit rushed. I was able to find a number of issues in the desktop environment itself, and the developers have been rolling out updates very frequently (which is a good thing). If you rule out the benefits of popularity, I really couldn’t figure out what is the Ubuntu hype all about? It is a good distribution for sure, but what really made it stand out from the crowd?
The 3rd: Mandriva One 2008
Mandriva, formerly known as Mandrake, was one of the first distributions with a mission to make Linux a user friendly desktop environment. This distro has a long and colourful background with it’s ups and downs, but since 2007.x versions, they have been making a strong comeback.
For me the hardware detection of Mandriva was superior. It installed worked on (old) PCs that Ubuntu would not boot on and it is the ONLY distribution to correctly configure Compiz 3D desktop on my Thinkpad (ATI RV-250) out-of-the-box. It has nice configuration tools for managing the computer – not as extensive as openSUSE YaST, but very user friendly. The over all look and feel of the operating system is clean and polished – quite professional. I have only used the KDE edition, but based on what I have read their Gnome offering is decent as well. So in many aspects Mandriva seems much better than Ubuntu!
But the issue is that while Ubuntu has a great community support, and openSUSE has some (and they are working on to improve), the user community of Mandriva is almost non-existing. If you have problems, then who do you ask if nobody uses it? Well of course there are a lot of Mandriva users, and even commercial customers, but really the difference is evident when you are on a search for information. Also the software selection and availability is much smaller than with the above two (especially Ubuntu). Mandriva has also slipped some bugs to the release, even though the ones I found are minor, but the frequency of released updates has been a lot slower than with the above two.
If you feel like exploring, here are some others to try:
LinuxMint 4.0: Mint is basically just a modified Ubuntu, which improves the visuals and provides a lot of non-free stuff out-of-the-box. This means that all multimedia formats etc. will work out of the box. Mint is more or less a one man show with no clear road maps or upgrade paths in between versions, which makes is non-suitable for professional use. It is still an attractive choice for your bedroom PC, kids or whenever you want a setup that needs minimal configuration.
PCLinuxOS 2007 (PCLOS): PCLinuxOS is a fork of Mandriva, which has a small but fanatic fan groub. Like Mint does for Ubuntu, PCLOS also provides a lot of non-free stuff for the default install. Besides configuration, PCLOS has also changed the package management to use Synaptic, so the changes go deeper than surface. Like Mint, PCLOS is a more or less one man show, but suitable for many secondary uses.
SimplyMEPIS 7.0: Mepis is literally a one man show, that used to be based on Ubuntu, but the just recently released 7.0 is built from Debian Etch. Mepis comes with a very nice and clean KDE setup, and binary compatibility with Debian gives it some credibility. It is an exotic alternative to try, if you do not like Ubuntu – at least the KDE implementation is much better than in Kubuntu. While Mepis has been around for few years, I would not choose it for business usage due to obvious reasons.
This article was written using openSUSE 10.3.