Examining Popular Linux Distributions

June 06, 2011

I've been running Ubuntu for a while and decided to check out Kubuntu, the KDE version. I was surprised how different it was so I decided to see what else I might have been missing. I decided to play around with some of the more popular distributions and see which one I really liked best. I'm going to give my impression on each of the ones I've used and decide which I like best.

Linux Mint

Ubuntu is the most popular distribution and what I've used for the past few years. It's got a good look to it, doesn't have been bugs and usually operates smoothly. Any Linux distribution is going to take some tinkering to get running the way you like and Ubuntu is no different. It's hard to give my impressions on it as I've been running it as my default OS for so long. This blog will be more me comparing the other version to this one.

When I first installed Kubuntu, I was very impressed. It looked more like my Android phone, it had widgets I could put on the desktop, a cooler look than Ubuntu, and more bells and whistles in general. After playing around with all the widgets, I didn't use any regularly. It also had more of a tendency to crash, which is the main reason I got away from Windows. After running this for a few months I decided it was time to move on.

I figured it I was going to be installing OS's, I might as well try them out all at once so I wouldn't have to worry about setting things up just like I liked them every time.

Next I tried OpenSUSE. The installation was pretty simple, the only complaint was I couldn't couldn't access the wireless network because there was no way to enter a password. Once the installation was complete connecting to my wireless network wasn't a problem at all. The installation was the kind I like; you enter all your information at the beginning and come back later and it's ready to go. No "Click this or that" halfway through before it completes on it's own.

Under the YaST section you'll find something very similar to a Windows control panel. Compared to Ubuntu, there is a lot more to configure here such as the ETC settings, Samba, and hostnames can all be configured here.

The first thing I do on any new distribution is a software update which was as simple as can be. I then turned the desktop effects to maximum and everything is still moving as fast as before. So far this OS feels very stable, nothing is lagged or glitchy. After a night with this I had a feeling this would be my favorite, but I still had two more to try.

Now on to Fedora. Using this made me appreciate OpenSUSE even more. The look isn't as sleek as OpenSuse, and the way it's set up makes navigation more cumbersome. If you put the mouse cursor in the top left corner it will automatically makes all the programs small so you can select new ones. This might be cool if you could get to other programs easier, but aside from alt-tab, you have to move your cursor all the way in the left corner every time. I accidentally moved my cursor here many times while using the OS and the effect is very disruptive. There isn't a task bar on top where you can view all your open programs which I really think is important in any OS.

When you want to launch an application, a menu opens with every program installed which makes it difficult to find what you're looking for. You can view through categories which makes it more manageable but it's still just more mouse clicks before you can get to what you want to.

Linux Mint did not let me burn to DVD with my windows burner for some reason, so I went into Kubuntu and burned it without any problems.

When I first installed it I forgot to connect to wireless first (which is said I should do) and I got an error at the end of the install. It may also have been because I ejected to DVD too early (After it said it was done installing though). Following this, I did another install without these mistakes.

The first thing I noticed about this was how good it looked. By far the best looking distribution in my opinion. I was getting very excited about this one until I tried to do an update before setting up my wireless connection and the whole system locked up. After rebooting I notice this is the first Linux I've put on my laptop which my volume control buttons did not function. When going into Firefox preferences to change some settings it feels clunky, and when clicking on parts of the menu they would freeze up.

I was quickly becoming more disappointed with Mint. Clicking on the scroll bar is a bit difficult, there is a specific area you have to move your mouse to before the scroll bar actually shows up, which is inconvenient but it does seem like the kind of things you'd get used to pretty quick

It detected my local windows network without any tinkering which Fedora nor OpenSUSE did not. It also viewed an .avi file I downloaded right away, again while Fedora and OpenSUSE did not.

I was hoping to find the "holy grail" of Linux distributions, but I didn't find any that really had the best of everything. The best OS structure, reliability and user friendliness were not to be all found in one OS. There is the possibility that the laptop I used (Lenovo Thinkpad R61i) has some hardware that's not working out quite right with Mint. But I think after judging all them on equal terms, I would have to say the best alternative to Ubuntu is OpenSuse.

I wanted to add that since writing this, I have installed Linux Mint on another computer using Vmware player and all the bugs and complaints I had before have disappeared.

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