Saturday, April 23, 2011

Migrating to Linux

I think I'm finally beginning to understand just what separates Linux distros. First off, it's the DE. That's definitely more important than what distro you use, because someone can switch easily between Mint and Ubuntu and feel comfortable, but if trying to switch from GNOME to KDE, well, it's like a whole other world.

For GNOME, systems really don't change. GNOME just looks like GNOME. KDE, on the other hand, is vastly different. So I'd say that the most important factor of a KDE system is how it implements KDE; default skin, default programs, etc.

Beyond that, it's the software manager. No, I'm not talking about package type, I'm talking about the software manager. Because contrary to what some people think, I think that things like Synaptic are not enough. Instead, there needs to be something like Ubuntu Software Center. The only way package type really plays a hold on this is what software managers are available (like YaST is only for RPM).

Next and finally, we've got preinstalled programs. I know I've said a million times that preinstalled programs doesn't make a difference, and while I still think that partly holds does weigh in. Booting into some distros like Kubuntu and not even seeing one program that I like is just downright depressing, knowing I have to install/uninstall all those packages. I can see why it does make a difference, even if I think the principle behind it is retarded.

Other than that, I know there are things like Hardware support and what have you, but I just haven't experience that firsthand yet (mostly because I don't really use a bunch of different hardware), and it would be foolish for me to speak about something that I know nothing about.

From what I see, the "best" distro is really the distro that preconfigures things (bundled software, desktop environment, DE configuration, etc) closest to your liking. That's it.

I've used Windows as my primary system ever since I've used computers, but here are a few reasons I really want to switch:
  1. I'm still running into retarded issues in Windoze like not being able to launch Explorer or choose the default programs for filetypes.
  2. Moving away from Windows means moving away from Autohotkey which will practically force me to move onto other languages (probably Python first, then Java).
  3. I do still want to get more familiar with a *nix environment.
  4. Almost everything I do on Windows can run on Linux. (This is not a general statement; I made a list of every program I use and found a Linux counterpart on almost all of them.)

The DE
So the first difficulty (convincing myself to prepare mentally) is done. The second difficulty (choosing a distro) is still ahead of me. Like I mentioned above, the DE is really much more important than the distro, and I've decided to pick KDE as my DE because I just don't think I like GNOME. At all. At first I thought it was because of Tango, but the other day I tried to find a skin (or theme or what have you) for GNOME on my family's desktop and the selection was piss poor (or I was looking in the wrong places). Plus, in terms of all the distros I've looked at -other than different colors- GNOME always looks the same. KDE, however, looks extremely different in almost every distro that uses it.

I was scared of KDE for a long time for two reasons: 1. The stupid "K____" apps, and 2. the ugly, ugly reflective look most distros gave it. Best example: Mandriva. I just....HATE that stupid glare/reflective look that they throw on everything. I can't stand it, and I thought for a long time that all KDE looked like that because a few of the distros I tried did. Then yesterday I booted into openSUSE 11.4, which looked amazing, and I also took another look at Pardus, which was a little glary, but a heck of a lot better. I realize that changing the look is just a few clicks away, but why those distros chose glare city is beyond me.

To sum it up, here is what I think of the DE's:
  • GNOME: Something about it feels wrong (to me), like that feeling you get that a person is making a face at you every time you turn your back on them.
  • XFCE: I call it "GNOME Jr.".
  • LXDE: Great, but really lightweight. Definitely my favorite for a machine with lower resources, but not something I'd necessarily want to use day-to-day on my modern desktop.
  • e17: Seems a bit over the top...kind of a resource hog? Also, very different from what I'm used to, and I'd like to keep things near the status quo for my first distro.
  • KDE: Maybe a bit resource heavy, but since I'm betting my specs can handle it, it will give the best features and looks while sticking close to what I know.
The Distros
So with KDE in mind, I set out to find a list of distros that had it as default, primarily the most popular ones on Distrowatch and the ones I've heard of.

  • Arch, Gentoo, Kubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, openSUSE, PCLinuxOS, And Slackware.
 After a long, long time of booting into these separate distros and trying to find some quantifiable difference between them, I came to the conclusion that there wasn't. There really is not that big of a difference between KDE distros (aside from the reasons I listed at the beginning of this post). I felt equally at home/Windows-user-alienated on every single one of them. I feel like trying to quantify each of them (which is my normal approach) is just overthinking it, and for once, I should just go with my gut feeling.

And that gut feeling was openSUSE 11.4. I loved everything about openSUSE, from all of the programs it came installed with (or didn't come installed with) to how it looked and how it performed in my VM (which other distros *coughKubuntucough* actually had trouble with). The only thing I didn't like about it.....was YaST. Not as much YaST as a control center, but YaST as a software manager. What is Novell thinking? It's just...unusable; I can hardly describe. The repos are fine and zypper is ok to deal with, but the nice thing about having a Software Manager is that you can actually browse the repos, not just install the software you know by name. And YaST sucks at that.

I was a little confused by this and having second thoughts about my "gut feeling" tactic until I watched the Linux Action Show's review of openSUSE 11.4 and they mentioned that openSUSE was in the top two best looking KDE distros. As I pondered what the other one could be, it reminded me of Pardus, which wasn't on the list, but was definitely one of the best looking KDE distros I personally had seen. So I tried out Pardus2011, and it. Was. Awesome. I loved everything, literally everything right off the bat. Using Lancelot, the default theme, the icons, Kaptan, and even the Package-Manager (though it is a tad buggy). The only problem with Pardus is the repository. I don't even care that it uses PISI instead of DEB or RPM, but the fact is, when going through and searching for the apps I wanted, it consistently failed to have them; I'd say it probably didn't have 50% of the programs I wanted. And that is just terrible to me.

In desperation, I tried PCLinuxOS next. It had KDE and uses APT with RPM so I really wouldn't face many difficulties with finding software....but just the preconfigured appearance of KDE sucked. I'm still not against using it, but really not looking forward to trying to get it presentable.

I tried Mint 10 KDE next since Mint really has good graphic design. I was actually pleasantly surprised; it looked very nice, ran decently, and used the Mint Software Manager, which is very slightly buggy, but overall worked amazingly on Peppermint when I used it in the past. It really didn't have any downside. The only reason I didn't choose Mint right there on the spot was because every time I think of choosing Mint (I think about what Linux distro is my favorite alot...), I always think "Well if I'm going to use Mint, I might as well use Ubuntu." But that's always been with Mint with GNOME before, because honestly, Mint GNOME and Ubuntu have very, very little differences as far as I can tell.

But Mint KDE and Kubuntu have a ton of differences. But I still felt a little uneasy and of the list I had made I still hadn't give, Sabayon a chance, so I tried Sabayon 5.4. It was pretty good, though I really am skeptical of the whole Entropy ended up crashing on me when I tried to do some basic searching, but I like the fact that they're in the process of building a store. I really couldn't find anything that I absolutely hated about it, I just...didn't fall in love with it.

Overall, my final thoughts are:
4. openSUSE: Only downside is YaST.
3. Sabayon: No real downsides, besides Sulfur being a bit buggy.

2. Pardus: My top choice, no question. The only problem is that I really want some of the apps they have don't have in their repos, and I don't trust myself compiling everything from source yet.

1. Mint KDE: Playing around with it just a little, I was able to get it looking alot like Pardus. Not really my top choice, but it's a good distro for sure.

So yeah, I chose Mint 10 KDE for my first Linux distro. I think one of the reasons I was afraid of Mint and Ubuntu for that matter is that they're known for being good with newbs. I've never used Linux for an extended period of time, but I really don't want to call myself a newb. One of the main things that changed my outlook is noticing that Chris on the Linux Action Show runs Mint, and he is most certainly not a newb. But in any case, I also had to just be straight with myself and admit that I am a Linux newbie and everyone started out as one at one point in their lives......except maybe Linus Torvalds.

After a little fiddling (mostly switching themes, getting icons, and switchign to Lancelot), it looks and feels alot like Pardus, but it's got decent support in the Mint (and Ubuntu) forums and has the Ubuntu repos. So far, everything is working out great, mostly; for some reason, the installer didn't mark my /boot partition as bootable which was easily remedied inside the Live CD. Other than that, the only issues I had were mostly trying to get my home folder on a different drive....inside my Dropbox folder. After getting the right fstab settings, it's working awesome, and then I got kfiledrop set up, and my Dropbox is all set too! Everything is working flawlessly, even the ATI drivers and Compiz.

Overall, through my experience, it's not so much sorting out the "bad" distros; all of the ones I tried were great and I could have used. The real goal is finding one that you best. To me it's truly like a favorite flavor of ice cream: You can eat other flavors, sure, but you'll always pick your favorite over the others, and you really can't explain why. You just love it.


If you're hyper-observant, you'll notice that I've always had my taskbar on the top, except in the above picture. Up until about 2 seconds after publishing this, I forgot that I like it on top. So it's now on top -not that you care- I just don't feel like changing the pic. :P

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