Unfaithfully Yours: The Linux Version

The dog days of summer may best be endured at a leisurely pace, but for those of us here in the sweltering Northern reaches of the Linux blogosphere, that simply hasn’t been an option.

Far from being the lazy month many typically expect, July has brought not only a fiery debate over codes of conduct among kernel programmers but also the launch of Canonical’s ambitious Ubuntu Edge crowdfunding campaign — followed immediately by a massive hack attack on the Ubuntu forums.

‘The Chutzpah Oscar of the Year’

Is there to be no rest for the weary — and sweaty?

That’ll be a big “no,” Linux Girl is sorry to report. The good news, however, is that the air conditioning is on “high” and the tequila on “strong” down at the blogosphere’s popular Broken Windows Lounge.

Linux Girl

Canonical’s Ubuntu Edge project, not surprisingly, generated some strong opinions.

“Mark [Shuttleworth] should win the chutzpah Oscar of the year,” opined Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol, for example. “How can he, in a straight face, ask for donations for his pet project, from a community he only remembers when he wants something in return?”

Meanwhile, the Canonical founder “neglects the same community he’s asking money from,” Ebersol added. “Terrible. That man only causes dissent and fractures the GNU/Linux community. We would do pretty fine without him.”

‘What Causes You to Leave a Distro?’

Canonical’s bold maneuver seemed to elicit the full range of opinions from Linux bloggers — not to mention spurring a competing campaign from the Free Software Foundation — but the favorite topic du jour down at the Broken Windows Lounge was in a different vein altogether. Namely? Distro hopping.

“What we want to know this fortnight is: what causes you to leave a distro and install a new flavor of Linux?” wrote the always-marvelous mavens over at TuxRadar. “Is it that you just fancy a change? Perhaps you find something lacking, or hardware support that’s just not up to par.

“Has your distro of choice changed as you’ve gained more experience in Linux, or has a new distro appeared that eclipsed your previous favorite?” the TuxRadar team added.

Perhaps it was the comfort of a familiar topic, but TuxRadar’s latest Open Ballot poll has had numerous tongues wagging ever since. Linux Girl couldn’t resist asking her fellow patrons: Are you a distro hopper?

‘If It Works, Why Switch?’

“No, I am not a distribution hopper,” said Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. “I use Ubuntu 12.04 with the GNOME 3 shell. One in a while I check out the latest Fedora release — mainly during the Christmas holidays.”

Lim used to be more adventurous a decade ago, he told Linux Girl, “but these days, if it works, why switch?

“Another one might boot a few seconds faster or use a few hundred megabytes less RAM,” Lim explained. “In the long run, I think most people really would not feel the benefit of those things.”

‘Once Upon a Time, I Was’

Similarly, “nope, I am not a distro hopper,” Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone asserted.

“My first instinct when I read that question was to say unequivocally, YES!” Stone explained. Then, “after thinking for two seconds, I realize that’s no longer the case.

“Once upon a time, I was — I loved trying out distros,” he recalled. “I’d go through more distros in a week than there were days, but somewhere in there, I stopped hopping.”

Stone’s main computer now runs Xfce on Ubuntu 12.04, and “it has been since the day after 12.04 was released,” Stone noted. “I’m happy with this distro, and I’m happy with my current configuration. It’s just comfortable to me.”

‘I Used to Be’

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza had a similar tale to tell.

“I’ve been with Ubuntu since Dapper now,” Espinoza told Linux Girl. “Every time I think about switching, they bring out a new release which fixes my bugs, or at least a workaround is easy to locate.

“PPAs keep me on the platform,” he added. “I’ll follow whatever is popular simply due to the mass of support, but that’s been Ubuntu for a long time.”

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack has also reined in his hopping ways.

“I used to be,” he admitted. “I started with Slackware in the 90s but then moved to Red Hat and even tried SuSE before settling on Debian and staying there.”

‘I Come Back to Kubuntu’

Similarly, “every once in a while I feel like I ought to try another distro, but in short order I come back to Kubuntu,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien offered.

“For me, it is something I am comfortable with, and I can get my work done easily,” O’Brien explained. “There was a time when I enjoyed working on my computer, fiddling with settings, trying new things out, but I have gradually moved to where I want to work with my computer and just get things done.

“Kubuntu does that for me with no fuss,” he added.

The End Point

Blogger Robert Pogson recounted a similar history.

“I used to be a distro hopper,” Pogson began. “I have used these distros, in about this order: Caldera, Loaf, TomsRtBt, Mandrake, Fedora, K12LTSP, Slackware, Knoppix, Ubuntu, SmoothWall, EndianFirewall, SystemRescueCD and Debian GNU/Linux.

“Debian GNU/Linux gives me what I need, but I still use some other special distros for infrastructure, networking, backup and such,” he explained. “I did find Ubuntu GNU/Linux useful at one time but finally discovered that the ‘difficult for the newbie’ Debian GNU/Linux was not difficult at all.”

Today, “I guess I am a distro hopper still, but the hopping I do now is to try Debian GNU/Linux with different configurations or flavors in and out of virtual machines,” Pogson added. “I have no need to go anywhere else.”

Eventually, he concluded, “distro hopping reaches an end point where the energy spent on hopping is better spent learning more about GNU/Linux and some particular distro.”

‘They Go Together’

Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, also had more than one favorite.

“I don’t hop distros,” Travers told Linux Girl. “I stick with three distros or so on an ongoing basis: Fedora, Debian and CentOS, though I am looking at switching to Scientific Linux for that role.”

The three are “quite different in their maintenance models, so they go together in terms of long-term development very well,” Travers explained.

“Debian provides a flexible, stable base for production servers, while Fedora provides an opportunity to catch problems with new dependencies quickly that would not be caught sticking in more conservative systems,” he added. “CentOS allows me generally to check compatibility in Red Hat Enterprise Linux workalikes.”

‘A Matter of Convenience’

Distro hopping is “a good thing if one is going to exploit certain characteristics of the new distro one is switching to,” Google+ blogger Rodolfo Saenz agreed. “In my case, I have two distros in my computers: one that satisfies my working demands (Fedora) and one for my needs at home (Ubuntu).

“To me it is a matter of convenience,” he added. “I’m not a hopper, I am a natural keeper :)”

Google+ blogger Brett Legree had come to a similar conclusion.

“When I first started using Linux back in 2000, I tried a lot of different distros,” Legree told Linux Girl. “As I learned and Linux continued to improve, I went through various periods where I settled on one main distro and only moved out of interest.”

Mandrake, Gentoo, Slackware (with FreeBSD on the side), Ubuntu and openSUSE have all been along Legree’s path, he said.

Today, “my mainstays are not GNU/Linux distros, but Linux-based operating systems — Android and Chrome OS, via my phone, tablet and Chromebook,” Legree noted. “The twist is that I contribute to GNOME Marketing, so I pretty much stick with Fedora’s latest release (and also Rawhide) in VMs.”

‘You Can and Will Experiment’

Indeed, “we do change and ‘evolve,'” noted Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C., whose own distro journey has included Conectiva, Caldera, Mandrake, SuSE, Knoppix, Kurumin, Poseidon, Ubuntu, SolusOS, SolydXK, Epidemic and PCLinuxOS. “The first distro we use depends on somebody suggesting it to us, or if we are following the trend on a specialized Web page.

“You use it and like it, and since GNU/Linux is GNU/Linux and you can find the same thing somewhere else, you can and will experiment with another distro or another desktop environment on the same distro,” he explained.

“Viva el GNU/Linux!!” Gonzalo Velasco C. added.

The Taco Bell Connection

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn’t so sure.

“When I look at DistroWatch, all I can think of is … Taco Bell,” hairyfeet said. “It sure LOOKS like there is choice, but there isn’t — it’s the same four or five ingredients, just in a different order.”

In fact, “how many distros does this generic description describe,” hairyfeet asked. “‘New distro with (insert KDE, GNOME, Xfce) desktop; for applications you have LibreOffice, GIMP; and for the browser, Chromium or Firefox.’ I bet I just covered a good 70 percent of the distros right there!”

Bottom line: “DistroWatch has become like ModDB was when DOOM was a hit: You’d have guys change a few textures and offer a ‘new mod’ that was, down to the last enemy, the same old game, just a couple of textures swapped or replaced.”

‘Distros Are Like Marriages’

Last but not least, Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol had a more optimistic take.

“Distros are like marriages,” Ebersol told Linux Girl. “They are never perfect, but once you find the person you love, you got to stick with that person. Sure, she (or he) will have bad breath in the morning, ugly face on wake up, but, that’s the life of adult married people.

“It’s not always shiny and happy, but, that’s what love is about,” he concluded. “Know what you don’t like in a person and still love and want to care and be with them.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered ECT News Editor by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • The reason for less distro-hopping?

    While you weren’t looking, most all Linux distros have morphed into the same thing.

    There are a few unique ones which are worth having around, such a Puppy and Knoppix. All distros based on Ubuntu–except for Linux MINT–are going to go the same way as Ubuntu; and yes, I know Puppy and MINT are based on Ubuntu. For now.

    Linux survivors will be SuSE, Red Hat/Fedora, MINT, and, of course, Debian (I’m certain I’ve forgotten two or three which ought to be here, but you get the idea).

    The others will come, and then go. Maintaining a Linux distro adequately is not a pastime.

    I suspect that most people have, like me, decided to jump off the distro-hopping mousewheel and have all their needs satisfied by choosing a GOOD LTS such as MINT 13, and simply updating it every so often when IT tells ME that new updates are available (sometimes I cheat by typing "sudo apt-get update && apt-get upgrade" in the terminal window).

    I like not having to think about upgrading to new distros except every five years. Don’t you?

    • Okay, cirrus, what’s your secret nirvana?

      As a Linux newbie I am trying to settle on a reliable distribution, and I won’t go near Ubuntu with a 10 foot pole. (Up until Unity it was the obvious choice.) Proprietary desktop, adware, give me a break. Mint blew it by abandoning KDE, so at this point I’m leaning towards Mageia.

  • I enjoyed this article but wonder why a current distrohopper wasn’t interviewed.

    Distrohoppers are not all unfaithful, I personally contribute to various forums and have found that each distribution solves particular challenges in unique ways.

    I enjoy tiny discovery every once and awhile.

  • Har Har, now we know where the Ubuntu users are now congregating, given that their forums are still down. After reading this it would seem Ubuntu is as popular as ever, it looks like a modest percentage of Ubuntu users dont care that Shuttleworth does not give a hoot for them or their "community".

    Great read as ever.

    PS. I stopped distro bouncin last year when i found my Linux nirvana.

  • Overall, a good read. However, when I see a hairyfeet quote, I do not think of Taco Bell. They do have more variety that the slop he serves up.

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