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Author Topic: Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared (InformationWeek)  (Read 5630 times)

zridling

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InformationWeek reviews and compares 7 desktop distros:

"We tested openSUSE, Ubuntu 8.04, PCLinuxOS, Mandriva Linux One, Fedora, SimplyMEPIS, and CentOS 5.1. All performed well, and each had at least one truly outstanding feature. Ubuntu 8.4 remains one of the best desktop distributions for many good reasons: it works with almost any hardware you throw at it, and has tons of features for both existing Linux users and prospective converts from Windows."

mepis9292.jpg

The author also gave openSUSE points for ease of use on the desktop, and Mandriva kudos for ease of administration.

Gothi[c]

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Re: Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared (InformationWeek)
« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2008, 10:32:53 PM »
What I don't understand about these reviews is that they judge whatever is the "best" Gnu+Linux distribution by whichever is most intuitive(to them) to use, and since intuitive is pretty much a different way of saying familiar, it ends up being which distribution is most like Microsoft's Windows operating systems, meaning, GUI for everything etc...

Call me crazy, but what makes a particular Gnu+Linux distribution 'better' is not how many GUI tools it has to configure what you can already configure in the first place via text configuration. So what does make a Gnu/Linux distro better?

  • Package management, package management and package management!!

    This is very important as it will determine which packages/programs you can install. While the number of packages in the package management system is important (more packages = more programs you can install without having to manually install, which is always more maintainable) it's flexibility and ability to customize the packages you install is also important. This is why I usually prefer package management which compiles from source. This allows you to enable/disable specific compile-time options which may not be enabled in the default binary builds of a binary-only package management system. Ubuntu wins in terms of pure number of packages available, followed closely by gentoo. As far as customization and flexibility goes, I'd say Gentoo wins by a long shot.

  • /etc layout, filesystem layout in general, ease of customization.

    A tidy and logical organisation of configuration files, init scripts, etc,.. is important as it will save you time configuring things. From all distro's I have tried, I'd say gentoo wins again. It's layout is very logical and has great toolsets for customizing init scripts etc...

  • Userland utilities

    Command-line configuration and helper utilities shipped with the distro.

  • Updates

    How long after some vulnerability is discovered in a package will you get the patched version in your package management's repositories? VERY important.

  • Documentation

    I find gentoo's documentation wonderful, it has wiki pages with install guides for about any linux application out there, and their installation manual is easy to follow even if you don't know much about linux, despite what people say about it being for 'expert' users, yes, you do have to type in a lot of manual commands, but it is all explained in a very understandable and readable way in their documentation, and in the end is a great way to learn more about the way Gnu/Linux works under the hood.
    Ubuntu's documentation is also fairly good, but I find it harder sometimes to find information about the more advanced subjects in the ubuntu docs.

I'm sure there's plenty more points that one could come up with that make a Gnu/Linux distribution "better", and maybe I'm a bit biased towards Gentoo, but that's not the point. The point I'm making is that there's more than just familiarity and eye candy to what makes a 'good' Gnu/Linux distro. Things which almost every single one of these reviews totally ignore.

Lots of them also focus on hardware support and how things work "out of the box". Don't even get me started on how ludicrous that is. All Gnu/Linux distributions have the same amount of hardware support because they all use the Linux kernel. Hardware support is in the Kernel, not the distro. The only thing a distro can do is things like automatic detection. Having installed countless distro's and compiled plenty of custom kernels, I'd say, once you got it down, it won't take you more than 5 minutes to compile the correct modules for your hardware. This is completely irrelevant. Install and configure any recent kernel for ANY distro and it will support everything your "best" linux distro supports.
Whatever works out of the box will only save you a little bit of time in the beginning. It does NOT make any difference in what makes a good distro imo.


« Last Edit: May 07, 2008, 10:37:21 PM by Gothi[c] »

urlwolf

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Re: Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared (InformationWeek)
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2008, 02:54:05 AM »
Wow. Gothi[c], Great post. This should be framed somewhere.
I agree on all points.

zridling

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Re: Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared (InformationWeek)
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2008, 07:14:09 PM »
Excellent points, Gothi[c]. The variety of available distros belie the very nature of what is "best." I can easily see myself using a different distro every year (it's the same OS under the desktop environment). And in this shootout, he compared the newest Ubuntu with older versions of most of the other distros. Is that fair?

Also, I wouldn't call this a review, but rather a quick summary. DC does reviews!

Gothi[c]

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Re: Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared (InformationWeek)
« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2008, 08:46:49 PM »
Quote
DC does reviews!
Yeah!  ;D  :greenclp:

steeladept

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Re: Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared (InformationWeek)
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2008, 02:38:35 AM »
Gothic, while I can concede many of your points regarding Linux, I think you sort of miss the point of these "reviews".  While your points are valid (especially w/ regard to package management), that is not what these reviews are for.  These reviews are made to a target audience of Windows users that are considering switching to Linux.  Many/Most of these users are not going to sit there and read MAN pages or reams of wiki pages to learn how to take three hours to install the OS.  They want install/work/forget/play (hopefully in that order).  These publishers are not publishing to Linux die-hards that are willing to dig into the command line to adjust config files just to make their monitor work.  If it doesn't work out of the box, they are changing the system - no matter the virtues of the distro!  Further, they (typically) look for the eye-candy and familiarity to get them working/playing productively with minimal research.  That takes work beyond the work they need done.  It isn't worth their valuable time.  To that end, the UI interface IS the deal-breaker.  They can learn about and switch to distros like Gentoo if and when they run into roadblocks AFTER they have invested in Linux some.  Because of this, you will NEVER see a mainstream, OS agnostic publication extol the virtues of something as complex as Gentoo over these other popular distros - at least not until Linux is more popular than Windows.

You, my friend, are unfortunately sounding too much like a long time Linux Admin and not enough like someone who is considering anyone switching for the first time.  I know when I first played with Linux, RedHat was far and away considered "the best distro" because it actually had decent support.  I still was unable to make heads or tails of it and ignored Linux for years afterwords until Ubuntu became headlines.  It didn't matter that RedHat had the ONLY package manager worth a damn, nor did it matter that it was the easiest to use.  I couldn't figure it out in what I considered a reasonable amount of time, so I dropped it.  For better or worse, that is what most "reviews" consider a better or worse distro.  How long does it take to figure out and get running?  Gentoo is, unfortunately, VERY lacking in this area even for an experienced person.  Enough of my two cents.   :P

Gothi[c]

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Re: Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared (InformationWeek)
« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2008, 04:23:39 AM »
Quote
It isn't worth their valuable time.  To that end, the UI interface IS the deal-breaker.

If they don't have time they shouldn't even consider using GNU/Linux. It is vastly different from Windows in every single way, no matter how hard these distros try to make it familiar/similar.

These people will eventually end up switching back anyway, because once they inevitably stumble on something different, they'll be stuck, get frustrated, and switch back to Windows, and maybe make some silly post on some forum on how Linux sucks.

Use GNU/Linux out of passion, out of interest in technology, out of love for tinkering, or because you like the philosophy, whatever... but whatever you do, do NOT use it if you think you can be productive without learning a completely new way of doing EVERYTHING. 
This is going to take TIME.

I don't care how I 'sound'. I know it's not the 'hip' thing to say. I'm merely being realistic here. If all you've ever used is Windows, and you want to switch but don't have time to relearn everything, forget it. Stick to Windows.

While these reviews may help people gain technological interest in GNU/Linux, they do it in the wrong way IMO. You're not going to gain happy users by pretending everything is 'easy' when making the switch, and misguiding/misinforming people on what makes a 'good' distro.

« Last Edit: May 16, 2008, 04:29:21 AM by Gothi[c] »

steeladept

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Re: Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared (InformationWeek)
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2008, 05:09:16 AM »
Yes, well, I am not saying you are completely wrong, but I do know that you are forgetting about the many people that are teetering on the edge.  They are willing to invest some time to save the $$$ MS is charging, but they still need to be able to complete their work.  But there is always a break-even point, and a great many people draw that line at having to learn/relearn command line commands just to setup their PC.  Does that make these distros better than Gentoo (in many people's mind, yes.)  Does that mean Gentoo is a bad distro?  Not at all.

As an example, I know several people that I work with started looking at Linux to cut the cost of changing to Vista when XP support ran dry (for personal use, not business), myself included.  $400 for an OS that provides nothing but eye-candy and a broken platform to pay people oodles of money for rewrites of their programs, no thanks (okay, it isn't quite like that, but it is what my thinking was at the time).  However, I am a VERY knowledgeable Windows worker that uses command line as much as anyone in Windows administrator, yet I still would have had trouble with Gentoo and some of the other more advanced distros when I came back.  I am not sure I would have no trouble now, even with what I have learned. 

If you really want a distro comparison that features the benefits you point out, you really need to stay looking at the Linux-oriented sites rather than the general population sites.  In the end though, the good news regarding Linux is there is pretty much a flavor and entry point for everyone.