Basics



A distro (distribution) is a set of choices of layers/parts/policies, all packaged together under one label.

Some major distros: Debian, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Linux Mint, Red Hat, Fedora, Arch, openSUSE.

Debian Family Tree (!)
Which is just part of a bigger GNU/Linux Distributions Timeline (!!)



Venam's "Software Distributions And Their Roles Today"





Brief Looks



Jason Evangelho's "How To Test Drive 200+ Linux Distributions Without Ever Downloading Or Installing Them" (DistroTest.net; for me didn't work in Firefox, worked in ungoogled-chromium)



From someone on reddit 6/2020:
"OpenSUSE lets you try different DEs just by logging out. There's only one distro OpenSUSE and it comes with KDE, Gnome, Xfce, Enlightenment, Mate, LXDE, LXQt, and more."

If you just want a quick look at "tiling" in a DE, on top of GNOME you could try the gTile or zTile extensions, or Regolith.



(On Windows:) Making Live session USB:
+/-
Create a bootable USB with N different ISOs on it: Ventoy (Windows and Linux)
SK's "Create Persistent Bootable USB Using Ventoy In Linux"
The Ventoy USB can boot in either legacy or UEFI mode.

(On Linux already:) Making Live session USB:
+/-
Create a bootable USB with N different ISOs on it: Ventoy
(attach USB stick, umount USB, sudo sh Ventoy2Disk.sh -i /dev/sdX, sync, remove USB, attach USB, copy ISO to USB, remove USB, boot from USB).
SK's "Create Persistent Bootable USB Using Ventoy In Linux"
The Ventoy USB can boot in either legacy or UEFI mode.

Installed Usb-creator-gtk through Software Manager. Shows up as "USB Image Writer" in the Start menu.

"Startup Disk Creator" app does not support persistence. "Usb-creator-gtk" app is same as "Startup Disk Creator". "USB Image Writer" app works if writing a new ISO to a USB that already contains a bootable image, but no persistence.

I think Startup Disk Creator only accepts Ubuntu derivatives ?

Installed the "experimental CLI" version of Etcher. Ran "sudo ./etcher -d /dev/sdb1 ../debian-live-9.5.0-amd64-lxde.iso". But it says device not found. Read something about maybe using GParted to wipe out the partitions, but I'm not interested.

Installed UNetbootin, via "sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gezakovacs/ppa", "sudo apt update", "sudo apt install unetbootin". "sudo apt install extlinux". Ran "sudo QT_X11_NO_MITSHM=1 /usr/bin/unetbootin". But no matter what I do, my USB's device is not listed in the pull-down. The device is /dev/sdb1, but I either get blank or /dev/sdb2.

Run Disks application (or gnome-disk-utility ?). Select the flash drive, select the first (bootable) partition, click the "gear" icon, select "Restore Partition Image", select your ISO. Works. If the partition is too small for the image, you can delete the partition in Disks, or you might have to do it in GParted. [How to get persistence ?]

Burned Mint 19.1 to USB with persistence: Used 4 GB USB stick. GParted to create an MSDOS partition table, then a 4 GB ext4 primary partition. Use UNetbootin, selected Mint 19.1 ISO that I had downloaded, set "space to preserve information across reboots" to 1024 MB.

Later started using Ventoy, it's the best for installing or (non-persistent) live booting.

Pradeep Kumar's "How to Create Bootable USB Disk / DVD on Ubuntu / Linux Mint"
UNetbootin (supports persistence)
Etcher (no persistence ?)
Ubuntu Wiki's "LiveUsbPendrivePersistent"





Choosing



Factors in choosing a distro:
  • Amount of support / popularity / community.
  • Performance / UI speed.
  • Look / UI beauty.
  • Stability.
  • Appropriate for your skill level and intended use.
  • Appropriate for your hardware.
  • Customizability.
  • Latest software.
  • Learning experience.
  • Security and privacy.



RenewablePCs' "Which Linux distros are the best?"
Gary Newell's "How To Choose The Best Linux Distro For Your Needs"
It's FOSS's "Explained: Which Ubuntu Version Should I Use?"
Adarsh Verma's "Top 10 Best Linux Distros For 2018 - Ultimate Distro Choosing Guide"
Adarsh Verma's "9 Most Beautiful Linux Distros You Need To Use"
RenewablePCs' "Desktop Environments for Linux"
Distro Chooser
DistroTest.net
Librehunt

Jason Evangelho's "Linux For Beginners: Understanding The Many Versions Of Ubuntu"
Gary Newell's "Ubuntu vs Xubuntu"
Canonical's "Ubuntu flavours"
Canonical's "Derivatives"
Ubuntu forums
Linux Mint Forums

Sense I'm getting from various places: Upgrading Ubuntu from one major release to another often breaks something; better to do a fresh install. But Mint doesn't have that problem, upgrades are smooth.



"Distros" section of my "Moving to Linux" page





My Impressions and Experiences



My quick impressions of other distros, from USB stick or articles:
  • Linux Mint 19 Tara MATE: looks pretty much like Cinnamon does. Did same with the Xfce version, same result. There are some small changes in the Start menu and System Tray and such, but no big obvious differences.
  • Peppermint: Uses Nemo, is based on Ubuntu LTS. GUI looks "rougher" than Mint's GUI, and a little cartoony, but it seems faster, and I like it.
  • Xubuntu 18.10, and I like it, crisp and seems fast.
  • Lubuntu, but didn't like it so much, not as much as Xubuntu.
  • Puppy Xenial: Cute, but UI a little odd, not in the Windows and Mint mold. Distro is some kind of hybrid of Ubuntu and Slackware.
  • Debian LXDE. Acceptable. A lot of apps installed that I don't want. Boot and shutdown show a lot of text going by.
  • Ubuntu: UI not particularly fast and not exciting.
  • Fedora GNOME: UI a little clunky-looking, not particularly fast and not exciting.
    If you want the very latest GNOME, you will find it on Fedora. Also tends to push the edge in other ways: e.g. Wayland, Btrfs, etc. article
  • Kubuntu 18.10: crisp; default text editor (Kate) is nice, polished.
  • KDE neon Plasma: ??? A rolling/developer distro.
    From people on reddit 5/2020:
    KDE neon is based on Ubuntu LTS and very similar to Kubuntu. The main difference is it gets KDE packages from KDE themselves. KDE will always be the latest and greatest.

    ...

    I prefer Kubuntu. I've installed KDE Neon twice but after 3-6 months dropped it for something else. Kept finding loads of random things stop working, like Wi-Fi would need me to disconnect and reconnect all the time, and X11 kept crashing. Unless you want to be on the bleeding edge of KDE, another distro might be best.
    KDE Neon is latest KDE on older kernel; Kubuntu is older KDE on newer but stable system.
  • OpenSUSE LXQt: couldn't get into a live session, ISO keeps booting into an installer no matter what I do.
  • I hear that Elementary OS is kind of locked-down, deliberately: it's hard to add packages.
  • I hear good things about Manjaro; I should try it. Fairly bleeding-edge; easier than Arch but less stable than Ubuntu. reddit thread




My experience:
+/-
I'm taking a slow tour of various distros.

Ubuntu family:
Used Mint Cinnamon 19.0-19.3 for about 20 months.
Then Ubuntu GNOME 20.04 for 5 months.
Then Ubuntu MATE 20.04 for 2 months.
Then Kubuntu 20.10 for 5 months.
Red Hat family:
Used Fedora 34 KDE for 5.5 months.

Arch family:
Now on Manjaro 21 Xfce stable.
Then maybe EndeavourOS (LXQt).

Then MX Linux (Xfce), OpenSUSE Tumbleweed KDE (Jurix-based), Slackware current, Void Linux, Qubes OS, Subgraph OS.
MocaccinoOS.
Then who knows ? Pop!_OS with COSMIC. Elementary OS. Solus Budgie. UbuntuDDE Remix. Bodhi. NixOS. PCLinuxOS. Clear Linux OS.

[Some other things I could "tour": apps in each category, themes, docks, more.]


[Some people say: keep / and /home on separate partitions, so you can change OS without changing /home. I do differently: one / partition for everything, but back up settings for some key big apps: browsers, email, RSS feed reader, password manager, IDE. When I do a fresh install, I fresh-install the apps, then overwrite their configs with my saved config files.]

[Note: Just before wiping the system is a good time to try some risky new thing you're curious about (e.g. SELinux, resizing a partition, in-place encryption/decryption, new bootloader, reverting system back to some filesystem snapshot, filesystem rebalancing or scrubbing, damage filesystem and then try using a rescue disk). If it borks the system, no problem: you were about to wipe anyway.]


My quick summaries:
Note: I use the stock UI, with little customization. And I value stability and functionality far more than UI.
  • Mint Cinnamon 19: nice UI; sometimes bad handling of bug-reports.
  • Ubuntu GNOME 20.04: broken desktop; UI a bit clunky.
  • Ubuntu MATE 20.04: good.
  • Kubuntu 20.10: good, but Dolphin file-manager bad with smartphone, and there's a system-freeze bug.
  • Fedora 34 KDE: good, but had to switch from Wayland to X. Updates are daily and large and often force two OS restarts to apply ("systemd.offline-updates"). Some small glitches, such as dialogs not painting until I mouse over them, occasional crashes of something in the system. Crash-reporting seems not to work.




Don't customize a lot or fork:
+/-
I use the stock UI of each distro, with little customization. And I value stability and functionality far more than UI. I don't load up with unusual CLI commands, or aliases, etc. So moving to another distro is easy, filing bug reports or talking to other users is easy.

I use several large mostly-cross-platform apps, which work equally well on any distro: KeePassXC, Firefox, Thunderbird, Visual Code, Liferea. So moving to another distro or even sometimes using Windows or Android is pretty easy. The downside is these apps usually don't obey the system theme settings.

I find that I can get my stuff done in any GUI or desktop environment; changing from one to another doesn't matter much. Partly that's due to the "large apps" strategy I mentioned above; something such as Firefox is pretty much the same in any GUI.

If something is broken or can be improved, try to get it improved for everyone, not just for you. File a bug report or code fix, or write a little extension and submit it to the extension store/marketplace.
Tobias Bernard's "Doing Things That Scale"







Miscellaneous



Security-oriented distros

+/-
  • Tails (The Amnesic Incognito Live System):
    A clean-boot OS, although you can have some persistent storage for your files.
    Mostly oriented toward not leaving any history on your machine.
    Intended to be booted from USB (needs 8+ GB USB drive), and not installed on your hard disk.
    Not intended as a daily-driver OS; it's for communications and some document-processing.
    Routes all network traffic through Tor/onion.
    Drops all UDP traffic; can't do it.
    Doesn't support IPv6.
    Debian-based.
    Tails

  • Whonix:
    Separates the network access from the rest of the system, using two VMs I think.
    Routes all network traffic through Tor/onion.
    Drops all UDP traffic; can't do it unless you install a VPN, which negates the value of using onion routing (for that traffic).
    Debian-based.
    Whonix

  • Subgraph OS:
    Routes all network traffic through Tor/onion.
    Subgraph OS

  • Qubes OS:
    Separates your apps from each other, putting each in a separate VM.
    Qubes section of my VMs and Containers page




Some people who review a lot of distros, giving very opinionated takes on them: Dedoimedo, Homo Ludditus.


Jesse Smith's "BSD versus Linux distribution development"



At a gravesite, saying I use Arch BTW