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Stop Distro-Hopping

20 December 2020

After several years using Linux I've figured out which distro everyone should use. The answer is, it doesn't matter.

The real difference between distro's is one most people miss and that included me for a long time. It's the package manager that is behind the distro which makes the biggest difference of all. But people get hung up on what they see in front of them when looking at a distro. What you're looking at is it the desktop environment or window manager and the packages included in each.

The decision to choose a package manager is what you want to land on. Do you want a rolling relase model or a traditional model where you have a big upgrade every year or two? Does the package manager you're looking at have all the software you need included in it? Can you add community repo's, or PPA's?

Once you settle on these choices, then you can figure out which distro to look at. If you prefer the traditional model, then you might look at Debian or it's children like Ubuntu, Mint, Elementary and others. You could also look at Red Hat (professional) or it's child like Fedora.

Perhaps you want to go with a rolling release platform. Then you'll want to look at Arch or it's children such as Manjaro or Arco.

These are just a few of the bigger names in distro's but there are a whole lot more to look at as well.

Some of the biggest differences that people see right away are the desktop environments each distro includes and the packages they add to them.

Now you have to figure out which desktop environment (de), or which window manager (wm) you want to use. Some are lightweight with minimal features to others with a lot of features and larger install sizes. You have DE's like XFCE4, KDE, Gnome and Mate among others. Then there are WM's like I3, DWM, Openbox, Xmonad, Awesome, bspwm,and many others.

The distro of choice is just a preference thing.

Whether a person uses Ubuntu with Gnome, XFCE or KDE DE's or WM's like i3, DWM or xmonad is not much different than using Fedora with the same DE's and WM's. The real difference is the package manager and repo's. Of course, there will be other small differences like some pre-installed software from that distro, but I don't think that equates to a major difference. Any of those missing packages can always be installed later by the user.

I did my fair share of distro-hopping for a while. I used Ubuntu, Mint, KDE Neon and Pop!_OS before settling on Arch based distros. My reason for choosing Arch was because of their rolling release method compared to the traditional forklift upgrade style of everything else (most distros, Windows, macOS). At home and work I use ArcoLinux, an Arch based distro.

For both of them, I run i3-gaps as my WM and sometimes switch to DWM or another wm. But I first got started with i3 and I'm most familiar with it, so that is what I use.

So, once a person realizes that the distro doesn't mean as much as they're made out to be and they settle on a package system, a DE or WM, they can get on with their computing life and not hop so much!

Now you can install any of these distro's and use what DE or WM it shipped with, but you can also install any of these DE's and WM's as well and switch between any of them at the logon screen.

So you see, the real choice to make is the package manager and upgrade style (rolling vs. traditional). Everything else is very customizable and easy to switch around at any time.

I chose Arch for it's rolling release model because that means I always have the latest version of the OS and packages. I get updates daily and they're small and incremental. These daily updates take seconds to download and install. Maybe when there is a kernel update it will take a minute or two at most.

To me this is a much better system because it saves time over the traditional model of upgrading and it taking 30 minutes, an hour or more. Looking at you Windows and macOS. I don't have to worry much about updates breaking my system entirely and then having to rebuild my environment or losing settings and so forth.

But if you choose the traitional model on a Linux distro, the upgrades usually don't take as long as Windows or macOS, but still follow the same principle.

To sum up, choose your upgrade model and your package manager. Then choose your distro based on that and everything is just simple and easy to change.