Finally, an Answer to What is The Best Linux Distro?

Finally, an attempt to answer to the age old question: Which Linux distro is the best?

This question has been asked time and time again and debated from the moment more than one distro existed – so, pretty much since day one. It has been so hotly debated that it has caused true animosity and people rage-quitting entire sites. Some people have high conviction that their distro of choice is the best distro!

Hint: It’s not.

I’ve been using Linux exclusively for more than a decade.
Many years ago, I used Unix extensively.
I have dozens of virtual machines of current distros.
My Linux ISO folder is 250 GB in size.
If you can name it, I’ve probably installed it and used it.

I think that makes me pretty darned qualified to finally put this question to bed.

So, what is the best Linux distro?

There isn’t one.

There is No Best Linux Distro:

The best Linux distro is the one that is best one for you. It’s the distro (perhaps even plural, ‘distros’) that suits your individual needs best. The best Linux distro the one where you’re most able to get your work done, because that’s what an operating system is for. An operating system is a tool to help you accomplish a computational goal.

The best distro the one that’s suited to your personal workflow. It’s the one that makes you the most happy, and the one that best lets you use the applications you need to use. Basically, it’s the one that works for you.

You can look up Linux distro benchmarks.
And can check their popularity.
Or you can test them out virtually online.

You can download the images and use VirtualBox to test them for longer periods. You can download the various .iso images and test them on bare metal by using them live – without making any changes to your currently installed operating system.

But, at the end of the day, nothing beats experience.

It May Take a While:

The reality is, it may take you some time to find the right distro for you. Maybe you’ll start with something easy to install and maintain, and maybe your final destination ends with Gentoo. Who knows? Only you. Only you know.

When someone attempts to tell you the best Linux distro, what they really mean is what is best for them. That may not be the best for you. It could very well be, but you won’t know until you try. You still might not know until you’ve tried many distros.

There are many things to consider. Do you want a stable release? Maybe you want a rolling release with the most up-to-date software? Or, perhaps you want to use Aptitude or Zypper, or maybe no package manager at all? Which desktop environment do you want? What default software do you want? Which window manager is right for you? Do you want a fancy desktop or just the bare minimum? How about something in between?

TIP: You can do some really refined searches at DistroWatch.

Do you want a distro that comes with just the basics so that you can add your own software? How about a distro that comes with the software you’re most likely to use? Maybe you want a specialist distro that comes with the tools you need, like Springdale Linux? Do you want to work with multimedia as a creator with Ubuntu Studio?

Then, what computer architecture are you using? Are you trying to keep your old 32 bit computer running? You can do that!

Do you want to use your SBC (Single-Board Computer) as your HTPC (Home Theater PC)? You can do that!

Do you want to set up your own router and firewall? You can do that!

Do you want to set up your own NAS (Network-Attached Storage)? You can do that!

There are unique Linux distros to do all of those things!

So Many Choices:

There are many, many choices. Odds are great that there’s a distro that’s just right for you. And, if you can’t find one that’s just right, you can make your own. On top of that, you can make pretty much any distro do the same thing that another distro does. So, you can start with one distro and turn it into whatever you want.

The choices are so many and so broad that you have practically limitless choices. That’s one of the things that makes Linux so great. You have a say in what your operating system does (and what it doesn’t) do. It’s your computer, you get to decide.

And that, that’s the answer to this age-old question. There is no right distro, there’s only the right distro for you.

Me? I’m old. I want stability and an environment that gets out of my way to let me get my work done with the smoothest possible workflow. The distro that does that is the distro that’s right for me. You do you and you decide what the best distro is for you.

Most of all, enjoy the wondrous journey of discovery, as  you too find the right Linux distro for you.  

Closure:

This article has been pulled over from the old site. It may look familiar to some of my readers. I cleaned it up and moved it, formatting it to match the current site. 

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your own site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.

NOTE: This article was updated on 06/19/2021.

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Review: The SpaceFM File Manager For Linux

Let’s try something new! Let’s take a look at a different file manager for a change. Specifically, let’s look at SpaceFM, a multi-panel file manager for Linux. It’s worth looking at and has a ton of useful features.

I figured that it’d be fun to sometimes review stuff and added the category when I was building the site. I haven’t used it until now, mostly because I had more pressing things to write. Alas, I’ve committed to write articles every other day for a year (or as close to it as I can get), so I might as well try out this review thing.

On with the article!

Wikipedia has an article about file managers, because of course they do. Simply put, it’s an application that lets you more easily manage files and directories. It’s usually a graphical application these days, but that wasn’t always true. If you’re coming from a Windows background, the Windows Explorer application was a file manager.

File managers often add other features, as does SpaceFM. Not only does it have multi-panels, it also has tabs, and more! So, let’s see how this ‘review’ thing is actually going to work. It’ll probably be a little rough, as this is the first one I’ve written for the site.

Getting SpaceFM:

SpaceFM is actually the default file manager in a few (seven, it seems) distros. It’s also almost certainly possible to find SpaceFM in your default repositories. It’s literally packaged for pretty much everything. Literally! Click the link and you’ll see that your distro is probably supported and it’s already available in your package management tools. Unless you’re using a pretty obscure distro, it’s readily available.

Given that it’s so readily available, I’m surprised that so few people use it. It’s so well documented, that I really don’t need to tell you how to install it. But, for example, you’d install it like this with Ubuntu:

It’s as simple as that! Well, it should be. Just adjust that command for your distro’s package management tools and be sure to use ‘spacefm’ – and it’ll likely be there and installed without a hitch. If you don’t have it available in your default repositories, you can actually use a ‘net installer’ found here. It’s truly one of the most accessible programs I’ve ever seen. 

One of the great things about installing SpaceFM is that you’ll also get a nice GUI SpaceFM File Search application. It’s pretty self-explanatory and it looks like this:

SpaceFM Find Files
See? You can find files with it, as well! Alas, it doesn’t search *in* files.

I use that with some regularity, as I have a whole lot of files and am not the greatest at organizing them. I find it processes the search pretty quickly, though I am not sure how well it will perform on older hardware.

Why SpaceFM:

I think a picture is worth 1000 words, or that it can be. So, let me just share a picture with you and we’ll see where we are after that. Be sure to click on the picture, as it will expand to a larger image that’ll let you see more clearly.

SpaceFM in all its glory!
I realize that’s a pretty busy picture and that there’s much to digest.

As you can see, I have three different panels open. It’s possible to have up to four panels. In each of those panels, you can also have tabs. If you’re looking to manage your files in a complex fashion, this is definitely one of the best tools to do it.

Helpfully, SpaceFM describes itself as this:

SpaceFM is a multi-panel tabbed file and desktop manager for Linux with built-in VFS, udev- or HAL-based device manager, customisable menu system, and bash-GTK integration. SpaceFM aims to provide a stable, capable file manager with significant customisation capabilities.

The above reasons are all pretty good reasons to at least try SpaceFM, but there’s more! See, there are also a bunch of plugins for those people that want to extend SpaceFM even further. There are plugins for GPG, bulk-renaming, auto-mount, image tools, and more! Take a look, there are quite a few!

So, what you end up with is a complete package. I realize that many folks will prefer to keep some of those things separate (the ‘Unix philosophy’), but it really does make for a light, responsive, intuitive, and effective file management package. I’m really surprised that so few people take advantage of this.

Closure:

There’s not much more to say. It’s there. Give it a try. As this is a review, I’ll rate it a solid 9 out of 10, with one point being taken off for not having an easier way to install plugins. I’ve used it extensively and never had so much as a crash and the plugins have always worked as advertised.

As mentioned above, this is my first review for the site. I made the category at the start, without really putting any thought into what it’d look like when I wrote stuff to fit that category. I’m not terribly pleased with how this one came out, but I know that I’ll try a few more things in future reviews and they’ll improve over time.

I’ve said before that the goal is an article every other day for a year, which means I’ve got plenty of time to get better! Please leave any feedback below, as I’d like to make this a regular feature. It’d be great to expose people to some alternatives – and to learn of some alternatives along the way. There’s some great software out there that’s still relatively unknown.

As always, thanks for reading. If you want to help, you know how to do so! I’ve told you this before! You can donate, register, write an article, buy hosting, rate the article, share the article on social media, leave a comment, or sign up for the newsletter! Bandwidth is again creeping up, but it’s below my new level. Again, thanks!

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Repair Your Linux Boot Process With ‘Boot-Repair’

META: Over the past few days, the site has kinda blown up. The bandwidth allotment was shattered for the month of May – in just the last few days of the month, meaning I had to upgrade my hosting account. 

Whichever of you visitors it is that has been sharing this site’s articles on Facebook and Twitter, I do appreciate it and I hope you continue doing so. The additional traffic is pretty awesome. Worst case scenario is that I’ll just keep buying more bandwidth. We’re doing okay with regards to disk space usage, but we go through bandwidth like a fat kid goes through cake! 

Now on to your regularly scheduled article!

Linux Boot:

There are any number of reasons why Linux will refuse to boot property. In most instances, you can easily fix your boot with ‘boot-repair‘. The boot-repair application is a handy, mostly automated, method to get your Linux boot-up process squared away.

It may be that you installed Linux improperly, or an update has somehow broken your boot. You could have a complicated boot process that has multiple operating systems configured and that has broken. There could be all sorts of reasons why your Linux system isn’t booting properly.

It’s for this reason that ‘boot-repair’ was created. Not only does it have an automated repair process, it has an advanced process that will let you create a diagnostics report to share with your favorite support forum, where you can get help with manually repairing your system.

Because of the many variations that are involved in the manual repair process, this article is only going to cover the automated boot-repair process. There are simply too many variables and brevity is important.

With that in mind, please continue reading…

Getting ‘boot-repair’:

The first thing you’re going to need is a Linux USB or DVD. There are a couple of ways to do this, but you probably still have the media from which you installed Linux in the first place. If you do still have that, you can just boot to the live instance.

As boot-repair isn’t necessarily installed by default, you’ll need to install it. That’s going to vary and depend on your distro, but it’s easy if you have Ubuntu or an Ubuntu derivative. Just use your keyboard to open a terminal by pressing CTRL + ALT + T.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to add the ‘yannubuntu/boot-repair’ repository, like so:

If you’re using a modern version of Ubuntu, it will add the repository and then automatically update the database of available software. If you’re not, or if you want to be extra careful, you can simply update it yourself with:

Next, you’ll install ‘boot-repair’. Seeing as you’re already there in the terminal, let’s go ahead and do it there:

Now that you have it installed, you can go ahead and open it from the menu.

Or Use the ‘Boot-Repair-Disk’:

If you don’t have any live Linux media kicking around, you can actually download a special distro that will get you sorted out. There’s a basic ‘boot-repair’ image that you can download from Sourceforge and you can use that instead.

If you’d like to download the ‘boot-repair-disk’, you can do so at this link. It’s a small distro that’s based on Lubuntu and has the tool you need for this. It also contains ‘OS-uninstaller‘ which, while interesting and handy, is beyond the scope of this article.

Once you’ve downloaded it and written it to USB or DVD (it’s just a whisker too large to fit on a CD as of the time of this writing), you can just boot to it and proceed from there. If you’re curious, it will look a little like this once you’ve booted and opened the ‘boot-repair’ application:

boot-repair-disk
That’s boot-repair-disk in action. You can use this instead of your regular distro.

Repairing Your Boot:

At this point, you have booted into a live instance of Linux and you’re ready to repair your broken boot. You can just open ‘Boot Repair’ from the application menu.

Once you do that, it will take a moment to collect information about your system. This is important, as it will use that information to repair your boot. As I mentioned up above, there’s too many variables to cover with the advanced options and there’s already a solution in place for that.

So, the simple thing you now do is use the automatic boot-repair and hope that it works. It usually does the trick and it’s pretty obvious how you do it. Still, have an image, just in case.

boot-repair in action
Just click the button! It should do the trick – most of the time.

All you need to do is push the button. Once you’ve done that, just go ahead and reboot. When you’re prompted, remove the installation media and let the reboot finish. The very next boot should be fine, as boot-repair will have done its job.

If it is not fixed, then you have a bigger problem than can be resolved automatically. In that case, click the bottom-most button and share the resulting report with your favorite support forum. Many Linux support forums have people who are used to seeing the output of boot-repair and they’ll get you sorted. If not, anyone at your favorite forum may still be able to read the information and help you get your Linux boot repaired properly.

Closure:

That’s it, really. This article only covers the automated repair. If it’s more complicated than that, it’s more complicated than a blog post and you’ll need assistance from someone who is familiar with how Linux boots.

As always, thanks for reading. Your readership and feedback make this task all the more enjoyable. If you feel like you can help, or that you want to help, just let me know and I’ll be able to find something for you to do.

Like normal, you can donate, sign up for the newsletter below, share the article on social media, leave a comment, register to help, or even write your own article. It’d also be pretty great if you unblocked the ads so that the site has a chance of making some revenue! If you have any questions, just contact me.

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How To: (More or Less) Learn if Your Hardware Will Work With Linux

One of the most frequently asked questions from new people is them wondering if their hardware will work with Linux. This article will help you find out if your hardware will work with Linux.

That’s right, this article aims to tackle a frequently asked question – but there’s some limitations and wiggle-room. That’s why the title of the article contains (More or Less). It’s not 100% accurate.

The usual, and most basic way to find out if your hardware will work with Linux is to simply download the .iso you intend to use, boot to it, and test it. If it works in a live environment, it probably will work when you install it. If you needed to add additional boot parameters (like nomodeset) to run the live instance, you’re probably going to need to do the same thing when you install Linux.

That works well enough, but it doesn’t tell you anything about long-term problems. It doesn’t tell you if there’s going to be an IRQ issue many hours after booting, it doesn’t tell you if there will be some obscure ACPI errors, and it doesn’t tell you exactly how well your hardware will work with Linux.

You can do better than that. With a little effort, you can learn all about your hardware and how well your hardware will work with Linux. It’s pretty painless and easy.

Learn If Your Hardware Work With Linux:

So, the first thing you need to do is download the .iso and write it to USB or to DVD. You can also do this after the fact, with an already-installed Linux. This article assumes you’ve got a running Linux and you’re connected to the Internet. 

It also assumes that you have a terminal window open. If you don’t have one open, you can probably open one by using your keyboard. Just press CTRL + ALT + T and up should open your default terminal emulator. Yes, this should work just fine even in a live environment.

The tool we want for this is ‘hw-probe’, put out by the good people behind linux-hardware.org. It is almost certainly in your default repositories and can be installed in the usual manner. For example, if you’re using a distro with apt, then it’d be installed with:

You’ll have to adjust the installation command for the distro you’re using. You may also need to use a root password, which will vary based on the distro.

You can also find it in Snap, AppImage, and Flatpak versions here.

Once you have it installed, you will want to run the following command (and know that you will be sharing this data with the linux-hardware.org project):

That will take a little while to run, but not terribly long. It will output some text similar to this:

The important bit is the “Probe URL”. For this particular run, you’ll see the URL is: https://linux-hardware.org/?probe=23182c745b

If you follow my example URL, you’ll see that everything more or less works – but that some of the hardware has some known problems. You can click through those to learn about what sort of problems you’ll have getting your hardware to work with Linux.

NOTE: Just because there are known problems doesn’t mean that the hardware doesn’t work. You need to click through and read the results to learn what sort of problems you’re potentially going to face. In some cases, the problems only exist with certain kernels (for example) and are resolved with newer kernels. Again, you’ll need to read through and verify the data. The data is pretty accurate, but the human element means it is not infallible. 

As you can now surmise, this isn’t 100% accurate. Quite often, there will be known problems but your hardware will work with Linux just fine – but maybe not at peak functionality due to an inferior driver. Be on the lookout for things like that.

What it does do is it gives you some more fine-grained information so that you can make a more informed decisions. It’s a guide, not a rule-book. At the end of the day, if Linux is up and working on your live instance, it’s probably going to work just fine when it has been installed.

Closure:

And there you have it. Another article in the books. This one helps you find out if your hardware works with Linux. If you have any ideas for articles, be sure to let me know. Don’t forget to share this article with your friends!

If you want, you can unblock ads, donate, sign up to contribute, write an article, or sign up for the newsletter below. (I should move that to the top. I’ll do that when I’ve given it enough time to see if folks respond.) Thanks for reading and there will be another article in a couple of days!

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What it’s Like To Beta-test Linux, Specifically Lubuntu

You may not think so, but everyone can meaningfully help their favorite distro. Someone has to beta-test Linux, and most everyone can do so. Here’s one way that you can help.

You don’t have to be a programmer, being able to code isn’t mandatory. It’s not even a requirement that you have spare hardware to test with. Going gung-ho and testing daily isn’t even a requirement. You just need to have some time that you’re willing to give back to the projects that have given you so much.

I don’t tend to do half-measures, so I’ve thrown myself into the task. The amount of learning I’ve done since starting is probably the most I’ve done since I was just a Linux beginner. If you like learning, then your ability to help knows no bounds.

Why I Beta-test Linux:

About a year ago, I learned why Ubuntu stopped offering 32 bit versions. It wasn’t because 32 bit was old, nor was it because the devs hate 32 bit systems. The reason they stopped supporting 32 bit systems was because there were too few people willing to test on 32 bit systems.

Now, I don’t actually use any 32 bit hardware. In fact, I haven’t used 32 bit hardware since pretty much the first day 64 bit hardware hit the market. I had empathy for those who had to move to a shrinking pool of distro choices. I also realized that it could happen again, for other hardware or software.

That’s when I realized that I could do my part. It is when I decided that I’d look into the process. After some investigation, I made it known publicly that I’d be testing. By making the claim that I’d do so, it forced my hand into actually following through. The claim was made to them as much for their sake as it was for mine.

I’ve done it ever since. It takes maybe an hour per day to do it, and to do it well. I test on at least two different pieces of hardware, file my reports, and go on about my day. Sometimes I get more involved and test other things, but my usual activities are just testing the daily build.

How I Beta-test Linux:

This will, of course, be different for you – unless you want to beta test Lubuntu. In which case, this is pretty much how you’d do it. Though your method may still be different. My testing is “just” the live instances of Lubuntu.

The live testing is actually the longer of the two types of tests. If you’re doing the installation tests, you basically just install and make sure it reboots, perhaps ensuring internet connectivity works out of the box. If nothing breaks, you’re done.

Every day, at about 13:30 my time, I start refreshing the testing tracker URL. (That link is time sensitive. It won’t be the same for the next cycle. It’s largely for illustration anyhow.) What I’m looking for is the date to change on the download. When that changes, I know there’s a new daily build for me to test.

You don’t actually have to do this every day. You can do it when you have time, or closer to the end of the release cycle. You set the time and schedule.

When the date changes and there’s a new daily build, I use the zsync option to save bandwidth. Using zsync means I’m only downloading the parts of the image that have changed. I not only do this on one computer, I do it on another computer. As mentioned above, I test twice.

While I’m there, I also download the new manifest. The manifest is a list of all the files that are in the image (.iso, of course) and I use it to ‘diff‘ against the previous manifest. This tells me what has changed and what needs more attention and testing.

It’s at this time that I start filing my reports. Those will vary and depend on what your distro of choice is using. Mine are generally pretty basic and short, unless I find something amiss. If there’s something amiss, then that requires proper testing and bug reporting. That happens with less frequency than you might imagine, but it’s essential that you follow conventions and properly report bugs in a manner that the developers can use.

Later, those reports get closed, using a process where I mark the test as ‘in progress’ while testing and then close them as passed or failed when I’m done. Each report contains a list of existing bugs and any newly found bugs.

The Actual Beta-testing Linux:

When the two files are downloaded and reports opened as in progress, I’m ready to actually begin. On one machine, I’ll start writing the daily .iso to a USB drive and on the other I’ll use it to start a fully prepared virtual machine.

The testing done on both is remarkably similar. I also undertake the live testing and, as I said near the top, that one takes the most time. You’ll see why…

As I’m testing the live instance, the first two things I check and change are the screen resolution and the keyboard layout. Those will be the first two changes people are likely to make in a live environment, and so they’re the first two things I change and check.

The next task is checking the existing bugs. For example, there’s a bug in the terminal where it won’t actually open with the presets (two horizontal or vertical terminals). Another is a wonderfully odd LibreOffice bug that appears to have existed for quite a while before I noticed it. I’ll explain the LibreOffice bug and show it to you.

To trigger the bug, open every LibreOffice application up in order. If they stop appearing in the task bar after you’ve opened Impress, then you’re likely going to be able to trigger the bug. After they’re all opened, select the “Vivid” template in Impress – and watch all of the LibreOffice applications crash one after the other.

Watch, full screen should work if needed:

This particular bug was discovered because of how I do the testing. Nobody seems to know what the cause is and it doesn’t appear in every distro – but it appears, or manifests itself in some way, in a variety of distros. (I’ve tested, of course!)

So, once I’m sure that the existing bugs are still there, I do the rest of my testing. This means I open the menu, start at the top, and open everything. I don’t open them all at once, I open them by segments. First, I open all the Accessories, then Internet, then Graphics and Video, etc. applications at once. I make sure they all open and that they all close.

When there is a change noted by the diff I mentioned earlier, I make sure to check that application even more. I also pick a half-dozen, maybe a dozen, other applications to test more thoroughly. For those, it isn’t just checking to see that they open and close, I check that they do things like open the appropriate files, their preferences work, and that the application does the job it was meant to do.

Most of the time, there’s nothing doing. It’s exactly the same as it was the day before. Those days are the easiest. You just file the reports and you’re done for the day. If there are new bugs, you have a bunch more work to do. 

In the case of a new bug, you need to file a proper bug report. More importantly, you need to make sure it’s a bug. To do this, you’ll test against everything you can think of. You’ll even test against other distros to see if the bug also exists in those distros. It is also worth installing the beta (preferably in a VM) to test to see if the bug is in both the installed and in the live instance. You want to narrow it down as much as you can, making it easier for the devs to fix.

The forms and paperwork you’ll be doing will vary. They won’t be just like the Lubuntu system, which is based on the Ubuntu system. You’ll need to connect with someone on the team, someone familiar with the process, to make sure you’re doing it right.

In my case, I call my connection my ‘mentor’, though that can sometimes be a formal term. They’ll need to be someone you get along with, because you’re going to interact with them fairly often as you learn the ropes. You’ll need to be patient, as they’re not always available and often have other tasks that they’re working on.

From my observations, you’ll really enjoy it. The people involved in these projects are all just humans. They want you to help. If you don’t want to beta-test, just let them know that you have some free time and let them know what skills you have in your toolbox. There’s always something you can do.

They may find a niche for you doing documentation, doing bug triage, answering support questions, keeping track of task-completion, or any number of things. Just contact the distro team, let them know you want to help, and they’ll find a use for you.

Closure:

You can make a meaningful difference. By taking part, you can make your favorite distro even better. It needn’t be a distro, it could just be a project you use and understand. The people writing ‘inxi’ can use your help, ‘Shutter’ too, or even ‘GIMP’ or ‘Blender’. Pick one and jump right in!

Seriously… Getting involved is easy! Even if it’s just you noticing and reporting a bug, you can meaningfully impact the software that you use every day. You can make a difference, and you can make it better.

The amount of time you donate is up to you. It needn’t be quite like the one to two hours I spend daily, it can be just a couple of hours a week. The choice is for you to make and it needs to fit your schedule.

As always, thanks for reading. Don’t forget that you can unblock ads, donate, write articles, and sign up for the newsletter. You already know that I appreciate the feedback. There will be a new article in just a couple of days.

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