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Linux Distribution Choices

posted 3 Oct 2012, 04:43 by Alistair Hamilton   [ updated 4 Oct 2012, 04:01 ]
For the past two and a half years I've been using Ubuntu 10.04 as my main desktop environment. Things have moved on in the intervening time. New versions have been released and new desktop environments have been introduced.

I thought it was about time to look at updating my system to the latest long term release (LTS), but what option? Sticking with distributions that are based on Ubuntu, I've been installing, playing with and uninstalling a variety of distributions over the past few weeks. The end result may surprise you.

The tests were done on my main desktop computer - a modest beast with a 3.2GHz Dual Core Pentium, 3GB RAM, 120GB HDD and a Radeon X300 Graphics Card with 128MB RAM.

Ubuntu Linux
Ubuntu 12.04 - With its controversial Unity interface first introduced roughly two years ago, Ubuntu 12.04 is making great strides to develop a unified interface across all types of devices from tablets to desktops. (Later this month, Windows 8 will be unleashed on the world and it tries to do the same thing).

I confess, I'm not convinced. I simply do not like the interface. I find it slow and non-intuitive compared to the version of Ubuntu I've been using for years.

Zorin OS
Zorin OS 6.0 - Specifically designed to look like Windows 7, I was impressed how quickly this installed - though the same can be said with most Linux distributions, particularly when compared to any version of Windows. While this may appeal to disgruntled Windows users, I do not like it for that reason.

I gave this to my Mother on a new machine as a trial. She hated it and requested I gave her Windows back. Ironic given the Zorin's aim of easing in Windows users.

Linux Mint
Linux Mint 13 - When Ubuntu Unity was introduced, many Ubuntu users hated it and looked elsewhere. Linux Mint ported the Gnome 2 environment that those users loved into MATE. I though I'd be at home with this one as it represents the continuation of what I'd been using. I'm sorry to say, I didn't like it.

Like Ubuntu 12.04, I found it slow. Slow to load not only itself on boot up, but slow to load programs. Slow is a relative term of course. Here I mean slow compared to what I am used to. I'm sure on a more powerful machine it would perform much better, but based on my experience, I'm afraid I have to discount it

Bodhi Linux
Bodi Linux 2.1 - Again based on the latest Ubuntu, this distribution uses Enlightenment E17 as its desktop environment. Unlike the other distros tested, the installation process does not install lots of applications which results in an incredibly fast installation process of slightly over 5 mins. You are then free to go to the Bodhi website, or use the Synaptic Package manager, to install whatever applications you desire. This means you do not get stuff you don't want, but you do have to spend time installing that which you do want.

I have to say, I liked this distro. It is very attractive without sacrificing its performance. Indeed, it's the fastest distro on trial and can be configured down to the smallest detail if the user is that way inclined.

Xubuntu 12.04 - From the Ubuntu stable, this distro uses the lean xfce desktop environment. Again, a very fast distro which runs extremely smoothly on my pc. Some of the default applications I do not care for, but it's a very simple matter of swapping them out for something else via the repositories - as it is with all the distributions discussed here.

I should point out that I'm not a great one for fancy desktop effects. I'm not interested in wobbly windows or having windows burst into flames when I close them. Simple effects such as window transparency and shadows are as much as I'll go for. Other than that, I want my system resources to be used dealing with the job in hand not for special effects. If I wanted those, I'd watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

And so, I come to the winner and it is...

Bodhi Linux 2.1

Fast, lean, extremely beautiful and configurable to the nth degree if one is that way inclined. But...

Yes, I'm afraid there is a 'but'.

I approached this exercise not only to choose a distro that I would be happy with, but one I think I could introduce to Window users. Now, theoretically, any Linux distro could be used by such users, but I do not want to be in a position where I end up supporting numerous desktop environments and distributions.

My Xubuntu desktop
While I like Bodhi Linux and I'll be keeping an eye on its development over the years, I've decided to go with Xubuntu. The xfce interface provides an environment that is reasonably recognisable to new users and certainly configurable to make ex Windows users more comfortable. It is fast and easy to use and of course, the full Ubuntu software repositories are available. It maintains the 'traditional' desktop look and avoids the new tablet/touch screen paradigm used by Ubuntu Unity and the forthcoming Windows 8 for that matter.

I'm glad I spent a few days with each of these distributions. It was a necessary exercise, not to mention an important one, as it cemented my choice as distro for the next few years.

So there you have it. Xubuntu is the one for me (and my customers) with Bodhi coming a close second. Give them both a try and see what you think.