The Extropy of Linux

May 27th, 2013 by adminadam in articles

Allow me to revel for a second in the beauty of millions of volunteers working together from around the world to build free and open-source (and awesome) alternatives to the profit-driven, privacy-abusive, user-patronizing, security-lax, and design-arbitrary Corporate Operating Systems of the Modern World, namely: Windows and Mac OSX.

Here goes: Linux, along with Wikipedia, Wikileaks, the Bitcoin Crowd, Anonymous, Firefox, Diaspora*, and the Occupy Movement may just represent the pinnacle of human cultural development as it stands in the 21st century. That is, at its core, it (Linux) has Freedom, Respect for the dignity of individual humans and human communities, Love and the love of Art and Aesthetics, and Truth as both its mode of operation and its end goal (product, in this case). Both path and destination are glorious. What does Microsoft want from you? Servitude. Apple? Your Soul. And if we look at the other fields I’ve jacked into the equation here, what does Chrome want from you — being another semi-open-source browser with great design and functionality? Your Data, of course. All your data are belong to us. Linux is divergent; counter-culture. Eventually, hopefully, it will be the new norm for you and me.

</revel>

With these idealistic ends in mind I’ve decided to go all out and bring my best Thrivenotes-y analysis of the top 10 Linux Distributions to you, dear reader, in the hopes that it will help you consider your options, firstly, and secondly, know where to start for when you decide that you’ve had enough of Big Brother Data Corp and Their Friends.


First off, let’s give us a definition here, shall we?

What is Linux? Surely our friend Wikipedia can answer that!

This from the Simple English Version:

Linux or GNU/Linux is a free and open source software operating system for computers. The operating system is a collection of the basic instructions that tell the electronic parts of the computer what to do and how to work. Free and open source software (FOSS) means that everyone has the freedom to use it, see how it works, and change it.

What does it do?

It basically allows you to do all the things you would normally do with a computer. Go online, check your email, organize your photos, write letters and documents, create art, play videogames, listen to music, etc., etc..

What doesn’t it do?

Linux is all about free software. With that said, some types of Linux are (by design) not very good at using proprietary software, such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. With that said, there are some pretty kick-ass (as in free, as in beer) alternatives, namely: OpenOffice or LibreOffice, and GIMP or Inkscape.

What are the most popular flavors — or types — of Linux?

Ubuntu is the name most people who’ve heard of Linux will recognize. It is amongst the best known. It is, however, the LAST flavor of Linux that I would recommend. Canonical, the company that creates it, seems to have, by default, set it up so that it will share with the company (and any other 3rd parties it deems business-worthy) what you are doing on your computer, what you are searching for (on your own computer), and possibly more. Frankly, Ubuntu makes open-source look bad. Open-source, and Linux as a whole, is all about respecting user privacy and user needs. Canonical (and Ubuntu by extension) have changed the way they do business in a fundamental way by making this data-sharing an opt-out feature. For that, I strike them from my list.

Let’s get on with it. What else is out there?

So so much!


What if we just did a simple little search for the top ten distributions?

Sounds good to me. According to distrowatch.com, during the last year, the top-viewed (read-about) Linux distributions/flavors have been:

  1. Linux Mint
  2. Mageia
  3. Ubuntu
  4. Fedora
  5. Debian
  6. openSUSE
  7. Arch Linux
  8. PCLinuxOS
  9. CentOS
  10. Puppy Linux

Honorable mentions, which have also been in the top 10 in the past 2 years at some point are:

  • Slackware
  • Manjaro Linux

What should we look at now?

What about Google Search Results for each of these?

OK! Here are our Google Search Results (# of Results) for each of the 12 Linux Distros:

1. Ubuntu – 189.0 million results – Most Recent Version: 13 “Raring Ringtail” – TPB Seeders: ~95
2. Debian – 81.2 million results – Most Recent Version: 7 “Wheezy” – TPB Seeders: ~25
3. Fedora – 55.8 million results – Most Recent Version: 18 – TPB Seeders: ~40
4. CentOS – 38.5 million results – Most Recent Version: 6 – TPB Seeders: ~70
5. Linux Mint – 23.2 million results – Most Recent Version: 14 – TPB Seeders: ~55
6. OpenSUSE – 14.2 million results – Most Recent Version: 12.3 – TPB Seeders: ~30
7. Arch Linux – 11 million results – Most Recent Version: a13-2 – TPB Seeders ~3
8. Slackware Linux – 8.2 million results – Most Recent Version: 14 – TPB Seeders ~15
9. Puppy Linux – 3.8 million results – Most Recent Version: 5 – TPB Seeders ~10
10. Mageia – 1.9 million results – Most Recent Version: 3 beta 4 – TPB Seeders ~40
11. PCLinuxOS – 1.5 million results – Most Recent Version: 2013 – TPB Seeders ~9
12. Manjaro Linux – 383,000 results – Most Recent Version: 0.8.2 – TPB Seeders ~1

Ok, so what do Google Results tell us?

They are an indicator of the popularity of something, but more importantly, this tells me that Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, and the others on top are more likely to have a lot of users and a lot of forums and Q&A and info-sharing communities on the web. This is important to me as I want the most community-supported, most stable, and most accessible Linux distribution possible. Longevity, commonality, and stability are all good extropian (negentropic) criteria to consider. What is the Linux Distribution least likely to disappoint at some point in the future? I believe that this is answerable (roughly) though these surveys I’ve completed: Distrowatch, Google, and #’s of TPB Seeders.

What do the TPB Seeder numbers mean?

Once you decide to get a Linux Distribution to try it out (I recommend VirtualBox for testing them out without replacing your current operating system). Anyways, once you decide you want a specific distribution, one of the fastest ways to get it (download it) is through the bit-torrent protocol. Peer-to-peer downloading, that is. The Pirate Bay is one such place where you could get a torrent file of a distro you want. Also, the more that people are seeding that distro, the stronger a sign it is to me that it is a good one. People don’t (tend to) seed crap (very often), so to speak.

Now to aggregate a bit…

We don’t want Ubuntu. Doesn’t respect privacy.

Long-standing champions in the Linux arena are: Debian, Slackware, Fedora, Linux Mint, CentOS, openSUSE, Arch Linux, and Puppy Linux, as far as I can gather. PCLinuxOS is new to me. We can look into it a bit, but right now let’s focus on eliminating some of those that remain, either because they are too new or because few people are or have been talking about them.

Mageia and Manjaro, you’re out too. No offense.

What are we left with?

1. Debian
2. Fedora
3. CentOS
4. Linux Mint
5. openSUSE
6. Arch Linux
7. Slackware
8. Puppy Linux
9. PCLinuxOS

That’s based on Google. What about distrowatch page views again?

1. Linux Mint
2. Fedora
3. Debian
4. openSUSE
5. Arch Linux
6. PCLinuxOS
7. CentOS
8. Puppy Linux
9. Slackware


Now let’s remove Arch Linux, because although I’m sure it’s great, it is known for difficult installation.

Also, PCLinuxOS, I’m taking you out of the picture for now, not that I won’t come back to you (someday), but we all have limited time here and you only have 1.5 million Google results. You’re getting there, I’d say… ; )

Now we have 7 to look at more closely. These are all seemingly solid, easy-to-access, community-supported, and stable options. Note: I have re-inserted the TPB Seeder “Scores” here…

Linux Mint – TPB: 55
Fedora – TPB: 40
Debian – TPB: 25
openSUSE – TPB: 30
CentOS – TPB: 70
Puppy Linux – TPB: 10
Slackware –  TPB: 15

All have decent numbers of seeders in my view, especially considering that Pirate Bay torrents is not the primary path most linux users would tread to obtain their system images or live CD’s. Most people go to debian.org, for example, or fedoraproject.org, to download directly the distribution they want. It’s just an added bonus in my mind the notion that enough people want it to be rapidly downloadable through torrents (which is amongst the fastest methods of file transfer overall) that they themselves upload and then seed those torrents for you and me. It’s pretty cool. So consider them bonus points — Bonus TPB points, let’s say.

Now let’s organize them by bonus TPB points.

1. CentOS – 70
2. Linux Mint – 55
3. Fedora – 40
4. openSUSE – 30
5. Debian – 25
6. Slackware – 15
7. Puppy Linux – 10

Now we’ll talk about each one a bit. It is nice to know a little about the roots of each, the developers that develop each, the desktop environments offered, and the support life cycle, among other things. I will give a break down for each distribution now then, starting with the candidate I am least likely to pick as my main, everyday, desktop Linux distribution — and ending with my top choices based on my research and experience so far.


Slackware

DEVELOPER TEAM Patrick Volkerding (with other developers; non-democratic governance)
LATEST STABLE RELEASE 14.0
SUPPORT LIFE CYCLE Unknown support life cycle. New major version every year or two.
BASED ON / [FAMILY] Softlanding Linux System (SLS; defunct), Slackware [Slackware Family]
DEFAULT DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT(S) GNU Bash, KDE, Xfce
OTHER DESKTOP OPTIONS
ADDITIONAL NOTES & FEATURES OS closest to the pure Linux Kernel. Longest surviving distribution.
PROS Close to “pure Linux”. Xfce and KDE available. ARM (embedding) possible. Known to be a stable and simple distribution.
CONS No GUI-based admin utilities. Must access admin utilities through terminal (text-only mode).
MY RATING 3/10
FINAL NOTE The oldest distro; has street cred. Probably not the best distro for my newbie friends and I.

slackware-14

Puppy Linux

DEVELOPER TEAM Puppy Foundation (Barry Kauler and other numerous volunteer developers)
LATEST STABLE RELEASE 5.5
SUPPORT LIFE CYCLE Unknown life support cycle. New major version every year or two.
BASED ON / [FAMILY] N/A [Puppy Family]
DEFAULT DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT(S) Joe’s Window Manager (JWM)
OTHER DESKTOP OPTIONS
ADDITIONAL NOTES & FEATURES Great for hobbyists and tinkerers. Can be run with as little as 32 MB of RAM.
PROS Very versatile. Can be run on the fly (live) from USB/CD/DVD. Hard install is also doable. Good as a recovery suite. Good for secure access to internet using other computers.
CONS Look is a bit clunky, not as sleek. No other desktop environments available.
MY RATING 5/10
FINAL NOTE Might use this as a secondary tool or set of tools, but not as an everyday OS.

 Puppy_Linux_Slacko_5.4

Linux Mint

DEVELOPER TEAM Linux Mint Dev Team, 17 members
LATEST STABLE RELEASE 14.1
SUPPORT LIFE CYCLE 8 months, or 5 years for Long Term Support (LTS)
BASED ON / [FAMILY] Ubuntu, Debian [Debian Family]
DEFAULT DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT(S) CINNAMON, MATE,  Xfce, KDE
OTHER DESKTOP OPTIONS
ADDITIONAL NOTES & FEATURES Most popular distribution overall.
PROS Slick and modern, especially with Cinnamon desktop. Very user friendly. Easy install process.
CONS Based on Ubuntu. Has a smaller development team.
MY RATING 6/10
FINAL NOTE I would opt for Linux Mint Debian Edition first due to my concerns with Ubuntu and its overseeing organization, Canonical, which may indirectly determine the future path that Linux Mint takes. Mint is a lovely OS, though, overall.

 linux-mint-14-cinnamon

CentOS

DEVELOPER TEAM CentOS Project (6 or 7 core members)
LATEST STABLE RELEASE 6.4
SUPPORT LIFE CYCLE 10 years! (Version 6 supported until Nov. 30, 2020)
BASED ON / [FAMILY] Red Hat Enterprise Linux [Red Hat Family]
DEFAULT DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT(S) GNOME, KDE
OTHER DESKTOP OPTIONS
ADDITIONAL NOTES & FEATURES Beta support for PPC architecture. Nearly identical to RHEL, but free and without corporate support.
PROS Incredibly stable. Enterprise ready. Server ready.
CONS Not super slick or modern in appearance. Very bare bones. Uses some older software packages.
MY RATING 7/10
FINAL NOTE It seems difficult to update important software packages (SEE: http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/centos-perfect-desktop.html). I like the stability very much. Less versatile that Debian in terms of supported architectures.

 CentOS_6.0

Debian

DEVELOPER TEAM Debian Project (3,000+ volunteers)
LATEST STABLE RELEASE 7.0.0 – “Wheezy”
SUPPORT LIFE CYCLE ~3 years
BASED ON / [FAMILY] N/A [Debian Family]
DEFAULT DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT(S) GNOME
OTHER DESKTOP OPTIONS KDE, Xfce, LXDE
ADDITIONAL NOTES & FEATURES Runs on almost any architecture, including PPC and ARM. Offers additional kernels: FreeBSD and Hurd. Offers additional window managers: Enlightenment, Openbox, etc.
PROS Super versatile and stable. Not resource intensive (512 RAM is OK). The source for so many other distributions. Excellent security features through Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux). Good for servers and desktop users.
CONS Doesn’t come with the newest software packages installed due to the long stability and security testing and development phases.
MY RATING 8/10
FINAL NOTE Good for learning about Linux overall. Useable everywhere.

 debian7-openbox

Fedora

DEVELOPER TEAM Fedora Project (20+ Writers and 100’s of other volunteers)
LATEST STABLE RELEASE 18
SUPPORT LIFE CYCLE 12-13 months
BASED ON / [FAMILY] Red Hat Linux [Red Hat Family]
DEFAULT DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT(S) GNOME
OTHER DESKTOP OPTIONS MATE, KDE, Xfce, LXDE
ADDITIONAL NOTES & FEATURES Known to be fairly user friendly and have a good support community.
PROS Very modern and slick. Has PPC architecture support. Includes MariaDB (modern database) and Security Enhanced Linux features. Has UEFI Secure Boot support for installation onto newer (Windows 8) machines. Nice choices available for desktop environments, including the minimalist Xfce.
CONS Shorter support life cycles; not so good for long-term stability, i.e. my grandpa’s PC.
MY RATING 9/10
FINAL NOTE Secure, modern, easy, good community, and I have used it (v14) before and know I like it.

 fedora18-cinnamon-screenshot-2013-01-19

openSUSE

DEVELOPER TEAM openSUSE Project (independent subsidiary of Novell/Attachmate, 540 members)
LATEST STABLE RELEASE 12.3
SUPPORT LIFE CYCLE 2 years
BASED ON / [FAMILY] SUSE Linux [Slackware, SUSE Family]
DEFAULT DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT(S) KDE
OTHER DESKTOP OPTIONS GNOME, Xfce
ADDITIONAL NOTES & FEATURES
PROS Known as perhaps the most user-friendly distribution after Ubuntu. Has PPC support, MariaDB, and multiple desktop options. Support life cycle is excellent (2 years). Large and independent developer community. Nice fonts on the website. :-]
CONS Some recent rumors of squabbling that took place in the community, threatening the timely release of version 12.3. Ultimately, it came out on time.
MY RATING 10/10
FINAL NOTE Have not tested out this distribution yet. Will do so using VirtualBox in the near future. Everything about it seems swell, though.

Opensuse-12.2-en-kde-desktop


A FEW FINAL NOTES

Linux Mint — I am biased against Linux Mint due to its small dev community and adherence to Ubuntu software. I also am weary of it due to the fact that Mint is newer on the scene (2006) than CentOS, Fedora, or Debian, (2004, 2003, and 1993 respectively). Honestly, I liked using (and am currently using) Linux Mint for some things like programming practice, and would recommend it as my #3 or #4 TO OTHER PEOPLE, right behind openSUSE and Fedora, at this point. I would, however, recommend it to myself a little later on the list (after CentOS) just because of the fact that I might really like using CentOS. I may not have rated it very highly, but I do want to give a hat-tip to the Mint folks for their good working forking something that has since begun to decay.

KDE vs. GNOME — I am slightly leaning towards the KDE desktop environments due to the fragmentation and upset users (or former users of GNOME) in its transition to GNOME 3. A lot of people were upset by its radical divergence from the way things were done previously. I don’t actually know whether this divergence is more cosmetic or more deeply-rooted in the code. What I do know is that it is time-consuming and yet-another-barrier-to-entry for my friends and family if I have to explain to them the various desktop environments especially in the case of distros that have GNOME 3 set as a default. I don’t even know if I dislike GNOME 3 but I have avoided it because I have been told to. I have tried Cinnamon as an alternative (which is more in line with the older GNOME 2) and I liked it very much. I thought it was a responsive and beautiful interface. KDE is still an unknown to me but at this point has the added benefit of being unfragmented while also apparently become less clunky and less Windows-98-like as was (apparently) the perception a lot of people had about it previously. openSUSE uses it and actively develops and contributes to KDE, and I must say from the screenshots and videos I have seen of openSUSE it looks really spectacular — right up there with Cinnamon. So to wrap up this tangent, if you were to ask me which desktop to install if you had a choice, I would probably say either Cinnamon or KDE, depending on the distribution you are using. I believe openSUSE is a clear Go-with-KDE type OS, whereas Mint and Fedora I might suggest going with Cinnamon (as these are both GNOME-default type OS’s). [I’ve just become aware that Fedora does not have Cinnamon as a default option for downloading, although it is possible to install it after the fact. — June 9, 2013]

My Top 3 — In the end as we saw, my top three EXTROPIAN LINUX DISTRIBUTIONS, meaning those I feel are modern and snappy and unlikely to let me down anytime in the near or mid-term future are:

1. openSUSE
2. Fedora
3. Debian

If not for Debian’s recent release of 7.0.0 “Wheezy”, I may have recommended CentOS and/or Mint on equal footing, but I am personally very excited about Debian and with my newly gained knowledge about its incredible versatility, stability, and low-usage of system resources, I cannot help but recommend it (both to myself and to you).

Again, I think these three are supremely good bets for you in your future as you try to fight the entropic dissolution of self brought on by the continued degradation of the quality of the software we average folks use, rely on, and pay for everyday in our homes and workplaces (those being Windows and MacOSX, of course).

Here’s to your freedom, your learning, and to the wonderful linux community. Bless you.


### UPDATE: November, 2013 ###

After about 6 months of rumination and further research and testing on my own computers, I settled upon Debian 7 with XFCE as my top choice and hereby name it the #1 Most Extropian Linux Distribution in existence. Why? Low-resource use, plus an independent and huge development community. XFCE is well-supported itself, and doesn’t seem obsessed with resource-intensive aesthetic enhancements either (like the GNOME and KDE communities seem to be). Read more from my writeup (w/ screenshots..!).

3 Comments

  • shashi shekhar

    Like you mentioned towards the end that the transition from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 was quite painful to all Gnome users. Frankly I felt the same, primarily due to the reviews I read and opinions I collected from other users. But later when I (reluctantly) switched on to Gnome 3 to try it, it wasn’t that bad at all. Actually later it felt more comfortable and Gnome 2 and KDE. It, however, wasn’t until I installed it on my tab (ubiSlate or better known as Aakash) that I realized how awesome it was. The shift from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 is in conjunct with the shift in technology from keyboard+mouse to touch. That being said it isn’t any lesser than KDE on PC either.
    I hope you try it out a little more and share your experience and opinion with us. :)

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