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Best polished distro for a (to be former) Arch user

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libervisco's picture
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So here we go, an Arch user actually needs some guidance for choosing the next GNU/Linux distribution to use. Yes, that too can happen. Smiling

I've been using Arch for months and I've been loving most of it. What led me to Arch was a search for a distribution where I would be in total control over everything, which would allow me to easily install software from source as well as binary packages and have both be nicely dealth with by the package manager that deals with dependancies. I also wanted speed, latest software updates and simple configuration files.

However, after some time I am realizing that some of these things may not be exactly what I need, at least not anymore. Most of the time I just installed precompiled packages anyway, using Arch Build System through aurbuild only to build packages for software which wasn't available from precompiled repositories, so this particular thing doesn't appear to be all that necessary anymore. If a distro has all the packages I need, I'll never really feel the need to compile myself.

Speed is also relative. Arch boots and runs very fast, but when you don't reboot your computer very often I gotta face the fact it doesn't matter all that much. And running speed very much depends on the desktop environment/window manager or the amount of background applications you're running, no matter which distro it is. As for simple configuration scripts, who needs those if you've got frontends to them? Sticking out tongue Besides, I haven't really used them all that much anyway. Only one I really benefit off is .xinitrc in my home dir, but that is, again, standard across all distros.

And then we come to having full control over what happens and does that really matter for me? If it doesn't, then it pretty much becomes a burden. Having to set up everything yourself is something one would call having control and other would call an innefficiency. I am lately moving more to the latter. I am starting to like the whole "just works" concept. In fact I always did to an extent. I want a CD automounted when I insert it. I want printer to just work. I don't want to spend more than I have to on setting all these things up myself. Who's gonna care that I know how to do this anyway, if I don't care so much anymore? It might just be more productive to use this time for something more interesting than having to set up these rather mandatory things.

And this leads me to my search for the next distribution, a more polished one, a distro that aims to "just work". I'm seriously starting to consider Ubuntu, but since everybody uses that and I want to consider other options that could compare, I'm asking a question: What do you think is in your opinion the best polished GNU/Linux distro in terms of speed/performance, stability and latest software updates?

What would you choose if you were a former Arch user? Eye

dylunio's picture
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I've recently moved over

I've recently moved over from using Gentoo to using BLAG a lot (though I still use Gentoo for programming). I don't see much difference to it from Ubuntu, it just uses a different package manager. It's nice and Free. The install was easy, things seem to work etc. the only qualm I have was when I connected my Printer post install I had to configure it via the CUPS interface (localhost:631).

I'd say give it a try, but that's me and the fact I don't like Ubuntu for being so popular!

dylunio

a thing's picture
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take a guess

I think you know what I'd say.

libervisco's picture
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Fedora a_thing? Otherwise

Fedora a_thing? Smiling

Otherwise no I don't know. Eye

Blag sounds like something I could try. At least it's on one CD. I hate having to download more than one CD just to get started with a distro... My connection isn't *that* fast and I don't have as much patience for waiting so much downloads. Sticking out tongue

a thing's picture
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FC6

Yes, Fedora.

FC6 will be installable from one CD (a basic GNOME install is two CDs right now), and will be completely free. It's coming out in early October.

Or you could use BLAG for now.

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Joined: 2006-07-02
Interesting...

Using Xubuntu myself, I'm going to tell you it's certainly not a fast distro (Slackware for instance is faster) but the auto-mount stuff and X configuration is top notch (even running @ 1920x1200 poses no problem for me after I've simply edited the xorg.conf file with that resolution - no more modeline mess etc.).

But personally, after having tried the OpenSUSE cd, I was blown away by the quality of that distro. It gets better, there's a project underway called SUPER which will be compiled for i686 arches and will focus on cutting the unnecessary fat. Everything will be compatible with OpenSUSE, so it's not a fork. IMHO, OpenSUSE is the way to go. :-)

P.S. I was very much interested in trying out Arch myself (to see what it's like), but if you say it's too "crude" (no auto-mount etc.) then it's probably not for me, even though I like the philosophy behind their distro.

libervisco's picture
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Wow, SUPER sounds like

Wow, SUPER sounds like perfection. Smiling I'd definitely be interested in that..

I am trying to download BLAG, but it's like it's jinxed or something. First connection cracked and the resume didn't work on download and then electricity went out after I downloaded 325.5 MB of it and wget acts weird about it. The existing incomplete BLAG iso stands there showing it's 325.5 MB big and yet the wget shows everything as if it is download from beginning, while I don't see an additional file.. weird!

Anyway, Arch doesn't auto-mount stuff. It pretty much doesn't have anything pre-set for you. It's just that kind of distro, for people who want to do everything by themselve except, well, chasing down dependancies (like in Slackware). Eye

Hmm I gotta try OpenSUSE.. any way I could do it with only one CD (I assume SUPER isn't available yet)?

libervisco's picture
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I see now SUPER is already

I see now SUPER is already there, but 1 CD Install download doesn't work (not found). :\ It looks like it's all still under development although the Linux.com story about OpenSUSE derivates mentiones both SUPER and SLICK and is dated November 2005. Makes me think the whole thing is a bit inactive...

free-zombie's picture
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when you really want a

when you really want a distro that "just works", do you care if it contains all the latest software ?
in my expierience, debian is by far the most polished distro out there. Giving you flexibility, it isn't as straightforwared as, say, ubuntu, but if you install etch and select "desktop" environment in the installer, you get fully fledged KDE and Gnome environments with automount and all. Many other distros give you that as well, but in debian there are gazillions of polished other packages. If you want to install something, chances are that you have easy access to a high-quality package in debian. And etch is due to become stable in december...

I usually like something on the experimental edge, but late last year when I needed something that worked, I used sarge Eye (no working automount though then....)

tbuitenh's picture
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The only distro I would

The only distro I would recommend to an arch user is arch Smiling .

Quote:

As for simple configuration scripts, who needs those if you've got frontends to them?

Someone who has seen what happens when the frontend doesn't work, that's who. Sometimes when you edit a configuration file manually (maybe X is also broken? Problems like to come in pairs!) that will make the frontend break permanently because it doesn't understand the file anymore, or else it will immediately undo all your changes... And have you seen how readable many generated configuration files are? Barf!
I admit I do use a frontend for my firewall configuration. But I could replace it by manual configuration without breaking the system.

Another thing is that good old configuration files have a killer feature that frontends don't have: you can put comments in them. Do you want to prevent yourself from repeating a mistake when you go tinkering about a year later? Insert a comment.

Having /etc in a version control system is a pretty smart thing to do. You could also do this while using frontends, but knowing exactly what is going on in your configuration files helps for doing it right.

Quote:

I want a CD automounted when I insert it.

Automounting is the second most annoying thing (after clippy) if you ask me. Yes, usually you want a data cd mounted when you insert it, but not always, and some automounters can be pretty hard to convince to unmount it again. Well, that's my experience, maybe it has improved by now.
Automounting (autoplaying!) of music CDs is another thing. Actually that beats clippy. "Stop waking the neighbours, you stupid computer! I only want to rip this CD!"
If you do insist on automounting, you can have it on arch too. My solution for not typing "mount /mnt/cd" is to use the rox file manager: it will mount a mountpoint for you when you try to enter it, and asks if it should unmount when you leave it. That's not automounting but mounting on-demand.

What you have now is an arch system that works almost exactly the way you like it. You're going to replace it with something that works out of the box, but not in your way. So what do you prefer: some final tweaks and then only a regular pacman -Syu, or an easy installation followed by a system that keeps breaking under your attempts to configure it to work the way you like?

So, I recommend sticking with arch. I hope you had a good laugh Laughing out loud .

libervisco's picture
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I don't need it to contain

I don't need it to contain all software, but I do prefer for the distro to distribute packages of latest stable releases. Smiling

Debian sounds like it is undergoing a major shift these days according to this weeks distrowatch. It is becoming more like Ubuntu in terms of polishness, but I'm not sure if it will contain the latest packages. It being debian I somehow doubt stable will have the latest releases of everything..

libervisco's picture
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Heh I didn't see your post

Heh I didn't see your post tbuitenh at all until now..

Well you've got some good points there, but automounting and printing setup are just some of the things from top of my head as examples of things I want to "just work" without wasting time on interventions I don't appreciate anymore. Sure, using rox is nice to do automounting on demand, but then I need to use rox and I really want to use thunar or nautilus. What then? Oh yes I need the intervention, I need to go through the lenghtly process of figuring out how to set up autofs (I did look into it) which would probably take as much time as installing a new distro, if not more.

I don't care about that anymore. Sticking out tongue I want to work on things more interesting than that.

That said, your major points are about friendly configuration files. I can only agree to that. Ideally I would hope for a distro that keeps those files friendly and yet allows front ends at the same time. Heck, I don't even need front ends, as long as defaults "just work" without major tweaks. I suppose frugalware could be a distro that wins this one, but I've been a bit scared off of it now..

I just tried Blag and it's all cool, except the fact that programs located in /sbin aren't put into the bash environment. I have to type the full path to launch them which seems to be able to break certain scripts which assume those are runnable without full path. For example, just typing pppd on command line will tell you there is no such program whilst it is really located in /sbin/pppd and I have to type that full path to launch it.

And for some reason my SatADSL proxy doesn't work. The dvb log shows that connection is established (well at least satellite packets are flying), but for some weird reason it doesn't work. Trying to open pages in firefox just ends up with the dreadful "bad gateway" (timeout) message. I suspect the non-standard way BLAG is set up and possibly the fact that some environment paths are missing. :\

So far, of all polished distros I tried Ubuntu works the best. BLAG is based on FC5 so I'd assume the same problem I have on BLAG would be present on FC5. There is something to ponder for those who don't like Ubuntu popularity. It just works, it always did.

But I'll probably keep looking.

Thanks

a thing's picture
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oxymoron of the day

up-to-date Debian

libervisco's picture
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Haha indeed a_thing.

Haha indeed a_thing.

libervisco's picture
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my perfect distro

I'm on Ubuntu right now, not because I definitely decided to use it, but just to differentiate a bit and then compare. I also have BLAG installed, but the problem with the SatADSL proxy persists. BLAG seems a bit faster than Ubuntu actually and is overall quite nice. That said FC6, if available on one CD, may end up being quite something, provided the issue I have with my proxy doesn't repeat itself...

Anyway, here are some of the points which I think would characterize perfect GNU/Linux distro for me at this point. It's possible some others may recognize themselves in it as well...

- Use synaptic for package management. It's a killer app I've been missing even on Arch all the time, especially lately when pacman got a bit slower than it was before. The strenght of synaptic is in that you can so easily surf through available software, see descriptions, mark what you want to install/upgrade and then just execute your wishes. It's just awesome. Command line package managing is cool, but you gotta admit a GUI can in some cases display alot more of really useful information and be more powerful than a command line program. I think synaptic is such a case.

- Simple and commented configuration files. This is where Slackware, Arch and similar distros win.

- At the same time as above, conf files should be already pre-set to allow for little user friendly details. Things should just work by default. If detection needs to be done and writing configuration scripts on the fly, so be it, but can't even autogenerated configuration files be made friendly for manual inspection? I think they can.

- Fast boot up. It's not *that* mandatory, but it would be nice for the boot to be fast.

- Fast running. Alot of this falls down on the choice of DE/WM, but no other unnecessary impendancies on performace should be present. Optimizations strategies that can be employed without sacrificing the "just works" principle should be employed.

- ALOT of packages. If there are no packages then there should at least be something like checkinstall to make them, but for 99% of everyone you want should have a package.

- Latest stable software. I guess this one discounts debian. All latest stable software releases should be available for installation from repositories as soon as possible upon the release. If there's new Firefox, its package should be in a repo within a week.

I think that about covers it. Distros like Fedora Core and Ubuntu fill are up to most of the above, but where they fail is simple configuration scripts and possibly fast bootup. These two points traditionally belong to advanced distros like Slackware and Arch. How about combinging strenghts of these two with strenghts of Ubuntu and FC? Simple if you sometimes want to interfere with configuration files directly and easy if you just want to handle everything by GUI. A nice hybrid that works for users who really want both options in one OS.

Makes me want to start my own distro with these points, but I'm not sure I'd be up to the task... hmmm Nux OS Laughing out loud

tbuitenh's picture
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Debian stable uses old

Debian stable uses old versions but never breaks, not in a million years. The debian you are looking for is testing or unstable. Those are reasonably up to date and stable enough.

But don't think debian will give you fast booting. And easy to edit configuration files? No, they have configuration tools for everything, and sometimes it's hard to guess what word comes after the dpkg --reconfigure (or whatever that command was).

Yes, in theory frontends could produce readable files. In practice they don't, sometimes because of the simplest programming mistakes like inserting one newline too many, so after a while you get a file full of empty lines (synaptic (used to?) does that). I think many programmers reason "you have the frontend, what do you need direct access for?". You'll see quite a few files with the first line "generated file. PLEASE DO NOT EDIT!".

I guess you just can't have it both ways. Maybe if your name is Shuttleworth... Laughing out loud .

libervisco's picture
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Hell no I can have it my

Hell no Laughing out loud

I can have it my way! Now if I've had a 48 hour day and some more money.. Laughing out loud

But serioulsly, maybe just noone yet dared to try it. Maybe everyone so far just assumed that existance of front ends invalidates need for direct access while that may not be always true. Autogenerated conf files don't have to be perfect, but at least reasonably readable.

To deal with manual edits of the configuration file front could scan the file for modifications (ignoring comments, of course) and display configuration changes in a GUI accordingly. As you make modifications through a GUI, these changes are then written in the conf file itself. Sometimes styling of the file content can change, but the content stays the same.

tbuitenh's picture
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I think the better way is to

I think the better way is to put a lot of easy to understand explanatory comments and commented-out examples in the configuration files.

libervisco's picture
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Well.. sure.. that's cool.

Well.. sure.. that's cool. It's just that some don't want to type so much. to configure stuff. Instead of typing your options it is sometimes simply more convenient to choose them from a screen.

Anyway, I've been using Ubuntu for almost a day now and then got back to Arch after I was trying to watch something in gmplayer and realized gmplayer isn't available and couldn't even find it in repos (I bet I'm missing something).

I gotta admit Arch seems way faster than Ubuntu, even faster than Xubuntu when using xfce.

Now now... if such speed and flexibility could somehow be delivered to non-typing lazy ass users who just want clicky stuff and everything to look shiney and polished.. Sticking out tongue

Well.. frugalware 0.5 is officially out so I'll give that another whirl.

Cheers
Danijel

michuk's picture
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(g)mplayer is available in Ubuntu
libervisco wrote:

Anyway, I've been using Ubuntu for almost a day now and then got back to Arch after I was trying to watch something in gmplayer and realized gmplayer isn't available and couldn't even find it in repos

Well... let's see...

$ apt-cache show mplayer
Package: mplayer
Priority: extra
Section: multiverse/graphics
libervisco wrote:

(I bet I'm missing something).

I bet you're right Sticking out tongue

BTW: I haven't yet found a piece of software that I needed and that was not available in Ubuntu repos, either the default ones of the extras (which you can simply add by following this: How to add extra repositories)

libervisco's picture
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So it is in multiverse. I

So it is in multiverse. Smiling I did find it hard to believe that something like that would be missing in Ubuntu which has such a large number of packages.

I'm not in Ubuntu now though. I couldn't actually find the best alternative to Arch yet and since I've now set up arch to nicely work with our LAN I am not in a big hurry to switch yet. I think I'll just try Fedora Core 6 once it is released and then see what next. Aside from Fedora, Ubuntu is still a good candidate overall. I can remove the restricted nonfree package easily and besides, after the edgy eft release there will be an Ubuntu-libre version.

Thanks

libervisco's picture
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Guys... I switched to

Guys...

I switched to Ubuntu. Yes the reaper came to me and I had no choice. Sticking out tongue

Even worse, my Arch installation is gone! Laughing out loud

michuk's picture
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welocme back :)
libervisco wrote:

Guys...

I switched to Ubuntu. Yes the reaper came to me and I had no choice. Sticking out tongue

Even worse, my Arch installation is gone! Laughing out loud

Haha, welcome beack to the world of brown desktops - we missed you Sticking out tongue

dylunio's picture
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Yet another falls...
libervisco wrote:

I switched to Ubuntu. Yes the reaper came to me and I had no choice. Sticking out tongue

*sigh* Yet another user falls...

Sticking out tongue

libervisco's picture
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Hehe, well what can I say.

Hehe, well what can I say. Ubuntu does have a winning combination for most people as it seems, including me. I love a one-cd install, synaptic and user friendly details that Ubuntu has. And when something's not available for install from apt repos there is usually a separate deb package easily installable with gdeb. Also autopackage is recognized under system menu as manager for 3rd party software making it feel like even extra installation tools are made to fit the distro.

Add to that the great community support and I can't miss. Some disadvantages compared to Arch are possibly that it may be *slightly* slower and has a slower boot, but I can live with it.

And besides, Ubuntu doesn't have to such great legths of obscuring configuration files as some desktop distros so if I do want to tweak something I can (though personally don't feel a great need). I might only get rid of gdm, disable some services I don't need etc. On my comp, GNOME is pretty fast too, but if I want faster I can always get xubuntu-desktop, that is xfce4. Smiling

As for that bit of nonfree software that was included, it is at least marked "restricted" so it was easy to get rid of it. It is infact easier to be sure you're running a full Free system on Ubuntu than Arch, because on Arch all of it is mixed and on Ubuntu they're separated (e.g. restricted and multiverse contain nonfree stuff leaving universe and main for Free stuff).