Friday, May 1, 2020

My Preferred Linux Distributions

I hate those "This Year's Best Linux Distros" articles you see everywhere. They are just dumb puff pieces written by morons with no imagination that get paid per word to write such drivel. And they ALL say the same thing. And they ALL have no useful information.

I am not one of those people.

I am a real guy, with real computers.

I struggle. I cry. I get mad. I break things. I drink beer...

I do NOT get paid to spread useless information across the internet to clog your Google searches and social media feeds.

This is a list of Linux Distributions that *I USE* and/or approve of.

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Xubuntu (official)

Xubuntu (my thoughts/comments a year ago)

Xubuntu works. It is lightweight and easy on resources. It works on anything and everything. On the odd chance it doesn't run on a particular PC, then it is officially time to recycle that PC because it is no longer usable.

I started a "to do list" for what Xubuntu needs immediately after installation.

Xubuntu After Install 

The "Additional drivers" tool solves the whole Nvidia graphics issue that plagued me for months (here, here, here)

Arranging displays is a big thing to me. I use stuff that other people throw away, so I have monitors of different sizes, resolutions and orientations all plugged into the same PC. The Xubuntu "Display" tool allows me to arrange them exactly as they are so the monitors are almost seemless. This particular function does not work as well with ANY OTHER Linux distribution I have used or tried.

With the screens all arranged, I can "span" a single wallpaper image across all screens for a unique look. (old article before DropBox messed it all up for me)

The Panel (Windows users know this as the "Task Bar") is fully customizable. By default, it is at the top. It can be placed on the bottom, or vertically on either side of the screen. And, you can rearrange the buttons, add/subtract buttons, and change the size of everything.

There is a search bar in the main "Whisker Menu". You don't know how cool that is until you try something like Lubuntu that doesn't have one. Without the search, you are forced to pick through all of the menus until you find your particular program. That's silly. ALL of the distros I use have a search bar...

Xubuntu has the full force of anything 'buntu/Canonical behind it, so you have the greatest amount of possible resources behind you.

When there is a major upgrade, they make the process almost automatic. I took an old laptop (13 years old) and let it upgrade from 14.04 to 16.04, then to 18.04. It ported everything over just fine. This is a feature unique to the 'buntu family as far as I know.

I do have a few minor complaints.

Xubuntu out of the box looks bland. That is easily remedied, so it is a very, very minor issue.

I have noticed that the past 2 major cycles, the release of 16.04, and 18.04 were glitchy. Some of this might have been due to user error on my part, but I can't confirm or deny. I do know for a fact I had problems with each release when new.

After an update cycle or two, with the release/update to either .1 or .2, the issues/glitches were gone. So, for the next version, 20.04, I will experiment ONLY and won't take it seriously until 20.04.1 or .2.

[UPDATE - Xubuntu 20.04 LTS has been released. Click HERE! to read about my initial thoughts and experiences.]

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Peppermint (official)

Peppermint , Peppermint , Peppermint , Peppermint , and sadly Peppermint

Peppermint is pretty darned good. It isn't as light as Xubuntu, but it is close.

A popular tech writer at Forbes described it as the Frankenstein of Linux distributions. The developers of Peppermint seem to have taken all of the best stuff from different distributions and included it in theirs.

The result is a very nice looking, very functional system.

From the initial boot after installation, you update everything and restart.  The Additional Drivers, at least for Nvidia drivers, was automatic. That is a major plus!

Arranging monitors works well.

Playing with different wallpapers isn't as cool because you can't span a single picture across all monitors. Not a huge deal since Peppermint looks so cool to begin with.

Peppermint has ICE. ICE allows you to make certain functions perform more like a super lightweight Chrome OS on a ChromeBook. That's unique to Peppermint, and pretty cool, albeit, I've never used it.

ICE is the reason that Peppermint offers the Microsoft Office products under the "Office" menu. For some, that might be good.

I personally haven't used Microsoft Office in a decade and don't plan to. I started using whatever open source product was included with Xubuntu 14.04. Then version 16.04 had a different product. In the transition I almost corrupted and lost valuable information that I needed for taxes for my business.

This taught me a very valuable lesson - use one product and stick with it. I chose Libre Office. It is readily available from most Linux distro repos; it is available for Windows, and you can even get it on your Android and Apple devices.

So, along with a few other personal tweaks, I have to download and install Libre Office.

List of "after install" Click HERE

Peppermint's taskbar is fully customizable and you can add or delete buttons.

There is a search bar in the main menu.

Peppermint dropped down a rung on the ladder for me when I had a problem (read about it here). Their support forum didn't offer much help. That, for me, is a BIG issue. One of the major selling points of Linux is the so-called "community". If the community is weak (or snooty like Linux Lite and MX [read HERE],  that is a problem. The computer problem I had, I inadvertantly caused (as does any dual-booter), I knew how to fix it long-version, but I was hoping for a work-around to save some time. In the hours spent trying to "fix" it, I ended up installing Xubuntu....

This is a personal experience, and nothing really against the developers of Peppermint OS.

I recommend Peppermint OS to anyone, and actually would recommend it over Xubuntu.


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Zorin (official)

Zorin , Zorin

Zorin has always been pretty cool.

They used to bill themselves as the "Windows replacement". Back in those days, they were trying really hard to mimic Windows without being Windows.

Today, they excell toward awesomeness at new levels.

IIRC, Nvidia drivers installed automatically.

Click on the "Z" button and there is a search bar.

The software preinstalled with Zorin is just about everything a person would need for everyday computing. If you need more, the Software store button will get you just about anything your heart desires.

Zorin comes in different versions (Click HERE!)- Ultimate (costs $$, but you get enhanced support [used it before and was worth every penny]), Core (the "regular" version I use now, missing some enhanced features in the paid version), Lite (a stripped, lightweight version for really old computers), and Education (designed for school settings).

One of the things that I noticed about Zorin as it evolved was that I couldn't find the settings as easily as I used to. It made it hard to find the Wifi settings after install. Now many distros have the same arrangement so it is more common - you click on the cluster of icons in the lower right hand corner


Once this mystery is revealed, you have access to not only the Wifi connection settings, but ALL the settings - power, display, sound, etc. Like I said, this is more commonplace now (also on Pop!_OS and others) so it isn't a big deal anymore...

Another mystery that I figured out recently has brought Zorin back into my favorite distros category - how to add programs to the "Favorites" bar. In Xubuntu, Peppermint and the like, they have a "Panel" at the top or bottom of the screen. This panel has your buttons and menus access like a "taskbar" in Windows. I couldn't figure out how to add to this bar or customize it in Zorin because I didn't know it was called a "Favorites" bar. Now that I know what it is, it is as simple as finding the program in the menu, right-clicking it, selecting "add to Favorites" then moving it to where I want it.

Next, surprisingly in the Software store is the cool wallpaper program called "Variety" (read about it, Click HERE!). Once this is installed, Zorin not only looks great under its own awesomeness, but it has a cool custom touch to finish it off.

But wait, there's more!

Go to "Settings", then "Appearance", then "Zorin Appearance". From here you have 3 different layouts to choose from if you have Zorin Core, and a lot more if you purchased Ultimate. Now select "Theme".  Choose an "Accent Color", select the middle "Background" setting (half light, half dark, then "Schedule" "Sunset to Sunrise" and turn on location settings when prompted. Now, your computer will have light or bright appearance when the sun is up, then switch to dark mode after sunset, all adjusting automatically to your area.

Now THAT, boys and girls, is pretty cool.


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Pop!_OS (official)

Pop!_OS (my first experience)

This Linux distribution is based on Ubuntu Gnome, but done completely right. It is simple, and sports the "clean" desktop.

I'm not a fan of the "clean" look because it usually means I have to use extra clicks of my mouse for things that used to execute with a single click.

Instead of clicking once on an icon, I have to click on "Activities", then click on the icon/shortcut on the favorites menu.

For instance, Firefox has a close button in the upper right hand corner; there is NO minimize or maximize buttons. These functions are found by right clicking on the top border first, then selecting minimize or maximize - 2 clicks where there used to be one.

I know, this is trivial.

But, when you are a half century old, and you've been clicking for a quarter century, you have to be mindful of your mouse hand, in particular your wrist.

Maybe the developers for Pop!_OS could add a "for people 50 and over" button? This would add more buttons to everything for less clicking, maybe a single click screen magnifier, and a simple sound equalizer to enhance sound frequencies/ranges for tired ears (just thinking/typing out loud).

Another thing to note - Pop!_OS uses systemd instead of GRUB. If you multi-boot like I do, you need to make sure you install Pop!_OS first, or at least early on so later installed distributions will pick it up in their GRUB (if you install Pop!_OS last, you will only be able to boot into Pop!_OS).

Please don't mistake my trivial nit-picking as a bad review; it is not!

Pop!_OS is aptly named because it just pops. Really. It is rapidly becoming my favorite Linux distribution. I have been using it for remote work instead of Windows 10 and I'm seriously falling in love.

There is just something about Pop!_OS (everything, really) that just impresses upon me that the developers care about their creation, and they want it right.

I downloaded and installed version 20.04 beta for this commentary. It did not glitch, error, or experience a snafu; not once.

The correct and CURRENT Nvidia drivers were installed automatically for me.

The "suspend" (sleep) function works flawlessly without hanging up the computer.

Clicking the "Activities" button in the upper left-hand corner exposes you to access to everything, INCLCUDING a Search bar.

I manually installed drivers for my Realtek 8811CU Wifi adapter (article about headaches in other distros Click HERE!). I have not had to reinstall it after many updates. I don't know why it is still working, but I'll take it!

I didn't even realize that the beta had expired and the LTS version was released; it just updated to LTS on its own, seamlessly.

The only "improvement" I made was installing "Variety". I was pleasantly surprised to find Variety available in the "Pop!_Shop" software store. (more about Variety, Click HERE!)

The developers of Pop!_OS make it for the computers that they build and sell (Click HERE!) The last time I went there, I had to back away from the cart slowly because the computer I built was going to be over $10,000 delivered! But, hey, who doesn't want a computer with 2 cpu's, 32G of RAM, 2 SSD's, 3 GFX cards, and 6 matching monitors?

[UPDATE - Later that day, after writing this about Pop!_OS, I woke the computer from "Suspend". In a few moments the screens went black. When they came back on, my browser was closed and a file I had open in Libre Office was closed too. Thankfully Libre has a restore feature for files that didn't close and save properly. Moral - disable all sleep/suspend/hibernate functions just like I do in other distros on other machines...

And, starting the computer the next day, the Realtek 8811CU Wifi adapter wasn't working. The updates the day before killed it, I just hadn't restarted the computer to get the full effect. This can be fixed see the notes at the bottom of this page Click HERE! So Pop!_OS is not different from other distros in this regard.

Your mileage may vary...]

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[This is old info here. Since this segment was written, Deepin has failed to keep the updates rolling in. That can be very, very dangerous if you do online transactions and banking. Hopefully they will get it together, but until then I *WITHRAW* any recommendations for Deepin]

Deepin

Why?

It looks good, really good. But why does that matter? Personal preference and vanity I suspect. When someone looks over your shoulder and sees a non-Windows OS, their first question is, "is that a Mac?" Yes, it should look that good.


Drivers. I think it is absolutely ridiculous, no matter what any Linux distribution fanboy touts, to have major issues getting drivers for your hardware. There are exceptions, but for the most part, Linux distributions are made for computers (not the other way around) so they should work without having to hire a team of rocket surgeons. Deepin Graphics Driver Manager easily finds and helps me install what I need for my graphics card so my computing experience is as it should be.

And, software. The "Deepin Store" is full of all kinds of interesting programs (apps). And, it looks good. Everything is sorted, grouped, and easy to find.

And, Deepin communicates.

Jason Evangelho at Forbes says, "What I love about Deepin is that it elevates the perception of what a Linux desktop is capable of." Whole article here.

[Deepin released version 20 Beta on April 15 (9 months without updates?). It is a COMPLETELY re-vamped distro with a completely different look. The installation is clean, clear, and easy to understand as before. There is NO support for Nvidia graphics drivers and their "Graphics Driver Tool" shows that it is "unavailable" in the Deepin Store. It was horribly slow and groggy at first. After updates, it seemed a little better, but... Next, I tried to install Firefox, the one marked "English"


I'm no English major, but that ain't English. I can't take Deepin seriously anymore. I'll keep messing with it on my test machine and watch for developements, but that's as far as it will go. Deepin has unique programs that you can't find anywhere else. It also has a unique look and feel. It is a real shame the developers don't make better efforts to keep it up to date.]

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