Finding A New Desktop Distro

I had grown mildly irritable with the way some things are configured and done in the Ubuntu line. Paper cut stuff. I had grown the same way many months ago when I purged several distros from my computers.

Blame me. I am fickle. Meticulous. I lack sufficient feathers on my back for the water to roll off.

In March and April (2016) I thought the Ubuntu line would suffice for a common desktop in my LAN. Lots of GUI admin tools and easy to download many packages. Yet Xubuntu and Ubuntu MATE threw their share of quirks at me. Computers should be tools and not stress inducers.

I decided to again search for a new desktop distro.

Except for one of the past distros I have used, one component all of these distros have in common is systemd. Systemd remains controversial and in my experience, still going through growing pains. The design focus of running parallel tasks has caused me some nominal frustration.

I am agnostic about the merits of systemd. While I can prove nothing, I nonetheless suspect systemd might be part of the paper cuts I witness. The problems I encounter could be PEBKAC. Likely, the reality is somewhere in between.

My journey to find a desktop replacement will start with distros that do not use systemd.

There are a few distros not using systemd.

Starting with familiar territory are Slackware and derivatives. I use Slackware on my LAN server and on my office desktop using the MATE desktop environment. Slackware requires a decent amount of sweat equity to add polish, which tends to discourage many people. I have been using Slackware for many years. The sweat equity is annoying at times but is not an obstacle. I do not deny sweat equity is required to some degree.

My focus is distros designed as desktop systems. The parent Slackware is designed to be a generic operating system. While KDE and Xfce are included in the stock system, no effort is made to provide desktop polish. Everything is delivered as is.

Slackware lacks the abundant repository choices provided by other distros. Slackers typically compile those packages using slackbuild scripts. I have been doing that for years too.

Slackware as my default desktop distro will be a fallback plan. I can tweak and make Slackware work as a desktop. I want to pursue whether I can find something with similar tools and advantages of Ubuntu MATE. Without the paper cuts.

I want to test desktop distros that make my life easier. That means GUI administration tools, which Slackware does not provide. There are plenty of administration tools in Slackware but all are command line or ncurses. Been there, done that for years.

Perhaps I am getting old. Or cranky. Or both.

I lack the energy to maintain a rolling release distro. I tried LMDE for a while.

Of the several Slackware derivatives only two interest me: Absolute and Salix. There is the Microlinux Enterprise Desktop collection of packages. Microlinux enhances the Xfce desktop but relies on the traditional command line tools for administration. I am already doing that.

Outside of Slackware are Debian derivatives. I have used and am comfortable with the traditional Debian. I am eliminating Debian itself because of systemd. I am aware of Devuan. Although Slackware releases typically only see security and major bug fix updates after release, the software is as close to current as possible when released. Debian packages are already stale about 9 months before release because of the release model.

Debian derivatives that might interest me include antiX and Refracta.

Another distro without systemd is PCLinuxOS (PCLOS). I have attempted to use the distro on occasion. There is a tight-knit community around the distro, possibly too tight — as in defensive. The last time I tried PCLOS several years ago, some forum participants were quick to pounce on attempts at constructive criticism. Then again, this is true for all distros. PCLOS is a rolling release, albeit delivery of new packages seems conservative compared to bleeding edge rolling release distros. I might give the distro a whirl.

That creates a short list. There are other non systemd distros but none that tempt me.

Some might ask why don’t I just stick with Slackware for everything. I did that for many years and still use Slackware as a desktop. Slackware is unlikely to ever disappear from my computers. Yet a few summers ago I realized I only knew Slackware. Not good for employment. Whereas long ago knowing Slackware was a feather in the cap, the world has moved on. Slackware now is a distinct minority.

I have been uncomfortable with the non Slackware distros I used and tested the past two years. Mostly my discomfort is I dislike how developers presume they know how I want to work or configure an operating system. With these distros I seem to find myself removing features and options as much as adding. Yet I am grateful for the exposure and what I have learned. I want to continue my focus of staying abreast. Running a non Slackware distro in the house seems a decent way to keep abreast of what others are doing.

From my experience of the past two years I now can adapt to using these other distros if required. I do not want to lose that edge. That said, I am getting older and crankier. In the end, if I resume an all-Slackware household then that is what I will do. Staying abreast is not going to be a hard criterion with respect to daily desktop usage. I will remain abreast through virtual machines, dedicated hardware, and my job.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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