Linus Torvalds on Linux Distributions

By Caitlyn Martin
July 27, 2008 | Comments: 71

10 days ago Linux creator Linus Torvalds gave an interview in which he talked about what he likes and doesn't like in a Linux distribution:



I've used different distributions over the years. Right now I happen to use Fedora 9 on most of the computers I have, which really boils down to the fact that Fedora had fairly good support for PowerPC back when I used that, so I grew used to it. But I actually don't care too much about the distribution, as long as it makes it easy to install and keep reasonably up-to-date. I care about the kernel and a few programs, and the set of programs I really care about is actually fairly small.

And when it comes to distributions, ease of installation has actually been one of my main issues - I'm a technical person, but I have a very specific area of interest, and I don't want to fight the rest. So the only distributions I have actively avoided are the ones that are known to be "overly technical" - like the ones that encourage you to compile your own programs etc.

Yeah, I can do it, but it kind of defeats the whole point of a distribution for me. So I like the ones that have a name of being easy to use. I've never used plain Debian, for example, but I like Ubuntu. And before Debian people attack me - yeah, I know, I know, it's supposedly much simpler and easier to install these days. But it certainly didn't use to be, so I never had any reason to go for it.


When I reviewed Slackware last month three of my four main criticisms all boil down to ease of use. I drew the ire of some Slackware users for stating that, in my opinion, Slackware isn't user friendly due to it's lack of graphical administration tools, lack of a package manager with dependency checking, and lack of a decent repository of additional software packages. Some even took issue with my using a conventional definition of user friendly, specifically that a distribution be intuitive and relatively easy for even a non-technical user to install, configure, and maintain.

Ease of use isn't just for newcomers. Nobody would question Linus Torvalds' expertise when it comes to Linux or his technical skills yet he stresses ease of installation and ease of keeping a distro up to date. In that context his preference for Fedora and Ubuntu over what he calls "overly technical" distributions makes a lot of sense. While he only names Debian I think we can safely assume that Gentoo and Slackware would fit into this category.

The reason Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, and SUSE are leading desktop distributions is that they all try, and to a great degree succeed, in allowing users to concentrate on something other than the OS, like the work they want to do with their computer in the first place. All of these distributions allow you to get under the hood to customize and tweak to whatever extent you might want or need. What they don't do is force you to get under the hood just to get configuration done. A large repository means that you aren't forced to compile from source on a regular basis. Linus Torvalds' comments on distributions are in line with what the majority of Linux users I've worked with and talked with over the years prefer, even highly technically competent users.

Linus makes one other point which is worth noting:


Me personally, I'm a believer in choice. Yes, it can be confusing, and yes, it can cause the market to look more fragmented, but on the other hand, it also begets competition. And competition is good - and it's good even within a project. It's what makes people try different things, and it ends up being very motivational.

So I don't personally think we'd have gotten anywhere without all those wild-and-wacky distributions. I'd rather have a bit of spirited discussion and even infighting than a staid landscape with a single vendor (or a couple of vendors who carve out the market)

The freedom of choice that the plethora of Linux distributions offer pretty much guarantees that Linux users will always be able to choose a distribution that suits them best. It's clear that for a sizable number of Linux uses that choice will be a Linux distribution like Debian, Gentoo, or Slackware.


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71 Comments

I fully agree with Linus here (or Linux, as he's called in the title of the article). When I first started learning Linux I gravitated to Gentoo because its package manager was similar to FreeBSD's ports. While I learned a lot from Gentoo, it just didn't have that cohesive feel that other distributions have.

Gentoo and slackware are great for those enamored with compiling all your own software, but when you're ready to just get down to business and do what you need to do, you have to go with the other players.

While I've heard positive experiences with managing a Gentoo server farm, I'll stick with RHEL/CentOS.

"When I reviewed Slackware last month three of my four main criticisms all boil down to ease of use."

So just chose the distro which fits best for you, there is plethora of them. You don't have to take a distro if you cannot cope with it. And the guys around the distro don't have to make it a ease of use for you.

Remember? It's opensource, you have the choice.

>Nobody would question Linus Torvalds' expertise when it comes to Linux or his technical skills yet he stresses ease of installation and ease of keeping a distro up to date.

Why?

Remember? One can be a genius developer but a lousy administrator at the same time and vice versa. And there are people using UNIX since 30 years.

>Ease of use isn't just for newcomers.

So you get it now. He is a developer, he hasn't got the time to adminster his machine. Congratulation.

>The reason Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, and SUSE are leading desktop distributions is that they all try, and to a great degree succeed, in allowing users to concentrate on something other than the OS

Please the leading UNIX desktop system is Mac OS X and then there are some guys using Linux. The majority of hype around Linux is because of the servers. The desktop is just the hype of the media 'is now the year of the desktop'.

Slackware e.g. is a distro for the experienced user, who wants to chose whatever he want. Ubuntu & Co is for the small footprint of users, who wants to show their new 'Gucci-handbag'. You're comparing apples with oranges.

People would call this a lame attempt to flame distros for experienced users.


@Schneier: First, I seem to be the person who writes most of the Linux distribution reviews for O'Reilly over the past couple of years. That means part of my role is to evaluate a distribution. Commenting on whether or not it is user friendly is a very valid part of any review.

You seem to imply that only a "lousy administrator" would want an easy to use distribution. In my experience that isn't true. I've been administering UNIX/Linux servers professionally for 13 years and I still don't want a distro that requires lots of extra work. Lots of administrators I've worked with over the years feel the same way. Others may disagree and that's fine.

Don't underestimate the amount of Linux on the desktop out there. When I was consulting for Red Hat I was honestly quite surprised how many corporate Linux desktops there were. Carla Schroder gave an intelligent guess at 5-7% of the market over on the now defunct O'Reilly Linux Dev Center blog earlier this year. With the recent successes of Linux-based Netbook/UMPC systems that number may be a bit conservative. It's not just hype. Please see my article on why Linux market share is so difficult to accurately measure.

Some of those who challenged my Slackware review claimed that Slackware isn't just for the experienced user. It's for everyone, including newcomers, or so they said. In any case the whole point of this post is that ease of use is important to everyone, not just newcomers.

How on earth is comparing one Linux distribution to another Linux distribution apples and oranges? One of the most important part of any Linux distribution review is to compare and contrast the distribution in question with the leaders in the field.

I don't think Linux Torvalds is flaming distros for experienced users and I certainly am not. I am pointing out that some very experienced users like a user friendly distro as much as anyone. Finally, considering Linus Torvalds' role in creating Linux and in ongoing kernel development I think his comments are generally newsworthy. I will continue to report on what he has to say even when it's somewhat controversial.

I have to agree with the "ease of use is better" folks. I've got a computer science degree, I've been a unix admin for years and years, and I've been running linux as my primary OS since the 90s. I started with SLS, then went to slackware for 3 years, then redhat, and I've worked with debian, fedora, mandrake and other flavors. What distro do I run now? ubuntu. Not because I want to "show off my gucci handbag" as some previous poster charged. No, I just prefer to maximize my time investment, and let the system do the work. ubuntu desktop works right out of the box, and has an excellent package management system. Ubuntu server is a nice tight package, again with the excellent package management system which makes it the perfect candidate for setting up generic unix services (mail, dns, dhcp, fireall, web, ftp) or a special purpose server e.g. spam/virus quarantine.

When I made the switch from windows on my desktop few years ago I started with gentoo. Everything was going great except that it took a while to compile everything to update the system. So I switched to Arch Linux and after 2 years of using that I realized that yet again keeping my system up-to-date takes way too much time since updates often broke the system. Now I'm a happy ubuntu user and although It's not perfect, it does its job and doesn't break that easily. Years I've spent on arch and gentoo were a great experience as I got to know most of the inner workings of a linux distros, but the peace of mind is of more valuable to me. I still can (and do) build some packages myself. But the difference is that most of the time I don't have to.

I really like how far the distros have come in regards to installation. I remember saying "Now What?" after getting Red Hat 7.3 or SUSE installed for the first time just 5 years ago. With my students here in Vietnam, ease of use and installation are keys of Linux is very important which Ubuntu is great at.

Still, I always feel that distros such as Gentoo and Slackware, are great for those new to Linux to learn the fundamentals of this OS. Gentoo brought me to Linux in September, 2004, quite by accident. I failed two installs and had no choice but to try a third attempt so I could get back into my Windows partition from Grub without reinstalling Windows. I did it on my own with the support of some Gentoo users in the Seattle area.

If Gentoo had not been around, I probably would never have made it to Linux.

Nowadays, I prefer some ease of use even on my desktop. I got Arch Linux running at home, really love it. Gentoo became a little burdensome with all the reverse dependencies but not enough to keep me away. Recently, I also started to run Ubuntu on my Thinkpad T60. I needed to since thats the distro my students are most likely to use :-)

I am one of those Linux users quite happy with the number of Linux distros (and BSDs) out there.

Kaczus, I went from Arch to Ubuntu - back to Arch. I agree it is very nice to have everything working fairly well out of the box, however I found Ubuntu made things a lot more difficult than they had been using Arch. For example doing a dist-upgrade often broke several things and left a lot of unneeded clutter on my system. So the rolling release system alone makes Arch superior in my mind (can't remember the last time a pacman -Syu broke my system). Another thing, while it is very nice to have a working system right out of the box like with Ubuntu/Fedora etc. I found that often when one or two small things didn't work, it was almost impossible to figure out how to fix it because of all of Ubuntu added complications of "auto-everything". Arch on the other hand, I set up everything myself, I know where everything is and when something isn't working it's very easy to fix. Was it worth that extra bit of time to do the installation? For me, definitely. I can go on about why I prefer Arch to Ubuntu and other "desktop" distributions but I think I've made my point.

I do think Ubuntu is doing a great job though for their target audience - I've set it up for numerous friends... That target audience just isn't me...

Great comments all the way around. Folks here really do seem to get where I'm coming from this time and I do appreciate it. If you read my original Slackware review you know that I praised many of its strong points: reliability, stability, and a nearly bug free distro. I also praised it as a base on which to build an outstanding distro. Clearly Debian, Arch and Gentoo all have strong points as well even if they aren't Linus Torvalds cup of tea or mine, hence my closing paragraph about choices.

The point, of course, is that those who dismissed ease of use as unimportant, as only important to newcomers, or as embodied in a "vanilla" approach that includes doing most or all administration at the command line and by editing configuration files may reflect certain communities within the Linux community but they are pretty far out of the wider mainstream even among technically competent users.

Of the things I look for in a distribution ease of both installation and use are right up there. I really don't care which distribution it is as long as I can done what I need to do.


One of the primary reasons I went to Linux in the first place was because I didn't have to worry about the operating system. I didn't have things popping up in my face, reminding me I had to do this or that. There was no waiting while the OS did something or other. I can just do the work I need to do.


I just did a clean installation of Windows on a family member's computer. It took several hours to install and then another hour to track down all of the drivers. This is absolutely ludicrous. My installs of PCLinuxOS 2007 or Mandriva 2008 take 30 to 40 min. at the most. And I have never had to look for a driver. On top of this, my family member now has to install all of the software. Which makes more sense? (Although I have to say in all fairness, the last time I did a SuSE installation, it took forever... or so it seemed. And Debian's unattended web-based install is convenient but also seems to take forever.)


As for ease of use, almost every application that is included in a modern Linux distribution is already familiar. And almost every application lets you be instantly productive. After you take a little time to master the little things like using multiple desktops or the move to/copy to features, ease of use really comes home.

What I'd really like to see, is a mix. There would be a stable binary system (like the user-friendly ones state above) which I can easily update as a whole.
Then there would be some kind of management subsystem for sourcecode and its compilation (like gentoo's portage) in which
* I can compile source-patched bleeding edge packets, for the few parts of the system which are exposed. (like portage's "just copy an ebuild to another name and go...")
* test the newest features of packages I am interested in.
* modify sourcecode of a few selected packages.
* and what ever you like with your technical distro...
The point is that it should be easy to temporarily override some of the binary packages, which should be still in place, to fall back to.
Yes, this is just wishful thinking, as every source-compiler (and certainly distro-packager) knows dependency hells - or better: there are inter-package-influences .
But still I'd like to see something like that as an experiment. Like: "Oh, it`s broken, so for now I boot without the unionfs"

Great article, I myself have dabbled in linux since '92 but because of wireless woe's never fully went to it. That changed in '04 when I could get support for my broadcom via ndiswrapper, since then I have switched fully to linux. In 04 I went with suse, mainly because it was the first distro I tried that worked. As far as ease of use and installation I believe that its among the top distro's. There are a few things that have to be ironed out but overall its a great distro. I'm a tinkerer though so now I want to learn all the configs and manual setup's. I've gone with sabayon (gentoo based) now... its the best of both worlds (for me), I can use portage and compile everything or use entropy and install binaries. I have only been using sabayon for a little over a month but I think its also a great distro. Easy to install and everything works right outta the box. Its about choice to me and I'm glad that there is so many distro's to choose from, we can all find just what we like!!

@Halmit: I actually think there are a number of distributions that meet most if not all of the points on your list. There are very few full sized distributions that don't include a compiler and even some mini distributions include gcc and the tools to build a package.

One that is particularly innovative in this area is Vector Linux which has vpackager, a graphical interface front-ending a flexible build script. It allows you to build from a compressed tarball or, alternately, can server as a GUI front end for CruxPorts4Slack, allowing you to use ports for Crux or ones written specifically for Vector Linux.

If you can build a package to your own specs you can test whichever features you want. Modifying source code requires no more than the source being supplied, which most distributions do, and a text editor. Most package managers offer the ability to roll back to the previous installation. Both yum and apt certainly do. slapt-get does not but it supports downgrades or overwriting files so the effect is exactly the same.

In other words, I don't see how Fedora or Ubuntu or Vector or Zenwalk any of a long list of distributions I could rattle off fails to meet your specifications. They all provide ease of use and the ability to customize as you see fit. If you're trying to say that's what's important to you in a distro then I agree wholeheartedly.

@E. Gardner: I haven't tried Sabayon as of yet so I can't comment on it. I've heard very good things from quite a few people so maybe it's time I take a good look. SUSE clearly has had issues in the past but by all accounts there has been huge improvement. openSUSE 11.0 is another distro I really need to spend some time with.

@Halmit: I actually think there are a number of distributions that meet most if not all of the points on your list. There are very few full sized distributions that don't include a compiler and even some mini distributions include gcc and the tools to build a package.

One that is particularly innovative in this area is Vector Linux which has vpackager, a graphical interface front-ending a flexible build script. It allows you to build from a compressed tarball or, alternately, can server as a GUI front end for CruxPorts4Slack, allowing you to use ports for Crux or ones written specifically for Vector Linux.

If you can build a package to your own specs you can test whichever features you want. Modifying source code requires no more than the source being supplied, which most distributions do, and a text editor. Most package managers offer the ability to roll back to the previous installation. Both yum and apt certainly do. slapt-get does not but it supports downgrades or overwriting files so the effect is exactly the same.

In other words, I don't see how Fedora or Ubuntu or Vector or Zenwalk any of a long list of distributions I could rattle off fails to meet your specifications. They all provide ease of use and the ability to customize as you see fit. If you're trying to say that's what's important to you in a distro then I agree wholeheartedly.

@E. Gardner: I haven't tried Sabayon yet but I keep hearing good things about it so maybe it's time I take a look. Regarding SUSE, that is one distro that had some significant issues in the part but which has improved dramatically in recent releases. openSUSE 11.0 may be worth another look.

Easy of use is certainly important in attracting new users.
This was brought home to me reading this blog post:
http://unclemellow.blogspot.com/2008/07/it-just-works-for-free.html
(disclaimer: he is my brother, but I think the post is illustrative of many newcomers opinions from what I read elsewhere ).

I think this helps all of us. Do you think the hardware manufacturers aren't more responsive to driver and support issues now that there are more Linux users?

I addressed the ease of installation and use in my own blog where I try to help new users filter the 500+ distros down to a manageable level:
http://LinuxLatitude.blogspot.com/2008/03/which-linux.html

But, as a former Gentoo user I agree with Halmit's post above - I want the best of both worlds!

What I want to say is that : I fully agree with Linux. When I first started learning Linux I gravitated to Gentoo because its package manager was similar to FreeBSD's ports. While I learned a lot from Gentoo, it just didn't have that cohesive feel that other distributions have.

Gentoo and slackware are great for those enamored with compiling all your own software, but when you're ready to just get down to business and do what you need to do, you have to go with the other players.(If you want some computer knowledge you can look at kswchina,there are some knowledge about linux but chinaese.It's a good learning Chinese place too! )

When I made the switch from windows on my desktop few years ago I started with gentoo. Everything was going great except that it took a while to compile everything to update the system. So I switched to Arch Linux and after 5 years of using that I realized that yet again keeping my system up-to-date takes way too much time since updates often broke the system. Now I'm a happy ubuntu user and although It's not perfect, it does its job and doesn't break that easily. Years I've spent on arch and gentoo were a great experience as I got to know most of the inner workings of a linux distros, but the peace of mind is of more valuable to me. I still can (and do) build some packages myself. But the difference is that most of the time I don't have to.

I like that you said,haha, there are all experts , Very happy !

Linux ,I like it.

Ease of use isn't just for newcomers.

Just like what Schneier said.

All very well saying that Gentoo takes time to compile everything and isn't for everyone. I eventually got tired of that myself.

Which is why I use Sabayon, everything precompiled, installs in very short time BUT you still get all the power and choice of gentoo. There's also much better support now for binary based package manager.

Last time I installed Ubuntu I discovered because something wasn't in the kernel that I needed, that it didn't include the kernel source and their web page actively discouraged fiddling with it. That's not the linux experience I'm used to.

Only thing that worries me is that hiring people that are comfortable with that choice is more difficult than the distros with a longer reputation.

The Sabayon project is still quite low on people, it's amazing how much they have achieved none the less. I hope more people start contributing as for me it's the holy grail of distros. For me it has really been a fire and forget experience, since it was called RR4

@Barry: Anytime someone calls a distro the "holy grail" or uses other religious terms to describe an operating system I get nervous. One think the Linux community seems to have an overabundance of is people who are willing to take devotion to a piece of software to the level of fanaticism. I am NOT accusing you of that by any means, but your choice of words isn't the best. I'm not religious about a distribution or even Linux in general.

I've found that all distributions seem to go through cycles where they have good releases and not so good ones. I was very impressed with Ubuntu Dapper and Edgy. The number of bugs and issues I've run into with the three subsequent releases has gotten me to the point where I just don't run that distro. I'd also, like you, be concerned about any distro who thinks that customizing the kernel to meet a need is too dangerous for their users no matter how experienced. Similarly I used to be very high on Fedora but then had issues and turned away. In all likelihood one or both of these distros will do something innovative that gets lots of positive press, I'll try them again, and rediscover that I like them.

Lately I've probably gone through my longest period with one distro (about two years) with Vector Linux. I've mostly been impressed with the improvements in that distro and the performance. Do I still have complaints? If you read my recent reviews you know i do. I also was very impressed with Wolvix 1.1.0 but that's getting a little long in the tooth. I am looking forward to see what 2.0 will be like. Right now the ones that I feel need revisiting most by me are SUSE and Zenwalk -- lots of good reports from people I like and respect. What little I've played with Zenwalk 5.2 so far seems to indicate that the good press is well deserved.

OK, I'm getting long-winded but the point is that there are any number of good Linux distributions out there. It isn't one size fits all and there is no one holy grail. If Sabayon is right for you then by all means it's what you should run.

By Caitlyn Martin
@Barry: Anytime someone calls a distro the "holy grail" or uses other religious terms to describe an operating system I get nervous. .... your choice of words isn't the best.


And yet you completely dismiss those who protested your usage of "user-friendly". The "conventional definition" of holy grail within the context of software development has nothing to do with religion, and yet its usage makes you nervous. User friendly is an entirely equivocal term, yet you are comfortable with featuring it as the "holy grail" in your distro reviews.

Even if one accepts your "conventional definition" of user friendly, it is only one aspect of the far more meaningful quality of usability. Consider Jakob Nielson's proposition that usability consists of qualities of learnability, memorability, efficiency, lack of errors, and satisfaction. Does having to read a manual (or comments in a config file) mean learning is "hard"? Is remembering the name of a command in a menu somehow more difficult than a file in a directory? Is using a GUI interface somehow more efficient than using a command line? Does adding a GUI wrapper to a command make usage of that command less error-prone? Is what you find satisfying likely to be the same as what I find satisfying?

The answer to all of these is "sometimes"... and "sometimes not". Every person has different strengths, experiences, and priorities which contribute to their concept of usability. And every distro has their own approach to how best to make its software "usable". A good review should assist users with assessing the usability of a particular distro to their situations.

It should not be surprising that some readers object to your usage of such a nebulous and equivocal marketing term as 'user friendly' -- described by the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia as "so abused that many vendors are reluctant to use it". In my opinion, you write some of the best reviews on the Web; however, I also feel that they could benefit from a better choice of words.

we don,t need to quarrel about which distribution is good. using what you like is is best way to choice distribution.if a distribution exits,so it must have something better than other ditributions.so i don't agree with linus.

The lack of a complete installable package (like a player), vague package dependencies, plethora of untrustable repositories, plethora of distros, horrible 'hi&mighty' support, lack of simple desktop needs will ensure that MS always rules the rules when it comes to developing a desktop OS.

*nix will always suck when there are too many cooks infighting over standards and then each goes his own way to develop his own.

We really need a standards organization for linux/gnu to progress (like ECMA/ISO/etc. in the face of no single company calling the shots). If there is an organization already, they are doing a lousy job.

So many of us were so enthusiastic to dump Windows but after just a few days of installing some crapware we crawl back to BSODs and the land of viruses/trojans/etc as linux developers contend any complaint/suggestion on the distro to 'linux is essentially a server, not a desktop system.

SO STAY THERE ! Dont portray yourself as a desktop OS !!

Just when we need something. it seems like uh oh this works only on KDE, or uh-oh, this is a debian thing or RHEL thing, I still cant get a simple bluetooth headset to work after going through craploads of web sites, just coz I have a slightly older version of CentOS, and I have to install loads of open software anyway.

With windows it was a breeze.

Even mp3/mp4 support doesnt come with the free distros...wtf?
If you expect people to go with the torture of make/config/install...you do eat what you smoke !!

The comment from rron is just so predictable. There's always at least one anytime Linux is mentioned on the desktop.

You don't like Linux? Fine, don't use it. Your comment, based on my experience, has very little to do with reality.

If desktop comes to mind, perhaps a heavy desktop user should step in, right?

Being a heavy GUI user (not to mention being a new refugee from Windows) tends to be a bit less knowledgeable, but hey, when you lose your work due to some viruses or when your computer crashes then you know what to avoid right? And Windows sucked, be it on a server or desktop (ease of use? I prefer not losing my work or getting it infected...)

Yeah, saying that Linux is invulnerable to viruses would be a myth, but there has to be something credible to it. I don't actually care visiting any website or downloading anything with my Ubuntu (or should I mention my Puppy Linux?). And I do like having the option to choose.

Windows SHOULD BE easy to use since it costs you just to have one. And it ought to be more secure than it is right now. I think it should be the one with the name "Apache" because all it does is patch, not make a better solution to vulnerabilities.

I do have a hard time making my parents use Linux but they're catching up. I even left my computer to boot a LiveCD Ubuntu by accident, but Mom was able to use it and go online.

First, great article Caitlyn! I agree with you and Mr. Torvalds.

And now, Mr. RR, let's get our Definitions clear:
1) When you say 'Windows' you mean Windows 2000, XP, or Vista, who all share the same target audience. When you say Linux, you could mean any one of dozens of distros, many with diverse target audiences. (Multiple flavors is actually one of Linux's strengths- against one distro trying to be everything to everyone.)

And Anonymous, you can listen to this one too:
2) Make a distinction between types of users. The average users are the folks who repeatedly tell me they are not tech-saavy or computer-literate. These are the users we are trying to friendly towards. Software programmers, network engineers, system architects, command-line gurus, and Linux hobbyists are 'Super-Users'. Many distros are super-user friendly, not average-user friendly and vice-versa.

In the spirit of the article, the easist, most user-friendly OS to install, set-up, use, and maintain is udoubtedly Mac OS X. In the open-source world of FREE, however, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, and Fedora tie for first place on whatever hardware will run them.

Like many Linux users, I want the hassle-free juicyness of commercial OS on my PC without the ridiculous cost and hassle of Windows, plus the 'hidden' costs of anti-virus/anti-spyware software, and maintenance software. That's why I run openSUSE on my '03 Compaq Presario, Kubuntu on my '01 Dell Latitude, and Vector Linux on my 1999 homebuilt PC. All this with no problems whatsoever (and I don't consider it's lack of speed a problem if it works).

Nothing is right for everyone. I agree with zhangyayun, and Mr. Torvalds, especially his comment about being a "believer in choice". The choice is yours based on your needs and your good judgement. Get a Linux distro and try it out. Research features and functions, look at screenshots, read forums, ask questions. The worst thing you can do is make an uninformed decision, and complain when it's not what you expected, or point your finger and say, "But he said it was the best!"


MY ADVICE:
For Personal/Home Office users who want the ultimate user-friendly experience, use Mac OS X — it is proprietary, commercial, and based on FreeBSD and Darwin. In my experience, it is much easier and faster to install, set-up, use, and maintain, than any of my Linux distros or WinXP Pro. But that is a different article.

"What they don't do is force you to get under the hood just to get configuration done"

Tell that to my Ubuntu system which will NOT let me get 1024x768 resolution after installing the nvidia driver, no matter how hard I try, no matter what I add or remove from xorg.conf, no matter what monitor I configure it to use I cannot get out of 800x600 and into 1024x768.. This is frustrating and a time waster, and it is a critical driver that is popular enough you'd think they could get it to work.

p.s Linux is pronounced Lynix not lih-nix. A mistake even Linus makes himself.

After reading this page I get what the man is saying. We need windows but with a interface unlike windows. One a person who uses windows can load and operate. Or one that is into the fabric essence that makes a computer be all it can be, and also something that the person in-between can understand. One for the masses that is what I read. I for one am all about free software and not someone who gets restricted to the windows masses of paying over $200 dollars on each system just to have the everyday software (office). In fact I give free software to everyone of my windows users Anti-virus AVG 8.0 and Spyware Terminator both free @ cnet.com. I use the very essence of free software to give people hope that there is a future in the freedom of global diversification. Anything i can do to help you let me know.

Adam Markle
WWW.Spyderaretech.com
admin@spyderwaretech.com

That's GREAT Linus uses Fedora, that should shut the mouths of the Linux geeks, namely I am one, and used Slackware for many years, and then I got tired of it, and realized there are better things to do in life then sitting around fooling with the system, and doing things by hand all the time.

But one thing that has been tough to beat is Slackware dependability and stability...

But my days of compiling and configuring and tweaking are over, I just want to install it and use it...

Great article, Caitlyn. I think you were pretty even-handed in your assessments.

My Journey: -> from CPM to DOS to OS9 (Tandy) to WIN 3.1 to WIN95 to WIN98 to Linux (1st time) back to WIN98SE (best version of Win ever imho) to WINME (worst version ever as history bears out) to WIN2K to Slack then back to WIN989SE because it was just so danged useful and I somehow managed to get BLACKBOX installed on it (true story) as the desktop GUI and it actually worked pretty well - then Debian, XP, Ubuntu and finally LinuxMint (easy, useful and elegant are words that quickly spring to mind here).

Wow. Does this qualify me to render a semi-expert opinion on what does or doesn't qualify as a "good" operating system? Not likely and here's why: Each individual's wants and needs are different from the next. Hence, everyone is going to like or dislike certain things about any OS. No use quibbling as there really is no higher ground in that respect. (I should know - I do tech repair for a living).

As to the argument over whether or not Linux is or is not a "desktop OS", I would refer those who doubt this to watch this enlightening video:

Cool Linux Desktop Video

I can tell you this: Thank God for Linux; my blood pressure has received a much-deserved reprieve thanks to Mr. Torvald's tenacious mucking about.

Red Hat LInux Is PowerFull Server OS........

The truth is linux guys of more technical distributions just don't get the fact that most people want to save time and have all the repetitive and complex tasks offloaded for them.

This does not merely apply to linux, it applies everywhere.

Consider the number of steps in PC gaming, vs just buying a console.

Console--> Get game, put disc in, turn on.

PC--> Check Sys req: Make sure video card is good-->If not good, get better video card-->Make sure drivers are updated (sound and video) --> Get game --> Install game to hard drive--> wait --> Need patches? --> get latest patches --> play game.

Notice the decision tree and tasks one may or may not have to do depending on the context.

In PC land there is so much stuff that even minor stuff can absorb a persons life now with the internet, the economy sucking, and people being overworked. They want all the time they can get, and offloading and doing all the grunt work to save time for the user managing his system or anything that he buys, is usually bad, lazy, design... it adds no value to peoples lives.

Add value, save time, save work, and people will use what you make, if it is any good.

I am fairly young in the Linux world (only 2.5 years) But Im one of the fewm of my friends that have made the active switch to Linux on my laptop. I used to use ubuntu and kubuntu as well as Debian core, but due to new hardware and ease of use I chose to install (after weeks of fighting other distros) Open SuSe due to the fact that I didnt have to compile every component or try to wrap all my drivers into the distro. I will stick with SuSe for a long time as 11 looks gorgeous and runs supurb on my machine. So way to go Linus!

Edited:

The truth is linux guys of more technical distributions just don't get the fact that most people want to save time and have all the repetitive and complex tasks offloaded for them.

This does not merely apply to linux, it applies everywhere.

Consider the number of steps in PC gaming, vs just buying a console.

Console--> Get game, put disc in, turn on.

PC--> Check Sys req --> Make sure video card is good-->If not good, get better video card-->Make sure drivers are updated (sound and video) --> Get game --> Install game to hard drive--> wait --> Need patches? --> get latest patches --> play game.

Notice the decision tree and tasks one may or may not have to do depending on the context.

In PC land there is so much stuff that even minor stuff can absorb a persons life now with the internet. Not to mention the economy sucking, and people being overworked. They want all the time they can get.

So for a company or programmers not offloading work from their users/customers and doing all the grunt work to save time for the user/customer managing his system or anything that he buys, is usually bad, lazy design... it adds no value to peoples lives.

Add value, save time, save work, and people will use what you make, if it is any good.

I started with Mandrake and RedHat. I enjoyed using them, because I was completely new to Linux, and would have never been able to get the others up and running correctly. Once I became comfortable with Mandrake, I started to want to learn more about the actual operating system, and I found that trying to learn as much as I could about the file structure, where config files were stored, libraries, etc. was actually very difficult in these distros. I switched to Slackware, and with it, I was able to learn a lot about Linux administration. I started to learn about how processes are automatically started up, how network daemons are started, run levels, configuration scripts in the /etc/rc.d directory. I learned how to compile my own apps which was really useful back then. There were still plenty of useful Linux apps back then that couldn't be found in a binary distribution. And it was always nice to be able to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of things like the GCC compiler or the KDE desktop by downloading the latest source before a binary was available.

So it was a great learning experience, but eventually, I wanted to start using Linux as a platform rather than learning how to use Linux as an administrator. I'm a software developer, so once I got comfortable with out to use Linux, I immediately started using SuSE. I can still customize it if I need to, but for the most part, I use Linux to develop software. I had a whole lot more fun with Slackware, but I get much more work done with SuSE.

I really wish that Linux had the same type of popularity as Mac OS X. I personally think that Linux is superior, because it is so much more customizable. Both are excellent operating systems, but Linux has many advantages. Where it is lacking is in vendor support for hardware. If I buy a brand new Canon photo printer, I want it to be as well supported in Linux as it is in Windows or Mac. Sadly, that is rarely the case. Some vendors like Nvidia write their own Linux drivers, but it needs to happen with many more vendors. Also, there is a lack of video game support. If I buy a Mac, I can go to the store here locally, and get many of my favorite video game titles for it. It's unfortunate that the same cannot be said for Linux. I imagine that Linux primarily plays the role of a server right now, and in that regard, it seems to be doing quite well, but I think that it makes a wonderful desktop operating system as well. I would just like to see a little more software and hardware support.

Applause to the author and Linus. I personally favor at least three different distros. I, as many geeks do, have more than a half dozen computers in the house. At times, I have as many as two dozen machines just in the home, not counting my business locations.

I have Mac, Linux, and Windows machines. I have had several flavors of linux over the years, in fact I've tried most of them. The winner for me is Ubuntu, but Red Hat is also quite good and I use RHE on my servers. I'm looking at the newer versions of Solaris and SuSE this winter.

There is no point in fanboy rants about linux flavors. It's okay to have a favorite. It's not okay to get upset because someone doesn't agree with you.

This sort of dissent, when it's inflamatory, or denigrating, can drive people away from Linux. It can make us look bad. Yes, Slackware rocks, but yes, its also hard to use. Yeah, Debian has strengths, but it also has problems. Even OSX is not without its criticism. Nothing is perfect.

We should be supportive, promoting, and sticking together in educating people about Linux. Don't waste time villifying someone because you don't like their choices. Teach people how to do things without being caustic.

TEACH LINUX, not distros. NOOBS benefit most by ease of use: Ubuntu. Hands down, this year. Next year, maybe someone else's distro. There can be no party loyalty. We have to promote whatever is best this year.

Don't sneer, whine, cry, vent, flame, and act stupidly in public. That is advice that can be carried over throughout your life. It doesn't hurt you to act calm and collected in the face of unreason, danger, or problems. In fact quite the opposite is true, you look very smart when you keep it together. I don't like it when I let myself become upset by something.

We can keep assailing a newsperson for not liking our distro-de-jour, and looking like an ass, or we can apologize to him and try to give a better impression of Linux users.

Try to keep in mind that you're talking to the press.

Thank you very much.

Demopoly

I too am trying different distros to see which suits my taste..so far the ones that I feel comfortable are Fedora and Ubuntu...will try other distros in future..

meh, A little miffed here.
I use slackware, and for the record out of the box with 0 mods it provides the most complete development set of tools I have used.

and no I don't need to build my compiler..
the packages are not dated, and provide all I need to develop, I select slackware for this reason, as a developer it is the best out of the box solution.

Ubuntu and all others I have tested are missing one thing or another, granted I have not looked in over a year at anything else, have not had to.

so I will add that Linus's attitude about this makes him a bit if a pussy in my mind, the installation tools of slackware are complete.
I guess I don't really know what he needs to help him install Linux??
maybe he needs a GUI fdisk? is that what it is?
OMFG...
maybe its time to kick him off the Kernel Dev team :)
for fear it will become bloated like windows.

-Badguy

It's always interesting to see what Linus has to say about Linux.

Like him, I use Ubuntu without ever having used Debian proper. Nothing against Debian, I just hadn't gotten around to it and then Ubuntu came along and that was that.

Oh, to the editors of this page: There's a broken link. In this sentence, "In that context his preference for Fedora and Ubuntu over what he calls "overly technical" distributions makes a lot of sense." the link for Ubuntu is incorrectly given as http://news.oreilly.com/2008/07/http

I got into Linux back in 1996 with Slackware. I remember how great it was to telnet between computers using Slackware. I fell in love with Linux and started buying t-shirts, mugs and trying new distributions. I went from Slackware to RedHat, Debian, FreeBSD and now Ubuntu. I have to admit folks, Ubuntu is the best distribution in all these years. Isn't it amazing when you can get your bluetooth, cellphone, printer, scanner, wireless, mouse trackball, web camera, external storage, nvidia video card working in just a matter of minutes? Well, Ubuntu was so easy to use and so reliable that it was very easy to get all my peripherals and external devices to work with it. Basically, it is just plug and play or a few tweaks here and there to make some stuff work. In order for Linux to make its way into the market, it needs to be ease of use. While Slackware is great, it takes time to find all dependencies just to install a program and then more time to compile the dependencies so that you can finally compile the program. Time that I never had in the first place being a web developer. Linux is definitely not for the average Joe.

@Badguy : There are people like linus who wouldn't want to waste their time fiddling with packages and configuration files and would rather use that saved time to do useful stuff like contributing to linux kernel and then there are people like you who probably never contribute anything and feel that compiling packages and configuring files makes their life worthwhile.

@Schneier

>>> Slackware e.g. is a distro for the experienced user, who wants to chose whatever he want. Ubuntu & Co is for the small footprint of users, who wants to show their new 'Gucci-handbag'. You're comparing apples with oranges.

I moved from Slackware at the start of 2008. I was bored with rolling my own packages and having used FC (with an install of apt for rpm) wanted a distro with apt-get, knowing apt-get came from Deb but that Ubuntu was more popular I chose the later. I'd started to use slapt-get and slackpkg and tried other package tools (0install and the like). I was also concerned about Slack going eol when PV dies (sorry to be blunt).

Instead of shoe-horning a packaging system into Slack I thought I might as well try a modern distro.

Now I can actually get on with my work and instead of administering my own system (chasing dependencies) I can use that time for bug chasing in projects I use and being over-verbose in blog-comments ...

If I were switching now I'd try SimplyMepis or OpenSUSE (I use KDE4).

@Caitlyn

>>>What they don't do is force you to get under the hood just to get configuration done.

Remember, when we first went to school our parents had to force us. And now we can read and write a few words just for that...

How can you say 'X' is more user-friendly than 'Y' when the sole term 'user-friendly' is just a matter of personal preference?

I find Slackware more user-friendly than any other OS available at present and my first Linux OS was slackware itself. Though, in the initial days I had some trouble with it. But that is not the matter, every new thing takes some time to master.

A few visual gimmicks just don't make an OS more user-friendly. Or will you like to say Vista is the most user-friendly OS on this earth now (for that you would need SLIed Geforce 9800GTXs, 4GB RAM or an alienware monster; though Catlyn can afford it very easily but we - ah!)

As I said before it is only a matter of personal preference, comfort and taste.

Finally, ending with the informal 'Slackware Saying'..."If you learn Red Hat, you'll know Red Hat, but if you learn Slackware, you'll know Linux"

This brings back old memories when I'm still trying to find the best Linux distribution that suit my needs. I've tried most of the popular ones (around 15 or so) and found out that almost half of them are not suitable for non-technical users.

Having too many technical screens and prompts during the installation and update would certainly confuse them. Most of them just want to start using the OS to continue their unfinished office work or home work.

The unfortunate thing about some of the distributions are their goal --- which is somewhat blurry. While some of them do have clear vision and goal, all others just claim they are better, without explaining the details.

However, despite having a clear vision and goal, they belong to the one that created the distribution and not the packages that are included in the distribution. This is more like a one-sided goal rather than packages/softwares goals, or should I say "many packages, many different goals". It's like a soccer captain (the distribution creator). He has one goal one strategy, but all of his 10 men have their own goal and strategy. The result was a chaos. But in this case, the distribution is the same as other distributions since they are also includes a large variety of packages/softwares.

Anyway, it would be bad if there is only one distribution available. Two is too little. Four is better. Six is good. Eight is enough. And more is too many.

All in all, the only thing I could say is when will one of the distribution become like Mac OS? After all, Mac OS is based on BSD, and BSD is based on *NIX style, and Linux is also based on *NIX style. If one of them can be success and supports each other, shouldn't it be similar like Mac OS? I mean, really, when you look at Mac OS, you don't even feel like you're using a *NIX based OS. It conceal them nicely and transparently (I'm not talking about mere skinning here). I really hope I get a chance to try it before I gone out of this world. For get Wind0ze, it's not even our style. ;)

What I don't think Linus included in his considerations was how much time you can spend on some "easy to use" distributions fixing or compensating for what they do not allow you to do. I don't think I have to mention that we've all seen RPM break from time to time. The point is that nothing is perfect, sadly, and that sometimes less complex means less can go wrong. If some people want to actually run some tests and account for all the time they do or do not spend using any distribution, I'd be willing to participate as well. Lastly, I doubt I have to bring up the fact that we use distributions for our own reasons. Surely if Linus uses Fedora, we should not all go out and download it and install it. Insert "if he jumped off a cliff" sarcasm here.

For what it's worth, I like Patrick Volkerding's philosophy with Slackware. Rather than do like other "easy to use" distributions were doing by creating all these GUI applications which are not always perfect, he waited for features to make their way to upstream. Now Slackware, for lack of having GUI tools, has KDE with every imaginable system administration tool, and HAL and DBus work just great. The bonus is that now that these features made it into upstream, upstream considered them stable enough to include, so you get features not when they're wanted, but when they're stable.

I've seen Mandriva's GUI tools ignore how you configured them and have to go edit manually to get it to work right. I've seen RPM break on multiple distributions, especially when going with -contrib. Better to have to do things yourself than to be disappointed with tools that should do your work for you.

Besides, with a little configuration, using what comes with Slackware, you can make all these features work yourself, and in a much more elegant way. Elegant meaning the best results with the least amount of work.

Case in point: Mandriva just put out release 2009 (even though it's still 2008 lol) with the new KDE 4.1. I love KDE, but 4.1 is not nearly as stable as 3.5.9. I am not advocating archaic software versions, but I am also not advocating too early an adoption of new software.

I have never seen rpm break anything and I'd bet neither of the last two people who posted comments have either. Rather what I've seen is breakage caused by poorly built packages, insufficient testing, or poor repository management. Poor repository management is the biggest culprit IME. That happens regardless of the packaging system used. rpm is not what's at fault.

Sorry, but I really, really, really don't get the comment about how easy to use distros don't let you do things. Anything I can do at the command line in Slackware I can do equally well at the command line in Red Hat/CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, Mandriva, SUSE, Vector Linux, Zenwalk, Mint, you name it... Please, give me an example. I've seen this generality made by the Slackware crowd repeatedly and it doesn't hold water. All the GUI tools in all of the above distros are merely front-ends to command line tools or fancy editors for configuration files. When I administer a server I do probably 95% of my work at the command line regardless of distro.

The "case in point" about Madriva 2009 only applies to the policies of Mandriva 2009. In contrast Red Hat/CentOS are notoriously slow to adopt new versions and new technologies. Ease of use doesn't equal cutting edge or bleeding edge.

If you like Slackware and it's well suited to what you do then by all means you should use it. There's nothing wrong with that. Linus, however, is expressing the views that, in my not so inconsiderable experience, are shared by most users, both the technically astute and newcomers to Linux.

Ubuntu does it for me. Great package management and excellent fonts OOTB. I often find other distros lacking in those areas. From 64 bits of Intrepid.

I haven't read all of the above. But I first started with Mandrake 8.1. I developed a hate for RPM then (heard all those problems I had are fixed now). I am on a 3rd/4th world island in the Greater Antilles. Have no net at home. Out of all the GUI OS I have tried since then, the only ones that satisfied me were Vector Linux and Zenwalk. Why? The GUI based ones I have tried are Mandrake, Yoper, *ubuntu, Red Hat and some others that I can't remember (not noteworthy because they didn't run after installation). Now, graphical will only work properly out of the box if you have compatible parts. Most systems here have inferior (very cheap) parts that are hard to support. Some tweaking has to be made that are not possible/sensible in GUI. We can't afford to buy a part to fit something so "./configure --help" is used quite often. Zenwalk and Vector solve the ease of use dilemna not by using GUIs but by using CLUBs (command line user buffers) like ncurses and cmake. Well cmake is becoming my personal favourite. Hope most code migrates to it. Also look at the difference in package size and the increase in dependencies the more we deviate from src. But the point is that a GUI is not as certain to appear as a CLI. Why do people dislike CLI so? Didn't most of us start with Lotus 1-2-3 and C:\windows\edlin.exe?

In response to By Schneier on July 27, 2008 12:40 PM

My only comment really is that your post is hostile, inflammatory, and makes one think that you see the article as a personal attack.

The article did not speak out against your distro or any other. It simply voiced a preference. You seem to be one of those people that thinks that any opinion other than your own is not only wrong but stupid.

I would assume that this was not your intent,but perhaps you should reread your posts before submitting them, or at least think about the intent of the article before flaming it.

The article was very much to the point, stated opinions as opinion and facts as facts. It did not say that "distros for advanced users" were bad.

In fact the first actual attack on any distro was your attack on Ubuntu. If anything, if you look at the history of Ubuntu, its actual target audience are people who couldn't afford Gucci if they saved their salaries for twelve years.

No offence, but get off it. Your distro is not the best. It may be the best for you, but as the article pointed out, everyone can choose a distro that is good for them. I happily stand in the middle ground of crunchiness Vs user friendliness. I use Arch. However, I have used other distros. Arch is just the version I like best. I have come to learn it's limitations, and have chosen to adapt to them.

For people who do not have the time, the skill, or the inclination to adapt to their chosen OS, something such as Ubuntu is perfect. It sets up an environment that is user friendly, and easy to administer with little or not technical skill required. It has much of the user friendliness of a Windows machine while still taking advantage of the fact that it is indeed Linux.

With Arch, I often find applications that I wish to install in the AUR, which is basically an archive of instructions an patches to compile and install applications that have not actually been ported to Arch. For me, that works fine. I can even do minimal debugging if a piece of code throws obvious errors during compile. This is a fact of life for a user of Arch (unless all the packages they want are actually part of the distribution already).

An Ubuntu user is not likely to run into this issue. The only time that direct administrative intervention is likely to be needed for their purposes is when they are first setting up the various video codecs that everyone installs at some point but are not "officially supported" by any of the distributions because we would get sued out of existance. Usually the codecs are in a package labeled "win32 Codecs" or similar. It varies from one distro to another, but basically boils down to DVD playback and proper MP3 support.

Point is that different distros fit different sets of needs and different sets of tastes. That is all the article really said. You do not need to go and try to turn it into a flame war.

I believe when a person is used to hardships such as working hard to get a distribution to work for them they are quick to deny themselves the pleasure of just being able to work.

Isn't that what we are aiming for? To work on our own hobbies without having to make Operating Systems, Drivers, and Configuration a precursor.

It's nice to remember all that I do on configuring slackware. But I pray I never have to start from scratch and build a system where I don't have binaries for my favorite programs. Wifi, I have a script but it took weeks to write.

The fact is I don't have time to read advisories on zero day exploits. I can lock down my machine but how else am I suppose to know about substantial problems that may exist.


I can't take off a day from work to install an operating system. I can however study one that already works. Thus feeling gratification in knowing how it is that it works.

If the bomb drops the last thing we're going to be worried about is being able to open a document and having anti-aliased fonts. We'll be lucky to find sustainance.

Our reliance on computers is laughable. Those that rely on technology will be burnt by its demise.

Try to write more than three pages in cursive handwritting.

Hey Ubuntu 8.10 has a text/gui installer by default now.

Power to people!

I'm one of these "learn by doing" and is not an intellectual with a degree in Computer sience.

My first Computer was Amiga (all of them)
I guess its about 15-20 years ago, and even back then, i could emulate MAC OS 7.3 and get Linux M68 installed, i never got the X sever to run on the Amiga, tho :(
Then i went to Windows 95 when the first Pentium came out. (95-98-SE-ME-2K-XP)
But from time to time, i tried out Red Hat, just to watch the progress of Linux desktops.
When Fedora 6 and 7 came out, i made the switch to Linux. (still having WinXP for gaming tho)
Even my old parents, mid 60, is using Fedora now. ofc.

I use every chance there is to get people to run Linux, since they don't use ANY software on Windows that's not on a Linux dest.
I use a lot of time to install Fedora and delete Windows for different people, and i do it happily ;-)

And with Fedora 10, this will be nothing less than perfect!
They got the repo to include the usually need for music/video codecs that is not free.

I say this coz, if my old parents with no experience in computers, can work on a Fedora dist. using Gnome, right out of the box, and even do some real work for private use, then i have to say that Fedora is "user friendly" despite some of the posts here ;)
Only "hard" part is the partitioning of Hard drives.
But there's an automated feature that does it for you, and it works perfect.
I'm sure theres a bunch of other desktops out there, that might be better etc. but Fedora works fine and i see no need to switch to any other dist.

For me, FREE software is everything, and that's what Fedora promise, then i can deside if i wanna use licensed software later on.
So i have a hard time understanding some of the posts here, since we all are on Linux for more or less the same reasons.

slackware .... well i tried to compile some of the apps i have in Fedora, and i have to say ... whats the problem ?
Keep in mind, that im not a big reader, so i just push a few buttons, maybe DL the src from a website, and experiment for a little while, with the ./configure stuff, make, make install ....
If a depend. is missing i just use Yum and a few min later that depend. is installed.
Am i missing a point here or is the talk about slackware just some religious ppl ?

And the GUI stuff ... well i like a CLI, but if a GUI exists that works, then i like that better ;-)

I have tried out QT as i'm a C++ dude, and GTK since im a GNOME "fan".
So far, im using GTK ....
Ok, i kind of need to make my own Classes to make it easy and quick to make the GUI, but its a one time job.

I've been using Borland Builder for many years, and it was a little setback to make a GUI on Linux, but who cares ?
Im on free software, i feel free, and its like going on a date everytime i boot up fedora, like it was with my old Amiga :-D
I never had any "relation" to windows.
Im happy to be back "home" hehe

Mr. Linus Thorvalds, i'm sure you know what you have started,
and i really cant find any words to express my extreme gratitude, so i just wanna say : Thank you !!

Not to forget all those that work hard to make life worth living, a great thanks to you guys too !!
Whatever dist. you work on ;-)

Folks, there are thing such as ccache out there which significantly reduce the time required for compilations within various 'nix flavors (i.e. gent00).
I took the red-pill handed to me by a Gent00 about five years ago - and as the fastest distro I've ever run to date, I'll never look back... even at the hours spent starting @ my console waiting for OpenOffice to finish compiling.

This is a great article and a great discussion.

My two Lincolns...

I'm a recovering Windows user myself, and not interested in code-writing. I resent being called a "Gucci Bag" Linux user; Linux, in any of its distros, is hardly trendy and certainly not over-priced (it's free, after all!). So I think the analogy breaks down.

I'm a finance guy who just wanted to have a free OS that didn't crash all the time, that recognizes my peripherals, and can download free software. I awoke to Linux in 2004 when a friend recommended I use OpenOffice during grad school when I was at my poorest, and I instantly fell in love with it because it gave me (nearly) the same functionality that MS Office gave me but was "free" (I know, I know, there is a license agreement, but at least I didn't have to shell out $150 for it). And I was using OpenOffice in Windows XP. I wrote my entire thesis using OpenOffice Writer, and when it came time to hand it over to the board, I just clicked the "convert to pdf" button and then clicked the "send in an email" button and sent it to them. Lickity split.

Then later my HDD crashed, so the same friend gave me an Ubuntu live CD so I could access the drive and back up my files even though the boot sector on the drived was ruined. And guess what - it worked. I thought it was amazing that I could test-drive an entire OS (complete with wi-fi connectivity, web browsing, everything) from a CD, let alone access a drive that wouldn't boot to backup my files -- and I backed them up on an iPod(!), which Ubuntu also recognized. So yeah, I was instantly hooked.

I still have a partition on my hdd with Windows XP on it (mostly for games), but I mostly do my normal day-to-day stuff through Linux, and I love it. It's so clean and fast! I've tried Ubuntu 8 & now 10, OpenSUSE (by far the best for wi-fi connectivity and laptop usage), and now Fedora 10. F10 is what I mainly use for everything now.

And for those of you griping about not being able to play mp3s or whatever, that's because those files are patented and require a license agreement to play them. But there are work-arounds out there if you know where to go...

@Schneier: I agree about Ubuntu... to a point. Been using Debian since 2.0 (migrated to it from OpenBSD), and Debian really rocks my socks. For servers I use nothing else.

However for the desktops I traded Debian for Ubuntu last year.

Here's why:

I talk Linux up to Windows users, especially Ubuntu (for ease of use).

When I ran Debian on my desktop machines, they would (typically) ask if I ran Ubuntu and I would answer that I ran Debian. Then they asked why I didn't personally use what I was recommending to them and I would have to reply that Ubuntu's ease of use was good for new users.

That was the deal-breaker. They felt that I was calling them stupid, and stuck with Windows.

So I started using Ubuntu. Since then I have gotten my wife, mother-in-law, niece, and several friends off Windows and onto Linux and they rarely have problems with their machines.

A big contributing factor was letting them see how easily I got things done, and feeling like they are somehow smarter because they run the same OS/distro as their "computer geek friend".

Once I got used to Ubuntu it really wasn't too bad. Replaced Evolution with Thunderbird and installed "the usual suspects" for music recording and communication and haven't looked back.

It is called "eating your own dog food" and while Ubuntu was inconvenient in the short term, in the long term it has saved me time spent supporting the machines of family and friends. And now that I am used to the interface I wouldn't want to revert to Debian for the desktop.

Still wouldn't dream of running it on a server.

A really fascinating discussion on distros of Linux. I'm new to the Linux game, having used Ubuntu for a little over a year now. I know enough to keep Ubuntu up and running, but I am eager to learn more as I use Ubuntu with increasing regularity.

I'm fascinated by the discussion of various distributions and which is "better," but I think a lot of those commenting here are myopic in their views. You must remember that you are the "Top 1%" when it comes to computer skills. Ninety-nine percent of the population (myself included) is overwhelmed with anything that requires a command line interface--but we're increasingly eager to give Linux a try because these simple out-of-the-box distros are an open source alternative to Windows.

The exciting thing about any Linux distribution for me is that some of these distros are now a viable alternative to Windows. As a teacher in a small school in a small school district without any noticeable tech support or money, I've become the defacto "tech guy" because I know marginally more than the guy down the hall. I have 25 laptops in my room that get used by careless high school students every day--and I'm also responsible for maintaining them. Having come pre-installed with Windows Vista, I was pulling my hair out. Ubuntu has provided me with a fast, stable, easily-maintained operating system that requires exponentially less effort to maintain. While worms and viruses wreak havoc on our Windows machines, my Ubuntu laptops keep plugging away.

The beauty for me is there are a number of open-source, legitimate alternatives for those willing to try Linux--and with so many alternatives a person is bound to find something that suits their needs. Ubuntu has served me well in my classroom, and on my laptop, because it's largely "idiot proof." Power-users will be well-served by Gentoo or Slackware. Others will like Sabayon or Mandriva.

To each their own, but I'm glad that, finally, there are more alternatives for the "average user" than just which Windows version to buy.

I'm sick of people saying, "oh? You like Ubuntu? You stay away from me you noob!" and so forth...

Ubuntu makes things a little more automated, but people say that the automation hampers them since they are used to doing it all themselves. Well guess what my friends? If you truly understand the underlying layers of linux then it is no problem to go beneath the automation and FIX SOMETHING. It's just that with distros that have automation, most of your time is spent being productive in your work instead of fiddling around under the hood although sometimes you do have to get a little dirty. It's like that with OSX and Windows too! Sometimes I like using distros that make me think a bit. But sometimes I don't.

In my mind, if you like Gentoo, good for you! If you like arch, good for you! If you like Ubuntu, good for you!

If you like toyota, good for you! If you like Ford, guess what? GOOD FOR YOU!

Use whatever makes you happy, you have more than enough choice in distros that will cater to YOUR taste, but probably not mine. So I will use what I like.

Are you getting my point here? In my mind, one of the most destructive things to linux are the people that talk down to you for using a distro that YOU like but THEY don't.

Most people would tell them to "go back to windows", or "go ahead and use that *buntu you noob".

Instead of flaming people for using "A" *nix, why don't you find out what makes them use that certain flavor, and if it's not your cup of tea, well, good for you... Let me go on being happy in peace.

I'm starting to hate *nix people more than I hate Windows fanboys...

And that my friends is truly a sad day in history...

I'm a proud Fedoran!

I don't use Ubuntu because it breaks often; specially in audio apps.

This said, I still install Ubuntu from time to time (almost every release) to see what's up and get in touch with it.

IMHO, the Ubuntu forums are crowded with people that are not technical, therefore, you don't find smart answers for dealing with bugs/problems. I love the philosophy, though.

On the other hand, Fedora has great support in forums, IRC and mailing lists... I love those! Besides, the RHEL work as great manuals for Fedora... even though this is not official, I've managed to configure services ranging from nfsv4 to ldap and all other stuff (smb, httpd, etc) just from reading the RHEL manuals.

I'd say we have free; enterprise-class, manuals for Fedora laready!

And, most importantly, it works fine on my PC; never breaks or doesn't boot... well, once or twice yeah, but... hehe.

Also, the apps work great and it's up-to-date!

I also like Mandriva, Gentoo and Debian... maybe even Slackware; it was my first distro!

I think that free software has enough legal rights and resources to remain free without having to divide it into distros, human effort is being multiplicated for achieving the same goals and Microsoft will take advantage of it, remember they want to control software universally, and for each hour miccrosoft inverts on making miccrosoft's software less compatible with linux, linux communitys have to invert many times that ammount of time (one for each distro) to keep linux aware of those boicot attempts leading to a waste of time and slowering the develop of the linux system in general

I think that linus use fedora because he is a practical men, if they a man with a idology (like rms(richard stallmen)), they would use debian GNU/linux.

Hello there! I read most of the comments, and of course the article and interview of Linus. I am a recent user of GNU/Linux, two weeks today! I deleted my Windows Vista, software that came installed in my laptop, believe me, I don't miss it all.

Yes, I use Ubuntu. But first time I used it, I downloaded WUBI and it was love at first sight.

Before I migrated full Linux, I read about Debian, só I've downloaded and installed the 5.0 (lenny). Otherwise from Ubuntu, most of the hardware configuration I did it myself. I mean installing the NVIDIA drivers, and so on. I've even installed WINE and made a game for windows run on Debian without any glitch (and sometimes it was a lot of work, but worth it!). All from the terminal by the way...


The reason I am saying this, that for me it had no difference at all, sure you'll get your hands dirty if use some other distro not user friendly, but with patience you'll learn that there is nothing to fear about writing some lines.

In Ubuntu I had to write a lot of lines in the terminal, just for the fun of not doing all auto.

Finally: CHOOSE WHAT EVER YOU WANT, IT'S ALL BASED ON GNU/LINUX.

stop whining you wussies

schneier was right (probably the only one who really got it)

if you're an end user or a user space developer (subgenius would call you pink), fine, use a desktop distro focused on automating everything, including wiping your ass and flushing the toilette

if you're a power user, as a system administrator, who cares more about the system overall, and less about one app or another, you gotta know your stuff inside out

that's where slackware, gentoo, arch etc. come into play

linus is no exception - if he prefers to focus on kernel development, fine :) i bet he would make a lousy admin :D

Wow I guess its finally to that point. Heres a little bit of info to consider. Think about the history of computers and how things came to be. In the beginning a computer could be as big as a city block and couldn't do much of anything compared to a modern home pc. Think about it they sent people to the moon on that technology. Then there was the technological "revolution" that brought forth the idea of having technology of computers to the home and made it easy enough for some children to use. Myself I started on a Tandy TRS 80, anyone remember those things? Well, I was ten years old and what alot to take in. I remember typing pages and pages of commands just to play Steller Lifeline and if one line was wrong time to start all over and do it all again. These cool consoles had something that was really uplifting though, the fact that cartridges were available if you could find them and afford them. A lot has changed since then and I have used just about every operating system that I could get my hands on. I have always been fascinated with computers and what makes them tick but most of all I enjoy using them. They are what you make of them, if you want a computer to help with your office needs or to game or to do technical field studies, whatever the need you can get a computer to do it. What is the purpose of using a computer for anything if it is easier and less time consuming to do it on paper. Computers are a gift to make our lives easier to organize and compete with the rest of the world yes it is true someone has to take out the time and put in the effort to create, develop, and test so that this is possible. These people are a great asset to our world and to technology itself and we all owe them a lot. Since the introduction of Linux and open source it has become possible for some great minds to go to work where as if these things were not available we would only know what we were lead to believe. I guess what it all boils down to is what is it really worth? If you have the time and knowledge to type commands and program things yourself good for you have my respect and so should everyone else but what are we really trying to do here? The war against Microsoft is over Linux is worldwide and now there should be a new focus, keeping it going. If a three year old cant use it you have already taken the first step back into the past. My children started using computers in the classroom at the age of five which means they needed to get familiar at the age of four. In retrospect this is almost mind-blowing. We have new standards and ease of operation is going to be key in the survival of any OS. I now own and operate a recording studio that is 80% computer based, i am stuck with using a windows based system and it is scary because that is alot of backing up files only because of past stability issues. There is no room for crashes here, sometime things are captured in that moment and could never be again, if its lost it is lost for good. I use Linux on everything else that I can. If Conexant would create better drivers I would use Ubuntu primarily on this system(my second hard drive is Ubuntu).I have read alot of peoples input and it all seems a little senseless its not about what works best for you it is about what works best for the masses, this is what is going to determine the fate of an operating system. I mean really who is going to back something that is only useful to hand-full of people?

I make my living troubleshooting and managing an ERP system for a manufacturer, before that I worked as a industrial engineer with IT duties on the side. I've been a go-to guy for many people (and most companies I've worked for) over the years when it comes to troubleshooting and fixing computer software and hardware problems.
With that said, I did a bit of percentage number crunching of all the employees where I work (most of the technically orientated) regarding what they wanted from a computer system. Approx. 89% of them just wanted it to work like an appliance and could care less about doing administrative duties or even being bothered by having to configure anything manually (setting their display resolution was about as far as they wanted to go). These people use computers every day, and that percentage number doesn't even include the millions of Mom's and Pop's who just want to go to Wal-Mart, buy a computer, take it home and start getting email, browse the internet, and play around with photo's or type a quick document. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the this distro is friendly, that distro is not friendly, windows sucks, etc argument when in actuality the vast majority of people just don't care that much, and just want the damn stuff to work without being bothered with it. These people have other interests and hobbies that don't include computers and probably never will include computers.
For the a huge number of average users, doing ANY Linux or for that matter Windows configuring is too much or they just don't care.
Basically what I'm saying is the argument that Slackware is "easy" applies to about .01% of the population. If you want the masses to use something, it better be no more complicated than driving their car, or they are going to just go buy or try something else that is just that easy.

Hi
funny thing is over 10 yrs ago when all you herd was a new user should use RH 4.2 because it was so user friendly. But I found slackware easier to install and work because I wanted to configure it to run the way I wanted and not down the road have things not work like it did with RH and scramble to find out why. That was always when you wanted to do something right away. Sure things working out of the box sounds good but google tells the truth about all the problem you can face with it and the problems the user has with auto updating tools. The most famous of the top of my head because i still see it in many irc channels today "out dated deps" . But I have nothing against peopel wanting that ,but the one thing I see all the time is the attitude that takes away "CHOICE" of the people that use these tools wanting to force it to be pushed to the disto's and people that don't want it. Pam as of what I here about udev soon to come will be forcing ditros that don't want it to use it .Even thou I did read that patching polkit-1 to work around it sound like a good idea. Its the fact that right now there is no choice because some one will have to do it. I fail to understand why udev will be sent out as stable until this is fixed first. Has it become a favorites linux platforms for udev now? . Personally pam is just a so called enhanced authentication tool but its looking more like since it doesn't have a choice to use the basic shadow one then its like ms and directx evil. No pam and things end up broken. I found out all this with kde4 and being told to use pam then or make a patch for polkit-1. There is a patch now but when hal is gone it will need a lot more than that and I'm disappointed in linux follow this path of on;y 1% of distros don't want it so we really don't care attitude and won't fix . Even the patch now doesn't fix everything xfce needs tweaking too to get it working etc. anyway I'm disappointed that things are going that way. From Linus's statement to Allan Cox I don't think he would be happy then that udev is going to break in some distributions with out being fixed first before released. That means that with a choice not to use pam it should still work.

whoops I mean Hal being replaced by polkit-1 not udev. Plus even with a work around for Pam, there still isn't to get rid of the other cancer stick part Consolekit. Anyway Slackware never has made any claims to be the so called "user friendly" , There are other distros that do this. But as I said Google has more than enough proof of all the complaints about the package managers not working well. But of course we seen thats the user fault. Funny thing is the claims that a user doesn't have to know anything to use these package manger, but then like the corporate world passing the blame.
The article doesn't reflect this but it does make new user that read it think that Slackware is no good. Where if it said that slackware doesn't use the package manager because most Slackers don't want one. So people can see thats the great thing about linux is there is a Platform for not 1 type of people. Slack has pkgtools and i rarely even look at it. Because I don't need it as many other don't.

I like Linus and his honesty plus his effort with the kernel gives me freedom... anyway the point I would like to make is you can realise the best of all operating systems by having more than one on the same box,so I have at the moment... Slackware,Debian,Sabayon and Mepis from these I can learn and do the things I need to do... LOL

ps I use XP as well... great system lousy mamnagement.

This verifies what I've always said is the main "problem" with Linux. If if isn't convenient to use, people will go elsewhere. It may be a consequence of so many people having grown up using GUIs, but that's the way it is. They just want the damned thing to work.

Not that I'm against Linux, because I'm not. I love it, and regularly hop between about a half-dozen distros, just because I enjoy playing with different versions. And (horrors) I also regularly use Windows XP Pro (boo, hiss).

But the one thing I absolutely refuse to do is deal with a command-line only environment. Call it lazy, dumb, or whatever, but I will not compromise by using something I have to struggle with. Programmers should realize that people like me are users, not technicians.

Another thing is, upon installation it must offer me a selection of things to do, but that does not include me having to decide what goes in each partition. If it does not automatically take care of the details, I'm off to another distro. Again, I expect the programmers to save my bacon.

Cheers.

Can't we all just get along?

Ubuntu is the easy distro of choice of posturing kiddies and idiots. Fedora is the easy distro of choice for people with some common sense. Canonical are scum.

I think I see where Linus is coming from. For the inventor to see it "mature" to a non-geeky viable alternative that works out of the box must surely be heartening. I love fiddling about with Arch - but at the end of the day I need to get other work done where the computer is the means to an end...not the end itself.

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