A brave new world

The hard drive (HDD) in my desktop is dying by inches. We’ve had good times together. But like all good things, they must come to an end. There’s no telling how much longer the smaller drive will last. It’s probably over a decade old at this point. The large drive has housed Windows 10, while the smaller drive is for my Linux testing.

I find myself in an exciting position, however. Instead of one mega-sized HDD and one much smaller, much older laptop HHD, I’m going with two, smaller solid state drives (SSD).

Not only should I see a sizeable boost in speed, I can finally start using Linux as a more primary OS. I can try installing some of my favorite programs (read: games) in Linux first!

The question is, which distribution do I run? (I’m interested in running the same on my laptop and desktop, btw)

Ubuntu MATE has a certain appeal. The variety of themes means I can spice things up if I get bored. I liked Unity and Pantheon desktops, and my first computer (and smart phone!) was an Apple, so the Cupertino theme has some attraction. I also appreciate that updates focus more on stability.

Perhaps Linux Mint? The desktop can run Cinnamon without any problem, and the laptop can run Mate (substitute out the mint menu for brisk…) or Xfce. Again, there’s that level of stability and Mint is one of the prettiest distros I’ve ever used.

Manjaro was good to me on my laptop. The software repository is great, and it runs smoothly. There’s a little thrill at running on the bleeding edge and updates haven’t tanked my system yet. There’s also something nice about not having to reinstall the system when there’s a big update/new long term support (LTS) release. Vivaldi has been a little difficult to get all of the extras I want out of the AUR though, and I’ve had some installation issues with it.

Solus ran a little heavy on my laptop. I played with Fedora a little bit on a virtual machine

I’m not exactly a newbie, but I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’m not quite ready for something along the lines of Arch or Gentoo. But at least I have it somewhat narrowed down.

15 thoughts on “A brave new world”

    1. Thanks for the suggestion.

      I’ve tried KDE a few times with different distros, but it’s not my favorite interface. I opted for Manajaro’s Xfce edition. I had some issues with the Ubiquity installer but Calamares did what I need it to with minimal fuss.

    2. SDDs are sexy, and Linux Mint is just darned cute.
      SDDs have less friction, and, by the rule of thumb that dictates the less moveable parts a mechanism has, the longer it lasts, they win.
      Linux Mint IS cute.
      It looks cute, operates smoothly, has a nice, clean, user-friendly interface that makes everything else clunky.
      I wish I had the know-how to convert my PC.
      I want Windows 7, not 10. I also definitely want Mint again.

      1. If you’ve got some money available, I was able to get my SSDs for about $50 each on newegg.com. They were easy to install (not counting lining up those tiny screws to secure them to the case!). I usually opt to burn the DVD of whatever Linux distro I’m going to install, but a sizeable USB drive will do. I know there are a lot of resources out there for people interested.

        Another option is to get your hands on a used laptop and making that your Linux machine.

        Thank you for responding! I love knowing people read what I’ve written and thought enough to leave a comment.

  1. Interesting article. I love Linux Mint, because they focus on stability and ease of use – and of course the desktop environments all use the traditional desktop metaphor that has worked brilliantly for at least a quarter of a century (and longer, if you remember the likes of the 1.x/2.x/3.x series of MS, although the interface was subtly different). I keep trying to use Ubiquity and Gnome 3.x , but end up hating them with a passion. They make it so slow and difficult to do the most simple of tasks. Another thing I like about Mint is that everything just works straight out of the box. All manner of hardware, opening proprietary media files, the lot. For “noobs” coming from the Micrapplesoft-world in particular, it’s a nice gentle introduction that won’t scare them off. For many of these reasons I’ve also not considered KDE a viable desktop since the demise of 3.x; however the Trinity desktop looks promising, as it’s to KDE3 what MATE is to Gnome2.

    If you are seriously considering Mate on a Debian-based distribution, you could also consider Trisquel, as it’s properly free, not just free-of-charge. It doesn’t contain a single line of non-libre code, and not a single blob of proprietary firmware. It’s very light and looks quite pretty (and can be made to look prettier). I have it on my 2008 netbook with 1GB RAM, 32-bit Atom processor, and “Designed for XP” sticker, and it runs comfortably. The downside is you might have issues regarding some hardware – the most likely culprits being graphics acceleration, WiFi and bluetooth chips. This might be a show-stopper in terms of your gaming needs.

    I note you remark that Gentoo is beyond your abilities. Trust me, it isn’t. If you follow the many guides step-by-step on the Gentoo web site, installation is a breeze. Very hands-on, but straightforward, even for somebody who’s not that technically minded. I used to use it for performance reasons with XFCE on aforementioned netbook; however I had to ditch it because compiling new packages took longer than the period of time between updates being released, so I found it was just sitting all day and night updating itself, rather than being used. On decent hardware, it would be brilliant though.

    My current recommendation though, is not Ubuntu, Mint or Trisquel. It’s Debian itself. These three distributions are all based on Debian. Why not just go back to the root of it all, and have Cinnamon/Mate/XFCE on Debian itself, rather than a derivative? I have just installed Debian 9 Stretch, which is the current stable release, using the minimalist “netinst” disk on an ageing work laptop. I am using XFCE as the desktop, and installation was painless and straightforward. The installer only downloaded and installed the packages/environment I selected. Everything works, it’s lightning-fast, and it’s got almost nothing pre-installed that I don’t want. It consumes about 250-300MB RAM at idle, and occupies a couple of GB of disk space. Everything I need is available in the repositories, so I expect those figures to increase slightly – but not much. That leaves all your computer’s remaining capacity for gaming performance, if that’s your thing.

    As a side-note, one trick I’ve done is to change all the repositories to point from “stretch” to “stable”, meaning that a simple system upgrade with apt or apt-get will always pull in all the packages for the release deemed to be “stable”. Therefore, when the next version of Debian becomes the current release, the laptop will automatically be upgraded to that release as if it were an ordinary package update. I hope this ends up being a happy medium somewhere between having distinct releases and the rolling-release model of the likes of Parabola/Arch/Gentoo. A kind of “install and forget” type approach. Now to get on with some work…

    1. Your response is greatly appreciated! I think your reply might be longer than my original post.

      I have tried setting up Debian in virtual machines before, and I spent some time getting familiar with it, but in the end it was more work to make it look the way I wanted than just using a derivative.

      Part of my thought process (that I didn’t really state, much to my chagrin!) is to find a distribution that I can install with little adjusting after install. I’m really looking for something that I can recommend to others who aren’t as computer savvy move from Windows or Mac OS. Also, I usually don’t do a lot of customization to my systems. I may change the wallpaper, but I don’t normally make a lot of tweaks. I’m an enthusiastic and curious user, but my needs are pretty minimal. Make the browser run, play the media files, run the games, create the documents. Seeing if I can run Linux is more of a personal challenge than anything.

      Mint is, without a doubt, one of THE best looking distributions I’ve ever used. Consistently. I’ve always liked the way it looks. However, I was having trouble with installing Ubuntu-based distributions on my desktop. The Ubiquity installer (which Mint uses, if I’m not mistaken), would only try to overwrite or install Linux along side my Windows drive. Since I wanted to keep Windows, this wasn’t ideal.

      I’m also very self-taught. I don’t understand all of the nuances of setting up my own partitions. I’d have to do that to my secondary drive I set aside for Linux, and I didn’t want to. Manjaro’s Calamares installer saw both of my SSDs, so I selected the non-Windows disc and off I went, with the default settings. Easy peasy.

      There is a certain attraction to using Debian though, and I’ll give it another look. I’ve wanted to learn to use it, and the apt terminal commands are a lot easier for me to understand what I’m doing. I just wish their websites were easier to navigate when I go looking for their install files…

      In the end, I opted to go back to Manjaro’s Xfce edition. It’s relatively attractive (I’m not a huge fan of flat icons, but I haven’t found a set to replace the default yet), and I’ve gotten very familiar with Xfce over the years of trying distributions. It’s light enough to run well on my old laptop and it runs fast on my desktop.

      This is an experiment for me, and I may end up switching out distros 10 times before I settle on one. I definitely appreciate hearing your thoughts though, and I thank you for your suggestions! I enjoy talking shop and seeing what people recommend. I’ll take a look at Trisquel, and throw Debian on a virtual machine and see what I can do.

      Thank you!

      1. Haha, sorry, yes I am often a bit guilty of writing complete essays once I get going…!

        Linux Mint remains possibly my favourite distribution for the very reasons you state. It looks really pretty, requires minimal configuration once installed, and is really easy and trouble-free to use, especially if you want to just install-and-go with minimal fuss. I’m very new to Debian, but I was impressed, despite the install being EXTREMELY time-consuming! It was really easy, but still a traditional time-consuming install process, like installing Windows or Fedora Core 1 were back in the day. The real advantage of Ubuntu/Mint/Trisquel is that the installer essentially just dumps the live image onto your hard disk.

        Regarding partitions – it depends what you want, but for simplicity I always just have one primary partition for / (i.e. everything), and one partition for a swap. That’s it. Depending on what you like to do, you might want to make a separate 256MB or so /boot partition, or a separate /home so you can distro-hop and keep your files in place, but it really needn’t be as complicated as people (and the installers) often make it. Don’t forget that if you use EFI, your “BIOS” or whatever it’s now called, is expecting a special EFI boot partition – but most GNU/Linux installers recognise this anyway.

        1. Trust me, I know wordy! I usually just start writing with no real thought to where I’m going and I end up stopping somewhere around page three…

          I’m still considering Mint as a possibility. Now that I’ve got something installed on the secondary SSD, it might be easier. When I had a fresh drive, the Ubiquity installers were saying I need to setup a boot partition and I was at a loss to get started, so I went to the third choice I thought might work. I’ve still got Solus as another possibility, since it seems like a safer rolling release than Manjaro.

          I got a little spoiled running Ubuntu MATE with all of the different themes available. Mac, Pantheon, Gnome 2… all of those options are built in. I did find UM to be a little less stable than Xfce. MATE is the only DE that’s light enough to run on my laptop of the three currently available in Solus. I’ve been reluctant to put it on my laptop since it’s not as easy to make it look the way I want.

          Mint’s version of MATE is really nice and I noticed I can install Brisk over the Mint menu. I just wish it was as easily resizable as the Whisker menu.

          The biggest issue so far is getting some of the video games I usually play up and running on Linux. Vermin Tide 2 and Killing Floor 2 (I seem to have a thing for sequels) aren’t running once I install them in Steam using the latest Proton. I figure it’s either me missing some dependencies or Proton needs to catch up.

          As far as setting up partitions, it’s not just size but which file system to use. There are about 10 to choose from, and I don’t know the benefits of ex4 vs btrf vs zfs or why I’d pick one over another. I’m deep enough in the weeds to know the terminology, just not far in enough to know what it all means.

          1. I haven’t tried Mint’s Debian edition, but I do like the idea behind it, so I intend to try it soon. The Mint team don’t intend it to be their main distro. It’s more of an experiment to see if Mint would be viable if Ubuntu ceased to exist (or went in a direction that was incompatible with Mint’s philosophy). As a result, it’s not got the same user-base or community support that regular Mint has. What I like about it, is that it’s a rolling-release model. I don’t quite know how they do it, given that Debian isn’t a rolling-release, but I suspect they probably do a slightly more sophisticated version of what I do with my apt sources (point to “stable” rather than “stretch”), – and then of course always put the latest cinnamon/mintutils on top of it.

            Regarding filesystems, I tend to stick with the “ext” family of filesystems, because they’re tried, tested, stable, relatively-quick, and the most commonly used on the desktop platform. Others like JFS, BTRFS, ZFS et al, were developed by big corporations to address their own specific needs, none of which you would realise on a desktop system. In the past I tried ReiserFS a couple of times, but there wasn’t enough of a performance improvement to justify using it over Ext2/3. Plus, Hans Reiser was later convicted of murder and Namesys ceased operations, leading me to suspect that the filesystem would probably gradually fade into obscurity. As far as I’m aware, Reiser4 (last version) still isn’t yet officially part of the Linux kernel sources. To me, choosing between filesystems is a bit pointless for the desktop user, as a desktop user will never use the special features or performance of any non-default filesystem. As a result, I’d recommend ext4, (or ext3 if you want the disk to be readable from a particularly old system) – otherwise whatever your distro’s default is. With ext3 or ext4 you have the benefit of stability, support, and lots of other users. Ext2 is OK for floppy disks or USB sticks, as it doesn’t have journalling, but these are better formatted as msdos/vfat or exfat for compatibility with that PC operating system which shall not be named.

          2. That was pretty much my understanding about Mint DE. It looks like a nice combination of rolling (ever so slowly) and stable. I may throw it on a virtual machine and give it a spin too.

            I’ve been sticking mostly with ext4 and that seemed to be the default for most distros I tried. The bad thing about trying to teach myself some of this and not having a strong computer science background is that sometimes I find explanations that go right over my head.

            I really appreciate you responding, I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit!

  2. *I’m Korean, and this article is translated into a translator, so it can be a little strange.

    I hope the hard disk (HDD) that we’ve been spending time with will leave comfortably.
    I hope you enjoy a great computer life with your new solid state drive (SSD).

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