It’s 2022, so of course it’s The Year of the Linux Desktop™. I mean, we’ve been living in that year (or on its precipice for what feels like decades. Well, perhaps you have. I tried it back when I was part of Novell’s Linux Business Office, and again as COO of Canonical, but it never really stuck for me. For many others, however, they’ve been Linux on their personal computer for years, though not always the same one.
Which is why developer Scott Williams’ question struck me as so interesting: “Former distro hoppers, what made you stop hopping and settle into one, and which one?”
For people who really love running Linux on their personal machines, switching between Ubuntu and Arch and Fedora and [insert name of your favorite distribution here] is part of the allure, always on the hunt for a better way to really own the experience. So why do some Linux lovers, prone to trying out new distributions, eventually settle down into a long-term relationship?
You had me at “the Wi-Fi works”
For some, like Islam Abdallah, they’d “hop” forever but for the cost associated with updating settings and data when moving to a new distribution. Of course, a virtual machine can make it somewhat trivial to stick with the Linux you love while flirting with another that might prove better, but many want a permanent place to call home with Linux.
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For Red Hat’s Rich Bowen, he came to settle on Fedora because it “just made sense to me so I quit hunting.” That “making sense” is partly about Fedora, and partly about Bowen (as well as other respondents to Williams’ tweet). That is, at a certain point, users stop wanting to “solv[e] puzzles every time I wanted to do something.” Granted, most of the early knob-turning (and Wi-Fi or audio only sporadically working, in my experience) in Linux desktop OSes is a thing of the past but, as Bowen wrote, “In the 90s everything was a Rube Goldberg puzzle every time.”
In fact, whereas early Linux distributions (like Ubuntu) may have set themselves apart by being more user-friendly, Linux distributions in the past few years have mostly taken care of all that. So much so, in fact, that Gio Van Bonner is likely correct to state, “[T]here is little difference in experience when … casually using distributions. I find the most differentiating factor to be what DE [desktop environment]/WM [windows manager] you use. There is nothing you can do on Arch and can’t do on Fedora.”
And yet … Fedora. This is far from scientific, and perhaps Williams’ followers tend to skew Fedora for whatever reason, but several people called out Fedora as the distribution that got them to stop shopping around. As one commentator stressed, “I was blown away by how modern, easy to use and easy to maintain everything is [in Fedora]. All of my steam games work perfectly and in some cases run faster than Windows.”
Corporate influence on community Linux
Not everyone is happy with Fedora, or the company (Red Hat) behind it. For example, Amotan founder Chris Goss indicated he avoids some Linux distributions because of their supply-chain dependencies: “Choice/freedom is now an illusion in Linux. All distros have a hard dependency on in house [Red Hat] core userland components. Easier to just use Fedora/RHEL now and be done with it. I use BSD whenever possible to avoid dependence on giant American corporations.”
He’s speaking of components like systemd, which most distros incorporate (even though some go through awkward gymnastics to pretend they don’t depend on it). And yet those same tools arguably solve real issues in a multi-core world. Still, in a community that values independence and freedom so highly, it can rankle to feel beholden to a company, even when that company (Red Hat, in this case) has done so much good for free and open source software.
Which brings up a perhaps uncomfortable point. It feels like some of the most broadly used Linux distributions are also those with a company behind them. No, this isn’t a requirement (e.g., Matthew de Detrich uses community-developed Arch/Manjaro because “AUR is a godsend in regards to getting up to date packages/libraries (in combination with rolling release model) due to frictionless/ease of community being able to create/maintain AUR packages”), but it is helpful to have a stable base of developers contributing to a project. Trace back the history of GNOME, for example, and it has always been the case that the bulk of contributors have been paid to do so.
That’s not a bug. It’s a feature.
For some, like Christian Rebischke (who settled on Arch), community is the reason they embrace a distro. But for others, pragmatism seems to trump. For these, having a significant corporate backer, whether they acknowledge this factor or not, helps to make Linux “just work,” and that’s really what they want from their desktop OS.
Disclosure: I work for MongoDB but the views expressed herein are mine.
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