Distro Hopping

So after about three years of using Manjaro on both of my home computers —a new(ish) PC with a low-end processor and a very old laptop— I got a little tired and went on a bit of a distro-hopping spree.

The laptop was easy because with it being a much older computer, I was limited to the “lightweight” distros. I tried Linux-Lite. Didn't like it. Then I installed Lubuntu and stuck with it, the only change I did was that I changed the default desktop for Mate, which I highly recommend.

For the PC, first I wanted to give Ubuntu another chance. I had tried it some time ago, didn't stick. I've always been more biased towards Open Source, without really being a zealot. Well this time I thought “Why complicate things? The truth is you're tired of all the tinkering, you want an OS that actually just works.” So I tried it. Nothing wrong with it, it works, it looks pretty, it has everything I need and more. But it has no soul. Or maybe its just the Open Source thing.

At some point around here I also wanted to give Windows a shot. I stopped using Windows almost entirely at the same time I started using Manjaro. There was some kind of problem with the updates in my installation that I just couldn't get fixed and every time I booted into Windows the computer would take about 15 minutes trying to update, and then cancel and take another 15 - 20 minutes more “undoing the changes”. So I went ahead and reinstalled Windows 10 on the same partition, re-entered the key and everything, and used it for about two days, everything works. Even the thing with the updates seems to be resolved now, as far I can tell. And for a while I was thinking I could get used to it. But no, for good or for worse, I am a Linux convert now. And the Open Source thing. And the spyware. And the bloat. So much bloat. Nope, Windows is not for me.

Then I decided to change Ubuntu for Debian, since it's more open source, more flexible, customizable. I read somewhere that Debian was to Ubuntu something like what Arch is to Manjaro. Trust me, no, it is NOTHING like Arch. More on Arch in a moment. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with Debian, except a couple of quirks that do not make a lot of sense to me, like by default your user isn't allowed to use 'sudo', I had to find out how to fix that, and the dock for the Gnome Desktop is a separate extension.

I could have stayed there maybe a little longer but by now I had the Linux Rabbit Hole bug, and wanted see how far down I could get.

So why not? I'll try Arch… again. Maybe this time after using Manjaro for a few years I'll be able to take it on. I should say, even though I had been using Manjaro (an Arch-based distro), I hadn't really dug very deep in it, other than learning how to use 'pacman' as a very basic user of the terminal, and the few things you learn here and there just for using Linux. I had tried Arch a while ago, got it “installed” with a GUI and all and tried my hand at using a tiling window manager instead of a regular desktop. But then didn't get much further.

This time I did push it further, I even started using it for an almost regular workflow for a about a week more after the initial setup process. But there is just sooo much to fix —“fix” is maybe not the right word, I should say to configure and set up. My problem with it is that there is so much I don't know that I don't know… you know?

I got it again to the point where it's mostly usable with a tiling window manager, learned how to use it, configured it (mostly) to my linking, and installed all of my normal software. But there are many tiny details that just don't work quite as well as I would like, even if I can find ways to work around them, but I have no idea where to begin to solve the problem. So I go and read a bunch and ok, I find some advice that looks worth a try so I go and install some package but it turns out I don't have this other package that they didn't mention so I have to install and configure that first, and once I do that I can proceed with the first one, install it, configure, but oh, the configuration file isn't there, need to create it, and now for some unexplained reason the system just won't read it, and now I'm stuck again. Or if I'm lucky I managed to fix a little thing but now it's broken in some new way or it just made me realize a whole new set of things to fix or some other problem underneath.

Most of all I love the idea of being able to say that my computer works exactly the way I intend it to, no more, no less. Also it's a whole lot of fun, it's fascinating, it's an invaluable learning experience and it really tickles my problem-solver brain like nothing else. I think every amateur Linux user should try it, maybe even periodically, like once a year; at least for any user who is interested in learning a bit more about how their computer works, which kind of describes most Linux users by default, am I right?

But that said, it does get tiresome after a while, at least if you are like me. I don't exactly have a technical background, I have been an amateur developer for about 6 years but in a somewhat distracted way, half the time I don't really know what I'm doing, so I learn things, but I also forget a lot, I reason but most of the time things don't quite work the way that seems logical to me (but that's completely fine). Maybe I'm not smart enough. Or maybe I just don't have enough spare time.

One thing that did stick this time around is that I got a liking for twm's now. So after browsing a bit more I heard about Pop!_Os. I had heard about it before, of course, but never tried it. Its main selling point seems to be how it's great for gamers, having all the Nvidia drivers and what not, that doesn't interest me, I'm not really a gamer, I don't have the equipment or the spare time for that —I am, at times, a big enthusiast for some games of the “Indie” genre, but those don't usually demand a lot of graphics.) What caught my interest was the Cosmic Desktop, and how it manages to balance between a tiling window manager and a traditional (Gnome) desktop.

It's only been a couple days now since I installed it, but I have to say, I'm liking it. The Cosmic Desktop really manages to take the best of both worlds. Everything seems to work.

One minor kink I've found and one not so minor: 1) for some reason the graphics get a little glitchy with Brave browser; and 2) after installing there was no Grub menu, instead it booted straight into Pop!_Os. After digging around I found that 'os-prober' wasn't installed by default, weird, and then even after installing it, configuring the 'grub.conf' file and updating, it didn't find the Arch partition immediately, only the Windows one, I had to mount it first, now it's there but I can't run Arch because the vimlinuz file is missing or something (it might not be entirely Pop!_Os's fault, but I don't know.)

So there's a chance this will be my home for now, for the near foreseeable future, until the distro-hopping bug strikes again. (I've never tried Fedora, other than on a VM once, for like an hour or so, I wonder…)

© Photo by me.