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Posted on July 26th, 2012 by Jonathan Bray

Help PC Pro write its Linux distro Labs


In the past couple of years, we’ve seen huge interest in the reviews we’ve published of the different versions of Ubuntu. The popular free operating system has a massive following, and rightly so. It’s a fully fledged operating system, complete with office software and a host of useful tools and utilities. And Ubuntu, which has now reached version 12.04, is now a usable, mature operating system.

But what of the rest of the Linux landscape? There’s a whole selection of other desktop distributions, or “distros” to give them their collective name, and the choice ranges from simple, lightweight distros designed to run on older hardware to more fully featured operating systems such as Linux Mint and openSUSE. How good are they? Can they challenge the usability of Ubuntu?

Crowd sourcing

To find out, we’ve decided to pitch a selection of the most popular desktop distros head-to-head in an comparative Labs, to be published in a forthcoming issue of PC Pro magazine. Normally, we’d get our heads down at this point, install all the shortlisted software on a selection of laptops and PCs, put together a feature table and proceed to put them all through their paces.

This time, though, it’s different. This is such a vast and complicated field that we felt we couldn’t fully do it justice unless we opened it up to you, our knowledgeable readers. So this will be our very first crowd-sourced Labs, written as a collaborative effort between the PC Pro writers and its readers.

How are we going to do it? Simple: we’ve set up a wiki, hosted for us by UK web host Memset, sMemset logoo you can submit your own writing, edit others’ contributions, discuss and build a review of each of the eight chosen distributions.

You’ll find the wiki by clicking here, and all you need to do to add your contribution is follow the simple signup process – you’ll need to confirm your email address in the activation email first.

We’ve put headings in place as a guide to the sorts of things we’re looking for, but the rest is up to you. If you’ve always fancied yourself as a technology journalist – here’s your chance.

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21 Responses to “ Help PC Pro write its Linux distro Labs ”

  1. Gavin Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Shouldn’t that be Linux & UNIX labs? You’ve included FreeBSD after all…

    Nice idea though!

  2. Tony Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    I think a general section would also be useful.

    I’m thinking of adding general info on what a distro is. Eg.

    What is a Linux Distribution?
    A fully featured computer operating system is a very complex beast, and is typically built up in layers; Each layer utilising the interfaces of the layer below and introducing interfaces of it’s own for higher layers to use.

    Furthermore there are typically multiple software components that fulfil the same general purposes – from package management tools to desktop environments. These components are largely a matter of personal preference but some differ in intended use-case as well.

    A Linux distribution is a pre-packaged solution that selects which software components are used to build up a complete software stack. Analogous to different car manufacturers, who pre-select the type of engine, transmission, body-design, etc. into a pre-packaged “car”.

    The choices a Linux distribution makes are not set in stone. Should you wish, you can customise the distribution in almost any way imaginable, even morph one distribution into another by changing the components.

  3. Tony Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Ps, regarding a general section.

    There’s lots of stuff that is distro agnostic, and worth including.

    - Versioned Vs. Rolling release.
    - Binary Vs. source package management.

  4. henryg Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    I don’t have the knowledge to contribute, but as a Windows user my emergency boot key has Zorin on it. Too obscure for your Wiki?

  5. David Wright Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Let the distro wars begin… :-D

    To be honest, I never felt at home with Ubuntu. I keep trying it, but always go back to SLED or openSUSE.

  6. clint Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    henryg: Zorin is actually derived from Ubuntu, which is very popular, and is based upon Debian linux. Zorin is not obscure.

  7. mr_chips Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    Mint release the OS variant Ubuntu should have been. If I have the time and inclination before you need the results for print I might contribute something towards this about Mint

  8. B Lee Says:
    July 27th, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Hmm. Distrowatch does this well.

    You seem to look at the big ones, but should look at minimals (Puppy, Austrumi, DamnSmallLinux etc. ) as well.
    And then there are the bootable CDROMS (or DVDROM, now USB) Linuces which can save a Window-ish computer and not interfere with the hard drive(sometimes).

    A few old ones were classic and the collections were fine, like Quantian.

    Best of luck.

  9. tony Says:
    July 27th, 2012 at 5:07 am

    “Can they challenge the usability of Ubuntu?” Are you serious?
    Every n00b for whom I’ve installed Ubuntu has become frustrated because updates break stuff, and most of them went back to windows or whatever other crap they were previously using.
    Every n00b for whom I installed Debian Stable is still happily using Debian Stable. Why? Because it doesn’t break. So, if stability and security mean anything to you in regard to usability (they do to me), then the answer to your question is a resounding “YES!”. All ubuntu has done is layer on a ton of crappy eye candy (and, yes, other distros have graphical user interfaces), and make a lot of (bad) decisions for users (rather than allow them to think for themselves).
    The vast majority of desktop gnu/linux systems are as usable and user-friendly as any proprietary OS these days. They just don’t all have huge marketing budgets like Canonical has.

  10. Michael Ball Says:
    July 29th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I have SolusOS running on my 6 year old PC and I’ve never been happier. Run all my of Windows based applications through WINE (including all of my games). It also runs very, very fast. I just hope that they don’t kill it by putting a graphics intensive GUI on top of it.

  11. ChrisC Says:
    July 30th, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Good luck with the article. I attempted a full migration from Win7 to Linux (Mint) earlier this year.

    It was highly educational and whilst I remain a linux user and follower, there were too many compromises for me to make to run my business from Linux (IT consultant). I now have a main Win7 system for business, and a Linux VM for personal use.

  12. ChrisW Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I’ve had similar experiences to ChrisC (#11 above). I’m a retired IT consultant who has used XP and successive versions of Linux Mint for the last 5 years or so. In this time Mint itself has become vastly more competitive (simple installation and upgrade, absence of nasty surprises) as have key applications such as LibreOffice.
    However it is let down by an almost total absence of documentation appropriate to an intelligent business user. An online forum where the cognoscenti tell lesser mortals what arcane string of characters to type after “sudo” is NOT a substitute – and before the howls of fanboy protest, I’d point out that I’ve supported various Unix flavours but that I also dealt with real paying customers.
    In summary, I think Mint and its supporting applications are competitive in purely technical terms but that, per the Mythical Man Month, it is still “software” and not yet a “software product”.
    I’ve now, with the most recent version, settled for Mint with XP available in a virtual box, rather than the other way round, which is, I guess something of a vote of confidence.

  13. pictonic Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Although Linux is much more capable than it was, and is continuously improving, I think the point of Linux is diversity, not dominance. It can compete with Windows in some areas. In my view especially desktops; I don’t like the Win7 translucent, gelatinous effect, too much like a jellyfish on my screen. That’s just my opinion and others will disagree. With Linux you have a lot of choice and I like that, so I won’t pronounce one distro better than another. Others prefer to stay in the Windows herd – and that’s OK too.

  14. drave Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I think you need a section for
    centos/scientific/oracle/etc redhat clones

  15. Grepnix Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    I’ve used Ubuntu in many previous versions but I’ve always gone back to KDE based distros as they feel more like an ‘advanced’ version of windows to me. For beginners to Linux I always find PcLinuxOs is the best start… Codecs pre-installed and stable versions of KDE.

  16. Cam Bamber Says:
    August 3rd, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I’m a long term Linux user/developer of various distros both personally and professionally; and I have to agree with tony(#9). Ubuntu is absolute rubbish compared numerous other top flight distros, such as my favourite openSUSE (with Gnome 3). Debian and Fedora also have vastly superior reputations than Ubuntu, and yet all we ever hear about in the PC media is Ubuntu, why? Because Canonical have lots of money…

  17. John Smith Says:
    August 4th, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    I have not looked at the headings in your Wiki but I reckon the key to this question is ‘Desktop’ and so the first place to start is the Window Manager.

    The distribution is all but irrelevant unless it’s missing a Desktop essential such as… your favourite lunch time card game OR essential hardware support, such as printer.

    Gnome, KDE and XFCE (to name just three) are excellent alternatives to Mac OS’s and Windows’s own built in Window Managers. These Linux alternatives have evolved to the point where they can display any kind of pretty decoration, drag and drop, add remove icons, virtual desktops… we can customise our brains out.

    For an office Desktop we need:

    - E-mail :: Evolution, Thunderbird, etc

    - Word processor, spreadsheet, presentation :: LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Abiword, etc

    - Graphics :: Gimp, Inkscape, Blender (?), etc

    - Development :: Eclipes, NetBeans, etc

    - Audio and video :: VLC, Xine, mplayer, audacious, audacity, etc

    - Web browsers :: loads!

    What about hardware then?

    1. Modern graphics chips all have Linux drivers: Intel, AMD, nVidia but are the xservers for these chips included within or available from, the distribution’s install servers?

    2. Are drivers for your new 25-quid printer available, wrapped in a format that the distribution can unwrap and install?

    Since most distributions have settled on either Red Hat’s, SuSE’s or Debian’s packaging procedures I would guess the answer is yes to both these questions.

    What about security?

    No Linux distribution will ever be infected by malware or computer viruses and if there is anyone out there who wishes to disagree with this sweeping anti-virus claim, I ask them to point to a single verifiable and documented case where a Linux computer has been contaminated by a computer virus or malware… Just one!

    In conclusion

    This pretty much covers all Linux distributions.

    Because Linux is so customisable, any ‘modern’ Linux distribution is capable of being used as a modern Desktop operating system.


    Why would do people use anything else?

  18. John carpenter Says:
    August 11th, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Linux has an strong architecture resulting in a low ammount of virusses. But virusses do even exist on linux.

    Known virusses:

    linux virus trend:

  19. Rob Schifreen Says:
    August 15th, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    So what if Linux is free? So is Windows, for 99.9% of users who buy a PC. No one except a major techie is going to ditch Windows and put Linux on their desktop, except for a bit of fun or “because they can”.

    It didn’t work for IBM with OS/2 and it’s not working for Ubuntu. It never will. Linux is a brilliant server OS but while every new computer comes with a perfectly good option, there’s just no point in ditching it for something else.

  20. Andrew Evans Says:
    August 16th, 2012 at 11:26 am

    The 99.9% of users you refer do don’t get Windows for free. I just bought a new i7 machine with no OS installed so that I could put Ubuntu 12.04 on there (perhaps against the grain I actually like Unity). Had I opted for Windows I could have had the manufacturer put an OEM copy on there for £80 or done so myself, but the point is that in my case the cost of Windows was transparent. For many people buying a new PC they don’t have a choice. Windows or no PC. And you can be damn sure that the manufacturer is including the cost of the OS within the overall price of the PC. To say that Windows is free for anyone (except those unscrupulous few out there) is simply not true.

    I’m new-ish to Linux (about 3 years in) and don’t do any dev but I do use Ubuntu and its variants on both home and work PCs. I’m a web developer by trade, and aside from testing how sites display on a Windows machine there is nothing I want for. And that caveat is catered for by VirtualBox.

    Say what you like about Canonical but they have done wonders for Linux and its push forward into the mainstream. For one, I wonder if we would be having this discussion if they hadn’t… my guess is not. Also, for Ubuntu in particluar their online documentation, community discussion and help for noobs is second to none, from what I can see.

    One thing that does concern me, however, is the so-called distro wars. What’s wrong with personal choice? That’s surely the best thing about the Linux dev community and user-base. If someone wants to fork a piece of open-source software and put it out there for people to use, great. That’s what open-source is all about. Jumping down the necks of people who use something you personally don’t like isn’t helpful, it’s destructive, and it will put people off using any Linux distro over Windows.

  21. two00lbwaster Says:
    August 22nd, 2012 at 10:13 am


    Will we be seeing a review of the Steam on Linux client in PC Pro when it’s launched?

    This, I think, will announce Linux as a real alternative for a lot of people as more games are released as part of SteamPlay (buy the game and play on any platform.)


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