I’ve been using some form of Linux since somewhere during the last half of 1998.  In that time, I’ve used quite a few of the various distributions that are out there.

Slackware was the first, since it was the easiest (and cheapest) for us to get via my friend’s ISDN line, since he had to pay per-minute charges (this was in Germany).  Next up was Red Hat 5.2.  I got the CDs from their booth at CeBIT ‘99, apparently on Thursday, March 18 (and no, that’s not me).  Incidentally, this was their first release containing GNOME, before it was integrated into the distribution as their main window manager; it was the talk of the booth, and it’s also why I definitively know how to pronounce GNOME.  After that came SuSE Linux 6.1 (also procured during the first half of ‘99), a 5-CD monster of a distro (for the time) that included a 440-page user manual–I purchased that for something like 60 DM at the time.  Once I got back to the States I think I looked at Mandrake Linux (I’m guessing somewhere around version 7.x).  I really like it because it was dead-simple to configure–it was like the Ubuntu of today, trying to make it easy and accessible for newbies to use Linux.

Fast forward to today.  In the intervening years I’ve had the “pleasure” of using all of the following distros:  Fedora, Debian, Mandrake/Mandriva, Gentoo, Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS, openSUSE, KNOPPIX, and possibly others; I’ve also worked with many of the various *BSDs (usage level anything from “installed it once” to “daily driver”), [Open] Solaris (ugh), Nexenta (odd variant of OpenSolaris), and a few other even more random or esoteric UNIX/UNIX-like systems.

As my pastor would say, I say all that to say this:  I feel like I know my way around this “Linux” thing–not because I’ve looked at a ton of distributions, but because I’ve used them.  I’m certainly no Linux Jedi, and I definitely know where my weaknesses are when it comes to certain areas of Linux administration, but as a desktop OS, I can make it “go” fairly well.

So why is it so hard for me to find a decent distribution of Linux anymore?

I threw a status update out on Facebook last night noting my frustration in the matter:

“Can someone suggest a Linux distro that doesn’t suck? Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu (any flavor, or anything built on it), and Gentoo need not apply.”

Apparently my “friends” had the audacity to ask me why I didn’t like any of the distros I mentioned, which meant I had to actually figure that out in order to answer them.  :-)  It has been a good exercise, and I’m glad they questioned me about it, because it made me sit down and write a list of what I like and don’t like about some of the distributions I’ve tried lately.  At some point I may even sit down and write a list of things I *do *want out of a distribution, and see if I can find one to match what I want.

(Please note that this list does not cover anything related to the specific desktop manager that the distribution uses by default.  I have my own gripe list about KDE vs. GNOME, etc.  Also, these are only those things I could think of today between doing real work.  I can probably add more to this list–and will try to–later on, when my mind is less befuddled by work.)



  • yum is a pretty decent pkg mgr
  • distro seems to have mostly-sane defaults


  • yum is not apt (but then, I haven’t had to do any of those “totally-crazy-things-you-can-only-do-with-apt” things, so this not really a negative)
  • /etc/sysconfig for configs? What was wrong with just /etc?



  • none yet


  • package management interfaces aren’t consistent between the GUI and the command-line tools
  • system configuration is…odd, to say the least.  On-par with Red Hat’s /etc/sysconfig weirdness
  • disables consoles when X is running (seriously…wtf?)
  • only distro to barf on my ~/.xsession, which isn’t that exotic



  • apt pkg mgr is great


  • Canonical.

  • too many metapackages with too many depencies for stuff I don’t want.  Last time I tried to remove whatever CD-burning GUI utility they helpfully installed for me, it wanted me to uninstall the entire GNOME desktop metapackage. Not helpful.

  • Using /etc/alternatives to handle multiple utility providers.  This is just absurd:

    root@www:~# which mail
    root@www:~# file /usr/bin/mail
    /usr/bin/mail: symbolic link to `/etc/alternatives/mail'
    root@www:~# file /etc/alternatives/mail
    /etc/alternatives/mail: symbolic link to `/usr/bin/mail.mailutils'

    I won’t even go into how long it took me to figure out which package I needed to install to even get the mail program, but just a word of advice: don’t run apt-file search mail unless you have some time on your hands. Other searches are equally useless, like apt-file search mail | grep "mail$", since (as seen above) /usr/bin/mail is actually a symlink.



  • emerge pkg mgr is decent
  • I like having such fine-grained control over everything in the system.  By this I do not mean that I like tweaking the ever-living tar out of MAKEOPTS, but that I like that there is so much choice in what I can install.


  • emerge is not apt, and at times can be just down-right scary
  • source-based–not necessarily a bad thing, until you consider that…
  • compiling updates for three days is not useful

That’s all I have for now.  If I think of anything else, I’ll add it here.

EDIT (1-Apr-2011): Added /etc/alternatives gripe to Ubuntu disadvantages. This also goes for Debian.