Disclaimer: the opinions and experiences listed on the site are my personal. In some cases, my understanding could be incorrect. Please point out if any corrections are required so that I can consider editing.
After spending a rather long time using Ubuntu (about 5 years), I started looking out for another Linux alternative not because I did not like Ubuntu but because I wanted to check out if there is an other Linux OS that gives Ubuntu a tough competition. This is when I started searching for a perfect Linux alternative and stumbled upon a couple of websites that lists all the distributions of Linux – http://distrowatch.com/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Linux_distributions. I realized at once that there are about 250+ distributions of Linux.
By perfect I mean, the OS should be
- Easy to install and upgrade
- Beautiful, attractive friendly User Interface
- Robust and stable
- Apps and packages are up to date
My usage is usually limited to the following:
- Browse internet for information and writing blogs such as this one, visit google+ Linux communities
- Transfer photos / videos from my phone / digital camera for viewing
- Playing movies / videos (different extensions) from my external hard drive
- Play and transfer music to my phone
- View pdf files, MS word, MS excel, MS power point files on Libreoffice. Sometimes edit MS word, MS excel, MS power point files on MS office (installed using Wine)
- Read and write emails through a mail client rather than browser
- In future, I am thinking of contributing to the Linux community with my programming skills (Currently, I am a novice programmer and yet to start any contribution)
I wanted to try out some variants of Ubuntu at first as I know Ubuntu met most of my above listed conditions. Hence I tried out Kubuntu first.
First wise thing to do before permanently installing any Linux OS on hard disk is to install LIVE OS on a DVD or USB stick.
I prefer booting through USB stick as DVD is a write-once and read-many media and have to burn new DVD every time I want to try out a new distro.
Usually, the instructions for downloading the ISO image and writing to a USB stick are provided in the corresponding OS website. Depending on the distro and the packages (apps) that ship along with the distro, the ISO image size is between 500 MB to 4.6 GB.
In simple terms, here is what I do:
- Download the ISO image using a torrent app so that, if the internet connection fails in between, it can continue to download from where it stopped
On a lighter note, the service that ISPs provide in India is so bad that the connection frequently drops and is extremely slow most of the times. Sometimes, we are promised speeds of 5 MBPS but we usually end up getting 5 KBPS. Hence I am forced to have a backup connection from another service provider
- Ensure the ISO image is completely downloaded and then verify the integrity of ISO image using methodology such as md5 checksum
- Write the image to the usb stick using a software with UI such as UNetBootIn, Startup Disc Creator and sometimes through the terminal using the dd command
- Change the boot sequence to have system boot from USB drive first
- Try the Live OS from USB stick for some days
Kubuntu is a derivative of Ubuntu that offers advanced graphical desktop called K Desktop Environment (KDE for short) instead of Ubuntu’s Unity DE. The current version of KDE is plasma 5. It has a very rich desktop and multiple apps.
Installation on hard disk:
After taking a back up of important files on my system to an external hard drive, I installed Kubuntu 15.10 (the latest version available at this point of time). It took about an hour and 15 minutes time to install Kubuntu on system. The installation was very smooth.
The GUI installer has identified my existing Ubuntu 14.04 OS already installed and provide me option of installing Kubuntu alongside the existing OS by creating separate partitions.
You need to have minimum of 8 GB Hard disk space and a connection to internet to download the latest packages (if any changes from what is already written to the USB). My laptop has 120 GB hard disk space.
You can also install third party software and opt to download updates while the installation is happening. In my case, I did not opt for these.
There is certain information that you need to fill up like choosing the timezone, keyboard layout, user information (login credentials – admin privileges),
What I liked: When I restarted (removing my LIVE USB drive), I was presented with a beautiful Login screen and a bright and polished desktop after successful login. I was easily able to connect to my secured WiFi internet connection.
Default browser was Mozilla Firefox. File explorer is Dolphin.
Default mail is KMail where, I found it little difficult to configure my Gmail and Yahoo accounts initially. I did a little bit of research on internet and successfully connected to my mail accounts. KMail app Kool (cool) is easy to use.
Start up took about 1 minute and 45 secs on my 8 years old Dell Inspiron 6400 laptop (2 GB RAM, Intel T2080 1.@ 1.73 GHz x 2). Shutdown was very quick – about 10 secs
What I changed quickly:
Installed additional Chrome browser as some of my favorite websites did not work well on Firefox browser
Did not like Muon package manager as it did not show the progress of any updates. Hence, installed Synaptic Package Manager additionally.
Disabled KWallet Manager (which kept on popping every time, I used passwords to login to website, connect to WiFi, email). But then, this presented me with some new problem (unable to login to mail client) and I had to enable the KDE Wallet Manager (KWallet)
Elementary OS (https://elementary.io/)
Elementary is a fast and replacement for Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s OS X operating systems. It is a Linux distro based on Ubuntu. The current version of the OS is called Freya which has extremely beautiful aesthetic looks. The OS tries to reduce the need for depending on the Terminal
Installation on hard disk:
I downloaded the ISO image and prepared a live USB sticks and followed usual steps of backing my important files before installation on hard disk. The installation process is much similar to Kubuntu described above and it happened smoothly too (much quicker this time – about 45 minutes). Hence there is separate partitions for Elementary OS.
What I liked: When I restarted, I was presented with a Login screen with time, nice back ground image and an excellent desktop after successful login. I was again easily connected to my secured WiFi internet connection.
Default browser was Midori. It is cool.
Default mail is Geary which, I found easy to configure my accounts initially.
I was able to connect to my iPhone 5 and download all the pics and videos quickly.
Start up took about 1 minute and 30 secs. Shutdown was very quick – less than 8 secs
What I changed quickly:
Installed additional Mozilla Firefox as well as Chrome browser as some of the websites advised to install additional browser as Midori is supposed to be very simple browser with some limitations
I installed Tweaks, Numix icon circle themes and desktop backgrounds
I was looking (searching) for most stable Linux distro which I stumbled upon OpenSUSE.
OpenSUSE is a widely used Linux distro. The current stable version is 13.2. OpenSUSE community also offers a rolling release of the OS called Tumbleweed which is continuously updated with tested, stable packages. However the Tumbleweed release is for experienced Linux users. (Power Users, Software Developers as mentioned in their website). There is also a warning on their website that says that there could be problems with graphics drivers and that there is no guarantee they will work alyaws since the packages get constantly upgraded. Users who do not know how to compile kernel modules are advised NOT to use Tumbleweed.
Installation on hard disk:
This time, I already had Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Elementary OS on multiple partitions on my laptop. I did not want to create multiple partitions.
Hence, I searched for tools to uninstall a Linux OS and found Ubuntu OS-uninstaller. It is a graphical tool to perform quick uninstall of any operating system (Windows, MacOS, Ubuntu, any other Linux distributions). The tool needs to be run from LIVE USB stick which presented me with the option of uninstalling Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Elementary OS.
I ended up uninstalling Ubuntu 14.04 from my laptop without issues. However, the partition was left with Lost+Found folders which can be used for recovery in future
What I liked:
UI is very good. It seems stable. I have both Firefox and Chrome installed here as well.
Challenges I faced:
One lesson I learned with OpenSUSE is that what we see in the LIVE USB may not exactly be the same once installed on the hard drive. OpenSUSE uses a package manager called YaST2 which will connect to the repositories on the internet and download any updates or new software or third party apps. This did not happen as intended.
Solution was found on the URL after lot of searching: https://forums.opensuse.org/showthread.php/502176-YaST-is-unable-to-connect-to-repository-server-openSUSE-13-2
edit the /etc/sysctl.conf file with root and add these following lines: net.ipv6.conf.all.disable_ipv6 = 1 net.ipv6.conf.default.disable_ipv6 = 1 net.ipv6.conf.lo.disable_ipv6 = 1
also edit the /proc/sys/net/ipv6/conf/all/disable_ipv6 file and change the value from 0 to 1
Once this is fixed, I did not have any other problems with the distro till date.
Start up takes about 2 minutes. However, Shutdown is very quick – less than 10 secs
I was fascinated by the rolling release concept but was not ready to take risk installing Tumbleweed version of OpenSUSE yet especially after repeatedly visiting Tumbleweed website and looking at the warning message .
After some search on internet, I found that there is an Arch Linux based distro called Antergos which also has a rolling release concept.
Antergos, known earlier as Cinnarch is Linux Distro based on Arch Linux. Default DE is GNOME 3. However, it also support Cinnamon, KDE, MINT, XFCE Desktops.
I used the partition manager of my Elementary OS and noted the partition and their UUIDs to see where the existing distros were installed. Took a backup of my important files for other distros (Personally, Elementary is my primary distro)
I tried the LIVE USB option. The Antergos website provided a nice installation instructions.
Antergos uses GNOME DE on the LIVE version. This time, I wanted to try MATE DE and at the time of installation, specified MATE as the option.
Challenges I faced:
Antergos uses Cnchi installation manager to install the OS. As soon as the LIVE OS starts up, Cnchi presented itself with two options – ‘Try it’ and ‘Install Antergos’.
‘Try it’ is for a LIVE experience and ‘Install’ is for a permanent place on hard drive. I was in a hurry to install Antergos MATE on the hard disk as soon as possible. Hence I started to install by clicking the ‘Install Antergos’ option.
Cnchi v0.10.x presented me the installation options, and I chose to override the Kubuntu partitions with Antergos. After a while, I could not proceed further as Cnchi came up with an error message. I was unhappy. But kept trying y restarting the system. After few unsuccessful attempts, I realized that Cnchi connects to internet and upgrades itself to latest version v0.12.x, reloads itself and I need to wait for that to happen.
Finally, I waited and installed successfully the MATE environment. However, when I restarted the laptop, booted from the hard disk and selected Antergos option from the GRUB menu, it ended up with a blank screen with cursor on it. I was disappointed. This was the second lesson I learnt. However, I could boot from the LIVE USB.
I posted queries on Antergos forum, Google+ communities and found a solution on a website. The solution was suggesting that the graphic driver would not have installed correctly and to edit the GRUB menu file and insert ‘nomodeset’ as as parameter and reboot. I did that and was surprised to see the login screen. I happily logged into the MATE environment and wanted to install the correct graphic driver and went into the Pacman package manager. However, I got a message that the database is corrupted. Hence I restarted after sometime hoping that the issue is resolved.
To my surprise, the GRUB itself got corrupted and I could not log into any of my distros. This was a big disappointment and a failure.
I was left with only option – boot from the LIVE Antergos USB.
Manjaro offers multiple Desktop Environments XFCE, KDE, Net Edition. The GNOME, LXDE and MATE Desktop Environments can be installed from community editions when released and available.
The download page of Manjaro has link to direct download of ISO image. But I am having heavy dependency on my unreliable internet connection. I will have to download again from the beginning if connectivity is lost in between. I wanted to install the KDE version. I was searching for the torrent download and had difficulty in locating the torrent page for Manjaro KDE version of ISO image (By default, it take me to XFCE torrent download page).
After searching for a while, I found the torrent page of 32 bit ISO torrent file for Manjaro KDE Edition. I downloaded and like the LIVE USB experience and immediately proceeded with installation as I was having issue with my GRUB. I replaced the Antergos partitions (/home and /) while installing Manjaro. The installation happened in about 20 minutes. This is by far the fastest installation that I happened for any distro on my machine.
KDE looked best on Manjaro and the overall experience was very good.
I was doing a comparison of Antergos Vs Manjaro on the internet. To my surprise, I found that most of the people voted for Antergos over Manjaro. Also, I was feeling bad about the installation experience I had with Antergos and wanted to get a solution and re-install Antergos as soon as possible.
Revisiting Antergos (http://antergos.com/)
While I was admiring Manajro KDE, I got a response to the problem I posted in Antergos forum. The solution was to install GDM (Gnome Desktop Manager) instead of LightDM (Light Desktop Manager).
I gathered some courage and wanted to retry installing Antergos. This time, I wanted to install gnome as it is default DE. I installed using Cnchi v0.12.x. While installing, Antergos uses the internet and downloads the packages required for entire process. 3 things are required:
- At least 6 GB space on hard disk
- Internet connection
- Continuous power source to the laptop battery
Usually, the space will not be a problem.
While installing (it takes usually about 4 hours), I wanted to move laptop to a different room. Hence powered off the charge to move. However, I noticed the installation stopped as the power source to the laptop battery was removed. So, I had to start it all over again. Also, I has my internet dropping couple of time in between and I had to start installation from the beginning. I was very adamant and wanted to install Antergos at any cost.
Finally, the 4th attempt succeeded in installing Antergos GNOME. I rebooted from the hard disk to see the blank screen with cursor issue.
The I did this:
Reached terminal (CTRL+ALT+F2).
sudo su pacman
-Syu pacman -S gdm
systemctl disable lightdm
systemctl stop lightdm
systemctl enable gdm
systemctl start gdm
and rebooted. To my surprise, I saw the GNOME login screen. My happiness did not last long since when I entered the root password, the login screen presented itself. I was under the impression that the password was incorrect and reentered carefully this time. But, the result is same. The login screen was appearing again and again.
That was very frustrating. I searched on internet once again and saw that few people reported this issue.But, I could not find a solution. This is when it struck me that the login screen has multiple options for GNOME – one is GNOME, 2nd is Classic GNOME and the third is Wayland GNOME. I tried Classic GNOME before logging but the result was the same.
Finally, I tried the Wayland GNOME option and lo, I was at last able to get into the Antergos GNOME Desktop.
Antergos does not have a mail client by default and the database corruption issue is still there while trying to install Evolution or Geary from the Pacman package manager.
I had an opportunity to experiment very few distros. Hence, I do not conclude yet on my perfect Linux distro. I will take a look at the some more DEs and Distros.
Different Distros presented me with minor challenges but so far, Antergos gave me lot of installation issues and challenges but I had an opportunity to learn a lot about GRUB menu, GDM / LightDM, Logging to terminal alternately when the GUI was not functioning etc. So far, I found Elementary OS as the best distro and OpenSUSE a stable release.
As Antergos is a rolling release, it might be having some issues at this point of time. I will keep trying to resolve the issues and in this process hope to learn as much as possible. This blog page is an attempt to contribute to the Linux community by sharing my experience with Linux.
I am leaving with a wiki page that has loads of information about the Linux (Arch Linux in particular)
The general recommendations section has lot of information on the GUI and drivers:
Please share your views or thoughts on this.