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Distro Dinosaur

Having successfully installed Ubuntu MATE at the start of the year, to replace a defunct Manjaro installation that had done good service for many months before succumbing to the problems of being a rolling distro, I can now report what a fortnight of using it feels like.

First thing to say, emphatically: it works! It works fine, in fact. All the applications I need (which often weren't in other distro repositories whenever I tried them a few years back) were swiftly and painlessly installed and work just as you'd expect them to. Despite MATE being a GTK (and hence Gnome-ish) desktop environment, key bits of KDE-based functionality work flawlessly -in particular, Clementine is happily playing its way through my music collection.

It also manages to work whilst wobbling nicely. Which is to say, I am afraid I am a fan of desktop bling and thus require my windows to wobble (and my virtual desktops to switch by appearing as faces on a rotating cube). Happily, Compiz integrates with MATE well, so all my required desktop effects are in place and mostly work without drama (the occasional tearing of a wobbling window as it's dragged can be a little annoying, but it's rare enough that I don't mind).

But… but… Whilst all the required functionality is definitely there, it looks dated. I didn't think this would bother me: as an old Gnome 1.4 user, I thought I liked things to be a tad old-fashioned! But there's old-fashioned and then there's Jurassic: and MATE is definitely in the latter park, as far as I'm concerned.

So: this week, I decided to pull the plug on Ubuntu MATE for its cosmetics, not its functionality. Casting about for a suitable replacement, I realised I've acquired the following internal rules about Desktop Environments:

  • Gnome is a no-no. It's just extremely irritating. It doesn't work out of the box the way I like, requiring instead a ton of post-install configuration with a bunch of extensions of sometimes dubious provenance to get there. And its native applications increasingly fail to provide the options and tweaks I feel I need. No Gnome-based distro for me, therefore.
  • Rolling distros are a no-no. It's me, not them, but I keep adding little bits and pieces of software as I go and the mix of me constantly altering things and the distro constantly updating itself is a recipe for going bang! at some point (as neatly demonstrated by Manjaro on New Years Eve!) So, no Arch, no Manjaro, no rolling distros of any sort. Stability before bleeding edge.
  • MATE is also a no-no. See above: I studied history at Uni and I love my Ancient Romans and Greeks, but MATE is just too “2000s” to pass muster today.

On the same “ye ancient desktops don't do it for me” principle, I can also rule out things like XFCE and LXDE. I'm also not young and adventurous enough to be enticed by the prospect of Budgie -which, in any case, I find very Gnome-like and thus comes lumbered with all Gnome's attendant problems!

Which leaves? Cinnamon and KDE, I think.

I have some experience with Cinnamon: it is again quite Gnome-y, and although it is now a desktop option for many distros, it began and is still heavily-driven by the Linux Mint developers. I have quite liked it in the past, but it's Minty heritage makes it a bit of a non-starter for me these days. I like Linux Mint a lot, but it's essentially Ubuntu with knobs on, and my last fortnight means I'm a bit over the Ubuntu-experience for at least a few months! It's also still Gnome-like, and 'native' applications for it would be GTK-based ones, and thus subject to Gnome-inspired design principles (meaning menus lacking most of the options you'd like them to have!).

So, for me, at the moment, it comes down to this: use a KDE distro. KDE has lots of graphical bling; it's got more configuration options than you can shake a stick at; its native apps are highly functional and the functionality is readily accessible and tweakable in ye olde fashioned menu-option fashion! It's a little too Windows-like, if I'm being completely honest, but if that bugs you, you can at least tweak it away. But you don't have to tweak much to get a good-looking, bling-filled, desktop experience that's modern and a pleasure to use.

Which brings me to the next question, of course: what's the best KDE-based distro? Obviously, you can install KDE on the top of most distros these days, but I'm after one where it's baked in as a primary option, not added in as an afterthought. Linux Mint is definitely not an option here, of course, because they long ago stopped developing a specifically-KDE version of their distro.

Incidentally, if I were contemplating using Red Hat or CentOS as a desktop distro, I would also have concerns about KDE there. But I'm not, and I don't think Red Hat's refusal to back KDE from 2024 and beyond is a show-stopper for using KDE in other distros in the meantime. You might reasonably expect Fedora to deprecate KDE in the same fashion sooner than that, though -but even if it doesn't, Fedora's integration with KDE in the past has never been exactly a triumph!

So if not Mint or Fedora, what?

Well, this is quite a handy list of distros that primarily use KDE -and implement it well. I'll say right up-front that no matter how good the reviews of those distros are, I'm not touching distros like “Chakra”, “Kaos” and “Netrunner”: I know nothing of where they come from, how big their developer community is, how good (and friendly) their user communities are… nor their long-term prospects, putting it bluntly.

That leaves me a choice of: Kubuntu (forget it: it's Ubuntu with KDE slapped on top); KDE Neon (forget it; it's Ubuntu!); Fedora KDE Spin (see above: forget it, because it's Fedora with KDE slapped on top, badly, and the long-term future of anything Red Hat and KDE is suspect)… and OpenSuse.

It's a Hobson's choice, in other words. If you want a mainstream, KDE-first, distro these days, you can choose OpenSuse or… nothing much!

Accordingly, yesterday evening, I wiped my Ubuntu MATE installation and put OpenSuse 15 on instead (note: OpenSuse has a 'Tumbleweed' offering, which is a rolling distro… and is therefore another no-no these days for me!) It is a pleasure to be back in the arms of KDE, with wobbling windows, desktop cubes, good looks and a sense of the modern!

I've put together a little article about how I did my post-installation tweaking, should anyone be interested (or should I need to do it again in the future… which given my propensity to switch OSes isn't beyond the realms of probability!)

blog/distro_dinosaur.txt · Last modified: 2019/04/04 19:14 by dizwell