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When it comes to Linux distros, one person's molehill is another's mountain

Gosh, you're a fussy old lot, aren't you?

Comment There are lots of distros out there. Some people hop from one to another, some stay on the same one for decades. What constitutes a good enough reason?

For as long as there have been Linux distributions, there has been Linux distro advocacy – which in FOSS circles tends to mean people shouting at each other that they're wrong. Computer advocacy goes way back before Linux, though; flame wars over which editor is best have a long and ignoble history. Maybe it's Vi, maybe it's Emacs.

Recently, a consistent theme, including in comments here on The Reg, is that Canonical has somehow gone astray with Ubuntu, and Snap is horribly broken, but people are seldom willing to give detailed specifics of what is broken and how. So when this vulture came across a detailed blog post, "Switching to Fedora from Ubuntu", which itself links to a "giant list of bugs" in Snap, he was instantly hooked. (The post, incidentally, has provoked lively discussions in several techie forums already, which seem roughly equally split between strong agreement and fervent denial. Which is exactly how it should be, of course.)

The post (and many of the comments) struck your correspondent as, well, a little odd. The list of issues with Snap, well, isn't: it's really a list of problems with the Snap-packaged version of Firefox. Your correspondent still likes the old Unity desktop, as regular readers will have gathered by now, and Firefox no longer supports Unity's global menu bar. (Indeed, by default, it doesn't have a menu bar at all any more.) So I routinely install a fork of Firefox called Waterfox, which works perfectly with the Unity menu bar. If you use neither GNOME nor Firefox, then you surf on, blessedly free of issues with either of them. Even so, these are all known, documented issues, and that means they're all pretty easy to fix. If you want a natively packaged Firefox, I've described how to get one. In any event, the sandboxing problem was fixed last year.

Isn't it easier to just install a different browser package than change to a different distro? If someone really dislikes Snap that much, why not just remove it: dozens of sites will tell you how.

Lest this comment is misinterpreted: we are absolutely not saying that the Ubuntu refugee did anything wrong. He seems happy with his switch, and that's what's most important. He noted a daunting list of problems with Fedora: drivers, codecs, and third-party application compatibility issues. It struck this veteran Linux (ab)user as considerably worse than his comparable list for Ubuntu, which to us sound like niggles, all with well-documented fixes that could be found with a few seconds of Googling.

Some of the comments also seem, well, strange. Some people recommend Pop!_OS as an alternative. We had some problems with Pop!_OS 21.10, but found 22.04 to be a much better experience. Pop!_OS is still Ubuntu and GNOME. Yes, Flatpak replaces Snap, it has some pleasing GNOME extensions, a different installer and the latest Nvidia drivers, but it's a big step nearer upstream than Debian, say.

We don't really see the point in reinstalling, when you could just remove and blacklist snapd, install flatpak and, as we mentioned when looking at Fedora 38, install a couple of extensions, such as Forge and Dash-to-Dock.

One person's molehill is another person's mountain… but that's why Linux distributions exist at all. Your correspondent tried Ubuntu 4.10, the first ever release, in 2004, found it leaner, cleaner, and faster than the SUSE Linux he was using so switched. (As far as I can recall, I went from Lasermoon Linux/FT to Red Hat Linux, then to Caldera OpenLinux, then Corel LinuxOS and subsequently Xandros, to SUSE, to Ubuntu… having tried and discarded Slackware and Debian as too hard back then.)

GNOME makes such sweeping changes to the desktop that, to me, all GNOME distros are more alike than they are different. Switching to a whole different distro family, uncovering multiple problems and having to find new fixes for them, all to end up with the same apps and the same desktop, seems to me like running a marathon to get to the next room.

Personally, I don't like GNOME much. I find KDE too fiddly, LXDE and LXQt too limiting, MATE can't handle vertical taskbars well, so on distros where Unity isn't an option, I run Xfce. It works really well, it's small and simple and fast, and it's considerably easier to customise than GNOME. Better still, any customizations generally survive version upgrades perfectly fine, which is more than GNOME extensions do.

Sound good? Try Xubuntu – but if you don't care for Snap, you'll still have to find and install an alternative Firefox. If you prefer Flatpak, the Mint Xfce edition is right there. If you don't like either of these cross-platform formats, Zinc is worth a look. It doesn't have either, and provides arguably better replacements, but it's still Ubuntu underneath, with all that implies about compatibility.

Alongside Zinc, there are other unofficial Xfce-based Ubuntu remixes out there, all with their own tweaks and refinements: the Lite edition of Zorin OS is one, and Linux Lite is another. They are all duplicating a lot of each others' work, and we feel that they would all be better off if they put their heads together and worked out some common core that they could all build upon.

I know people in the industry who maintain their own personal Ansible playbook to install and set up the apps they prefer in the configuration they like. They install a standard distro, then install Ansible, then deploy the playbook on top to configure a single machine. If you know what you want in such detail, it's probably worth checking out NixOS, where all that would require a single file. ®

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