I’ve used Linux for a very long time and I can honestly say I’ve tried just every distribution in existence, including a few that don’t exist anymore. I don’t even remember what my very first Linux distro was, but if I have to guess I think it was Red Hat, probably around 1999. The only distro I’ve ever bought was SuSE, which came in a nice box set with a bunch of helpful manuals. SuSE was the distro that hooked me into Linux. I used that for about two or three years, until someone introduced me to Gentoo.
I’ve hopped back and forth so much, I’m not sure what my longest running distro has been, but it’s probably Ubuntu or Linux Mint. I used Linux Mint for about 5 years, with a few other distros sprinkled in that time, which I tried for a day, week, or whatever. Ubuntu was my fallback for a long time, so I didn’t use it as long consecutively, but probably close to that long cumulatively.
For a long time, the closest I’d come to a rolling release distro was Fedora. It quickly became my favorite distro, but I began to dislike Gnome 3. I moved to CentOS, then Debian and stayed in the Debian family of distros for a while. That eventually led to me using Linux Mint, which I love, it’s solid, doesn’t break often, and Cinnamon became my favorite desktop for a long time. In 2020, I was getting an itch to try something new. I’d been using Linux Mint for so long, but it is based on Ubuntu and Ubuntu’s parent, Canonical, wants to be the consumer Linux.
The primary issue I have with Canonical is a thing called Snapd. Snapd is a package system that allows software vendors to package their software to work on any system using Snapd. That sounds like a great thing, but the issue is Canonical controls the network side of distributing Snaps. Linux Mint does not use Snapd or support it in any way, but underneath, Linux Mint is Ubuntu, which continues to push Snapd. Beyond the control aspects, Snapd also adds a lot of underlying, hidden dependencies, which affects performance and compatibility in other ways. The overall concept is good, mostly, but the execution leaves me feeling weary of it.
So, it’s 2020, I’m looking for a new distro, again. My first thought was Debian, then tried MX Linux, then tried ParrotOS, then tried Pop!_OS. At the time, I was using a laptop that had an Nvidia GPU, so that became a driving factor. Laptops with an Intel CPU and an Nvidia GPU are called Optimus, which tends to have issues with Linux, generally. Eventually, I found myself back on Fedora, but using the KDE spin this time. It was the first time I’d used KDE, since probably around the time I used Gentoo. I’d tried Kubuntu and KDE Neon, but very briefly, probably using a Live disk. This new KDE was awesome, so that became another requirement. Unfortunately, I had a lot of issues with that laptop and Fedora. The Nvidia drivers seemed unstable and one day it would work great, then the next day it wouldn’t connect to a monitor, then the next it would forget which driver it should use. It was just a lot of troubleshooting and frustration.
I had gone from May to around the end of July trying these different distros and hadn’t really found anything I was happy with. Then one day someone mentioned openSUSE Tumbleweed in, I believe, the Fedora subreddit. I hadn’t thought about SuSE in a very long time and, of all of the distros I’ve used, I’d never tried openSUSE. I installed it, but I, for some reason, chose Gnome as the desktop, I really don’t remember why. I used it for a week and had updated incorrectly or something, but it kept giving me all of these errors when I’d boot it. I really liked everything about it, but the errors wouldn’t go away, and then I found out Tumbleweed has to be updated like you are doing a full upgrade, not just an update. Every update is like a new release in other distros and it updates very often.
I was worried I’d messed it up, so I reinstalled, this time with KDE. I fell in love immediately. Not only was everything super new and shiny, but it also supported the Optimus laptop extremely well. It ran games better than even Linux Mint. It was super easy to configure everything, with YaST. I used it on that laptop from August until the end of October, when I built a new desktop PC. I installed openSUSE Tumbleweed on it and it has stayed that way. For over a year, I’d been able to forget other distros and just use Tumbleweed. It’s a rolling release, so it has gone through many gigabytes of updates, but it just keeps working. I have, pretty much, the latest and greatest software available for Linux and there’s no way I’d go back to a regular release distro.
This past Christmas my mother-in-law bought me a new 500gb SSD. She always gets me something techie or computer-related. Well, it sat on my desk for about 3 weeks and I couldn’t decide what to do with it. I have plenty of drive space for Tumbleweed and I have another huge drive for my games. One day after work I was thinking about it and thought I should use it to try other distros. Dual boot, preserve my main OS, and just tinker. I thought about it some more and nothing really jumped out at me, that I wanted to try. I had considered Fedora, because it is still one of my favorites and I’m not using Nvidia anymore, but it’s not actually rolling release. Then it occurred to me that there was one more distro that I hadn’t tried: Arch. I’ve tried distros based on Arch, but I’d never actually installed vanilla Arch.
I don’t know if you’ve ever installed Arch, but it can be intimidating, because it’s all command line. There’s no fancy GUI to click, no obvious choices, it’s just you, a monitor, and a keyboard tapping away. So I installed Arch, incorrectly. I installed it again, except faster, and in a way that actually worked. I slowly built it up to a desktop OS, with wifi and a firewall, Steam for games, etc. It’s been about a week and I am really liking it. It’s not Tumbleweed, which comes with a lot of stuff and just works, but it’s getting there. To me, the coolest thing about Arch is it is exactly what I put on it, nothing else. It doesn’t come with a bunch of extras that I’ll never use, it only has what I have installed.
It’s not exactly fair to compare things like how many packages are installed and stuff like that, because openSUSE breaks things down into smaller pieces. Even if it didn’t, my Arch installation would still be much smaller. The last time I checked the installed package count on Tumbleweed, it was over 3000. My Arch installation has 900. That’s pretty crazy, considering it has the same desktop and I’ve installed almost everything I actually use on Tumbleweed on Arch. Overall, Arch feels faster, snappier even. It boots faster. It uses less memory, system temperatures are lower. I like it, a lot.
Am I switching to Arch full time? Probably not, not yet. openSUSE Tumbleweed has Snapper, which lets me rollback updates if something breaks. I just roll it back and it’s my working OS, before it broke. I don’t have that on Arch, but I could. I just have to figure out how to make it work. Some Steam games run better on Arch, like Splitgate. Unfortunately, for some reason, most games look better on Tumbleweed. The fonts are more consistent and Steam itself just seems to work better on Tumbleweed. I also have virt-manager running on Tumbleweed for my development stuff, so that’s something else I’d have to add. Overall, I’ve enjoyed tinkering with Arch and I think, over time, I could build it up to replace Tumbleweed.
This ended up being longer than I’d planned, but that’s how I found myself ditching release distros and falling in love with rolling. I’m now a Tumbleweed guy, who also enjoys using Arch.