Settling into a Distro - Linux for the casual tinkerer


    In my Linux journey I have done a fair amount of “distro hopping.” For the uninitiated, distro hopping is the term used for users that maddeningly install a different Linux distribution in hopes of finding the perfect set up. We usually start with Ubuntu and then we spend the rest of our days trying to escape the grasp Canonical. Inevitably, we find our way to the abusive warmth of the Arch Linux community that won’t truly love us until we fully abandon our addiction to graphical installers.

    And that is precisely what inspired me to write this article. But before I get to that, I’d like to tell my Linux story.

    Where it started

    I was lucky enough to have a father who considered himself a “computer guy.” He wasn’t a software engineer or an IT specialist, he repaired Ryobi printing presses and loved playing with computers. When I was around 10 he charged in the front door with arms full of boxes and declared that that day we would be building our own computers. That moment primed me for a lifetime love of all things computers.

    If I remember correctly, these computers were running Windows 95. We spent most of our time on them playing whatever games we could get a hold of. As time went on, and the internet matured, we discovered that our desire for new games was far grander than what our allowances could afford. So of course we took it upon ourselves to learn to download and crack pirated games. Obviously we did not write any cracks ourselves, we relied upon the anonymous saints of the internet doing the lords work teaching us juveniles how to apply their holy scripts. I did not know it at the time, but in the process I was learning about file systems and program structures. I became more familiar with the operating system than the casual desktop user ever needed to be. And eventually when the games weren’t enough, I dipped into various productivity and creativity software suites. I was able to experiment with software that otherwise would have cost me thousands of dollars and I was comfortable in calling myself tech savvy for my age.

    I wouldn’t discover Linux until several years later. I can’t even recall what or who introduced me to Linux in the first place. I must have simply noticed it mentioned at several points while roaming the internet. I eventually came across the documentary “Revolution OS” featuring Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds in their individual journeys that collided to form the modern Linux desktop. It wasn’t until I was freshly and legally an adult living on my own that I decided to spin up my first Linux desktop. Ubuntu, of course. I knew nothing about how to navigate Linux, or what I could do with it. I just knew that it was free. Beyond the fact that I didn’t pay for it, I felt that I had ripped my hardware from Microsoft’s talons and allowed it to breath. I had been so used to the grueling process of installing Window’s and then hunting down hardware driver’s entering poorly etched part numbers into google. Yet with Ubuntu, I ran the installer, panicked at the disk partition step, then it just worked. Everything worked. I didn’t have to find a single driver. My mind was blown.

    Unfortunately, the euphoria did not last long. I stumbled around in the open source alternatives to the software I grew to love. I’d run into issues my Windows using counterparts never had to worry about. I was usually able to find the solutions easily enough and c!y)q28spgZEQsH>e1Q*nk];QBopy and paste a command or two into the terminal emulator, But overall the experience became tiresome. Most importantly I wanted to game on my PC again. Gaming on Linux at the time was really not a thing. I converted back to Windows and admired Linux in the shadows for years to come.

    Over the next decade, I was able to experiment with Linux on various hardware here and there. I never had the chance to daily drive a Linux system as my time spent on the computer dwindled to a personal low. They were some dark years indeed.

    Personal Revival

    Life went on and I grew to be a typical financially strained home-owning adult. Wife, kids, animals and bills. The whole package. I yearned again for a computer to drive the hottest games. To my wife’s dismay, I cobbled together the funds to purchase an old gaming PC off of craigslist and set myself up with a battle station that many would consider a fine example of the bare minimum. Fortunately, over the years, I was able to swap in parts until it was an entirely different PC, and quite a capable one. Finally, I could play any games I desired at a decent frame rate. So naturally, as anyone would in my position, I promptly became bored of gaming.

    Thus, my drive for tinkering and unnecessary struggles returned. I opted to rid my PC Windows and plunge myself head first back into the world of Linux. This was my first true phase of distro hopping. As expected I started with some flavor of Ubuntu. I knew nothing of the Linux landscape and in my mind, Ubuntu was held in high regard amongst the community. But I felt I was missing out on something by using Ubuntu, I just didn’t know what it was. I burned through a handful of distros, naive to the fact that they were all also Ubuntu. I didn’t truly escape the grasp of Ubuntu until I installed Manjaro. Finally, a breath of fresh air. This must be what the veteran Linux users are on. A sleek, modern desktop, a drop-down terminal linked to a single hotkey by default? This is the life! “Let’s download some software!” I exclaimed. I confidently charged to the terminal to type in the familiar sudo apt update… I was crushed by my ignorance. No apt? But I knew how to use Linux. Why can’t this distro do what I expect it to? Tail between my legs, I crawled back to Ubuntu, but this time, in the form of Pop!_OS

    This seemed stable. It had everything I was used to in an Ubuntu derived distro and it was geared toward gaming. I couldn’t go wrong. That is until I really wanted to play that one game that wasn’t supported by Proton. No worries, Lutris has my back. Several hours of frustration later and still no game running, I found myself re-installing Windows.

    A New Passion

    So the desktop remains on Windows, even to this day. I’ve set up duel boots here and there, but the Linux boot was mostly unused and a good SSD went unutilized.

    But the story does not end there. A series of events led me to coding. And I had no desire to code or to learn to code bound to my desk chair. I wanted to sprawl on the couch, kick my feet up, and hammer away at the keys of a nice laptop. So it was. Laptops are perfect for coding, and even better, Linux is perfect for coding.

    A new era of distro hopping was born. But this time, I was equipped with more knowledge of Linux, and more specific expectations of the distro I chose. I defaulted back to Pop!_OS and it worked well enough to start. But in consuming content geared toward coders, I learned of finer things. I had heard that Fedora shipped the cutting edge of Linux software. It used the Gnome desktop environment which was relatively light on laptops and was well suited for a keyboard dominant workflow. I stuck with Fedora for months. I couldn’t stop tinkering with my system, trying to get the most out of Fedora and Gnome. Linux was consuming me and I was loving it.

    The Gatekeepers

    At this point I had fallen deep enough into the Linux community to recognize the various cliques. I was in good company using Fedora. The community is helpful, kind and accepting. But I had grown tired of the boring old Gnome desktop environment. You aren’t really a Linux expert unless you used a window manager. Sure, I could stick to Fedora and spin up a few window managers and see how I like it, but what better time than now to try out Arch? Well it turns out, having a full time job, 2 kids, a wife, and attending university, I couldn’t quite find the time burn through the documentation on a pure Arch install. Enter Endeavour OS. Trying all the different window managers was a form of distro hopping in itself. Each new window manager required hours of tweaking text based config files, and I absolutely loved it. I know, ironic that I couldn’t be bothered to read the documentation to install Arch properly. Beyond discovering the capabilities of window managers, I was also properly introduced to the world of Arch, Pacman and Yay. It was glorious. Every bit of software I could ever dream of using was just right there. No wget or curl. Just the latest version, right in the repository. Simple commands to search for the packages and simple commands to download them. And they just always work. I didn’t understand the notion of Arch being unstable. I still don’t. I haven’t run into any breaking issues since switching to Endeavour OS.

    But I can’t help but feel that I don’t really belong to any club. I’m technically using Arch, but I can’t really claim that I use Arch.

    A tech content creator recently did a distro tier list and the only two distributions he had on the top tier were Arch and Debian. Most everything else he had listed as “pointless.” I admire Debian, it is pure and beautiful and stable and everything we need in a foundation distribution. But the initial setup requires several workarounds to accomplish things most distros provide out of the box. There is nothing wrong with that, but that’s not how I want to spend my time. I admire Arch because it is pure and ships the newest and greatest software. But as I mentioned above, I just don’t have the bandwidth to properly set it up at my current experience level. But I still want the benefits of Arch. Do I not deserve that? I tried Pop!_OS again after I had run EndeavourOS for serveral months. One of the first things I did was run “sudo apt install neovim” and it installed version 0.4.x while the latest release is 0.9.x. I understand why distro’s take ownership of their repositories, but why should I fiddle around with a workaround to get new software when I can just run a user friendly version of Arch that will ship that software straight to me? Do I need to be ashamed of using a pre-packaged Arch distro? I mean its not like I’m using Manjaro.

    To make things worse, I moved from the Hyprland window manager back to Gnome. I absolutely love Hyprland, but for whatever reason, any form of video playback was cooking my CPU. I’m not sure if its an issue with wlroots or an xdg-portal, but I couldn’t find anyone else experiencing the issue, so I decided to just fresh install Gnome and give Hyprland some more time in the oven.

    So now I’m running Arch with training wheels and I’m using a traditional desktop environment. Does the Linux community accept me?


    This was a bit of a rant, and I apologize to anyone who stomached it. But I wanted to tell my story with Linux, express my love for Linux, and validate my choice of environment. I love to tinker, but I simply can’t afford to devote all my time to it. I think the Linux community has a reputation of being judgmental, and I don’t think it is unwarranted. But I think the vast majority of Linux users welcome anyone who chooses to use Linux regardless of the form. That is, as long as its not related to Redhat… or Oracle… or Canonical…