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Seeking the One True Linux: Is Linux Distro-hopping a Thing of the Past?

One True Linux

  • February 24, 2010
  • By Brian Proffitt
Distro-hopping is easy and fun. Linux users distro-hop to solve problems and to try new software. But is it necessary? Haven't most Linux distributions reached a state of polish that makes distro-hopping unnecessary? Brian Proffitt wonders if distro-hopping shouldn't be discouraged.

Last week, Jim Lynch wrote what seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek admonition on how the Linux Mint distribution is so darned good, the venerable pastime of distribution hopping would soon be rendered moot.

"Distrohopping is one of the great pastimes for computer geeks. Let's not let it fade away because Linux has gotten too easy and comfortable. Let's keep it alive and thriving and, in doing so, let's preserve the amazing diversity and freedom that desktop Linux has always given us," Lynch concluded.

I'm reasonably sure that Lynch was at once poking fun at the power users' habit of jumping from distro to distro to try to continually improve performance/toolsets/eye candy, while also delivering a back-handed compliment to the strength of the most recent Linux desktop offerings (especially Linux Mint). Cute, but it also got me thinking: is distro-hopping actually a practice that should be discouraged?

Let's be clear: I am not advocating One True Linux Distro, nor am I implying that the choice and diversity amongst Linux distributions for end users is a bad thing.

As all Linux distributions become polished and robust, I've noticed that I personally have become less and less inclined to jump to a new distro. And, when I have migrated in recent years, I have found myself going back to my openSUSE starting point.

The big result for this continuity of distro has been that I have become much more familiar with the quirks of openSUSE and, if not an expert, then at the very least a power user for this distribution. I am sure that countless similar situations exist for power users of Fedora, Ubuntu, Gentoo, and so on.

Power users within any Linux distribution community are some of the most valuable assets such a community can have. That may come across as self-serving, but these are the users are are going to find problems with a distro and should be likely generate better bug reports for developers. They know more about the history of the distro ("Hey, you know that Flash bug from last month? It's baaaack..."), who to contact to get faster results ("Dear Ms. Silber..."), and how to support issues with that particular distro with newer users ("Dude, there's no YaST in Ubuntu...").

So, for those reasons, users who stick to one distribution for a while or even indefinitely can provide a lot of positive impact for that distro.

Of course, there's some disadvantages to users who don't jump around. They can be more likely to start a public tussle ("Your distro sucks! Nuh-uh, yours does!"), less inclined to try tools from other distros ("That came from Mandriva? I don't think so!"), and more territorial about features they like that get changed ("Hey! Where's my Gaim?").

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