Battle of the Distros

July 18, 2006

My disks came today and I absolutely could not wait to see what these things could do.  Would I find a new favorite in the bunch?  Would I find a replacement for Windows?  Am I typing this using Linux?


I’ll answer the last question first; yes, I am using a Linux kernel to type this.  But not from any distro you all might be using.  I’m using my Zaurus PDA!  In fact, I’m not sure I could get anything to you through any distros that came in the mail today as it presently stands.  But this is preliminary, as I just spent a little time with each.  I spent enough time to form some opinions which I’m sure will be unpopular to many.  Too bad.  Let us begin…




The first distro I tried was recommended by Limulus, which was PCLinuxOS.  All 3 disks I ordered were live CDs, but this one was the only one of the 3 that was not a DVD.  Boot tome for Live CDs is typically quite long, so I put the CD in, made some iced tea, did laundry and cut the grass and came in just in time to see it get to a screen asking for a user name.  I typed in my name which was, of course, incorrect..  I then typed “root” for both name and password and all was well.  If I had not had experience with MEPIS, I would have been frustrated right then and there.  Neither of the other two distros had the password prompt.


Once inside, I was greeted by a nice, friendly, clean brand spanking new desktop.  That’s the cool thing about trying out these OSs as it’s just like getting a new computer!


Okay, I need to take my fellow newbies aside for just a moment to talk about desktops.  When you get a windows desktop, that’s what you get… a Windows desktop to sort of fix up the way you like but you pretty much have the basic elements: A taskbar at the bottom with a “start” menu, a clock and some icons on the desktop.  In Linux, the are two predomininant types of desktops.  One is called KDE, which contains the same basic elements as the Windows version, plus a few more things.  This is what I had with MEPIS.  With PCLinux, I encountered the Gnome desktop for the first time.  This, being unfamiliar caused me some confusion.  I had some icons on the desktop and then (I think) some menu options at the top.  But I never felt like I was seeing everything offered on this CD and seemed to be trying to search for things that should have been more accessible. 


My primary concern and mission was to find a distro that would deal with my modem.  In this, PCLinux failed.  In fact, I never did find any sort of modem connection options at all.  Would PCLinux play my Gladiator DVD?  No.  None of the distros would because of some proprietary thing which is screwy.  Isn’t a DVD player a DVD player?  The logo on my Memorex is the same as the one connected to my TV, isn’t it?


PCLinux had the Office suite, some games and a suite of multimedia tools typical of all distros.  It was not a terribly complicated distro, but it seemed light on applications.  Not bad, but not as good as Mepis in my opinion. 


Ubuntu 6.06 – Dapper Drake


Numero Uno on DistroWatch, I was anxious to give this distro a try.  I have 5 more CDs of this on the way, and have read about Ubuntu all over the place.  You absolutely can not swing a dead cat in the desktop Linux world without hearing about Ubuntu.  An OS for humans.




First off, this was a live DVD.  My first DVD drive had no idea what to do with it, and booted to Windows.  However, once in Windows, putting the DVD in gives one access to open source programs like Firefox, Thunderbird and The Gimp.  That was kind of cool, throwing Windows users a bone.  So I stuck the disk in my DVD burner and rebooted.  This time we were in business. 


After washing and waxing the kitchen floor, changing the oil in my and my wife’s car and doing my taxes, I came in just in time to witness Ubuntu loading the desktop.  Ubuntu, like PCLinux, loads the Gnome desktop. 


I spent some time poking around.  I never found whatever Ubuntu/Gnome uses to configure or run a modem so we struck out there.  Ubuntu seemed to have a lot more games than PCLinux or Mepis.  I actually, I did find a list of Ubuntu applications and it seemed pretty extensive.  I found KPPP but was informed that I could not load it because I was not connected to the internet.  DuH!  If I was connected, why would I need a dial-up client?


I was rapidly disillusioned with Ubuntu.  Yeah, I could play a bunch of cheezy games I suppose, and type something.  But could I save it?  I don’t know.  I’ll have to investigate more with it later.  Maybe.  Right now, I feel like I wasted $7 on this thing. 


Ubuntu vs. PCLinux = PCLinux by a hair.  PCLinux just felt easier to use.  Lots of searching for applications in both, but Ubuntu did not impress me.  Could it be the Gnome desktop?  Maybe, but PCLinux also runs it.  Now, Ubuntu was a disappointment.  No newbie coming from Windows is going spend much time with this cow.  At least it’s cheap.  But seeing as I bought the DVD, PCLinux becomes the better buy at $5.95 vs $1.95.


Ubuntu Vs. Mepis = Mepis  Mepis is by far the easiest to use so far. The applications far easier to find and use. Will this still hold true at the end?  Let’s see.


SuSE 10.1


#2 on DistroWatch, this was also a live DVD.  However, unlike the other two contenders, this had no option to install.  It is intended to be used as a live DVD and that’s it.


I booted this DVD up the same as Ubuntu in the DVD burner.  I have no idea why these live DVDs don’t like my regular DVD player, but that is a strike against them compared to the CDs that had no problems in either drive.


SuSE presented me with something fairly quickly.  In fact, it was so quick, I missed it and had to reboot.  A screen comes up offering several choices.  I can boot off the hard drive, which is Windows and since that was the default that’s what it did before I realized what was going on and digesting all the choices.  Mepis does something similar, although not as rich in options as SuSE in the choices.


We might have a contender.


The other two choices were SuSE with a KDE desktop or SuSE with a Gnome desktop.  I picked KDE.


After having the dog and the cat neutered, picked up my dry cleaning and remodeled the upstairs bathroom, I walked in just in time to see SuSE throw up the desktop and a message mentioning  something about registering for access to more programs and Novell support.  Okay, that was nice.  SuSE then promptly acted like a slovenly drunken sow by seeming to hang and then take forever to execute anything at all.  So I rebooted again.


Things went better this time.  I quickly discovered a modem tool right on the task bar and went into it.  The modem I had recently installed supposedly ran on SuSE 9.x, so I had high hopes. However, no amount of tweaking around got me anywhere.


 Of the 3 distros that came in today, SuSE seemed to be the easiest for me to manage.  The KDE desktop was more familiar to me, as it did look like Windows, only much better organized.  Still not playing my DVDs, though.


Of the 3, I spent more time with SuSE as it seemed to have more applications and tools beyond the same things everyone else has.  More choices is good for everyone, so there are more office applications and more multimedia and photo tools.  However, SuSE did not seem to detect my analogue TV card, so that was a disappointment.   



 Also, SuSE would not let me mount and explore either of my hard drives which is a serious gig if I can’t figure it out.



Of these three, SuSE wins the prize for versatility, ease of use and comfort.  I thought it was MUCH easier than Ubuntu, which comes in last in my own distro survey.  I find it does nothing and adds nothing to what anyone else has and seems to me to be a very pooor choice for breaking in new users coming from Windows.  Those free CDs that they are sending out are akin to the days when AOL sent everyone floppies then CDs to drum up business.  Thing was, users would leave AOL as soon as their minutes were up.  Newbies looking for a decent experience with Linux should avoid Ubuntu.  But this is an early impression.  It also decreases the amount of time I’m willing to spend with the Dapper Drake


Mepis beats the lot for ease of use, number of programs and versatility. Curerently #4 on distro watch, it should be higher.  Ubuntu’s position is a severely inflated one, and will absolutely NOT be bringing Linux to desktops across the nation.  


I know Ubuntu fans will hate it, but security and repositories will do no good if I can’t   even get online.


Linux remains the domain of the propeller heads and geeks for the time being as it is too much trouble for an average home user newbie using dial-up.  Without access to the internet, there is no support, no extra applications, no connection and no taking advantage of the extra security.  It is such a fundamental thing and such a fatal flaw.


I’m not finished, yet.  When I go back to work, I’ll try these on my new work computer to see how they do there and perhaps my experience will be different.   We’ll see if anyone has trouble detecting my network, plus I can better try the “On the Go” feature of my latest edition of Mepis.


I’m also going to dig deeper into these distros and see if I am missing some important feature, especially with the Gnome desktops.  Feedback would be helpful, here.  Of course, desktop preference probably doesn’t mean much to those who come from UNIX and are using command lines any way.  Again, unless the Linux community can successfully minimize the UNIX experience (without abandoning the benefits) they can forget about getting more users, more applications, more drivers, more Desktop Linux machines and making more of an impact on the personal PC business.

And if Ubuntu is half the cow it seemed like for me, people need to stop peddling the bloody thing and promote something that might work better.  It would be interesting to see if Kubuntu would be a better choice for me, but I’m not too willing to invest much more money and time in any more distros.  I’m okay with some tinkering, but have a ridiculously short attention span for stuff that does not seem to work.  When I get bored enough, I’ll give it another go.





  1. “Would PCLinux play my Gladiator DVD? No. None of the distros would because of some proprietary thing which is screwy. Isn’t a DVD player a DVD player? The logo on my Memorex is the same as the one connected to my TV, isn’t it?”

    This is due to the consortium that controls licensing on DVDs. Basically, they only let commercial products (who’ve paid their fees) playback the encrypted video on DVDs, and as the open source DVD decrypting sodtware is technically illegal (only in America, thanks to the DMCA), most distros won’t touch it with a barge pole.

    A clean install of Windows doesn’t play DVDs either, without some kind of decoding software like WinDVD, PowerDVD, etc.

  2. “And if Ubuntu is half the cow it seemed like for me, people need to stop peddling the bloody thing and promote something that might work better. It would be interesting to see if Kubuntu would be a better choice for me, but I’m not too willing to invest much more money and time in any more distros.”

    I’ll save you some time by saying that you definately wouldn’t like Kubuntu. It’s just Ubuntu with KDE, and as it isn’t the main thrust of their programming effort, it has lots of bugs. I’m considering dumping Kubuntu at the minute and going back to SuSE. If you think Ubuntu is a cow (and I agree, although in fairness there is only so much you can fit on one CD), Kubuntu is even worse!

    Your DVD booting issues with your main drive definately have something to do with the drive itself. Maybe the way it’s set up in the BIOS or a firmware issue.

  3. From what I can see, SuSE seems to be the better distro as far as content and ease of use. I certainly believe it is more deserving being a #1 pick than Ubuntu. The ONLY adavantage Ubuntu seems to have is with hardware recognition, but newer versions of other distros wiill also have this.


  4. […] In my short review, I sort of dismissed PCLinux because I was concentrating on some specific goals with my home system, namely getting on the internet using the modem. I’m STILL working on that one. […]

  5. Just a tiny niggle in your review, PCLinuxOS is a KDE-centric distribution. Ubuntu, OTOH, as you state, is a GNOME distro.

  6. Interesting review. I disagree completely with it as my experiences were completely different, but I still liked reading it.

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