I’ve been using Arch Linux for years. It’s been my main Linux distribution since I decided I needed to switch from an i586 optimised system to an i686 optimised system. Yes, it was that long ago. To be honest, I’m astonished my original distribution is still going but I’m really pleased for them!
When I first got interested in Linux it was because of a distribution called Mandrake. Back then KDE and the Keramik theme were all the rage. It was all so refreshing compared to Windows.
Anyway, I could never really get on with those big desktop managers. With KDE I always wanted some GTK apps (firefox) that ruined the look and Gnome, well, back in the day the word was “cruft”, it was full of dependencies and apps you just didn’t want. Plus it was butt ugly.
The first window manager I really got into was Fluxbox. I even made some popular themes for it. I’d always liked Xfce but, like Gnome and KDE, it still wasn’t very cohesive. At some point Xfce must have grown-up because that became my standard desktop environment from at least 2007. That was probably down to Xfce 4.4.0!
With hindsight, I was lucky to find Arch Linux early on in my Linux experience as I never even considered trying Ubuntu when it was created. Back in 2003 Gentoo was the cause of most flamewars on the Arch forums.
So, my first experience with Ubuntu was around the last noughties when a laptop with an OEM of Windows XP went kaput and we needed an OS. I was pretty pleased with it. It always ran well on the laptop and I didn’t need to mess about with it too much. It almost never went wrong. I went off it a lot when Unity came on the scene but the laptop died permanently shortly after, so I was never really forced to look for an alternative. I always kept half an eye on Ubuntu, though.
A few weeks ago I was at a conference in London for CiviCRM (which is an open-source CRM used by a lot of charities and not-for-profits.) Almost all of the presenters were using either Macbooks or Ubuntu laptops. A few guys from CiviCOOP were also running what I surmised was Gnome so I asked them about their set-up. They simply said it was Ubuntu Gnome and I decided I’d check it out.
As you might know both Gnome and Ubuntu have recently made major releases. I guess Gnome didn’t freeze early enough to make it into Ubuntu’s release window so Ubuntu Gnome still ships with the previous version.
So, yesterday, I decided to try and install. I started out by making sure that the installation wasn’t going to mess with my Arch install. That meant revisiting my bootloader configuration and moving /boot back into the Arch root. Then I had a huge balls-up where I deleted everything in my ESP with some sloppy typing. Yay, me! So out came the Windows disks to restore the Windows EFI bootmgr and, bleurgh. Mission.
Once that was finally sorted (and, as is so often the case with Linux, improved) I got around to installing Ubuntu Gnome in some free space on my Windows drive. I was pretty disappointed. I quickly realised that it was going to a struggle to get the system set-up how I liked; I have so many long forgotten customisations in Arch that I take for granted. Also, the Ubuntu software centre was just weird. There were two versions of Vim and I couldn’t tell what the difference was. Gnome itself was also really unstable; it hanged on me a few times and some widgets vanished, making the UI tough to interpret. However, what really put the tin hat on it was trying to change the Gnome icon theme. I couldn’t find any to install in the software centre and the advice I found while Google was to extract packages straight into /usr! Urgh! That’s like recommending incest!
I decided that Ubuntu wasn’t for me after all and decided to give Gnome a go on my Arch install, especially when Arch is noted by the Gnome Project as already shipping the latest version. It didn’t make long to get it sorted. I’d already decided, while out a on run last night, that I was going to convert wholesale to the “Gnome way” and swap to gdm and NetworkManager.
I can honestly say it’s the most complete Linux desktop experience I have ever had and I think I’ve only scratched the surface. It’s all worked out pretty well in the end!