The Ideal Linux Distro

Questions about the project and the distribution - obviously no support questions here please

The Ideal Linux Distro

Postby rahim on Sat Feb 03, 2007 1:58 pm

Hello All,

I've been keeping an eye on Linux Mint activity, and I might download it soon. I'd try it sooner, but my DSL connection is really slow and it takes like 15 hours to download.... But here are my thoughts on the state of Linux. You guys are obviously interested in raising the bar on Linux desktop quality, and you've already solved a lot of complaints I initially had about Ubuntu. But I was curious to get your thoughts on the feasibility of a few ideas I've had for what would constitute the ideal Linux desktop distro. Linux on the server is already the gold standard, but Linux on the desktop could still do with some big improvements, in my opinion.

I used Linux exclusively between 2002 and 2006. I used it because I was sick of the terrible instability of Windows 98, and I didn't want to pay for Windows 2000 or XP. However I was shocked at how poor the performance of Linux was compared to XP. I was using an old 300 MHz / 128MB RAM computer that could easily run Windows with MS Office with hardly any delay. But Linux was unbelievably slow to boot, to login, to launch programs, to install, to configure. Windows simply ran circles around Linux. But I lived with it, because I was sick of Microsoft's high prices. I occasionally tried lightweight window managers instead of KDE and Gnome, but I was always irritated with the lack of features. I also strongly believe that desktop Linux should be entirely configurable using a GUI control panel. There is nothing worse than requiring documentation to set up a network interface when it's not possible to get online to get the documentation. The command line and text config files are an excellent resource, but they shouldn't be the only way. Unfortunately, though, YaST and Mandriva Control Center are slow, buggy, unstable, and often missing important tools. I finally gave up on Linux in late 2006 when I got a new laptop with Windows XP already installed. My WiFI card and modem were not supported in Linux or required ridiculous amounts of effort to configure, and in Windows XP they just worked. Windows XP is **FAR** from perfect, but it's currently the most functional, in my opinion. But now, Vista is here, and as far as I can tell, it's a bloated, restricted, un-fair monster. So we need a new, good alternative before too long, when Vista really starts taking over the computing landscape.



Here are some features that would really make up THE ideal Linux desktop, in my opinion:

1. Make it work on computers with 64 MB RAM. From my personal experience, both in poor countries and the United States, the majority of individuals and companies and schools are still stuck with computers with less than 256 MB of RAM, all the way down the 64 MB.

2. Comprehensive graphical control panel, written in a fast programming language and not written with Gnome or KDE dependencies. Most distros have a few limited config tools, but most of them are based on Gnome or KDE. That makes them unbearably slow to load on slow computers running a lightweight desktop. Maybe it would be good to write this in a web language and make it configurable via a web browser. Functions that should be configurable without the command line or a text editor include:
    Wired network devices
    Wireless network devices
    USB network devices
    56K Modems
    Internet Connection sharing
    Remote Samba Share mounts (so that programs without Gnome or KDE file dialogs and also command line can access remote Samba shares via - /media/remote-system-name/folder-name
    Current samba shares on local machine.
    Common network Login with roaming profiles and Windows network login / authentication
    System language and keyboard language.
    Full system backup / incremental backups to tape, DVD, or network host.
    Time and Date and Internet Time sync
    Printers and Printer Sharing
    Scanners and Scanner sharing
    Fax send/receive (yes businesses still depend on fax)
    Offline network files, with Sync when user comes back online
    VPN config
    Disk partitions
    Packages / Programs
    Default Programs / protocol handlers
    System restore states
    Firewall settings
    Mouse speed and orientation
    Power control / speedstep / ACPI / APM / hibernate control
    Xorg configurator, allowing full control of monitor and resolution and switch between VESA / Xorg drivers or proprietary drivers, and also Multiple monitor support
    Sound Card config / switcher
    Scheduled Tasks / Cron
    Services / daemons control


3. Write desktop-neutral systray applets that conform to the common standards (to work with XFCE or IceWM) to include common functionality when the user is using a lightweight desktop. These same applets would also work in Gnome and KDE, for consistency. These applets should also tie into the above mentioned GUI control panel. Functions would include
    keyboard language
    network / WiFI monitor
    volume control
    clock
    calendar / tasks
    resolution / monitor switching
    removable media
    power control / laptop battery indicator


4. Offer the distro in various flavors: Gnome, KDE, Xfce, and a super-lightweight desktop like IceWM that is actually functional and includes all the features people expect. The above mentioned systray applets would do the trick, I think. Also offer a totally stripped down version that is easily customizable.


5. Open/Save and Print dialogs that override the Gnome and KDE dialogs, written in a desktop-neutral language that also works well with lightweight desktops. These would enable open/save to network resources, access to network printers and the properties and options of those printers. These would of course integrate with the network and printer config tools in the above mentioned GUI control panel.


6. A good desktop-neutral file manager, integrated with the GUI control panel tools where necessary. Would include search capabilities.


7. Ability to easily create a personalized live CD or DVD of the running system, similar to mklivecd for Mandriva. Don't bother the user to deal with modules and chroot and config files and scripts. Just create a simple option to create a LiveCD or LiveDVD of the user's currently installed system, with all his programs and settings that he has currently configured. Also create an option to remove usernames and personal data or system settings, so that the Live CD can be easily distributed to others.


8. Make all media formats just work out of the box, both streaming internet content and local files.


9. Make it possible to download programs on a different computer, and then install locally off of a CD or flash drive. Many people don't have broadband internet, but they do have access to it at libraries, schools, work, friends, etc. Currently, with complex package managers like apt-get, each program has a million dependencies. So if I need to download programX at a friends house, I would have to manually dig through the FTP site and download programX, libprogramX, lib2programX, libcompat1, libcompat2, libsomemultimedia, libsomeotherintegration, etc. This is a pain. It would be much better if programs were somehow self contained in their own folder, with all their dependencies. I think that the Klik system shows promise in this regard.




That's all for now! :wink: Sorry for the long message. Please don't take this as criticism or trolling or bashing, I genuinely want Linux to be a viable solution. I've tried to make Linux work for so many different people, and even tried to integrate it at my work, but it just doesn't make the cut yet, precisely for the reasons I already described. I think it is possible though.

Any comments?

Thanks a lot!
Regards.
rahim
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Postby clem on Sat Feb 03, 2007 3:35 pm

Hi,

It's an interesting post. IMHO Linux is already ready for the desktop and far more than any past or present version of Microsoft Windows. Having said that there's a lot of improvements we can work on to make it even better and I agree with most of the points you brought up.

Linux Mint or Ubuntu or Debian, or SUSE/Fedora/Mandriva and other distros won't make the perfect desktop by themselves, but each will bring its lot of innovations and you can count on us to keep an eye on what's going on and always make our best to make the user's experience better.

Clem
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Re: The Ideal Linux Distro

Postby scorp123 on Sat Feb 03, 2007 5:28 pm

rahim wrote:However I was shocked at how poor the performance of Linux was compared to XP. I was using an old 300 MHz / 128MB RAM computer that could easily run Windows with MS Office with hardly any delay. But Linux was unbelievably slow to boot, to login, to launch programs, to install, to configure. Windows simply ran circles around Linux.
Hmmm ... Usually it's the other way round. I have an old Sony C1 laptop, with a Transmeta Crusoe CPU and only 192 MB RAM. The laptop shipped with Windows 2000 and with it the performance was horrible. I don't even need to try XP on that machine, there are no drivers for some of the special chips (e.g. Sony proprietary interrupt controller, which in turn controls lots of other things) and the Windows 2000 drivers don't work with XP SP2 (I tried that too ...)

Linux on the other hand runs without problems on that laptop, even the built-in web cam gets recognized. And as long as I stay away from GNOME and KDE and instead use something like WindowMaker or Fluxbox the laptop works OK even with GUI programs.

Out of curiosity, but which distribution did you try on that old machine of yours? Maybe things like DMA for the harddisks weren't properly activated? This can happen (some IDE controllers really behave strange and Linux doesn't always detect them correctly), and when it happens then everything feels very very slow.

Regards,
scorp123
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Postby rahim on Sun Feb 04, 2007 12:23 am

Hello,

Thank you both for your replies! It's good to see that the developers are involved with the forums.

I do agree that Linux does have some very impressive desktop features, such as multiple desktops, "always on top" window option, transparency, 3D effects. If the only thing I did was use the desktop itself, it would be great. It's in the other areas I mentioned before where it seems more deficient, in my very humble opinion.

On my old computer, I tried a huge number of distros and desktops. Redhat, Knoppix, Mepis, Beatrix, Puppy, DSL, SUSE, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Mandrake, Mandriva, PCLOS, Vector, SLAX, and more that I can't remember. All of them had major shortcomings. As a matter of fact, up until recent builds of Xorg (especially back when it was XFree86), I experienced frequent, unpredictable crashes of the entire X system, which made the system even worse than Windows 98 for stability. However, that seems to have improved with the newest Xorgs. All of the above distros, with the exception of Puppy and DSL, were unfortunately much, much slower than Windows 2000 when compared on a task by task basis. I did make sure that DMA was enabled. There were fast desktops like IceWM, but unfortunately the programs themselves, like any Gecko-based web browser, OpenOffice, and CUPS printing service performed many orders of magnitude slower than, say, IE, MS Office, and printing on Windows. In fact, even Firefox and OpenOffice on Windows on the same machine ran much more smoothly than under Linux. Unfortunately, I can't get my work done without a Gecko browser or IE, Thunderbird or Outlook, and OpenOffice or MS Office.

Linux does perform almost as well or even better than Windows when there is plenty of RAM to spare. But on an old system, I think it's hard to beat Windows 2000 for stability and speed and compatibility with new hardware and software. The problem is the price-- Windows 2000 still costs like $250. For each different language edition! Awful.

So, I am definitely going to be keeping my eye on Linux Mint. I'm glad you guys can see that there is room for improvement in Linux, and have already taken steps to make many improvements!

Take care.
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Postby marcus0263 on Wed Feb 07, 2007 2:40 am

I love these people who complain about the speed but want ALL the bells and whistles. KDE and Gnome are full featured Desktops and the performance of Gnome since v2.14 is sure snappier than Win2k. People seem to ignore the fact that as hardware progress's coders take advantage of the extra resources.

So suggestion is if you've got an old legacy computer with 64 Meg of Ram run Win95 with the old legacy software that it was designed for. It's unrealistic to expect software that is coded for P-III and P-4 hardware to be responsive on systems designed for DOS.

I've got Linux running on an old AMD K6-2 350 MHZ with a PCI video card, attempt to put Win2K on that and it'll PUKE. It runs fine with Fluxbox and Fluxbox has a lot of nice features and runs QT and GTK programs very sweet. Now launching Firefox on it is painful, Opera runs alright the memory footprint of Firefox is pretty steep. I don't even attempt to launch Open Office but it works great with Abiword and Gnumeric.

So moral of the story is you can't put an engine from a Yugo in a Cadillac and expect it to perform like a Ferrari!
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Postby rahim on Wed Feb 07, 2007 10:22 am

marcus0263 wrote:I've got Linux running on an old AMD K6-2 350 MHZ with a PCI video card, attempt to put Win2K on that and it'll PUKE.


I would respectfully disagree. I ran Win2K for quite a while on a P-II 266 MHz with 64 MB of RAM and I never noticed a problem with performance. And Win2K **is** a full-featured desktop that does almost everything a person would expect from a modern OS. It has a start menu that doesn't have to be edited through a config file, quick launch buttons that don't need to be manually placed there with with a config file, and it has WiFI monitors and a keyboard language switcher and laptop power monitor. It just works, and on ancient hardware too. So it is possible to have an OS that is not crude or stripped down which performs well on ancient hardware. Why not use Win2K then? Because it is ridiculously expensive, and because of security concerns.
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Postby marcus0263 on Wed Feb 07, 2007 10:32 am

rahim wrote:<snip>I ran Win2K for quite a while on a P-II 266 MHz with 64 MB of RAM and I never noticed a problem with performance.
Now I know you're exaggerating, 64 MB of RAM you're lucky to get it to boot let alone have any programs run.

Come on
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Postby marcus0263 on Wed Feb 07, 2007 11:19 am

A bit more info

http://telcontar.net/Misc/OS/show.php?os=Win2k

Windows 2k has roughly a 70 MB memory footprint, so what happens when you load programs?

Win2k running on 64 MB RAM with no performance issues? Come on you can at least come up with something believable.
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Postby rahim on Thu Feb 08, 2007 1:49 am

marcus0263 wrote:Now I know you're exaggerating, 64 MB of RAM you're lucky to get it to boot let alone have any programs run.

Come on


Ever tried it yourself? I have. :wink: Lighten up a bit and try not to be closed minded! This is not a war. It's a request to make Linux better.

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodte ... m.mspx#EIC
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Postby marcus0263 on Thu Feb 08, 2007 2:02 am

rahim wrote:
marcus0263 wrote:Now I know you're exaggerating, 64 MB of RAM you're lucky to get it to boot let alone have any programs run.

Come on


Ever tried it? :wink: Lighten up a bit and try not to be closed minded.


Yes I have on systems with 128 RAM. I've also spent a number of years in this industry with a good chunk of them on the road through 4 continents. I've worked in a very broad variety of environments :shock:

With Win2k having a memory footprint of around 70 Meg for the OS alone you're slamming the swap file before you even load any programs. So your claim that it runs "well" with 64 no one takes this seriously.

Lighten up? About what?
I'm just calling your bluff ;-)

Cheers
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Postby rahim on Thu Feb 08, 2007 2:19 am

Ha! It would appear we have very different opinions as to what constitutes good performance, then! :) I wish I had that old beast so I could install Win2k and give some quantitative numbers, but it's gone, good riddance.

Take care.
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Postby marcus0263 on Thu Feb 08, 2007 10:39 pm

rahim wrote:Ha! It would appear we have very different opinions as to what constitutes good performance, then! :) I wish I had that old beast so I could install Win2k and give some quantitative numbers, but it's gone, good riddance.

Take care.
I take it you never ran any programs on it, like an anti-virus program or maybe an office program ;-)

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/suite ... 51033.aspx
Memory 256 megabyte (MB) RAM or higher

Cheers -
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Postby .ee on Fri Feb 09, 2007 11:32 pm

rahim,
I guess that your idea about slowness of linux is due to a wrond distribution chosen (windows xp would also freeze on your hardware). Puppy linux would probably be much faster on your old hardware, because it runs from RAM. I would suggest to try it. Mint is beautiful but it is still more demanding to the resources.
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