I will start this post by thanking the kind folks at the Reddit’s linux subreddit and Voat’s linux subverse who wholeheartedly participated in this survey. Here are the results and they are pretty insightful. For a developer who builds apps targetting the linux platform, it helps to know what are the preferences of users who run those apps on a desktop. Not understanding these requirements beforehand has caused a lot of unneeded backlash in the history of linux desktop development and a lot many forks were created which ended up causing a division of focus.
Not only did I learn a lot about what the linux desktop users want in general, but the survey also threw some light on what distros or desktop environments are generally perceived to be either giving a better performance or providing a better user experience.
What is the most important factor when choosing a Distro?
These were the options I had set:
- Better Performance and speed
- Better User Experience
- A Mix of both
The prevailing assumption of a lot many people is that linux users are usually those “super nerdy” tech geeks who are only interested in arcane things like computing performance and speed. But on the contrary, we learn that linux users are just like
OSX users for that matter, and they prefer a better user experience over performance!
As you can see, most of the folks preferred a balance of both performance and user experience. In fact,
Better Performance and speed was the least favored factor for most people who chose their distros, which implies that how wrong our assumptions sometimes could be! As one redditor said, I should have included
Software Freedom as an option since that is also quite a motivating factor for a lot many linux users.
Here are two comments from participants who chose the middle-path,
A Mix of both:
I don’t feel I have to compromise on one or the other. A good user experience also encompasses acceptable performance.
A good UX is crucial for my own comfort, but the speed and performance must be reliable.
Here is what the undecided folks (Other) have to say:
While user experience is very important, I feel this is for nought if it is not matched with upstream packages. I find it terribly tedious to find myself on a distro which is lagging behind on the likes of gnome-shell and firefox.
Full choice over programs and user interface; my own OS
Stability and security are the most important factors for me.
Another option I should have added here was
Stability and security since these are the very foundations upon which linux sits.
People’s Favorite Distro
Ubuntu’s popularity is pretty well-known in the linux world, but what surprised me was Arch. Perhaps, it was the bias effect of lot many people on linux subbredit being Arch fans, or maybe Arch users have actually increased relative to Ubuntu during recent years, who knows! In any case, this survey result does indicate to me that if tomorrow I were to develop a linux destop app, then which distros should I test on with some priority. This is just one of the benefits of conducting this survey.
Here are a few user comments in this category:
Actually Arch derivative Antergos. This distribution has good a user experience and it is performant. It also delivers fresh software.
I use Debian on my desktop, Arch as a DOM0 on my server, and RHEL/CENTOS at work.
I honestly hate the linux desktop. It has so many bugs and is visually very hard to parse.
The Distro with Best Performance
Unlike the Phronix arcane performance benchmarks, I thought about asking the users directly which Distro gave them the best performance. I don’t doubt the benchmarks, but computing is such a complex phenomena that raw performance isn’t as much an indicator of overall performance as it used to be in the past. Besides, the best proof of pudding is in the eating. Linux enthusiasts distro-hop a lot and in that process learn about the distros a lot.
Again, Arch was at top here, followed by Gentoo. Debian came third which was not at all surprising. In fact, I expected this vanilla of a distro to be on the top. Perhaps the “Arch fans” effect of linux subreddit again! What surprised me, however, was Fedora coming such low on performance score. Here is what the participants had to say:
Crunchbang (development started so name changed to Busenlabs)
no idea but xubuntu runs ok on a dual core laptop from 2007 with 2gb of ram.
First benchmarks, then if no existing distro fits the bill, Gentoo, Yocto project, or LFS.
I tested a number of distros on a very slow AMD netbook and Mint with Cinnamon was faster than itself and others with XFCE and MATE.
If performance was the only criteria, I would use windows.
Probably, arch. Whichever one isn’t in the hands of the NSA.
Which Distro gives the Best User Experience
Ubuntu is most people’s favorite in this area, but Ubuntu’s community clone
Linux Mint bagging away the top position is also a fitting thing. Like Ubuntu, Mint is a distro which happens to “just work” according to most users. Though I personally don’t like all the extra amount of non-free codecs and plugins it comes pre-bundled with (such as Flash and Adobe), it is a good distro for existing Windows users to hop on. Here is what participants have to say about choosing the distro which provides the best user experience:
Mint is great out of the box and requires minimal configuration to “just work”.
Enhanced user experience means more convenience and more toys; Ubuntu repos cover both.
Arch derivative Antergos. Just enough training wheels to be easy, still all the goodness of Arch. Why not Ubuntu? Ubuntu is bloated and stale and only has the name of being easiest. While once true, the competition has caught up.
Windows (See the same answer under the “performance” question.)
Mint does a very good job of providing the right apps to control settings, out of the box.
Easy to use (Linux Mint), comes with programs that I’m familiar with (Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice) and the interface is simple but also powerful.
Allows heavy customization to how I want it (Gentoo).
Purely for ease of use/install (Ubuntu).
Haven’t tried that many but of of the few that I have tried Mint has had the most clear and logical meny items.
Along with the many enthusiastic distro-hoppers, my search for the discovery of best linux desktop continues.