A Personal Distro Challenge / Comparison

A couple of weeks before Christmas I had a fall at home which caused me a back injury and pain. My back has been a tricky bugger for years, and it took full advantage of the situation and I’ve spent a lot of time laying flat and taking the weight off to stop it screaming at me.

Apart from catching up on my unread Audiobooks I have been using my small, light, Thinkpad X240 (easiest to use while laying down) to do a little personal distro comparison of my favourite distros. It’s not a very detailed comparison, or very scientific/techie. I simply had the 6 distros installed in parallel on the 1TB SSD in this machine.

GParted layout of the SSD

As you can see the distro are MX-19, Manjaro, Endeavour, Debian (Bullseye - the Testing branch), ArcoLinux and Sparky 6 (based on the Debian Testing branch).

Now, I have them all using Xfce, and they all have the same panel layout (more or less barring the odd minor thing). The idea is, do I notice a difference in use between them doing whatever I normally do on a daily basis.

MX-19

Manjaro

Endeavour OS

Debian Bullseye

ArcoLinux

SparkyLinux 6

I’ve been booting into them and using a different distro every session and apart from the differences between the update/package management between them (I actually have shell scripts to run updates whenever I log in anyway that runs either apt or pacman depending on the distro) I don’t actually notice any difference “doing stuff” between any of them. Yes, program versions vary, with MX-19 based on Debian Buster tending to be a tad more behind the bleeding edge, Debian Bullseye ans Sparky a little less behind, Manjaro closer (within spitting distance) and ArcoLinux an Endeavour being as close to on the edge as Arch gets.

For me, and the kit I use, any of them work as well as the others. My favourite and default boot option remains MX Linix, the MX Tools are a bonus, and my nostalgia for Simply Mepis from years ago all contribute to that. It installs easy, works well, has a great community and support - what’s not to like?

I have used Debian based distros most since 2003 when the last vestige of Windows was swept from my personal computers. Debian itself was a little less simple to get onto the hardware and get everything working (the old installer was not the easiest). The non-free stuff was a pain. However with Buster things are easy, I used the “unofficial” non-free and firmware .iso files and then the instrctions here to update to Bullseye… simples.

SparkyLinux has 2 branches, 5 and 6, with 5 being based on Debian Buster (stable) and 6 on Debian Testing (Bullseye) as their (semi-)rolling release. I went with their semi-rolling 6 option, it works well, tracks Debian Bullseye well and generally is a great distro. It has a few extras like MX, not quite as many and not quite as polished overall I feel as MX.

If I had to choose between Debian Bullseye or Sparky 6, I think I would go with Debian, now if only MX did a Bullseye tracking variant, but I would still choose the current MX-19 over Debian Bullseye.

On the Arch based front, hmmmm, no problems with usage, (Endeavour OS “Kalu” tool niggled so I removed it when it stopped working and installed “pamac”, don’t know if they ever fixed the problem, can’t be bothered to check).

I like ArcoLinux a lot, it is my 1st pick from this bunch, but probably because it was the 1st Arch based distro I really tried so I’ve used it longer. Endeavour OS REALLY surprised me when it came out as to just how good it, as a new distro, was. Probably, if I’m honest it is probably hair-splitting to say either Arco or Endeavour is better than the other. Both are excellent, no harder to update than Deb based distros (although pacman syntax is weird. I could be perfect happy using either (and I do use both).

Manjaro, why don’t I like you as much as Arco or Endeavour? Possibly because you are green… Otherwise you are also excellent, a little slower to roll but not enough to cause any but the most ardent “bleeding edgers” to die of frustration. It is also one of the prettiest, most polished and consistently themed Linux distros across all the desktops they offer (they are also all green).

Of the Arch based distros I would pick either Arco or Endeavour (toss a coin) for a dedicated home setup, but for a business setting I’d probably go Manjaro (despite the green) for that slightly more conservative rolling and the more “corporate” theming.

I’m going to be keeping all 6 distros on this machine for the foreseeable future and continue to swap between them randomly. My back is improving, I can now sit for 4 - 5 hours before my back starts twinging, 6 hours before it’s screaming so I’ll be using other machines during those periods, but the X240 is a handy size and weight when being lazy laying in bed, and will continue in that roll.

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I installed Buster on a second HDD right after it was released. I played around with it for a week or so but I pretty much ignored it ever since. After reading your post I decided to switch it to Bullseye. Now I have 1,476 packages to update. That’s something you don’t see very often on Debian. :upside_down_face:

Meh! just leave it running over night… just use

sudo apt dist-upgrade -yy

where -yy will answer Y(es) responses

I got it updated to Bullseye but ran into a bit of trouble. I was getting a broken pipe error for a Kodi related .deb in /var/cache/apt/archives and the update wouldn’t continue. It wouldn’t even let me remove Kodi without throwing the same error. I did the worst possible thing you could do. I rebooted. When it came back up I was stuck on a black screen. I had to ctrl+alt+f1 to get a command prompt, then do sudo dpkg -i --force-overwrite on that .deb file. Once that was done I was able to remove Kodi and start the update again. When it finished I rebooted and got back into the desktop, then did the apt dist-upgrade.

Sorry about the problem with Kodi, I’ve never used that. I have noticed that Bullseye doesn’t seem to have Chromium later than 76.whatever, not the latest 79.something or ever 78.thingy that MX-19 has. I guess that may be a limitation that could be an annoyance for some. It’s the same in Sparky6, as that uses the Bullseye repositories.

Nothing is perfect I guess, I don’t let it bother me right now, I’ve been using Firefox a bit more.

I’m not too worried about Kodi. If I decide I want to install it again I can have it set up and working with my DVR back end in about 5 minutes. I was surprised one misbehaving .deb can halt the update process leaving the system in a half-Buster/half-Bullseye state. Overall it was a worthwhile learning experience. I’m glad I tried it but I’m also glad it wasn’t on my daily driver. I could have nuked the partition and started over but I wanted to see if I could save it.

I’m a Firefox user. When I installed Buster it only had the ESR version of Firefox. I downloaded the latest normal release version from Mozilla and put it in a .bin directory in my home, then changed ownership to root to keep it locked down. When I want to update it I change ownership back to my user and update it from the Firefox help>about menu, then change the owner back to root. Maybe you could do the same with Chromium?

When you are using each of the distros, do you have a common home directory or does each distro have their own? I am interested in knowing what kind of work loads you are doing on each. I am wondering if there would be issues in going between the versions if you had the same home folder. It is an interesting experiment and I’m interested in what your conclusions are after some weeks of this.

I have it so each distro has it’s own /home directory, just in case the different versions and libraries clash and cause problems. What I do is so I can judge what it would be like to use that distro as the sole distro on a machine.

This machine I’ve had for maybe a couple of months and it was set up this way from when I got it. I’ve been hammering more lately due to spending so much time in bed and the X240 is the most “in bed” friendly laptop I have (the X230’s are good too).

I have had similar multi-distro setups on other laptops, one X230 has 3 distros, another has 4. My T430 has 2 SSDs, the 1st, a Crucial 256GB, has MX-19 (my default) and the 2nd has 3 (on a budget Adata 480GB SSD from eBay). The X240 was specifically set up with my top 5 + 1 distros to do side by side tests.

The results is, simply put, one installed, after boot and running the updates, it doesn’t matter really, they all work great (despite the different levels of “bleeding edge-ness”). By using my DE of choice, Xfce, on all of them set up the same they all drive the same, feel the same, feel the same, which is to say comfortable, fast and I’d be splitting hairs to say any is better than the other (except MX-19 is best, but that is pure bias).

The 6 distro setup was meant to be a temporary thing, I was planning to replace a distro here and there when I wanted to try a different one (say the distro challenge on BDLL) but I’m thinking I’m keeping this as is for some time. I want to see long term is the Arch distros cause problems because of their bleeding edge nature, I want to see if the Debian stable MX-19 is more stable that the Debian Bullseye testing (or Sparky 6 - which would be the one I’d be most likely to replace as I’ve not seen, so far, any advantage over Debian Bullseye).

The only thing I can see missing is an RPM distro, maybe Fedora replacing Sparky.

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I lean toward EndeavourOS because it’s funny that they spell it wrong (I kid) and I prefer the almost vanilla Arch approach over Arco and Manjaro. However, Manjaro does a lot more for you out of the box and holding back updates for testing is a good thing for most users I think. It’s nice to see so many Arch-based options.

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Oh definitely, if I was setting up to use an Arch base distro in an office, even a home office, setting it would be Manjaro. I just mess about so either Arco or Endeavour is fine, and actually, the rumours of Arch’s breakiness has so far proved unfounded, but then I don’t use much of anything from the AUR, which is where the breakiness is said to be stored.

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That is the key tho, avoid the AUR for a stable Arch. At the same time, it is the AUR people tout as being the great feature. I find the inconsistency in that narrative to be rather frustrating. Without the AUR what is Arch really giving you besides more work in keeping your system running? I don’t mean this to be confrontational but rather, I just don’t see any competitive advantage to Arch. I truly don’t see the attraction to it.

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You still get more of the “latest and greatest” versions without the AUR, you might value that for some reason, maybe because “you just gotta have it”… I’m mostly happy with MX-19 and Debian Buster - I don’t have “latest and greatest” hardware

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I totally get that it is more “latest and greatest” is there a particular application of which you are thinking? This is an honest question. I am truly trying to understand what I the win is with Arch.

Well, the Arch based distros had the latest Chromium for a while while Debian Bullseye was 3> versions back, I think the version of Geany is also and there are minor changes to the interface (a niggle, not a problem) but that’s about all I can think of. I don’t do anything clever, no media servers, no need for OBS and other media creation stuff, I don’t game so no Steam - I’m pretty boring really. What software I do use, the versions in MX-19 or Debian Buster work just as well for me.

On the AUR, I’ve found some programs that don’t work in Arch and Arcolinux, so I have to download Snaps for a couple of programs and they run great. In my journey into openbox I have to run a handful of programs from the AUR using yay but these are popular programs that seem to be well maintained.