Newbie questions

OK… been a Linux user for a while, got into it because of the “free as in beer” aspect, but have become a fan and member of the DLN and JB communities. as a newb, I was a bit confused, thinking that the differences between distros turned out to be differences in DESKTOPS. maybe it’s just how my mind works,but I have a hard time putting names to different DE’s. I’ve been running Mint for a while at home, but found some issues getting it to print, and eventually gave in and bought an HP printer, since they seem to be universally useful. Just put Fedora 34 ( now 35) on the laptop here at work, and am getting used to THAT DE, only to run across Fedora Cinnamon, and now I’m REALLY confused… :wink:

The bigger difference between distros aren’t so much the DE but more so the package managers. Mint is Ubuntu/Debian based so it uses apt and .deb and fedora uses dnf and .rpg. Mint is the exception because they develop their own DE but for the most part and don’t really have versions outside of the DEs they make. Fedora, Ubuntu and others will have multiple different DEs. There are a other distros that do like mint and make their own DEs though like elementary, budgie and solus. That being said if you find a package manager you prefer and a DE that you prefer there is probably a distro out there that has that combo together. Also despite a particular distro developing a de the de is open source so any distro can also use it as well.


In the early days I definitely distro hopped for the different DE. Back then Ubuntu only had one flavour, Gnome 2, and I remember trying out Debian (I think it was Sarge) for KDE and dabbling with Mandriva for their KDE implementation. I never looked at GNUstep, though Debian shipped with that option for a little while.

Fedora Cinnamon spin and Linux Mint Cinnamon are very different beasts. For one, Fedora ships with a newer version of Cinnamon than Mint does. Mint develops the Cinnamon DE though, so until Mint ships the newer version of Cinnamon, I think it misses out on a lot of testing. The largest number of users (ie. testers) of Cinnamon are Mint users (probably).

The Linux Mint 20.3 Beta is available for testing now, which means a bunch of Cinnamon issues are being discovered that have been in Fedora Cinnamon for months now. Including this issue where under certain conditions you could type your admin password into a search box on the desktop, instead of the seemingly active password field for an application.

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Fun times! Welcome to the messy world of all the Linux things!

Some generic advice/rules of thumb for you (or anyone else that stumbles on this)

For all the ‘grey beards’: Feel free to correct any errors made below

There’s a few big branches:

  • Debian

    • Moves a bit slower than other options
      • this is by design, it’s intended to be exceptionally stable as a base for building on.
    • uses the apt package manager.
    • Children:
      • Ubuntu, which made Debian widely used by providing an excellent Desktop when there weren’t many good options for regular people.
        • Mint, based on Ubuntu and has special feelings for the Cinnamon desktop
        • Pop_! OS which also based on Ubuntu. The special project of System76, which makes and sells Linux based machines in the US (mostly)
      • Kali (NOT for daily driving) is a penetration testing distro, which is really not for daily driving because it’s a specialized tool for hacking and as such shouldn’t be used as a daily driver.
  • RHEL

    • Red Hat is a huge company providing most enterprises (in the US and Canada at least) with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
    • Very stable, pretty slow moving, based on RPM packages uses yum and will eventually move to dnf for package management
    • CentOS is now upstream of RHEL and is the community version where the community can provide opinions, feedback and even code contribution.
    • Fedora is the workstation and testing/proving ground and further upstream than CentOS
  • Suse

    • Also uses RPM packages, but uses yast and zypper package managers.
    • Also a big corporation providing support for enterprise/business, but not as commonly used in the US.
    • OpenSuse is their community edition, providing both a workstation and server option.
    • @CubicleNate does have some limited experience with Suse, and he kinda likes it apparently? I’m not really sure.
  • Arch

    • Rolling distro. This means there aren’t really major versions to upgrade too. Instead you just update on a regular basis, including the Kernel.
    • Great for those that like to be bleeding edge, or have newer hardware.
    • There can be problems with new packages, since they may not have been fully tested by the community, packages are generally available as soon as they’re released. (I’ve had very few package problems in the times I’ve played with Arch based distros)
    • Manjaro is probably one of the more well known distros using Arch as a base.
    • Garuda is a newish distro geared towards gaming (they include a lot of gaming and graphics packages in their image)
    • EndeavourOS is basically Arch with an installer.

Desktop environments are a bit more complex and convoluted. Each distro has their own tweaks they put on the DE. POP_! OS uses Gnome, but has a whole stack of things they do. Fedora also uses Gnome, but they only add their logo in a few places. As a result, POP and Fedora look very different, even though they both use Gnome, but they function similarly at the user level.

Gnome is one of the most well known DEs. I like to compare Gnome to Mac OS. There are ways you do things, and if you don’t want to do things that way, good luck. That’s not a dig, it’s just a more simplified user experience. There are not a ton of settings to tweak and change. It works well, it’s stable (as long as you don’t apply extensions) and it’s fairly intuitive for many people.

Cinnamon is closer to windows. It’s been a long time since I used it, but as I recall, there were plenty of options, and made sense to someone that was stuck in windows land.

KDE is like Windows, but with all the registry tweaks, and user experience gadgets that you could possibly install. All of the options. ALL OF THE OPTIONS. So many options it’s a bit overwhelming. KDE (the project) also releases a TON of software, kalculators, kalendars, kemail clients (the ‘k’ is silent), video editors (Kdenlive) and all kinds of stuff.

Mate isn’t something I’ve used at all. By default it looks very windows 95esque, but apparently can be cleaned up and provides a good experience.

XFCE is another one that looks like its old by default, but can be cleaned up very nicely to provide an excellent user experience. Very lightweight as a rule, doesn’t have a ton of pretty things (wobbly windows, fancy transitions etc)

And just to add a bit more confusion….you can mix and match any distro and any DE. Even if the distro doesn’t provide the DE you like, you can BYODE. Generally it’s going to be a bit of a headache, and results may vary from combination to combination. I prefer to get an image with the DE that I want from the Distro directly, or at least a community built combo.


My only correction is that the distros under Ubuntu are not really forks they are still using the Ubuntu repos.

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DLN Xtend shared their thoughts on this thread and gave recommendations:

SquirrellyDave :medal_sports: