What are your general tips for the most stress free Linux experience?

Hello Everybody,

For those forum members who have been using Linux for a good long while now (at least a few years):

  1. As you learned the ropes of how the whole Linux Distro ecosystem works, what sorts of guidelines did you make for yourself, to minimize the various sorts of stress of being faced with such a wide range of choices in this ecosystem?

  2. How did you set your sights on tighter groupings of choices, when you realized that it would be effectively impossible to try every distro, every desktop environment, every piece of software which could possibly meet some need that you had?

  3. What did you do, to try to simplify things (and manage the complexity, so it didn’t get out of hand)? Did these approaches work, generally speaking, over the longer term?

  4. What did you decide you wanted to seek out, from a technical perspective, which would keep your Linux journey the most stress-free? (Seeking answers on forums, podcasts, instructional videos, etc. is an obvious answer here, no need to mention it).

  5. Likewise to 4, what did you decide you wanted to avoid?

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This is a good question! I’ve used Linux since about 2010, when I put Suse (from a DVD a coworker gave me) on a laptop a friend had given me. I then had Ubuntu for a while, then Mint, then Fedora, then Solus, now Manjaro. I think the summation of the below is “Linux is so flexible, that’s why there are so many choices. And if there isn’t a choice, you or someone else can make one!”

  1. I had Suse, so I started there. After getting it working, I looked through ‘beginner friendly Linux’ and saw it was Ubuntu. But the wifi card back then was NOT user friendly, but the experience on Ubuntu was better than Suse. Basically as I learned more, I just tried other things.
  2. I had a spare laptop that became my testing machine (before I knew what VMs were!). So I would burn an iso to DVD, and try it out. I tried almost every DE, seeing what I liked and didn’t. Mostly I checked what the default software was and that’s how I chose. I knew you could add other software, but the CLI was still scary.
  3. I wanted to find a mix of what I understood, and what was powerful. I think there’s some real power behind the tiling window managers, but I don’t want to learn how they work. I liked Gnome 2, KDE back in the day was dated looking, and then enjoyed Cinammon because it was very much like Windows layout. I wanted to see what I liked, and learn if there were other tricks that could be useful. For instance, I could no longer like without F12 being Yakuake since using Manjaro, but I had never used it before!
  4. I always wanted to setup my own server. But I didn’t know what that meant, other than I could download a server iso from Ubuntu. So when another laptop we had came apart at the hinges, we upgraded and I installed Ubuntu Server onto the laptop. I got a black screen with a terminal when it was all done. “Well, that’s neat!” Then I donated it to an electronics recycling place, because I didn’t really understand what I was doing. So to learn more, I learned about VMs, setup a server VM just to play with, and learned a bunch that way. Then I got an old desktop and it’s my home server now, still running Ubuntu server, along with Nextcloud and Emby. Forums have always been the best place for answers to specifics, but I listened to LAS, Late Night Linux, DLN, Ask Noah for ideas. They taught me about what Pis can do, how to put Linux onto Chromebooks, and setting up stuff on Digital Ocean, all of which I have now done!
  5. There wasn’t much to avoid. I have put various installs (including Puppy Linux onto an early 2000s laptop) on friends computers to help them eek some more life out of them, but no one else has jumped onboard too. I was wary of going Windows-free, but have been happily so for almost 7 or 8 years now!
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I will not answer chronologically and some questions sound repetitive.
I will give a summary.

Stick with one distribution for a longer period of time and try to understand it. It needs good support, probably a nice community and it has to be viable as in it won’t go away quickly and try to to engage, support, help and enter into their community.

When you realize that every Linux distribution is the same under the hood than distro hopping does not make sense anymore. Once I settled, I almost tried every DE on only one distribution until I knew what was to my liking and still new DEs came out of nowhere.

You should really do one thing well and that is read, read and read, no so much the RTFM mentality or documentation in general. There is so much stuff online already answered on forums, there are wikis, FAQs. It is a journey and if you try to engage with an open community and you are welcomed you will learn a ton of stuff. Of course not all communities are like that, but most are and they are happy to give you a hand. Look at this one e.g., DLN.
I would definitely avoid elitist communities and toxic behavior where you cannot ask simple questions or get flamed for doing something not the distro’s (pick your flavor) way.

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I strongly agree here. The culture which a community has, and the absence of toxicity there, is pretty much the crowning factor at the end of the day.

I also agree that framing it as a journey is very fitting. On a journey, you are bound to face several challenges. And challenges can be stressful. If you wanted a stress-free life, then taking on such challenges might not be your cup of tea. But for those who are feeling adventurous, and enjoy the thrill of an adventure, then the stress (which is unavoidably encountered sometimes) is just an understood part of the adventure.

In the Linux world, the software bugs whose face you have to punch sometimes (metaphorically speaking), is sort of like how Indiana Jones needs to punch a few faces as well, to get to the treasure. Yes, it’s true: some bugs are tougher, and won’t go down without some sort of struggle, or even “brute force” debugging methods (which are, metaphorically, sort of like a “fight”), on your part. Note: I don’t advocate anger, or violence, in the slightest.

Sometimes you feel somewhat beaten up afterwards, but, hey, it can feel really gratifying when you get the treasure. Just be careful not to get too beaten up and burnt out!!

Above all, be gentlemanly to your fellow adventurers!

You’d have no stories of adventure to tell your grandkids about, if you weren’t willing to go on any journeys.

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  1. When I first got started with Linux I was in college, with a lot of time on my hands and not a lot of personal responsibility. As such, I didn’t mind spending the better part of a weekend fiddling with something to get it to work the way I wanted. As an adult I’ve decided that if it doesn’t work the way I want it within a reasonable amount of time (say, an evening) I dump it. There’s plenty of other Linux distros that don’t waste my time. I also stick to distros with familiar package bases (DEB, RPM). I don’t have any interest in compiling my own apps from scratch any more.

  2. I always use Firefox, Bitwarden, vim, and LibreOffice. There are other choices but I don’t care. I’m focused on drilling into those and using them to their full potential. As for desktops - I tend to stick to GNOME and GNOME-alikes (Cinnamon, MATE). KDE was fun at one point but these days I just don’t need that much configurability.

  3. I took a long, hard look at what I actually used my computer for rather than what I thought I did. My computer needs have changed since I started with Linux in college. I don’t play many games on my PC anymore - that’s what my consoles are for - and I don’t do any development outside of work. I don’t need to spend time setting those subsystems up. I never use them.

  4. I didn’t really seek out anything or anyone - those things just naturally happened while I was looking up some obscure hardware setting or bug. You run into people and resources that are useful to you, and you bookmark them. DLN was one of those.

  5. I try to avoid larger Linux and FOSS community forums - I was a part of LinuxForums and LinuxQuestions in another life and larger communities just seem to have a lot more zealots and unpleasant people on them. I prefer smaller, but still active forums.

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There is a really interesting facet of human nature here. It seems when a forum is too big (cough, cough, Facebook and Twitter), then I guess through sheer statistics, some trolls or other sorts of political opportunists will be bound to show up and ruin it. It’s one of those “tragedies of the commons”.

I think all the ill will, and toxicity between Linux enthusiasts would come to an end if we all appreciated how it sort of eventually becomes necessary to do what you’re describing here. There comes a point where you sort of “gel” around your favorites, because you need to be able to settle down, if you are ever going to drill down into the particulars, and really use it as the great, comprehensive, deeply useful tools, which they were designed to be.

Just as you are bound to eventually “gel” around some toolchain or workflow, don’t be at all surprised when other Linux enthusiasts “gel” around some different toolchain or workflow. They needed to “gel” somewhere, and their needs are almost certainly going to be different than yours.

This “gelling” is actually a good thing, because it is an indicator of “settledness”, which begets actual productivity in the longer term. Without such productivity to show for all the experimenting, that ends up sometimes looking like some sort of embarrassment, because it just looks like a tinkering hobby, with no real-world, impactful, useful output to speak of.

Here’s how I would answer my own questions (and I have 22ish years experience with Linux, including 6 years professionally):

  1. After feeling overwhelmed with all the distro choices, when I saw that most of the top distros (in popularity) were .deb-based, I decided to limit myself to those.

  2. Any new and upcoming Desktop environment, which didn’t have like 10 years maturity at least, was ruled out. And if a desktop environment changed its API drastically (cough, cough, Gnome 3), this resets the counter to zero. When it came to choice in desktop, I ruled out tiling window managers. These didn’t feel “human” enough to me. The more “human”-feeling, the less stressful. An absense of “papercuts” means everything, to avoid stress! Gee, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Ubuntu has, by far, the most users compared to any other distro, as they really focused on this. And furthermore, a Desktop needed to feel really, really sensible. Sadly, this meant acting in several ways like Windows behaves (the market leader for Desktops of any kind). I didn’t want to have to struggle against a bunch of default settings which didn’t just work the way I expected them to. That would be stressful.

  3. I tried to go as long as I could between nuke-and-pave installs. Ideally 2 years, but often I only lasted like 9 months between installs! My eagerness for new features would overwhelm me at about the 9-month mark.

  4. I generally went where the popularity was, within the Open Source world. The more users, the more bugs would likely be squashed, owing to sheer numbers of eyeballs. There needed to be a big enough community. Not necessarily the largest (and I don’t run Ubuntu as my daily driver, BTW).

  5. This meant evading rolling-release distros (or at least rolling-release distros which did not use, by default, a snapshotted filesystem like BTRFS, and include a graphical tool like “Timeshift” to manage said snapshots, allowing quick and easy rollback, after a botched upgrade). I also set aside the desire to play video games in Linux. Some love it, but I just didn’t want to go there, personally.

  1. My initial guideline was to maintain a Windows 7-like experience in Linux. It was easy picking a distro because everyone recommended Ubuntu or Mint and both had a MATE version among limited DE choices. It was my low stress learning safe harbor while I listened to other people and tested their recommendations with live ISOs.

  2. I organized my priorities and given how many there were it narrowed my choices to extremely few. Secure, stable, maximal eyes on the code, least code, most FLOSS, strong official package support, race to the top.

  3. I initially got comfortable with VirtualBox, then virt-manager. Testing OSs and DEs in VMs made things far easier. I moved my safe harbor from Mint to Debian, later from MATE to XFCE. I began adding my own research including using Wikipedia’s amazing OS chart for references. It’s worked well so far.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1b/Linux_Distribution_Timeline.svg

  1. I’ve found I want freedom and security above all else. The more standardized, self-contained, OS agnostic, lightweight and fundamental I can make my workflow the less i’m bound to OSs, CPU architectures, 3rd party packages and unknowable masses of code. I want my trust to reside in the fewest people and i’d like to be as much the curator of my own system as I can be.

  2. I want to avoid lock-in, be that by OS, packages or CPU architecture.

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I’ve lived a few years in England and it’s sort of a trope that the British love standing in line. It’s a peacefully overwhelming part of the culture that anyone coming in adopts immediately. I think a good Linux community is possible at scale but that culture of goodwill needs to be peacefully overwhelming.

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@esbeeb, I believe that all of your questions for me could be summarized by the community. Before I install a distro, I lurk in their community, read through forum posts, observe the activity level, and how often the developers of the distro engage with the community. I care more about the community than the default desktop (they are all good to me) and default apps (I like too many to count). Truthfully, I have found so many wonderful communities that have grown up around distros, and additional communities that have grown up around positive Linux content, like the DLN community and the BDL community.

I have found a welcoming, positive, and helpful community in Fedora, Ubuntu Mate, and MX Linux. Honorable mention of communities that have been a positive experience for me but I’m no longer active in them: Bohdi, Bunsenlabs, and Antix. These are just the distro communities that I have the most experience with, but I’m sure there are equally positive and supportive communities connected to other distros as well.

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I second the community aspect!
Sometimes I think I only use Linux and open source because I love the community and I am part of it. That makes it so great.
It is definitely the best part of the Linux experience and journey, the community and the people that are part of it.

I think it was the in person LUG that I went to when I first got into Linux in early 2000’s, that taught me the value of having a great community. I would haul my desktop tower, CRT, keyboard, and mouse up the stairs to the 2nd floor meeting room of my LUG in two trips, and 3-4 of the 12-20 people that were there would help me get Linux installed or fix my install. Often, those same people would volunteer to help haul my tower and CRT back down to my car at the end of the meeting. Community is awesome!

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Well, as great as community can be, I think that we need to also give due homage to good UX when we see it, as that can go a long way to attracting newcomers. I posted about a good UX-explaining site today: