The FOSS Force Poll
A couple of weeks back when we ran our two part GNU/Linux distro poll, a couple of commenters made a single point that, at first glance, seemed valid.
It’s not the distro that’s important to most users, they said, because most users don’t interact with the distro itself as they work and play on their Linux machines. Instead, the average user’s direct interaction with a computer is primarily through the desktop environment, whether that be KDE, GNOME, Unity or something they rolled on their own on a Friday night instead of having a boys’ or girls’ night out.
In other words, they opined, it’s the desktop, and not the distro, which represents the operating system — or even the entire computer — to most users.
That’s probably a truth without being the truth.
The problem with accepting the premise as an absolute is that a user’s experience using, say KDE on Mageia, would be very different from running the same KDE on Puppy Linux. Mageia is designed from the ground up to work and play well with KDE, which it does well. Puppy, on the other hand, is designed to run something super lightweight, specifically JWM or Openbox.
Puppy is also designed with old hardware with limited resources in mind, which introduces hardware into the equation as another variable. If you’re running an old 486 that you bought back in the Windows 3.11 days, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be running today’s KDE at all on any distro, and your flavor of Linux will be entirely dependent on what you can get running on very old metal.
So which is more important, distro, desktop, maybe both…or is the real answer more complicated?
A dozen or so years ago this would’ve been an odd question to ask. There weren’t many desktop environments back in the day. There was KDE, GNOME and a handful of lightweight windows managers and that was about it. Indeed, when most of us here at FOSS Force were first getting our feet wet with Linux, a question like “which desktop?” wouldn’t be asked by any but the most technically proficient power user, who’d most likely be looking for something mean and lean with which to tweak a system. The majority of us used either KDE or GNOME, whichever was our distro’s default, because we quickly learned that straying away from the default often had undesired results.
But these days, thanks in part to the lack of enthusiasm that accompanied the release of GNOME 3, there are a plethora of desktop environments, and some distro developers have come to understand the need to offer users choices instead of trying to shoehorn everyone into a single default desktop. For example, Ubuntu officially sanctions more than a handful of *buntus, where devs work to make the Ubuntu base work and play well with desktops other than Unity. Mint, as well, offers several editions that are fine tuned to work with different DEs, such as the Linux Mint Xfce Edition that we use here at the FOSS Force office.
Which is more important to you? Do you choose a distro and go along with the default desktop environment? Or do you start by choosing a DE, then find a distro that uses it by default? Inquiring minds want to know.
Take our poll. We’re very much interested in seeing the results. And if you feel as if you have something else to say on the matter, that’s what the comments section below this article are for.
Who knows? Maybe your comment will lead to another poll.
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