20 years of Linux “distro hopping”

2019 marks 20 years since I first installed Linux on a computer I owned. It went from being just a hobby of mine to something I’ve structured much of my entire professional career around. This is the chronology of my “main” Linux distribution throughout that time.

1999-2001: Red Hat 6 – I got a copy of Jon “maddog” Hall’s book, “Linux for Dummies” in 1999. It came with install media for Red Hat 6 on CD-ROM in an envelope in the back of the book. True to its promise, maddog’s book successfully improved me from someone who knew nothing at all about Linux to someone who was a dummy about Linux, a status I cheerfully maintained for several years. I installed Red Hat 6 on a beat up old Cyrix 133 (Pentium clone) and remember struggling a great deal with it to make it even remotely usable. After a few months I kind of “gave up” for a while and just dual booted with Windows 98.

2001-2005: Mandrake 7 – this was my first “daily driver” Linux distro. I had it installed on a Dell Optiplex Pentium II desktop. Mandrake was developed in France and specifically targeted to Linux dummies like myself for ease of installation. I remember really liking the KDE 2 desktop and endlessly customizing it with all kinds of strange fonts. I also remember really liking that Ethernet worked flawlessly without any additional configuration.

2005-2011: Ubuntu – By 2005 I was living by myself and making OK money so it was time for my computer hobby to really pick up steam. I got into AMD processors (Intel was kind of stagnant in ’05 with a weak Pentium 4 lineup) and when it came time to pick a Linux distro for my shiny new AMD 64 I saw that all of the “easy to install” crowd were moving over to Ubuntu. I installed Ubuntu on several desktops as well as doing my first ever laptop Linux install. I do remember some issues with laptop WiFi polluting what would have been otherwise perfect memories of Ubuntu, but after many long hours chipping away at the infamous NDISwrapper I finally got where I needed to be and all was well for a couple years.

2011-2017: Mint– in 2010, Ubuntu introduced its Unity desktop in version 10.10 which I tried very hard to like, but in vain. I quickly found out that I was not alone and that an entire distro, Mint, had seemingly magically appeared with its “Cinnamon” desktop to let us turn back the clock to 2008 again. That it was 99% compatible with Ubuntu was merely the icing on top. Mint has the distinction of being the first Linux distro I ever used at work. As my job in 2013 slowly moved toward more and more responsibilities with Linux servers, I had some leeway with my job at the time to use it on my personal workstation as well (though not without some curious stares and even a few sneers from coworkers).

2018: Manjaro and Solus – Like Ubuntu before it, Mint released a poor version (Mint 19), which caused me to distro-hop again for the first time in six years. This time, there was no clear obvious choice, so it wasn’t just hopping, it was shopping. For a while in 2018, it seemed like Solus, with its incredibly slick Budgie desktop, was the way to go, but it didn’t have enough apps and packages to totally work for me. So I moved to Manjaro later in the year, after an install on one of my gaming rigs went incredibly well, but then I began having hardware detection issues on some other installs so I had to keep looking.

2019: Fedora – as of 2019, my current distro of choice is Fedora 30. Seems a bit odd to loop back to a *very* distant descendant of my first distro 20 years later, but here we are. However, to make Fedora 30 fit my peculiar tastes these days, I have to do two major customizations: 1) Add the RPMFusion repo for all the non-free goodies the purists hate, and 2) Swap out the annoying, sluggish Wayland-based stock GNOME desktop with the snappy, familiar, X11-based Cinnamon desktop from my Mint days. Even though I don’t use Mint anymore I still love their desktop!

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