The Trials and Tribulations of a Distro Hopper

By Mike Johnston October 6, 2016 (Updated: June 26, 2017) Articles and Editorials

I've been a Linux user for as long as I can remember. Pretty much since I was a kid (I'm now 41) and there was a Linux distribution I could find. I didn't start with just Linux though.. I was installing OS/2 by floppy disk (30 or so of them) which was basically akin to punching oneself in the face for hours on end, especially when the last or next to last disk failed repeatedy and you had to start over.

Oh OS/2. How I hated your many disks and the install time of 2+ hours.

I even messed around with BeOS for a while. I purchased every release and loved it.. such a shame it didn't survive.

Remember this beauty?

I first got started with Linux either with Red Hat or SuSE. I remember Mandrake Linux when it first came out and being hugely excited. I remember falling in love with Slackware and feeling like a purist for using it. I remember stubbornly fighting with Red Hat to get Quake running on it and, once successful, bragging to my friends about the extra 2 frames per second I got over there Windows desktops.

The biggest problem I've always had with Linux or any operating system was the desire to move on once I got it to where I was happy with the way it performed and completed all of my self assigned goals. This, I suppose, makes me the type of person who just loves to mess with software and love challenges. I suppose that makes sense given that I now do exactly that on this very website but I've never been able to run anything for longer than a week without either reinstalling it or something else or the latest thing that just came out.

For a long time I didn't know what to call this affliction until I saw some others using the term "Distro Hopping". In fact there's actually a /DistroHopping subreddit full of people with the same inability to keep a stable desktop / laptop running without wiping it and reinstalling something else. I don't know how much time (or data) I've spent downloading ISOs and burning them to CD, DVD and finally USB so I can once again wipe my poor computers hard drive and run through yet another install process. Over the years though, I've learned quite a bit. I remember battling with Slackware, ArchLinux (when it first came out), Gentoo (that one was tough to get going) and many others. I remember the feeling of accomplishment when I finally managed to surpass all of the issues that arose and was finally satisfied with a functioning desktop environment that properly made use of my graphic card, had functioning sound and made proper use of all of my mouse and keyboard buttons.

What's truly amazing, however, is how far things have come and how much easier it is now to install and get up and running with minimal configuration required. In some instances, it's also disconcerting how far behind some systems are but I can also appreciate the need to satisfy the purists. The problem with the ease of installation and configuration is that some systems have gone the route of simplifying things so much that they are actually restricting configuration capabilities and making it harder to access some of the administration functions that make Linux such a joy to work with. While I understand the need to try to make things simple and easy and will always be a champion of improving the user experience, I don't support the removal or restriction of functionality in order to do so.

As an admitted Distro Hopper, I secretly yearn for challenges and while I do love to see a smooth and easy install process, part of me still loves it when I have to fight a bit to get things "just right". The same applies for my desktop environment which is probably why I'm now a Plasma user (it still has more configurability than anything else out there, IMHO).

How about you? Why do you Distro Hop? What drives you to have fifteen USB drives standing by and a never ending stream of ISO or torrent downloads going?

Mike Johnston

Mike Johnston Author

Mike started CMS Critic in 2008 and has become a recognizable face and valued expert in the world of content management. He has worked with many small business and enterprises to establish their online presence and to assist with marketing strategies. If you are interested in working with him, drop him a line.

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