Klaus Zimmermann's Corner

kzimmermann's State of the Distro 2024 Q2

Time truly flies when you have fun, I guess, because it's been six months since the first State of the Distro series post!

As a reminder, I'm ranking the top distros that, according to my own opinion, excelled over the last six months on the following categories:

Let's go!


Winner: Debian Linux (Sid)

debian linux logo

Boring Debian has been made spicy and fun again with the daily-driving of its Unstable release here. I realized that it's been almost a year now since I took the plunge and decided to use Debian/Devuan in solely the unstable channel, and I now feel so comfortable that I barely think about it nowadays.

I've been comfortable enough with it to the point I chose to challenge my expertise and run Debian Sid continously as my OS of choice to do all my day job's work substituting Windows completely. There were some ups and downs to that journey, however, mostly because Sid went through a somewhat turbulent 64-bit time migration of several key packages to "future proof" itself. During this time, some updates were a little scarier than normal, lots of packages being held back, but through it all the packages stabilized again and Sid is back on its glory.

By surviving the ultimate test of fire from surviving Office365 and the corporate workload, I've confirmed that Debian Sid is up to the challenge.

And why not...

Devuan? One big change from the previous post is that Devuan (the systemd-less alternative of Debian) didn't make this list. Why? Simply said, the aforementioned t64 migration which followed the infamous usrmerge transition affected Devuan testing and unstable significantly more than Debian, after which installing a new Unstable Devuan system became wobbly. Until this can be a little more safely addressed, I'm sticking to Debian instead, or using the Stable channel.

Arch? I've (re)started to think about it more recently and installed for a spin in one of my machines. The installer script (which I'd argue it's a full-blown installer with possibilities to custom a lot of things, rather than a simple script like in Alpine) does an amazing job to get the basic install down so you can spend your time doing better things, like customizing the OS. I've found that it sticks to the "systemd way" a lot harder than Debian does, and this rubs me the wrong way a little. Perhaps I'll get used to it, but not quite now, coming from FreeBSD and Alpine. Also, having to use AUR to install a lot of the less popular packages is a turnoff.

Fedora? Though I hear so many good things about it, I have never used this OS any more seriously than a couple of days in my career. I simply cannot comment.

OpenBSD? Similar to Fedora. I want to reboot my previous attempt and give it a serious try soon again!

Portable install to go

Winner: Alpine Linux

alpine linux logo

Fast, reliable, small and secure. Fits in your pocket and is completely transparent when you do a frugal sysmode install. That's my summary for Alpine Linux in 2024 and, with version 3.20 released, it's better than ever.

It's the perfect OS for me to fit my EDC for emergencies, and when I travel light to a family member's house and need to use "my" computer for something.

And why not...

Puppy Linux? Antix? while still fun to spin every now and then (and they have quite an impressive flexibility record), Puppy distros are outdated most of the time, you run as root for pretty much everything, and adding new things or configuring persistence is hackish / not very clean. Antix is much closer to a traditional installation experience, but the persistence settings are a little confusing. I prefer to increase the wear on the USB drive a little more, but go for a full disk Alpine install, configurable from head to toe.


Winner: Debian Linux

debian linux logo

Simple, straightforward and rock-solid stability. I can't ask for anything more, and the familiarity from my career experience is another large plus. It's where I do my experiments, self-host my services and do some studies for a possible corporate Linux deployment, too.

And why not...

FreeBSD? Good question. Probably because I don't have any more hardware around to lay another server with it, and taking my current one offline to test it means that my current services will be down. If I get some spare hardware that I don't turn into a desktop, maybe I can try it more profoundly?

Raspberry Pi

Winner: FreeBSD

freebsd logo

Simply put, it's the only OS in my experience that can provide enough performance on this hardware to provide a good Desktop experience similar to a mid-range PC. Clock it a bit higher, run powerd and it's all good.

It's far from perfect to be a desktop, but out of all the other options I've tried so far, FreeBSD is still the best. It (still) has some driver issues, namely the WiFi, sound and only one HDMI port working, but not only those same drivers in Linux are also not super well done, those can be worked around in certain ways (adapters, tethering, cables) and the performance you get still more than makes up for it. Plus the selection of software isn't as good as you'd get as in a more established Linux distro (example: chromium not available in some releases for ARM64).

And why not...

Debian? Although probably the most complete OS for a desktop in terms of packages available and driver support, it still runs with borderline unusable performance for a modern browser even with overclocking. Using it like so is really an exercise in patience, but for utilities outside of the browser it can be handy.

Alpine? In addition to the points from Debian, it has a much more complicated setup, requiring a specific formatting of the medium and all and a subsequent installation process. C'mon, guys.

And this concludes my personal assessment of the State of the Distro for 2024 Q2. As usual, this is always based only on my personal experience with these distros and platforms, but I'm always open for trying new ones out.

What distro should I try to assess the SotD in December 2024? Any BSDs? Any ideas on how I can test new server distros? Please let me know on Mastodon!

This post is number #54 of my #100DaysToOffload project.

Last updated on 06/21/24