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Linux Installation Experiences

Posted 04-22-2021 at 06:00 PM by zapwai

I recently installed a handful of common Linux distros, to compare features and see how it feels to use them daily (directly on the hardware). I had distro-hopped in 2010, then used crunchbang for a while before settling on Slackware 14 (KDE) from 2013 - 2019. Here's a rough timeline of my experience during installation.

I received a new SSD on Saturday, and partitioned it on Sunday. Besides a large main partition for Slackware -current, I ended up giving 35G to five partitions, and 20G to four more. (35G is possibly overkill, even for my longterm use, but I suppose it really depends how much software ends up on your OS.) Also the EFI partition.

I'm using AMD Ryzen 7 3700X and AMD ATI Radeon RX 5600 / 5700. I have a second SSD with windows on it, which I was dual-booting with Linux Mint last year. I installed MX Linux in early January to check it out. It was really nice but within about a month I was also running Slackware and Arch and FreeBSD. So now I'm replacing that HD with a new SSD to contain a few Linux distributions.

Besides my main operating system, I wanted to install the following:
Arch (with Cinnamon)
Gentoo (with i3)
Ubuntu (with Gnome)
Debian (??) --> (Became Crunchbang++ later on - i.e. Debian with openbox)
Fedora (with Gnome)

May as well go in order!
  • Monday
    • Slackware
      A full installation of Slackware is fast and simple. It seems the netconfig now includes wireless, which is more convenient than I remembered.

      During bootloader installation, Slackware was detecting my other SSDs (windows) EFI partition. I actually physically swapped the nvme drives to see if it was going for the primary one. I ended up changing the flags to msftdata on the windows boot partition so that Slackware wouldn't bother to read it. I was trying to use elilo specifically, so grub2 may have been easier from the outset. It really was not much of a hitch. I don't know enough about elilo to do it another way, but I can tell you that windows will boot incredibly slowly if you don't set that EFI partition back to bootable.

      I temporarily left that flag as msftdata in case one of the distros (e.g. Ubuntu) auto-installed things to the EFI partition. (Though I could probably have done an expert install of Ubuntu or something.)

      I then installed a second copy of Slackware -current on one of those 20G partitions, for testing / recovery purposes.
    • Arch
      A straightforward, though kind of tedious, install. Pacstrap is cool, and I really enjoyed installing Arch. The guide is fantastic. Despite reading it pretty thoroughly, I somehow ended up forgetting to install a network manager. Reboot with the DVD and pacman a few items and we're good to go! I installed X and Cinnamon without issue. Even with my mixup this was pretty quick, perhaps an hour of me reading the installation guide in depth about my options.

      So Arch boot up blazingly fast. I loved pacman, and the minimal nature of the base install. I was set up with a sleek, functional, deeply customizable system very quickly. I can definitely understand the hype.

      Then I got distracted playing with Arch and considered it a good day.
  • Tuesday
    • Gentoo
      Okay, this guide seems a bit longer. Interesting approach to installation, I like the minimal iso and selecting a profile. Gentoo is really very fun to learn about and install.

      After building a kernel and installing the OS, I followed the guide without thinking about what I was typing.
      In their guide they have a separate /boot partition, which I decided to mount in the same location as the OS that I just installed. So after Gentoo finished up throwing away the installation, I tried to reboot and was sad that there were so few files left.

      Oh well, there goes a few hours. Attempt #2

      This time I built a kernel but I must have missed some options because it panicked. Probably missed SSD support or something silly. I should be using genkernel anyway. This multiboot setup needs initramfs.

      Sigh.
    • Ubuntu
      Yay! It works! That was fast.
  • Wednesday
    • Debian
      Ah, the classic. This should be an easy install.

      The first two Debian DVDs I burned wouldn't work. I think it was both non-free drivers for my wireless chipset, as well as the kernel being too old for my hardware. I don't know why I wasn't able to just transfer the non-free drivers via a usb stick but the installer was not having it. APT failed to install. (A Slackware 14.2 DVD also uses a kernel that is too old for my hardware, I had installed Slackware -current using Alienbob's ISO.)

      So then I just used the net-install option they have right on Debian's front page. I was able to use a newer kernel and things started functioning a lot better. I still ended up using an ethernet connection to get this installed though.

      This was a longer, more annoying battle than it should have been. In the future I'll probably let someone else handle it and just install Crunchbang++ or MX Linux if I want Debian.
  • Thursday
    • Fedora
      Fedora has a rapid install and is gorgeous to boot into. That was easy!
      It also rudely auto-installed grub2 just like ubuntu did, but that doesn't really harm anything.
    • Mageia
      For some reason I had to reboot to the DVD 3x before it would read correctly. Besides my cdrom being slow and confused about reading the ISO, Mageia had a mostly clear installation... Mageia has its own custom stuff like boot-splash and various management tools too. (Mandrake was the first distro I tried, and then Mandriva was the first distro I really used, so sometimes I try to keep tabs on Mageia or related Mandriva projects.)
  • Friday
    • Gentoo
      Attempt #3
      I give up, I'm just going to try a pre-compiled kernel. Oh, hey it works!
      Now to update! [... hours pass... ]

      I popped into Gentoo to update Firefox the other day. That took like 20 minutes...
      In the meantime I've replaced Debian with Crunchbang++.
  • Saturday
    • FreeBSD
      Well these Linux distributions are working perfectly, I should add FreeBSD!

      /me mounts my EFI partition and tells FreeBSD to go ahead and use it!
      FreeBSD reformats it to FAT16 and installs a bootloader.
      /me is frozen with a stupid, surprised face.

In the past I've tried to share my /home directory, but that can go awry when you use multiple desktop environments. So this time around I just use symlinks to my "primary" OS, Slackwares, copy of data like Dropbox, Music, code, etc.

I'll probably keep them just for fun, but I definitely don't need more than three. Or four.

TL, DR:
Arch is fun but tedious to install, so I'm glad they're automating that again soon.
Gentoo made me feel dumb, so I installed Ubuntu to feel better. It worked.
Debian made me angry, now I understand why there are 100 "wrapper-around-Debian" distributions.
Fedora is underrated.
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