What Do YOU Look For in a Desktop Linux? How Do YOU Choose?

sphen

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I am still downloading and trying out many Linux desktop distros, giving them a look, working with their basic interface components, writing a few notes, and then deleting them and moving on to the next one. It is a background task. Flip the screen, fill in the installer details, go back to work, and it will be ready to try out later.

I tried different "families" - Debian vs. RHEL vs. Arch vs. ???. I compared desktop environments when multiples were offered from the same distro. I tried all eight Debian tasksel desktop choices from GNOME to LXQt, then compressed and saved them for reference later. I tried Xorg vs. Wayland, systemd vs. System V init, and similar "major features" that seemed to be contentious. I looked at the package management differences - apt vs. dnf vs. pacman, and then there were also Snaps and Flatpak. I looked at how different distros managed updates and maintenance and tried both command line and GUI tools (if supplied) for software maintenance and updates. After a while, you start to see the commonalities and differences between distros. More commonalities, I think.

Beyond software updating and looking at the tools that do that job, I did not spend any time looking at the software applications they offered. I was more interested in the tools that help you find what you need, and was surprised at how immature those application picking tools are. Worse yet, applications are much more specific than I expected. They can depend (or run best) on distros with UI components that that the application was written for. An application that runs well in one desktop environment may need additional installations just to run in another distro. To a certain extent, the distro you choose also drives which applications to choose. Ouch.

It is so easy to look at the default user desktop environments that come with distros and treat them as the visual face of the distro. I do not like to spend time with customizing the UI, preferring to trust the distro people to have made good choices for me. Some of the new UI design philosophies do not appeal to me, like the ones behind GNOME, but ... Linux lets me customize almost any UI. How do you incorporate such flexibility into an evaluation? I don't know. How do you know when flexibility goes too far and you are better off passing on the distro and finding one that is a better "fit" with much less effort? I don't know. How do you define "better fit"? I don't know. One can feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by choice.

Some distros simply defy understanding because they are not distributed or run in the same way as the prepackaged .iso distros with their friendly installers. In fairness, I have not yet put in any effort to grasp unusual distros like Puppy, @Lord Boltar's Expirion, Arch (vs. "Arch-based"), etc. They seem to need more work just to install and run, and I have been taking the lazy path so far. (I also know about the many special purpose and specialty distros. Kali beginners pop up on Linux.org fairly often. I know what they do, how they are used, the specialty tools they have, and more, but I digress. This thread need not mention them again.)

Some distro tests were extended, where the candidate seemed to have potential and was worth using more to learn more. Some distros came up short quickly and were discarded. Some were buggy on my virtual machine hardware (VMware). I have not installed another virtual machine application (e.g., VirtualBox) nor tried any of the distros under Hyper-V. (Yeah, Windows. It actually works for many people and doesn't bite, I promise, but that is a "hard sell" here.)

I keep written notes, but I don't know what is important to record. It feels like I'm burnin' up the wires downloading distros, but not making real, genuine progress at understanding the way-too-many choices and options, how to prioritize them, and how to filter out the easily fixed noise from the genuine issues and serious concerns.

-> I am coming to my friends here on Linux.org, hat-in-hand, to ask them:
  • How did YOU choose a distro for your "daily driver" desktop Linux system, the one that is your interface to the world?
  • How did YOU sort through so many options and choices and decisions?
  • How did YOU figure out what is important and what is a distraction?
  • How did YOU figure out the application selection and system maintenance processes, to find and run the applications you want and manage their updates and maintenance? How did that drive your choice of distro?
  • Are your overall backup and network management methods an essential input to your choice of Linux distro? (I do not have to run Linux backups now, because they are covered by the host computers. Should I be concerned that I have not yet looked at "Linux desktop operational questions" in more detail?)
  • -> What am I missing here, especially from a "big picture" view?
Bottom Line:
-> What do YOU think about when you are looking at a distro and trying to decide if you want to use it for your desktop Linux?

(Note: Please don't chide me about efficiency. It takes time to learn new skills and knowledge. My style may not fit your "just do it" style, but do not worry about that. I am wiling to invest extra time and effort to get a good start with improved chances for long term success. I do not want to spend the next decade fighting a poor choice of desktop OS and all of the externals that feed and support it. Some hours invested up front may pay off well in the long run, and I am willing to do the work. Treat it as risk reduction, like insurance. Thanks.)
 


Hi,

iam looking mostly for lightweigth distros with long support time and i dont like things like snapd. My current trick is called "debian next stable". For example before round about 2 years debian 11 will be released. I have installed it on my laptop with xfce and did a full upgrade to debian 12 (bookworm) which is in testing phase at this time. So i have a relative new, relative stable os for 5 to 8 Years. After this time my laptop is broken i think :) .

Please note this is for my DESKTOP PC not for my SERVER.
 
@sphen :-

I've normally found that enthusiastic Linux users tend to fall into one of two groups.

  • Those whose main interest is the OS itself.....how it works, how "efficient" it is, how it does everything it does in the background, how well does THAT work compared to other distros, etc, etc.
  • Then you have those who are more interested in what you can use the OS to do, rather than obsessing about the OS itself.

The latter group seems to be much smaller than the former. It's the group I belong to myself. I will involve myself in what the OS does ONLY insofar as is necessary to get an app or program working. Beyond that, I'm not really interested, TBH.

"Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks..."

I do take your point about the 'hard-to-understand' distros (like Puppy). Most folks want easy-to-install, easy-to-use, with easy access to large amounts of software. It's why some people have been suggesting for years that all Linux distros should amalgamate into a single, user-friendly distro for the masses......simply called "Linux". (Probably controlled by RedHat, but that's neither here nor there.....)

There would then be just 3 major OS alternatives; Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Sounds boring..!! :p


Mike. ;)
 
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The latter group seems to be much smaller than the former. It's the group I belong to myself.
And I fall in the third group, although I prefer xfce, my choice of distribution depends on which runs best on whichever machine it's on, and use whatever desktop comes with it, the only things I do to every distro I use, is install Firefox and thunderbird, and timeshift of course.
 
  • How did YOU choose a distro for your "daily driver" desktop Linux system, the one that is your interface to the world?
  • How did YOU sort through so many options and choices and decisions?
I initially opted for 'simple', & K.I.S.S.

My son recommended either Linux Mint or Zorin

I trie them both, plus a few others....and very smartly relaized that the answer for me was staring me in the face.

Linux Mint.

I still use it as a daily driver. It fills all my needs. If I want a few complications introduced, then I might just play around with others on a usb stick.....but I soon tire of that attitude and return to LM. What's not to like? I have sufficient to do without spending my time exploring someone elses insanity.

In a word....I have RELIABILITY. In Spades.
 
I don't think I've ever put as much effort into choosing a distro as @sphen appears to have done. I'm just NOT that methodical..!

I did the usual round of "distro-hopping" a decade ago. Tried several of the popular, "mainstream" distros because others recommended them.....though in my case, fate led me to "run" with Puppy.

Most of the distros I tried were 'buntu-based. Canonical decided, around this time, to drop support for the ATI Radeon XPress 200 GPU my old Compaq desktop rig sported.....and more or less overnight, nearly every distro I tried became all but unusable. (Remember, I was still quite green at this point, and didn't know about swapping kernels, or half the skulduggery I take for granted these days!)

An acquaintance on the Ubuntu Forums suggested I take a look at the newly-released Tahrpup 6.0 CE, the very first product of the newly-setup Woof-CE build system.

I did so. I liked what I saw, and everything just worked, OOTB. I fell for it, then & there. I stayed with Puppy long enough to begin looking forward to each day with it.....and just became "hooked".

I like "quirky". Always have done. I find easy-to-use, standard, vanilla mainstream incredibly boring.....and quickly tire of it. I occasionally "stray", but always return to the sanity of the kennels after a short while. Strangely, despite Puppy doing stuff in its own, unique way, any software I put together/re-package is always assembled with an eye to making it as easy & noob-friendly as possible....

A "contradiction in terms", perchance..? :rolleyes:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~​

(The only OS apart from Puppy I have any time for these days is HaikuOS.....but then I've been trying to get this thing to run on my hardware for years. The recently-released R1-beta4 build at long last does, so.....I'm having fun with it!)


Mike. ;)
 
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Since discovering dwm (tiling window manager) many years ago - I stopped looking at desktop environments entirely.
Since dwm - the whole point and click desktop paradigm just seems so bloated, clunky, outdated and slow.
Sure, dwm isn't flashy or anything. But it's fast, it uses almost nothing in terms of memory. It does what it does extremely well and stays completely out of my way.

I haven't done any distro hopping for a long time. But back when I did - whenever I installed a new distro, the first thing I'd do was build and install my personally customised dwm from source, along with dmenu (text based menu/launcher system), add an Xsession file for dwm and then switch to that, rather than enduring their default desktop session.

So I don't look at the desktop at all when trying out a new distro.
The main thing for me is - how easy/seamless the package management is.

I always ran into dependency problems when running Red-hat. Red hat's package management system was always terrible at resolving dependencies. So I've always avoided Red-Hat based distros. This was a long time ago though. Hopefully the dependency resolution has got better in Red Hat. But my initial experiences with Red Hat put me off ever trying them again.
As much as I loved Arch - the package management and dependency resolution was rock solid - Arch was regularly prone to breakage after large updates. I used Arch at a time when the devs were making huge, sweeping changes to the system. And I just didn't have time to keep up with all of the changes when I used Arch - so that became too much of a maintenance burden for me. I wanted something that just worked. Gentoo was a massive PITA to set up, but great once you had it up and running. But because everything had to be built from source, that also became a bit of a maintenance burden. So that was out. I spent some time with Slackware too, which was OK.

Debian's package management has never let me down, not once. So my preference has always been for Debian, or Debian derived distros. I haven't liked, or agreed with a lot of the decisions made by Canonical for Ubuntu though. And Mint always used to be Ubuntu based - so that was out for me. I spent a lot of time running Crunchbang. But after Crunchbang was killed off - I just went back to good old Debian and have stuck with it for a very long time. The whole systemd episode was a bit of a downer, but I've learned to live with that.

And now we have Wayland starting to be used as a replacement for X11 (which admittedly is extremely long in the tooth now) - I'm still not convinced that Wayland is completely ready for prime-time yet.
Also, my beloved dwm is X11 only. So I don't plan to switch away from X11 in a hurry. Even if the X11 packages are now only going to be maintained with security updates, rather than actively developed, I'll be sticking with X11 until I find something equivalent to dwm for Wayland.
I know there are a couple of projects out there, but I'm not sure how feature complete they are, or how easy it'll be to apply my usual customisations. I'll test drive a couple of them at some point though.
 
Started out mainly with big desktop distros, KDE/GNOME, but quickly tired of their bloat, so mainly used Window Managers, especially Fluxbox, which I had used for many years, my main distro was Debian because of apt, it just worked, but since systemd, I have been using Devuan, & becoming older & less inclined to fiddle with my daily use distro, opted to use Devuan XFCE live, installed to disk, (it has many more programs than I need, but is quick & easy to install).

I do still like to keep an eye on some distros, especially the quirky, DSL (Damn Small Linux) was used for a while, then SliTaz was a favourite for a while, followed by Tiny Core Plus.

Along with these, I still like to keep my hand in with the BSDs; OpenBSD used to be my regular, but now I'm favouring NetBSD.
I am also trying out Haiku, (R1B4), this looks promising, but progress on it is slow, so won't be a main contender for some time.

So, to answer your main questions, my choice comes down to stability, familiarity, & lightweight - that's why I choose to use Devuan.
 
When choosing a distro, these are my preferences:
  • Rolling release or point release that updates frequently
  • Base distro, branch/fork distro that uses the same exact repository as the father distro, or a branch/fork that does not continuously depend itself on the parent distro's repository
  • Installer with wide range of options and customization or an installer that gives you a minimal system
  • Optionally, a large package repository
  • A good, optionally verbose, package manager
  • Proprietary firmware available (laptop wifi)
  • Good and reliable distro maintenance (packages are not frozen, system-breaking software versions are skipped, packages are properly tested, etc)
  • No dependency hell
  • Optionally, unique capabilities
To me, this sums it up to the following distros: NixOS, Debian testing, Arch/EndeavourOS, Void, Alpine, Fedora (everything ISO), openSUSE (tumbleweed), Gentoo

In the end, my ideal distro is NixOS, but if NixOS didn't exist, I would just stick to Debian testing, Arch/Endeavour, openSUSE or Void probably. There is a lot of choice

With distros, I focus more on the underlying functioning, and then I build my system as I wish

I don't mind systemd, but openrc is kinda nice too
 
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It quite a choice. But my guide is a Distro that meets my computing needs works with my hardware and is pleasing to use.
I often recommend this page to new or new to be users as it gives some basics about history and distro choices.
One great things about linux is you have choices. and usually more than one way to do things.
So I recommend trying several live linux usbs of different distos and try them out without installing first. Remember the live sessions will normally run a bit slower than installed but they give a good Idea of what each distro looks like and acts like and will tell you if you hardware will work. good luck and enjoy!
 
I just download a Linux distro and try it and if I don't like it then I download another Linux distro and try it and so on until I find one I like.
For me it's the only true way to know if it's going to work.
 
Fast, light, secure, tidy. That's it.

I started with computers and internet back in 2008 out of necessity. I lived far a way from my parents and my dad got seriously ill so I needed a way of communication with them. Didn't know the first thing about it and wasn't interested at all.
So borrowed a surplus machine from work (a white Dell Optiplex) ran Windows XP on it and managed to crash it within 2 days.
A good friend of mine repaired the installation and educated me on malware, firewalls, viruses, the lot and burned an Ubuntu DVD for me and thought me how to boot from it. "Try that", is all he said.
I never did.

I got more interested and remembered that DVD so I made one myself (Ubuntu again) and started using it more and more out of curiosity (still on Windows though).
A year later I installed as dualboot and was freed from Windows back in 2018, for good.

Over the years he distros I was using where getting lighter and lighter as I noticed that increased speed and looking around for more of these lightweights I stumbled upon Puppy.
I liked it from the get go but with a fulltime job I didn't have a lot of time to get the hang of it but I always tried out new ones and wished that "all distros could be like this". Don't even come close tbh.

Long story short anno 2023 (two weeks ago) I finally got to the point of using it as my daily driver.
Vanilla Dpup has everything I could ask for.

Put it on a USB stick, configure it as you like (in minutes if you know what you want). The BEST thing next to speed and stability is the ability to forget the last session(s) on shutdown.
To save or not to save, that is the question.
 
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I look for an uncluttered simple interface without power wasting cosmetic frills. First tasks after installation is to set the screen background to solid black then disable compositor features. XFCE fit's all my requirements so for several years I've stuck with Xubuntu LTS releases mainly for its trouble free Virtualbox support.
 
While I use Lubuntu more than not, I really don't look for much in a DE.

I want a dark mode.
I want it to get out of my way without wasting my time.

I do change the desktop background, but I never actually use the desktop for anything. It goes unseen.
 
Put it on a USB stick, configure it as you like (in minutes if you know what you want).
Hmm I ain't never been able to configure any OS up in minutes guess I never knew what I wanted.
The BEST thing next to speed and stability is the ability to forget the last session(s) on shutdown.
To save or not to save, that is the question.
That's what I like about Puppy the best is that if I screw something up and I will than I don't have to save it and a reboot gives me a brand new install.
 
I am still downloading and trying out many Linux desktop distros, giving them a look, working with their basic interface components, writing a few notes, and then deleting them and moving on to the next one. It is a background task. Flip the screen, fill in the installer details, go back to work, and it will be ready to try out later.

I tried different "families" - Debian vs. RHEL vs. Arch vs. ???. I compared desktop environments when multiples were offered from the same distro. I tried all eight Debian tasksel desktop choices from GNOME to LXQt, then compressed and saved them for reference later. I tried Xorg vs. Wayland, systemd vs. System V init, and similar "major features" that seemed to be contentious. I looked at the package management differences - apt vs. dnf vs. pacman, and then there were also Snaps and Flatpak. I looked at how different distros managed updates and maintenance and tried both command line and GUI tools (if supplied) for software maintenance and updates. After a while, you start to see the commonalities and differences between distros. More commonalities, I think.

Beyond software updating and looking at the tools that do that job, I did not spend any time looking at the software applications they offered. I was more interested in the tools that help you find what you need, and was surprised at how immature those application picking tools are. Worse yet, applications are much more specific than I expected. They can depend (or run best) on distros with UI components that that the application was written for. An application that runs well in one desktop environment may need additional installations just to run in another distro. To a certain extent, the distro you choose also drives which applications to choose. Ouch.

It is so easy to look at the default user desktop environments that come with distros and treat them as the visual face of the distro. I do not like to spend time with customizing the UI, preferring to trust the distro people to have made good choices for me. Some of the new UI design philosophies do not appeal to me, like the ones behind GNOME, but ... Linux lets me customize almost any UI. How do you incorporate such flexibility into an evaluation? I don't know. How do you know when flexibility goes too far and you are better off passing on the distro and finding one that is a better "fit" with much less effort? I don't know. How do you define "better fit"? I don't know. One can feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by choice.

Some distros simply defy understanding because they are not distributed or run in the same way as the prepackaged .iso distros with their friendly installers. In fairness, I have not yet put in any effort to grasp unusual distros like Puppy, @Lord Boltar's Expirion, Arch (vs. "Arch-based"), etc. They seem to need more work just to install and run, and I have been taking the lazy path so far. (I also know about the many special purpose and specialty distros. Kali beginners pop up on Linux.org fairly often. I know what they do, how they are used, the specialty tools they have, and more, but I digress. This thread need not mention them again.)

Some distro tests were extended, where the candidate seemed to have potential and was worth using more to learn more. Some distros came up short quickly and were discarded. Some were buggy on my virtual machine hardware (VMware). I have not installed another virtual machine application (e.g., VirtualBox) nor tried any of the distros under Hyper-V. (Yeah, Windows. It actually works for many people and doesn't bite, I promise, but that is a "hard sell" here.)

I keep written notes, but I don't know what is important to record. It feels like I'm burnin' up the wires downloading distros, but not making real, genuine progress at understanding the way-too-many choices and options, how to prioritize them, and how to filter out the easily fixed noise from the genuine issues and serious concerns.

-> I am coming to my friends here on Linux.org, hat-in-hand, to ask them:
  • How did YOU choose a distro for your "daily driver" desktop Linux system, the one that is your interface to the world?
  • How did YOU sort through so many options and choices and decisions?
  • How did YOU figure out what is important and what is a distraction?
  • How did YOU figure out the application selection and system maintenance processes, to find and run the applications you want and manage their updates and maintenance? How did that drive your choice of distro?
  • Are your overall backup and network management methods an essential input to your choice of Linux distro? (I do not have to run Linux backups now, because they are covered by the host computers. Should I be concerned that I have not yet looked at "Linux desktop operational questions" in more detail?)
  • -> What am I missing here, especially from a "big picture" view?
Bottom Line:
-> What do YOU think about when you are looking at a distro and trying to decide if you want to use it for your desktop Linux?

(Note: Please don't chide me about efficiency. It takes time to learn new skills and knowledge. My style may not fit your "just do it" style, but do not worry about that. I am wiling to invest extra time and effort to get a good start with improved chances for long term success. I do not want to spend the next decade fighting a poor choice of desktop OS and all of the externals that feed and support it. Some hours invested up front may pay off well in the long run, and I am willing to do the work. Treat it as risk reduction, like insurance. Thanks.)

sphen, it looks like you have really done some work in trying out various distros - far more than I have - so my answers to some of your questions may seem a little simplistic in some points.

  • How did YOU choose a distro for your "daily driver" desktop Linux system, the one that is your interface to the world?
  • How did YOU sort through so many options and choices and decisions?
  • How did YOU figure out what is important and what is a distraction?
I've read about distros that seem to be defined by their package management system or by there default desktop environment and those things don't really interest me all that much. The use of "flatpak" or "snap" doesn't really excite me in a positive way in much the same way that docker doesn't - I'm not really conversant about any of those but I'm pretty sure I don't have a use case that clearly calls for them.

I was never a dyed in the wool "distro hopper", so I consider myself to have been fortunate to have stumbled upon mini-linuxes. I had RedHat six-dot-something installed on an old PC that someone had given me, but I didn't really use it for much of anything other than as an entry point (sshd) to reach my network from remote sites. I was never able to really wrap my head around it as I was pretty much of a Linux noob at the time, and that was one of the things that eventually prompted me to move on.

Then I downloaded an iso that was a bootable intro to a programming language that I wanted to learn and it was based on DSL. I like DSL weel enough to replace redhat with it and I learned a lot about Linux with DSL. But there was still much that I couldn't really wrap my head around and I eventually realized that almost all of that had more to do with bloat than with the actual OS. Most folks probably don't think of DSL as "bloated" but whatever.

Then when roberts founded Tiny Core as distinct project from DSL and there was the big falling out between the DSL project leadership and roberts, I could see that the handwriting was on the wall for DSL -and- that Tiny Core was finally a linux I could, or at least would eventually be able to, wrap my head around.

I've dabbled with a few of the bigger distros but I usually can't even bring myself to complete the installations let alone adopt them whole heartedly. I'm still skeptical about systemd, too, so that narrows the field a lot.

I'm spoiled now by the ease with which I can swap desktop environments / window managers in Tiny Core. I don't use a DE per se, just a window manager, which is almost always jwm, but I can drop in any of a half dozen others on a whim. So when a distro's main differentiation from others is the DE or WM that it uses - that's just a distraction.

Bloat, for the sake of bloat, is a distraction. This is not to say that I run an incredibly lean system, but everything there is there because I explicitly put it there (presumably because I wanted to actually use it).

As for what's important:
  • It has to be under my control down to whatever level I want and I have to be able to actually understand how to exercise that control.
  • It has to be light enough to run on pretty much any hardware I might happen across - not that I expect to run a modern web browser on RAM-constrained dinosaur, but even 1 GB of ram should be plenty. And yes, I'll run the same distro on a more modern desktop system with 16 GB of RAM.
  • It has to be reasonably bulletproof. I love it that a simple reboot will literally get me to a freshly installed system and, worst case, I lose a few hours worth of data.

  • How did YOU figure out the application selection and system maintenance processes, to find and run the applications you want and manage their updates and maintenance? How did that drive your choice of distro?
The applications I use on Linux all have versions for MS Windows as I started a long time ago to wean myself off of all things MS so "application selection" is primarily "what I found that works well on my old Win7 box". Full disclosure: I'm typing this on the WIN7 box. Just shoot me.

I use
  • firefox or one of its derivatives for web browsing
  • thunderbird for email.
  • libreoffice for word processing and spreadsheet.
  • the Gimp for photo editing.
  • VLC for media playing.

My software update management strategy is really simple: just don't. When I do a new install or update to a new OS version, I pull down whatever application version is present in the repository. Other than that, I don't care about the latest features in word processing or whatever. I really just need to convince firefox to never check for updates on its own because I'm never going to install them - I'm not going to rebuild the firefox package for some UI change that I don't want in the first place only to have it nag me again a few days later.

  • Are your overall backup and network management methods an essential input to your choice of Linux distro? (I do not have to run Linux backups now, because they are covered by the host computers. Should I be concerned that I have not yet looked at "Linux desktop operational questions" in more detail?)
Ever since I first started using terabyte or larger hard drives, it has been painfully obvious that the only effective way to do a full backup is to back it up to a similar hard drive, either on the same computer or on a separate network-accessible computer. This led me to reconsider the very idea of "full backups". These days I do separate backups, as needed of various types of data:
  • OS & common programs - no need to backup as these can simply be reinstalled
  • Config files, dynamically changing data and any applications that were installed "out of band" - get backed up regularly and are not particularly large.
  • In Tiny Core, these dynamic files live entirely in RAM so they need to be "backed up" to persistent storage before every reboot (**) but that's not what we usually think of as a backup. Fortunately, making an actual backup of that data just involves copying a single tarball to a backup device
  • Relatively static data like music files, photos, ebooks, etc - existing files pretty much never change so backup is mainly a matter of saving new files to primary and backup storage as they come in.

So really my backup strategy hasn't affected my choice of distro but, to some extent, my choice of distro has guided my backup strategy, or at least prompted me to think about it more methodically. Network management doesn't really enter the picture since it will remain a "mixed network" for the foreseeable future.

FWIW, I don't backup anything to "the cloud".

**) With the exception of a laptop, with its own battery, all of my hardware is on uninterruptible power supplies.


Bottom Line:
-> What do YOU think about when you are looking at a distro and trying to decide if you want to use it for your desktop Linux?

* It's -got- to have some really nice wallpaper! Just kidding. I'm not really looking for a new desktop distro, but any candidate would have to give me flexibility, simplicity and control in preference to a whiz-bang DE. And still no systemd. A simple software packaging system beats a big software repository, although -both- would be nice.
 
How did YOU choose a distro for your "daily driver" desktop Linux system, the one that is your interface to the world?
How did YOU sort through so many options and choices and decisions?

History determined a lot, and then, usage.
A friend introduced me to Red Hat linux.
My track: Red Hat 6 -> fedora 1-27 > debian 8-12 (testing).
Occasional excursions to Slackware.
Originally used gnome DE because it was there in Red Hat and fedora.
By about fedora 10, abandoned the DE for window manager: twm.
By fedora 27, twm replaced by dwm.
The DE became redundant because most of my computing was writing text.
Text included essays, papers, creative writing, letters, coding, etc.
Stayed with fedora because it provided near up-to-date software.
Changed to debian because my Linux User's Group members mostly used debian.
The LUG included a few debian developers which was influential.
The debian community aspect was appealing.
Whatever application I use, is started in a terminal or xterminal.
There are no menus in use on my boxes.

How did YOU figure out what is important and what is a distraction?

Important, was screen real estate.
The tiling window manager enables all content on screen to be visible.
No overlaps is luxurious computing for me.

How did YOU figure out the application selection and system maintenance processes, to find and run the applications you want and manage their updates and maintenance? How did that drive your choice of distro?

The applications are chosen according to the purpose they serve.
For system info, the tops: top, htop, btop, iftop, atop, iotop.
For system monitoring: sysstat tools etc.
For system learning: heaps of packages.
For writing and coding: vim, the toolchain applications.
For typesetting: groff, tex, mup.
For virtualisation: KVM.
For text browsing online: w3m, elinks.
For GUI browsing: firefox, brave, librewolf, mullvad, palemoon, min, ungoogled-chromium, tor etc.
For GUI apps: xpdf, ghostscript, imagemagick, ristretto etc.
For video: mpv, vlc.
Etc.
Maintenance is now via the apt family of tools in debian.
The absence of a DE doesn't mean the systems are slim or minimal.
There around 2600 to 3000 packages on each box at the moment.


Are your overall backup and network management methods an essential input to your choice of Linux distro? (I do not have to run Linux backups now, because they are covered by the host computers. Should I be concerned that I have not yet looked at "Linux desktop operational questions" in more detail?)

Networking is configured in the simplest way: ifupdown, basically 3 lines in a text file.
My network needs are meagre: get online, enable ssh.
So no NetworkManager, but rather standard network tools, plus a few more, installed.
Backup consists of archiving the relevant directory contents with tar.
Tarfiles are then copied to usbs - all manually.
Current backup fits easily on an 8G usb.
Keep one copy off-site - don't wish to lose all that text :).

What am I missing here, especially from a "big picture" view?

Can't say what's missing.
With virtualisation I have loaded up numerous linux distros.
Sometimes load distros to help others, sometimes to look and see.
So many distros could simply replace the debian I now use because they satisfy my needs and interests.
History has however, inured me to debian, and I guess it's familiarity that keeps me there.
 
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I personally use Linux as my daily driver for everything (except a few games). I look for a distribution that doesn't get in the way, that means, that I won't have to actively maintain: this means stable, with appropriate recent versions, well supported, and low effort. Backups the most. After 26 years using Linux, if I turn on my computer, I want to get things done and close it as soon as possible with a feeling of achievement. In that sense, I am not interested in customising the system, or dealing with a lot of options for every single choice. Opinionated is fine. I had my time on those things, and those times may or may not come back but not now.

The same applies to the desktop environment, but at a different level: no distractions.

I am finding Fedora a good balance on all the above, but Debian would work too, as Flatpaks are always an option. I don't like Manjaro and a good summary of the issues i had and the things I disagree with the distribution are in this well-written piece: https://www.hadet.dev/Manjaro-Bad/

I find Arch not a thing for me based on the first paragraph.

From this standpoint, I find very little value in derivatives for my particular use. There may be a lot of "me not reading enough about them" in that sentence, but I guess that no Debian or Fedora derivative solve any big problems I have at the moment, so I prefer to stay in a mainstream / upstream distribution.
 
I am reading these oh-so-helpful responses. I do not want to "jinx it" or slow it down, but I am definitely following along. This is helping me very much, and my feeling is that it will help others who follow too. Thanks and please feel free to add more. ...
 
I use Mint, i know i know some consider it beginner "Windows emigrants" distro but i don't need anything else.
  • Works out of the box most of the time.
  • Stable
  • Lightweight enough for my need (i revived my 15yrs old laptop with 3GB ram and it runs smoothly )
  • I like green / dark design so i only get plank on FXCE and am good to go.
  • No telemetry
  • Close enough to Windows so i can jump between OS for my work when needed without messing the flow.
 

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