Posted by: duskfire | January 8, 2012

New year, new directions

So 2012 is here. Along with discussions of the games that you can find in Linux Mint and Ubuntu, I wrote ten reviews of Linux distributions last year. There were a few interesting changes in the Linux world in 2011. The developers of the GNOME desktop released version 3, with a totally new look and different ways to accomplish things.  In a similar way to when KDE released their first 4.0 version, many people are unhappy with all the changes. Hopefully that will change by GNOME 3.4, and 3.2 is already out. But while GNOME overhauled its interface, only some of the main distributions included it as the main installation option.

The Ubuntu distribution chose to create an alternative to GNOME Shell that is called Unity. I gave it a short trial when it debuted in the spring, and wasn’t happy with it. In fact, I found that I preferred the default GNOME Shell in Fedora. Although I haven’t tried Ubuntu 11.10, I am keeping an eye on its progress. The Unity interface has been improved and changes are being made. The 12.04 release will be a long-term support version, and I will definitely take a look at it. Unity didn’t impress me last spring, but I’m willing to see if it has gotten better. After all, 2 years ago I was no fan of Fedora and now it has become my second-favorite distribution of Linux.

My current favorite distribution, Mint, decided when they released version 11 in the spring that GNOME 3 wasn’t ready yet, and they chose to continue supporting Gnome 2 for another six months. In the fall, the Linux Mint team explained to an upset fanbase that they couldn’t keep GNOME 2 going, and would offer two options going forward – they started supporting a fork of the GNOME 2 interface called MATE, and also were offering GNOME 3 with additional Mint-created GNOME Shell Extensions. Late in December, however, Clem decided that MGSE was insufficient for users and the direction he saw for Linux Mint. Linux Mint now has a new desktop, called Cinnamon. It is a fork of the GNOME Shell that allows for more extensive customizing than GNOME 3 does. It is this focus on what users want, along with a large repository (thanks to the Debian/Ubuntu base) that keeps Linux Mint at the top of my list of recommended distributions.

Fedora seems to be the main showcase for a pure GNOME 3 experience. I’m not sure what I didn’t like about Fedora a few years ago when I was trying version 10, but I must say that 15 and 16 have been very good. Fedora is a top notch operating system whose main fault in my eyes is that it could feature a larger set of applications in its repository.

The other main showcase for GNOME 3 is OpenSUSE. I reviewed it and found it nearly as useful as Fedora is for me. One of my commenters thinks that OpenSUSE also has a solid KDE version, so the next time I use it, I’ll try that out.

Last year also saw a new distribution, Mageia 1. It is a fork of the well-known Mandriva distribution. I was fairly pleased with Mageia when I took a look at it, and eagerly await version 2. Mandriva has been in the news just recently with a rumor that it may have to declare bankruptcy (not for the first time), and it has had a troubled history. Mageia was created because of fears in the Mandriva community that Mandriva was losing its commitment to them. Their first release was quite good, but of necessity it wasn’t much more than a straight forward fork. I’m hoping that with the 2nd release, Mageia has some new features to show off (and possibly a bigger repository).

I also reviewed three distributions based on Slackware Linux (although not Slackware itself). What I found was that one was fairly good (Zenwalk), and two were very good (Salix and Vector), however all three have a rather limited selection of software. Because they are based on Slackware, installing additional programs is often not as easy as I’m used to in Linux Mint. The potential in these distributions is excellent, and if they could get a stronger base of support each one could go far. Vector Linux released version 7.0 at the end of November, while Salix had a new release in mid-May (13.37 – Salix follows Slackware’s version numbering). Zenwalk had several releases of 7.0 between March and May, each one tailored to one of the desktops that Zenwalk offers (OpenBox, Xfce, and GNOME 2).

What’s ahead for 2012? Look for a few more in-depth game reviews, like the one I did for MegaGlest. I also have definite plans to review the following Linux distribution releases: Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, Mageia 2, Fedora 17, Mint 13 LTS, and OpenSUSE 12.2 (KDE). Other distribution reviews are likely depending on when some of the other distros release new versions (such as Slackware and PCLinuxOS).

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