Many months passed, tenths of Linux distributions tested. I have gone through all of the major players (Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, etc.) and touched upon some of the smaller ones also. That was highly taxing and I had to let go at some point. At the end of the day one realizes that there is a life to spend and the operating system should be a tool to carry out one’s duties, fulfill dreams and aid in learning. In the long run, the key aspect that mattered to me the most was reliability. Frankly, not so many GNU/Linux distributions offer true reliability. Sometimes there is not enough manpower, while other times there are too many helper scripts and apps that add unnecessary levels of complexity and make troubleshooting a pain (I’m looking at you,, dracut!). Thereby, to me there are only three GNU/Linux distributions that I could honestly call reliable:
Ubuntu – many bad things are said about Ubuntu: ‘It’s corporate’, ‘It tries to be flashy’, ‘It wants to be Windows, but fails’, etc. However, if one looks for a general purpose operating system that is free, stable and doesn’t suffer from Windows-related problems (Registry mess, drive fragmentation, stacking updates, etc.), Ubuntu is the way to go. Thanks to the huge support from Canonical and various gifted programmers around the globe, Ubuntu has superb hardware and software compatibility. For powerful computers there is Ubuntu, Kubuntu, while for the slightly less so Xubuntu and Lubuntu. I myself use Lubuntu and I am very happy with it!
Debian – one could think of Debian as a less company-oriented version of Ubuntu, though of course Ubuntu stems from Debian and many packages first pass through Debian to end up in Ubuntu. Stock Debian doesn’t require desktop environment installation and can be quite minimal if necessary. Hence, it is a fantastic base for a server OS, especially if one chooses the rock-solid Debian Stable line.
Arch Linux – this one is quite unique (as in, not striving to be user-friendly like most other Linux distributions), though in reality being the least unique (as in, using stock configurations). Arch Linux is the very core and essence of GNU/Linux (stock Linux + package manager). Default package installation is as generic as possible (save for minor tweaks and performance optimization for i686 and x86_64 processors), allowing high reproducibility and interoperability with other GNU/Linux operating systems. Many people claim that it is not very reliable due to its ‘cutting-edge’ nature. In reality, the opposite is true. Firstly, the minimalist approach of Arch Linux reduces the complexity of the operating system. Programs are added one-by-one, therefore if something breaks, we’ll quickly know what. Secondly, its rolling-release model allows updates to be handled individually. Thereby, if one updates frequently enough, the risk of instability is in fact minor. Finally, there is a fantastic wiki to follow and a very helpful community.
Some distributions didn’t make the cut, why? Well, to me they’re not reliable enough. Fedora is in general a very good Linux OS, however a short development cycle and misalignment with proprietary code (for instance, nVidia drivers) due to personal policies cause a lot of minor bugs to be unresolved. Not to mention the idea of a serious ‘workstation’ with GNOME3, which is a tablet lookalike desktop environment (also, possibly the worst desktop environment to troubleshoot). openSUSE claims to be good. Alas, its goals overlap with those of Ubuntu, while its quality not necessarily so. Emphasis on PR makes users flock to it, though it surely doesn’t contribute to system reliability. Manjaro would be a fantastic Arch Linux alternative, however it packs far too many helper scripts and the community dilutes into too many 2-3-man desktop environment projects.