What is a simple distro?

What is a simple distribution of Linux?

The question slowly leads to this question: What sort of simple do you mean?

You have technologically simple, such as Slackware and Arch, which are straightforward and unsurprising, and yet require learning curves the size of the Grand Canyon.

Then you have the usability simple, such as Ubuntu, Fedora or its ilk. They are easy to learn, but once you start digging around behind the curtain you'll find that it's all kind of a mess, technologically. Changing something as simple as a resolution can be a trip to Mount Doom and back.

Full disclosure: I mostly use distros from the second camp. This is mostly because of the unique situation my various computers are in right now, but also because I simply haven't grasped the entire learning curve required for the first gang.

Now, is simplicity in this case the choice? Minimalist Mac users would argue: No, it's not, choice complicates matters. Having to choose between all of those Linux distros is too much for the common user. But then, if choice wasn't minimalist, then we'd all be in Windows, using Microsoft Word 2007.

No, choice in moderation is worth using. The problem here is that we need to narrow down our choices into distinct groups and discuss the merits of each. This only needs to be done once. Being a fan or a simple user of Linux does not require the user to follow the news and play with distros every weekend. That's just a perk.

Are the interests of the common user the same as the interests of the minimalist? No, and here's why - minimalism is not as widespread as some of us think. If you look around at the laptops that are around you on the bus, in the coffee shop, or across the hall, you'll see clutter and "stuff" that lines the screen with useless shortcuts and information.

This isn't because the average user doesn't know how to clear the screen of all that. They choose not to subscribe to minimalism. In the Windows world, this really is very easy.

But back to the question - the common user and the minimalist have fundamental oppositions to each other. "Usability" is often defined by some as extra options and buttons. "Making everything accessible" would be a synonym for "usability" for these people.

Minimalism is similar to this, but tangential. It is making everything available, but making sure that "everything" is as small as possible. Unfortunately, this runs against the common user, who wants things, things, things. Again, marketing.

So the Minimalist Mac user is opposing the concept in their own argument. the common user does not want minimalism. Trying to find minimalism in the common user's distro is looking in the wrong area, which is the problem Mac users will find when they try to "minimalize" their desktop.

(The phrase "common user" does not come with derogatory labels attached - it's just an acknowledgement that the majority of computer users want more function, not less.)

Now, we must level with the user themselves. What kind of simple do you want? It is the value of the user.

Do you want a system that requires an install and then can be used without much configuration? While these are nice distros, they usually come with much more than the average minimalist needs out of the box. Ubuntu, for example, comes with games, an entire word processor, a dictionary, two music players, an e-mail client, and much more. While that sounds good to a lot of common users out there, it takes time to get rid of these packages. You'll never know if you removed them all.

However, the opposite is also a problem. When you ask the Linux community for something minimalist, they point you to a distro such as Arch or Slackware.

While these are totally minimalist, they require effort and mantenience. While Slackware is usually fairly stable, it includes no package management (and any that it does have is mediocre at best). And anyone who tells you they are running a "stable" and never breaking Arch installation is a liar. It's only a temporary place; Arch is bleeding edge and can fall apart with only a push of the finger.

Perhaps the best approach is a combination of these two. Slackware derivatives are fairly stable and secure, but fix the lack of package management.

Zenwalk is a minimalist distro (it uses only one program for each of it's predetermined "functions" all of which are easy enough to remove as necessary) that I've had technological issues with. It's theoretically very appealing.

Absolute is a bit more reliable. It was more minimalist than it is now, but it works and is still a bit "less" than your average Ubuntu.

In the end, it's up to the user. And that's not a bad thing.

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