The main objective of this blog is to help narrow down the list of Linux- and BSD-based distributions that a new user will feel comfortable using. Distributions that provide the same or better level of user-friendliness than the malware-infested and DRM-riddled operating system that they currently use. With more than 600 distributions listed at Distrowatch (only about 300 of which are active), finding the perfect distribution, or finding the one that fits your particular usage requirements can be daunting.
But what are the features that define a perfect desktop distribution? When I review any desktop distribution, here are the list of features I’m looking for:
- A graphical installer with the following characteristics:
- simple, intuitive interface – I do not want to read a manual in order to install any operating system
- default options that makes sense for most users
- alternative installation options for advanced users
- a password-protectable bootloader – why rush to GRUB 2 if it’s not ready for production. By the way, a password-protectable bootloader is one of five features that may be used to improve the physical security posture of your computer.
- disk encryption option that even the inexperienced can enable – Fedora’s implementation is the best example I can find
- support for LVM and RAID configuration. Not all users need these two features, but for those that do, make it available for them
- simple and easy to comprehend help features
- Firewall enabled straight out of the box, and a graphical firewall manager installed for ease of management. A complete integration of the firewall gui and the network manager applet is a big plus.
- Network interface(s) configured out of the box – Most distros take care of this, but the one exception I’ve found is Pardus 2009.1.
- All distros now have an graphical package manager. That’s good. An update manager that’s pre-configured to pull in the latest updates on first boot would be nice. Maintaining a sane network security profile demands this.
- The best applications installed by default. OpenOffice.org, Firefox, VLC media player, Mousepad text editor, Exaile music player, just to name a few.
- A Web browser that just works.
- Simple and intuitive-to-use graphical management applications. No distribution does this better than Mandriva Linux.
No distribution has all the features in this list. The only one that comes close is Mandriva Linux. The task for the next few weeks is to identify a list of desktop distributions that come close to being “perfect.” Will your distro make the list? Keep in mind that because of their philosophical stand on freedom in software, some distributions will never make the list.