In search of the perfect desktop Linux distribution I have tried out quite a few and learned about the philosophies of each one. This is my comparison of some of the distributions I have tried over the years.
I will spoil it now and let you know that the winner in my book is Fedora!
- Ubuntu - https://www.ubuntu.com/
- Debian - https://www.debian.org/
- Fedora - https://getfedora.org/
- Arch Linux - https://www.archlinux.org/
- Linux Mint - https://linuxmint.com/
Ubuntu is great
For a while, Ubuntu was my preferred desktop Linux distribution because it just seemed like the best supported most polished disto. I liked that it came with all of the codecs and things you would expect. It works great out of the box, there is no denying that! It's also nice to know there is a dependable corporate backer behind it.
The problem with Ubuntu
The problem with Ubuntu comes with their stance on proprietary software and the things it comes installed with. It comes installed with Amazon software and does things like search 3rd parties with your personal desktop searches. I'm sure you can uninstall those things if you wanted, but it just makes me wary about what other kind of personal information they are willing to divulge. I just don't like their stance on 3rd party software. They (Canonical) do not value free software and privacy the way I wish they did.
Debian has a better philosohpy
Debian, the base distribution for Ubuntu, has a philosohpy I agree with. Out of the box, it comes only with free software and there is a strong stance against proprietary software. Debian is also incredibly stable which is a big selling point. The only problem with Debian is that the packages are stale, the release cycle is slower, and out-of-the-box it needs a bit of configuration, especially with graphics drivers.
Misconceptions about Fedora
I had not tried Fedora since it was called "Fedora Core" versions 4 through 6. Fedora 30 is about to be released now and it comes quite a long way! All I knew before is that it used the yum package manage and was in the family line of Red Hat and CentOS, which are also known for stability and corporate backing. IBM is about to finalize the purchase of Red Hat so it will have an interesting future.
Fedora has a strong stance on free software and does not include any proprietary software without explicit opt-in to those repositories. Out-of-the-box, Fedora works great even with the open source drivers. Fedora also has a six-month release cycle and maintains very up-to-date packages.
Why Fedora wins
I realized that Fedora is what I always wished Debian was and what I wished Ubuntu had become. It is the perfect sweet spot where it has a corporate backer, but has a strong stance on free software, is stable, but also has regular release cycles with current packages. I have been using it for about a month at this point and I am very happy with Fedora 29!
What about Arch Linux?
I like Arch Linux, but I have used it as a desktop and as a server and if you want long-term stability, don't use it. It's gotten better over time but due to the nature of their rolling releases and cutting-edge versions, you never know when an update will break the whole system or require some extra steps during an upgrade. Even the downstream distributions like Manjaro and Antergos I have had the same problems.
Arch Linux also does not take a philosophical stance on software, and includes proprietary software in the core repositories without an opt-in feature. I think it would be nice if they separated the non-free software into a repository that had to be turned on manually the way Fedora does.
What about Linux Mint?
Linux Mint is a good choice, but is based on Ubuntu and so has the same problems. Linux Mint explicitly states they have no stance on maintaining free software only. With that said, I would trust Linux Mint a little better than Ubuntu when it comes to privacy but not by much.