Monday, 4 June 2012

The Dark Side of Distrohopping


I’ve been a distrohopper for as long as I can remember. What is a distrohopper you might be wondering? Well it’s a guy or gal who loves using different desktop distros and who frequently hops from one to another. 
Here’s a brief excerpt from that column that helps define what distrohoppers are interested in:
Distrohoppers have a compelling need to monitor the progress of desktop Linux by installing the latest and greatest distro. What’s changed? What new features are available? What about the theme? The icons? Distrohoppers are innately curious and have an insatiable need to keep up with the development of desktop Linux.
Distrohoppers are not content to simply read a review, they want hands on experience with a new version of a distro and that’s what makes sites like Distrowatch so popular. Every time there’s a new release of a worthwhile distro, you can bet that distrohoppers will swarm the site looking for info and download links.
As fun as distrohopping is, it’s not all wine and roses. There’s a dark side to never being able to stay with one distro and that’s what I’ll talk about in this column.
A Never Ending Flow of Distros
If you’ve ever spent any time on DistroWatch then you know that distros are constantly being updated. There’s a constant flow of new and interesting distros, and also updates to existing distros. Distrohoppers can find themselves constantly downloading stuff every time DistroWatch has an update or new distro posted.

DistroWatch: Valhalla or Niflheim for distrohoppers?
If you’re one of the unfortunate people stuck with a download cap (such as Comcast’s 250 GB limit), you can burn through a lot of your allotted bandwidth by downloading some larger distros. Distros can vary widely in download size. Some are very modest, even tiny in terms of size. But others can bloat up to four or five gigabytes or more.
Which Distro to Use?
The never-ending flow of distros can also be perplexing in another way, which ones should you try? All of them? Just a few? This question is particularly hard for newbie distrohoppers that are just getting into Linux. Many of them are coming from Windows and the freedom that Linux offers can be…well…quite intoxicating.
Some people are overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices and simply don’t know where to start. This is quite understandable, given the enormous range of choices available to Linux users. There really is a distro for everybody out there and it can be confusing to newcomers who are simply used to Windows or even Mac OS X.
Other newbies leap right in and don’t look back. These folks can easily morph into compulsive distrohoppers. One download can quickly turn into an addiction as they begin experimenting with various flavors of Linux, always searching for that elusive “perfect distro.” These folks often don’t stay with any distro since they are so jazzed up by using Linux that they careen from one distro to other with reckless abandon.
If you’re a newbie distrohopper, I recommend that you concentrate on getting used to some of the more widely known distros such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, PCLinuxOS, and MEPIS before trying some of the lesser known variants. This will at least let you get your feet on the ground and give you a foundation of experience through which to view other distros.
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Where Did I Leave That File?
Sometimes distrohoppers hop around so much that they leave important files or folders in one distro and then realize they can’t find the file while using another distro. This can be especially bad if you use VirtualBox and have a ton of distros installed. This has happened to me more than once and it’s a pain in the ass if you’ve created a document and then lost track of which distro you created it in.
Of course the easiest thing to do is to adopt a “Main Distro” and leave your important data there. Or better yet you can also use cloud-storage services to keep your data somewhere where it’s always accessible no matter what distro you are running. Google Docs is great for documents, but there are other cloud services that can also be a big help in accessing important data rather than leaving it lost in a haze of distros.
Distro Deficit Disorder?
Attention deficit disorder is defined as the following:
A syndrome, usually diagnosed in childhood, characterized by a persistent pattern of impulsiveness, a short attention span, and often hyperactivity, and interfering especially with academic, occupational, and social performance.
I’ve often wondered if some of us distrohoppers have our own form of this called Distro Deficit Disorder or something like that.
Is part of our distrohopping because we simply can’t focus on any one distro for any length of time? Perhaps our version of attention deficit disorder should be added as a sub-disorder? Maybe the pharmaceutical companies could come up with a pill for us that might help us tone down our distrohopping.
A Reviewer Whines
Obviously I look at a lot of different distros as a reviewer for Desktop Linux Reviews and for the quick looks. One of the problems with reviewing so many distros is that sometimes things begin to blur in my mind. I start trying to remember what I saw in one distro to compare it to another distro but then I become confused as I can’t remember which version of the previous distro I’m thinking of…was it the latest version or a previous one?

The true face of distrohopping addicts?
I call this Distro Amnesia and I suffer from it frequently. Sometimes I can’t even remember my own name after messing around with distro after distro.
Sometimes people will ask me about this feature or that feature in a particular distro and I will sometimes draw a complete blank. My mind then tries to filter my thoughts backwards through various distro releases until I can locate the feature, bug or other issue that the person is asking me about. It takes a while sometimes as I try to work my way through so many different releases.
Final Thoughts
Distrohopping can be fun, there’s no doubt about it. There are always some cool, new features to play with in an updated or new distro. But that doesn’t mean that you have to always be on the move. You can opt to slow down a little bit once in a while.
Rather than careen from one distro to another like a pinball, it might be a good idea to savor each distro a little bit before moving on. Try to limit your distrohopping to no more than three to five different distros per day or less. That way you can enjoy each distro without moving on too soon or making yourself suffer from Distro Amnesia or the Distrohopper’s Lost File Syndrome I mentioned earlier.
Moderation in all things is a good idea, even for us distrohoppers.
What’s your take on the dark side of distrohopping? Tell me in the comments below.