Mint vs Fedora for an uninitiated Linux user

Does anyone out there have experience with fractional scaling on Mint 21.3 on a Framework 16?

See, I’m trying to set up a Linux installation for my dad, who isn’t all that technical. If he has a good time with it, then great, I’ve rescued him from the evil clutches of Microsoft, and probably made a Framework 16 sale.

I’ve been consistently impressed by Mint’s level of polish, straightforwardness, and Debian/Ubuntuness. However, being that this is a laptop for my father, who might plug it into an external monitor or TV to boot, good fractional scaling functionality is a must. On the built-in screen, 100% is for 20 year olds. 200% is a scaling mode for if you’re repurposing your laptop as a road sign. What’s absolutely necessary is a percentage between those values.

I tried turning on “experimental” fractional scaling, and it proved true to its name by failing utterly to apply values other than 100% and 200%, no matter what I clicked on in what order, or how often I rebooted.

I tried switching to (experimental, again) Wayland on the login screen, didn’t work. I got a permanently blinking underscore cursor instead of a desktop for my trouble.

Last time I tried Ubuntu, I ran into some kind of stupid problem where its Don’t-Say-Apt GUI nonsense defaulted some package to a broken snap. FFS, Canonical. I can’t bring myself to consider Ubuntu as a real option.

Fedora might be alright, with Wayland and Plasma 6, but it’s a little bit too bleeding edge, pushy with updates, and not Debian for me to be optimistic. I don’t have specifics here, but I don’t have a good feeling.

Any thoughts anybody? At this rate, I’m stuck with Fedora… maybe it’d be alright. I dunno.

Doesn’t Mint uh have a rather old kernel ver? You would be better sticking with distros that have more updated kernel vers, like Pop!_OS and Fedora.

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y’know, you’re right. It’s on 5.15. I was naively thinking it’d be a recent LTS kernel release. I like long cycles, but 2021’s the wrong year :\

Fedora, huh…

The Linux Mint Edge version comes with kernel 6.5.0, and upgrading to 6.5.0 from the regular LM is trivially easy. LM 22 will be out in a month or two with more advanced kernels available (6.8? 6.9?)

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s’what I get for skimming around a website without digging into the forums and documentation. Thanks, I’ll read more about available kernels and upcoming releases then.

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OK, here we go. I’ve been using linux for 5 years, and I’ve been very into it as I’m a computer scientist. I searched a very long time the perfect distro for beginners, because if we can’t get beginners to use linux we will never subtract our loved ones from the evil dystopian AIs of corporations like MS. Please read the entire post.

Rather than fanboying (which I’m really tempted to do as a Gentoo user) I’ll try to give a down to earth answer, with logical points and reasoning, and I’ll provide a do not use list (along with suggestions at the end) instead of telling you “here is the 1 lol it 100% work trust me bro”. Let’s not fall into elitism. Here we go.

  • Not ubuntu as it breaks surprisingly often on so many levels, has snaps which are not only proprietary but slower than flatpak and dangerous (see the epidemic of snap malwares in canonical official snap store) especially for beginners! Also nothing ubuntu-based as it is usually too much dependent on ubuntu, slow and complicated and unstable because its a 3rd degree fork, etc.
  • Not anything arch based that isn’t arch because that breaks and the user doesn’t know how to fix it. See grub update that broke every arch bootloader in mid 2022. At the time I suggested Garuda OS, an arch based distro, every single relative install broke, an absolute pita. Arch doesn’t break often but sometimes it happens, and its way more likely to happen on arch-based distros that aren’t arch! Also no manjaro because what is the use of basing your distro on arch to have a different, incompatible packaging format …
  • Not Debian. Debian is great because you can easily setup auto updates since it’s never gonna break anyways, and know that your relatives will be secure. However, it is quite bloated, not that it really matters here, the real deal-breaker is that it is horrible for new hardware support. That excludes debian and debian-based distros directly (assuming they follow the traditionnal debian release cycle).
  • Not anything without systemd or glibc, also not Gentoo or Slackware as they are too complex. No Window Manager, Desktop Environments only. Beginners like their system to work for all use cases and we need to focus on that regardless of our opinion on the matter. Not xfce or any other light DE: I love them for use in older laptops, but beginners need DEs that do what they want. Xfce is quite complicated and needs some configuration. Settings are a mess, its very difficult to find any useful option. I have tried a few other that are a bit better, but none have native fingerprint support, can launch flatpaks without messing having to add them manually to the menu, etc. All these little functions, beginners expect them.
  • Not KDE 6: it is a buggy hellhole, I promise you that it won’t last a day until your relative laptop crashes. I am not a hater, it’s just the case, I loved plasma 5 and the maj to 6 still isn’t doable today with plasma 6.1 as there are just sooooo many bugs, networking panels don’t open, sleep is broken half of the times, plasma fully freezes without restarting every 2 hours, really bad experience. KDE 5 is fine.
  • No X11, no nvidia. X11 is outdated and very insecure. It still works better than wayland, but wayland has come a long way now. X11 will also make the use of flatpak more complex as the wayland ones will fallback on X and will encounter minor graphical issues sometime. Nvidia needs X11 to work, though it will soon not be the case anymore as they are fixing the long-lasting flickering problem.

Now the maybe category:

  • Arch. Yes, OMG I said it. But the reality is that it has the largest software repos on earth. Beat the AUR, I’m waiting. Now, I didn’t said we needed an arch system, but just the ability to run arch apps, we will come back to this later. Also, arch almost never crashes if you follow the wiki and use pure arch, for real, I’ve had 0 crashes with daily updates for almost 2 years since the GRUB incident. Fedora crashed on me more than arch. Debian too. And you know what? If you want a working machine, install arch and just don’t update. Yes, that’s not good at all for security, but that’s way better than windows will ever be. However, it’s very heavy on configuration, and not beginner friendly. That’s why I would not use arch, but you could.
  • Fedora is just bleeding edge enough to cause all sorts of problems. For me, either you stay with something like arch when everything is always up to date, either you freeze packages like debian. However, it has great compatibility as red hat needs their OS used in companies. Default fedora also breaks quite often, which is why I would recommend their immutable ports, it should limit the damage greatly by updating the system as a whole block while being almost impossible to break from a beginner user POV, and providing fallback with snapshots of old system versions and decoupling totally the system from the user data. There are different versions of these ports; mainly one with gnome and one with KDE. I used to recommend the KDE one, however, plasma 6 is a hellhole of bugs and crashes, don’t even try it. KDE plasma 5 was fine, so if you want to install fedora 39 immutable with KDE plasma 5 it is possible, however now you are stuck without updates, this is the best you can do on pure fedora with KDE. KDE is easy to theme and very very similar to windows, only things is that it doesn’t handle fingerprint auth very well compared to gnome. Else it’s really good.
    Instead I would recommend gnome as they are stable (although I don’t like what they do in wayland discussions, going against everyone in implementing icons and their desktop in general, I have to admit that it looks good and is very good for stability). Gnome is very bloated but here it’s an advantage as it will include support for everything like fingerprint readers in a native pretty consistent UI. No command line needed, no setup needed, no extensions to install like on plasma if you want to make it look like windows or theme it a bit, because you can’t really theme it lol. It just looks good by defaults, is simple to use and performs relatively well. The only problem is that its quite different from windows, more familiar to macOS, but most beginners should be able to use it.
  • Linux Mint: Not gonna lie, never tested it, never saw the appeal but people seem to like it. I’m not knowledgeable enough on it so you can make your own choices.

Now here are my 2 cents on what you could pick:

I would also recommend that you use flatpaks for all user apps. Ideally, everything except the main system should be flatpaks. It is the future of packaging, simpler and more secure for devs and users, easily accessible for the end user through KDE or Gnome softwares to install / uninstall and easy permissions management with flatseal. More importantly, they all update with a single command independently from the main system, or with the GUI provided by KDE/Gnome. It allows to keep the system the same (no update, no breakage) to avoid introducing problems. Flatpaks are 100% the way to go, if there is one thing that isn’t disputed in the linux community that is this fact, because they avoid dependency hell. That is very frustrating even for advanced users and impossible to deal for when it comes to beginners.

I would recommend a system where wine is installed, as most user need at some point r another windows apps. I would also recommend a tight system integration, so that double clicking on an exe file should work. Now, this is debatable as this will make the system more vulnerable to windows viruses, but I think most beginners need it; try to setup their windows software if you can to avoid problems, obviously if there is any native/flatpak alternative use that instead. The goal is no windows apps but let’s be realistic, maybe your dad does CAD or is a professional that needs one windows only app.

I would recommend a system where steam is preinstalled as a flatpak and configured to perform its best and just work (thats the important part, hint: beginners don’t want to launch any game via a custom command line or lutris to get things working). Gaming is very important for most people, and pretty much figured out on linux, but unnecessarily complicated …)

I would recommend a system where you can setup a LUKS encrypted drive (hard on some dirstros, sometimes it is desired to avoid loss of confidential data on a pro laptop, not saying its mandatory), TPM and secure boot. Beginners may want they laptop to just work without fiddling with BIOS options all day. Also, a system that either auto update (full update every boot, with absolutely 0 user interaction) and doesn’t break after that or doesn’t update at all. Ideally that can be configured to do both so you can choose. Ultimately we need a system with as much compatibility as possible for the hardware, software and user preferences.

Now, what to choose considering all of this? A system preferably based on a immutable fedora base with native flatpaks, wine, steam support and gnome as a DE. Preferably an OS supported officially by framework to have the best support possible and the less bugs. Well, I just happened to found one: bazzite.

Preconfigured with a few useful apps, based on fedora immutable, available either with gnome or KDE 6, official support by framework, options for nvidia and amd gpus (can be used in desktop computer scenarios or custom projects), easy to use, comes with a ujust command that can toggle support easily for TPM, LUKS, secure boot, auto updates. Native flatpak support. Support for “boxes” (docker-style containerization) that allows running installing apps from the AUR from the terminal then running them entirely from the GUI like if they were native apps, wayland by default but can have X11 for nvidia configs. Personally, it checks almost every box. Sure its a little bloadted but whatever, i mean here we need function over everything else. I have tested this personally over the lest 9 months since I found it, and it has been rock solid. It comes preinstalled with flatseal, warehouse for flatpak gestion, native wine management, the best steam compatibility I’ve ever seen.

Let’s address the caveats: but the updates, isn’t that a small project? Well not anymore. Additionally, the system pulls all upstream updates from the fedora repos, so if devs of this project hypothetically all stop working on it, you would still get not only daily updates but fedora versions updates. Every now and then, devs push bazzite-specific fixes. The updates are secure as the fedora and bazzite updates are signed by the devs, and when the system “updates” it also updates all flatpaks, system firmware and “boxes” (arch and other containers, btw there is almost any distro you could want). Fedora updates are done from the KDE/gnome software that can also trigger manual system+flatpak updates and install/uninstall apps.

Hope that was useful and helped someone! That was my take on 5 years of linux experience I’m surely not the best one to talk about it as I know people who have been using it since 1998 but I think my take is pretty decent. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.

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Mint’s Update Manager has a View → Linux Kernels menu item with kernels listed. I picked 6.5 and it seems to have installed some HWE kernel packages. The fractional scaling works now. This is good. That feels like a canny piece of UI design to me, putting it in a spot that’d be mildly foreboding to a beginner, but available, in the “official” GUI tool.

Bazzite’s interesting. I could see it being a good choice for a lot of people. A Flatpak-centric immutable Fedora gamer distro probably isn’t what I’m looking for here, but I could imagine recommending something like that to the right kind of person.

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