[RESPONDED] Thinking about installing Debian on AMD 13, change my mind

Despite the joke title, I’m a little bit puzzled on my distro choice right now (and my Framework arrives today!), so I’d like some help and advise to chose the right Linux distribution. I know from the last 20 years that I don’t distro hop that often, and once a distribution is installed on a specific computer, I’m to lazy to change it and it goes until the end of life of the computer. This Framework computer will probably have around 10 years of life if all goes well, so let’s make the right choice.

My use case: I’m currently a freelance developer (Elixir) but have been switching between customer experience, product and development, and I only use one single laptop both for personal and professional life. I don’t play on the computer, but I use all the range of desktop apps. My two last distros were Ubuntu (from 2018 to 2023) and MX Linux (the past months, on a 2018 computer that was given to me by a friend once my other 2018 computer started to die). I also already used also Xubuntu (quite a lot and was in love for a while), Arch, Linux Mint Debian Edition, vanilla Debian.

What I want is:

  • People that make informed choices for me about my Linux system and not spending too much time maintaining it or having to manually merge config files of system parts (hello Arch)
  • I don’t care about everything being open-source on my computer and have a pragmatic view on that. Proprietary firmwares of course, and no problem of closed source apps.
  • The current mainstream Linux components, not too much modified: systemd (yes), GNOME on Wayland, Pipewire for the sound, etc.
  • Yeah, probably GNOME, although I like quite a lot XFCE. Haven’t yet made my mind. But I love slick interfaces, and GNOME shell looks nicer on the eye. Also, XFCE default keyboard shortcuts have been found to mess sometimes with my apps. I don’t know what’s the current state of Ubuntu desktop, but their GNOME shell modifications didn’t look great to my eye when I was using it.
  • Probably a deb based system just because I’m used to it. Also, my last experience with Snap apps was disastrous: on the 18.04 version of Ubuntu, one of the only “snapped” apps was the calculator and it was so slow to launch and buggy.
  • I don’t care about system parts and desktop environement being outdated and I prefer them stable. For some apps, I don’t care about them being outdated: old Libreoffice is fine, same for Gimp, etc, but for some apps I want the latest published version, especially Firefox and Chrome. I also want the distro to be friendly to install any recent app if I feel the need. I use quite a lot VS Code, Slack, Mattermost, Signal and Spotify on my daily life.
  • Oh yes, not too much work to make it work correctly on my Framework and no weird patch that may not work in a few months with a system upgrade.

Ok so let’s now review solutions:

  • The default and safe solution would of course be Ubuntu. It’s just I find it ugly and have bad past experiences with Snap. It’s just deriving too much away from vanilla linux distributions, but in the same time it would be the standard solution. I don’t know, I’m not in love with Ubuntu anymore, feels sluggish.
  • I considered Arch for a while, but it’s too much work. Vanilla upstream and rolling distro is really appealing. But I’ve started the installation process on a virtual desktop, and I was angry with the philosophy of the distro of being anti-user. The installer starts by you being in the wrong keyboard layout and having to navigate through the system with this keyboard layout (yes…) to change it. Still pissed. And I used it briefly in the past, and it needed too much work of understanding my system parts. I’m not here anymore in my life, I don’t care.
  • The “outsider” solution would be Fedora, that matches everything but… Is not deb based, and out of Arch I’ve never used a non-deb based distribution. It’s just when I’m installing software, there is always instructions or repo for Debian based distributions, and I’m not sure it’s so much the case for Fedora.
  • I could stay on MX Linux, but as I said, I’m totally ok with SystemD, probably want GNOME, and MX Linux has defaults that don’t match that, so what’s the point of having MX instead of Debian? That said, it was a very friendy distribution and community, 100% would recommend. The idea of having a vanilla Debian system pointing to the official repositories but with an additional repository for having some updated software that haven’t made their way to the backports is a GREAT idea. Like…latest Firefox (120 in MX Linux, 115 in Debian, all versions). What’s wrong with Debian on this topic? Also, their package installer is great. I’d nearly install a Debian stable and add the MX repo if I wasn’t afraid it would mess with my system.
  • So… Debian is a kind of default. Debian stable, don’t talk to me about testing, if I need I know how to install newer software. It’s not a dream choice, but I see nothing against Debian, it kind of tick all the boxes. The only two things that would be pullbacks are the ease of installation on Framework to solve all glitches (I’ve read the posts here about manually copying firmwares and all…) and the non-recent Firefox if you don’t want to use flatpack/snap. But that’s livable.

Ok, so long post to review options, what do you think?

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Framework officially supports Fedora and Ubuntu.

Ubuntu 22.04 runs reasonably well on the Framework, AND would get your stability you are looking for. It does have snaps, but you can get rid of them. It has an OEM kernel specific for the Framework and this is important for having all the necessary drivers.

Now, there are some threads here about people using Debian, and it should work. BUT, there is no official support as a result. So you are on your own. Debian is the OG and is great. Just not going to be as compliant with newer gear. More fiddling will be necessary.

A lot of people like to bash on Ubuntu. But they should be ignored. Hipster opinions and preferences have no place in productivity matters. Ignore the snap hate as well because flatpaks aren’t better. They all have their own problems.

If you just want things to work and more time to work and tinker on what you want, then Ubuntu is my recommendation.

My suggestion to de-Ubuntu it are gnome extensions:
dash to panel
arc menu
These give you a Windows like DE. Start menu and task bar. Enable autohide of the ‘taskbar’ and none of your screen real estate is wasted.

Then I configure hot keys to switch between desktops. I have 6 that I use. I got use to this with my time using tiling managers (i3 and Sway. Sway is awesome, and I love it. It just has some rough edge cases that make it a pain). I find that Gnome made to work like a tiling manager is the best way to get a tile manager that doesn’t have any rough edge cases, etc. Gnome does snap to side and uses workspaces so it can be used like that quite well. But you can also still stack things on top of one another when that is preferred. Meh, just my personal opinion on that. Not really relevant to your questions though.

Ubuntu 22.04 LTS runs super smooth and is rock solidly stable. I also use Ubuntu Pro, because I like to support the development efforts of the distro I use. :+1:

Fedora is rock solid as well, but because it is a rolling release you will be updating the whole system at least every year, and that is only if you hold off. System updates come every 6 months. A lot of moving parts there.

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I’d go with Fedora. I use Fedora Silverblue on my Framework and Workstation on my PC. That deb packages aren’t available doesn’t really matter as most things are available as Flatpak or AppImage. In Silverblue you aren’t even supposed to install packages at all.

Compared to Ubuntu, Fedora has the more vanilla and more polished Gnome experience. Last time I tried Ubuntu, I constantly had to fight it because of crappy snaps, weird customisations, and at some point they even integrated ads. Fedora is fully open source (as much as you reasonably can without throwing out binary device firmware and so on) and not as “commercial”.

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Ok, two different answers, one recommending Ubuntu and one Fedora, that make me reconsider things.

@2disbetter the OEM kernel is the real strong argument in favor of Ubuntu, without that I’d be just considering Debian with no regret.

What I don’t measure exactly is that:

It has an OEM kernel specific for the Framework and this is important for having all the necessary drivers.

What’s exactly the OEM kernel, and how does it differ from the backported kernels in Debian stable? People report here that Debian works perfectly fine in case you install the firmwares, what exactly does the OEM kernel to work “better”? (And does it really work better?).

For the lack of official support, it’s fine, I’ve been on my own for 20 years so kind of used to it.

Else for the snap/flatpack hate, I’m used to discard things coming from the community, but here it’s personal experience not liking it. Plus there are drawbacks, see here for example https://wiki.debian.org/Firefox#Using_snap As a web developer, knowing that my web browser doesn’t work normally is a real fear. So if it’s a real pain “de-snapping” Ubuntu, better use a distro that doesn’t rely on it heavily. That said, I like the concept of both snaps and flatpacks and find it really useful for some side apps.

@Jonathan_Haas Interesting, it’s perhaps just a fear of leaving the deb world after 20 years in it (just a small transition on Arch), but I’ve been seriously considering Fedora for the official support and because it ticks all the boxes. As @2disbetter says, there is one problem for me: the 6 months iteration between versions. The 2 years cycle of Ubuntu and Debian (approximate) fits me well. I don’t know how it goes with Fedora, but my experience with Ubuntu and Debian is that you quickly have deb sources out of official repos pinned to your distro version, a specific PostgreSQL install to fit your production version, the asdf install that may break with an upgrade, etc, and so upgrading needs some planning, work to replace the deb sources with newer ones, and you should be ready that things break. So every two years is more than enough. But perhaps these are Debian only problems and the every-six-months upgrade is a non-event even if you have a custom development environment installed? Anyway, I’ll just try now an install in a virtual environment, try to get a full development environment working, and see how it goes.

Depends. You can use toolbox on Fedora to set up specific development environments, which won’t be affected by system upgrades. I generally would install as few packages as possible on the main system and use flatpaks and other containers for random apps and development stuff.

This is of course a different approach to how other Linux Systems like Debian and Ubuntu have worked historically, where you just installed tons of deb packages.

Yeah, well, to be honest now the “ton of debs packages” is less and less the approach: I mostly use ASDF to deal with tools versions. But it still needs some deb packages to compile each tool if needed, and the database server is native to my system. The containerized way never clicked for me, but I’ll give a try, and I’ll document on differences between toolbox and docker.

The main difference is that toolbox mainly creates a virtual environment for package installation while still giving you full access to your normal home directory and files and stuff, while docker creates its own more isolated operating system that you usually use to only run one specific application or service.

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The Kernel (including the recommended OEM C one) in 22.04 has known bugs with the amd including several bits of non operational things such as the EC and amd-pstate cpu frequency driver which is very much needed on the Zen4 platfrom. ‘Works perfectly’ is very much not what I would call it.

FC39 is your best bet currently. Also Fedora sticks to upstream project bits much more closely than Ubuntu so you don’t end up needing to learn a delta between it and everything else unlike ubuntu.

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Good point! I updated my comments on that.

My experience has been that updating is generally what breaks things on Linux. It seems counterintuitive, but I have learned that using flatpak, snap, and appimages is a much more stable way of using the latest software.

However, as you work for Redhat, I take what you are saying with a lot of appreciation. In general, have you found Fedora to be very stable on your Framework, even between releases? It is the little issues that drive me the most wild, and why I have come to appreciate an older slower approach.

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I hear you - I was exactly in the same place. Having used Ubuntu for over a decade now, I was very keen on getting again a deb based system. But similarly to what you describe, the forced Snap installations for more and more of the basic desktop environment apps has really taken its toll with me - they’ve always been super slow to start and hide their data files in some arkane location that makes it hard to backup.

This was also my fear with Fedora - but it turns out to be an absolute non-issue.

So after soem pondering I went for Fedroa Workstation 39 and what can I say - I am very happy with it. I get a clean and vanilla GNOME desktop right from the first boot without the necessity to spend an hour replacing Canonical-specific themes et cetera. The dnf command for rpm package control feels very natural to use and even resolves some issues I always had with apt-get and the likes (dnf searchh anyone?).

Concerning repositories and guidance for 3rd-party apckage installation I found always also a Fedora / RPM solution - very likely due to the prevalence of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

/herodot

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Getting Fedora WS 39 on mine instead of Ubuntu.
To me, Fedora strikes a balance between Arch and Ubuntu/Debian.
I was originally going Arch.
But it’s going to be my work machine, so…

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I’m running Debian unstable. It works fine.

One major issue I have is fractional scaling. I have an 4K monitor attached which I want to run with 175% scaling and the internal display with 150% scaling.
GNOME does not handle this very well unfortunately (for X(Wayland)) applications.
Unfortunately I have a couple of those, like AndroidStudio.
(The problem is, that those XWayland applications become very blurry)
So, I decided to go with KDE/Plasma on Debian unstable and that works rather well.

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A couple more data points: Idle power consumption is about 4 watts (my laptop has 64GB RAM, 2 TB SSD, Ryzen 7, 2 USB-C, 2 USB-A).
External display is attached via USB4.
I had some problems with firmware-amd-graphics acting a bit weird with the external display, so I decided to pull the firmware directly from git.
With that setup, I’m mostly happy with it, i.e. I can recommend running Debian unstable.

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I really like the Framework display, especially the 3/2 display ratio with the higher resolution. But it screams for a fractional scaling like 125% or 150%

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Unstable is excluded for me as well of testing, I don’t want to risk losing a day of work for an apt update that brings changes I wasn’t prepare for. But thanks for the report!

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Thanks all for your answers!

Well, I actually changed my mind, and went for Fedora 39. First try out of the deb world for me. Thanks to @2disbetter to insist on the benefits of an officially supported distro, and @Jonathan_Haas @jwp @herodot and @xaverine to talk me into Fedora.

For now I haven’t installed anything, but the desktop looks gorgeous and fits well with the hardware. It’s just so nice, it’s all polished and smooth and integrated with the hardware as if it was a Mac BUT it is Linux (and for having tried both, Mac desktop never clicked for me while GNOME does). I’m really happy.

I just activated scaling, and I’m under the impression text is slightly blurry in Firefox, I’ll look into that.

Now next step is to figure out how to get my development environment running. I already replaced bash by zsh, now next steps will be ASDF, and running the right versions of Erlang, Elixir, Node, Ruby through ASDF, and a local PostgreSQL database somehow, and VScode. I’m not sure, given ASDF, if I really need Toolbox or not. I find the idea interesting that said. How does it play with the code editor and access servers running on toolbox with browsers? (Perhaps for another thread, but good thing to have pointed me in this direction.)

Thanks everybody!

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Do try out toolbox containers. They are really super useful for dev bits without having to dive headfirst into understanding podman desktop et al

Sorry to hijack the thread but wanted to see if you were able to get the sleep piece to work as well. I too am running Sid with the latest firmware and everything works perfectly for me except I can not get the laptop to suspend. It runs cool and low power when idle but cant get suspend to work. Curious the state for you in that regard.

s2idle works for me on Debian sid.
Power consumption is a bit high though (around 1% per hour).

Try running firefox with Wayland enabled:
export MOZ_ENABLE_WAYLAND=1