In Pursuit of a Minimal and Useful Unix

unix license plateUbuntu is the most useful flavor of Unix available today. It has drivers for most hardware you’re likely to encounter, including wireless cards and camera memory sticks. Installation is a breeze, there are tons of ports, and tutorials for anything involving a terminal and an incantation of shell commands. There’s some bloat: Solitaire, instant messagers, OpenOffice, but most apps that ship with Ubuntu have their uses.

At the other end of the spectrum is Gentoo, which sucks. I won’t sugar coat it. Starting from scratch is naturally a difficult task, but it needn’t be that hard. The documentation is too general to be useful–you’ll just have to guess which drivers, libraries, and flags to use. And recompiling KDE every week is a pain, if it compiles at all.

Then there’s Damn Small Linux. It’s small (50MB), maybe too small. While it’s perfect for loading onto a thumb drive, it’s missing critical apps. PowerPoint: no. Java: no. Of all things, Damn Small Linux includes a VoIP client. What the heck?

OpenSUSE is cool for one reason: SUSE Studio. The Studio allows users to make custom livecd SUSE ISOs online for free. I love X software, hate Y, and loathe Z, so that’s perfect. SUSE Studio lets me create JeOS (“Just enough Operating System”) livecds and gigantic app-upon-app carnivals of bloatware, if I so choose. I’d looove to make an OpenSUSE livecd with my critical apps (to be listed shortly), and nothing else, but SUSE Studio still has its bugs.

My Critical Apps

  • Web browser, either Firefox or Chrome. Others like Dillo don’t count, for various HTML5/CSS3/JavaScript/tab support/hotkey-related reasons.
  • File browser. Drag and Drop should move files, because THAT’S WHAT I ALWAYS AND FOREVER WANT TO DO WHEN I DRAG AND DROP. Also, opening a directory should not open a new window. Directories are well nested.
  • USB flash drive support, including reading AND writing to NTFS and HFS+ partitions.
  • MS Office 2007 editors for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents.
  • PDF viewer.
  • Flash and Java support for the web browser.
  • Image, audio, and video codecs. Failure to include JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, music CD, MP3, WMV, MP4, MPEG, and DVD support is FAIL.
  • BitTorrent client, preferably Transmission.
  • A sane package system such as apt. MINIX‘s numbered list of 80-something packages does not count.
  • Terminal with bash.
  • Graphical text editor. Fuck you, I like to copy, paste, drag, and drop my code.
  • CLI text editor, either Vim or Nano. I also like to edit code remotely.
  • Graphical WiFi manager with support for wireless B, G, and N. Should work with Apple WiFi cards, not because the API’s easy, but because Macs are some of the most common wireless devices on the market.
  • Whichever driver makes the volume buttons on my keyboard work.
  • Programming languages. Minimum: C, Java, Perl, and Python. Strongly desired: Ruby, Haskell.

Update: So it turns out Haiku (based on BeOS) is awesome. The livecd is small (500MB in an age when livecd’s are actually livedvd’s). Tracker and BFS are perfect for each other: Files can be searched while they’re being edited or even moved. It’s got a bunch of the requirements, but some aren’t installed by default (a poor decision, e.g. users must Google their hearts out to find a BitTorrent port for Haiku).

2 responses to “In Pursuit of a Minimal and Useful Unix

  1. I started with SuSE many years ago, then went through Ubuntu and now to Debian.

    Lately, I have started working with Arch and Gentoo. I am still too new at each, but my first impression of Gentoo is that it has exposed more of Linux to me than the other distros I have tried. Now, whether I will determine that it “sucks” or not, will have to wait.

    Good blog you have.

  2. Pingback: Links 2/2/2011: Linux 2.6.38 RC3, Greek Elementary Schools Embrace GNU/Linux | Techrights

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