Why Linus Torvalds likes x86 chips better than ARM

Also in today’s open source roundup: DistroWatch reviews KDE neon, and what sets different Linux distributions apart from one another?

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Why Linus Torvalds likes x86 chips better than ARM

Linus Torvalds has never pulled any punches when it comes to sharing his opinions about everything from Linux kernel changes to computer processors. And in his most recent comments he’s made it abundantly clear that he favors x86 chips over ARM processors.

Agam Shah reports for PCWorld:

He was full of surprises at last week’s Linaro Connect conference, when he was asked about his favorite chip architecture. He didn’t blink before saying it was x86, not ARM.

It may have been the long history of x86 with PCs that influenced his answer. There’s little fragmentation of software and hardware with x86, and things just work.

People are too fixated with the instruction set and the CPU core, Torvalds said, but it ultimately is the ecosystem around the architecture that matters more.

“What matters is all the infrastructure around the instruction set, and x86 has all that infrastructure… at a lot of different levels,” Torvalds said. “It’s opening a way that no other architecture is.”

“I’ve been personally pretty disappointed with ARM as a hardware platform, not as an instruction set, though I’ve had my issues there, too,” Torvalds said. “As a hardware platform, it is still not very pleasant to deal with.”

More at PCWorld

DistroWatch reviews KDE neon

KDE is one of the most popular desktop environments available for Linux, and KDE neon is a distribution based on Ubuntu that offers the latest and greatest KDE software.

Jesse Smith reports for DistroWatch:

The KDE neon distribution is an interesting way to see what new technologies are coming out of the KDE project. The combination of a stable base, as provided by Ubuntu LTS releases, and the cutting edge KDE software makes for a convenient way to try out the latest versions of Plasma. The distribution is fairly minimal in the software it supplies, basically giving us just the Plasma desktop and a few important utilities.

I think it is pretty clear KDE neon is not intended to be used as a day-to-day desktop distribution. While it is an easy way to see what the KDE team is creating, the system does not have many features or applications. The Plasma desktop is not tweaked or polished in the same way it would be if we were running KaOS or openSUSE so what we get is quite vanilla. This might appeal to some people, but I tend to prefer customized flavours of Plasma that have been dressed up.

KDE neon shows us Plasma in progress, meaning there are rough edges. There were a few crashes and minor problems for me to deal with during this experiment. None of the issues was really deal breaking, but there were the rough edges one gets from running development software. If you are interested in the latest changes in the KDE project, then this distribution is an easy way to see what is coming out of the developers’ computers.

More at DistroWatch

What sets different Linux distributions apart from one another?

There are many different Linux distributions available for a user to choose for his or her computer. But what sets them apart from one another? A redditor recently asked that question and got some very interesting answers.

Undertaker17 started the thread:

What differentiates different Linux distributions?

To me (as a Linux newbie) I don’t see notable differences between Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora etc. The only thing I see are the different desktop environments, but these can be installed on almost any distro. They all run Linux under the hood anyway.

So what differentiates them then? Except from purpose-built ‘lightweight’ distros like Puppy, I don’t see a special reason to have so many distros.

Anyone care to explain?

More at Reddit

His fellow Linux redditors chimed in with their thoughts:

DarkDXZ: “In most cases, the differences are more on the ‘philosophical’ end of things - that is, some distributions choose to, say, favor stability in favor of “the latest and greatest” versions of software (especially ones that see significant enterprise usage such as Debian and RHEL).

Release models - ties directly into the above - distros that want to offer you the latest available versions of software will usually be rolling release, whereas ones focused on stability will generally use a more classic versioning scheme. Then, the releases can be either on a regular schedule (Ubuntu has new releases every 6 months, with an LTS release every two years) or on a “when it’s ready” schedule (Slackware).

Some might also be more strict about licensing than others - GNU-approved distros like Parabola or GuixSD offer absolutely no non-free software in their repositories, whereas something like Arch Linux is much more lenient about what software is and isn’t allowed to be in their repo (and AUR is basically a complete anarchy in that regard).

Then there’s also things like how much ‘faith’ is put in the end user - Slackware has few to no mechanisms that make their distro ‘foolproof’ and you are generally expected to know your way around your system there, whereas something like Ubuntu try to make things ‘difficult to break’ for the end user (even if it comes at the cost of making things pretty complicated in some areas).

Then there’s also things like ‘downstream’ (distro-specific) patches to the software (Debian does this a lot, while Gentoo basically not at all), what options is the software compiled with, how much the users are expected to directly engage in the distro’s development process (with something like Exherbo where the users practically are the developers on the extreme end).

And some distros focus on specific platforms more than on others - Debian and Gentoo can work on a very wide range of architectures, whereas Arch only really works on x86, AMD64 and on ARM (and even that is technically a fork).

So while on a strictly technical level, the differences are very minor (in theory nothing stops you from turning Ubuntu into a rolling release distro with Arch’s package manager and Gentoo’s OpenRC as the init system), it’s the more ‘high-level’ choices made by the distro maintainers/developers that separate them from one another.

(And well, the package manager is probably also the biggest thing - Gentoo is practically defined by its Portage system.)”

Pogeymanz: “These days, not much.

The only real differences are the default package managers and the update policy.

Debian and Ubuntu use the apt package manager and format. Fedora uses DNF now (I think? I haven’t run Fedora in a long time). Gentoo uses portage. Arch uses pacman. Slackware uses nothing and they like it that way (being a little facetious- I know there are package helper scripts).

Then there’s the release schedule. Ubuntu does a big release every six months, with only minor and security updates in between. Debian does something similar but I forget what the time scale is. Gentoo and Arch are “rolling releases”, so you never install a new version of the OS, it’s just updated with regular updates.

There used to be more differences way back when I started using Linux. Some distros supported Pulse Audio when it first came out, but most stuck to Alsa. Everybody had different solutions to initialization of your system before systemd became ubiquitous. In fact, one of Arch’s main appeals for me was its init script set up- it was very simple, easy to configure, and pretty fast, compared to other distros at the time.

I also remember some distros kept KDE3 in the repos for a long time after KDE4 came out, which is what they were supposed to do according to the KDE devs.

So, I agree with you that there really isn’t much difference between distros these days.

The caveat to that is Ubuntu. They have many patched packages. So the experience of using a GTK app, for example, on Ubuntu is different from using the “same” GTK app on another distro. This is why their default DE, Unity, is so hard to get running on other distros- you basically have to install all of Ubuntu’s customized libraries.”

Mewshimyo: “One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is something completely non-technical: the community surrounding a distribution.

Ubuntu has a different community from Arch. They’re all different. Arch is more “expectation of competence” while Ubuntu is more “expectation of effort”.”

IUseRhetoric: “The biggest differentiation is package managers (how software gets installed). That breaks the distribution down into larger families - apt-based, rpm-based, aur-based, etc. These families also tend to have slight differences w.r.t. their choice of system packages (e.g. selinux vs apparmor, or init vs upstart vs systemd vs openrc) and as a result slightly different configuration locations.

Within the families the next major differentiation is likely how long it takes for software versions to make it to the repositories. In Debian for example it can take years for a new version of a software to make it to the stable distribution, months to make it to testing, and less to make it to unstable. As their names suggest, the requirement for a version to get promoted is a certain level of stability. Ubuntu is historically based off Debian Testing.

Finally, the more superficial difference is what software is available in a default install. Some distros come with KDE installed out of the box, others with Gnome, or openbox, or no desktop environment at all (for server-oriented distros, for example).”

Sorlud: “Two reasons are the software installed by default. Most use similar software but some might install Firefox and some chromium. Different distros also have different package managers (how you install software in the command line). Ubuntu/Debian use apt, Fedora/Red Hat use yum and Arch uses Pacman.

The biggest differences are between the main distros. The many flavours based on a main distros are fairly similar usually with one difference from their parent distro.”

JohnDaffodil: “Default installed software, open source philosophy, package managers and available software, that kind of thing mostly – so not really a whole lot. There are the occasional distributions that have something that’s specific to their distribution, like Ubuntu’s Unity interface, or openSUSE’s YaST tool.

Oh, and some distributions are very serious about security issues, pushing updates quickly and alerting their communities. Security is less important for others.”

Smileeface: “They’re really isn’t a whole lot of difference these days. Back when I first started using Linux, it was more of an ordeal to switch between them, but now that things like systemd, PulseAudio, and the various DEs have been more of less standardized, they’re pretty interchangeable. The main differences are in the package managers (pacman vs. emerge vs. apt vs. dnf) and the frequency / delivery of updates.

Some people see this as a negative, as distros’ imposing a unified structure on users, but I don’t really buy that argument. First, it’s entirely possible to run ALSA or OpenRC if you really want to. Second, I love being able to go from my Arch desktop to my Debian server to my RHEL work computer without having to remember things like rc.conf. Sometimes, standardization and consolidation can go too far, but I don’t think this is one of those times.”

Jimrandom: “In many respects it takes someone who is not a “newbie” to appreciate the differences. On top of that it sometimes takes a mild case of OCD to care about the differences. Depending on what you value the differences are marginal to major.

For the average user the differences tend to be marginal. To some extent all distributions tend to lean toward that central group of average users. Often even when a distribution doesn’t lean that way the upstream projects tend to. For example, even though Slackarchoo (see what I did there?) might not be that friendly to the average user, the Gnome developers are still going to try to be. It then becomes a matter of installation and upkeep (package managers) that differentiates the distributions.

For the software developer or someone who likes to tinker and try lots of crazy stuff, things are really interesting. The differences that are subtle to the average user become large as life. Not having a half broken build environment really matters to me. The end user? Not so much because the packager has suffered that for you.

Again, depending on what you value the differences are marginal to major. It all depends on how far you want to take it. There’s no right or wrong answer to how far you should take it. It’s perfectly fine to stay a novice despite the over-represented negative connotations of the label.”

More at Reddit

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