Best Linux Distro to install on MBA

Discussion in 'Windows, Linux & Others on the Mac' started by Michael Goff, Jul 2, 2014.

  1. Michael Goff macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    #1
    I was wondering what Distro works best.

    This means:
    > Best battery life
    > Best driver support
    > Best UI
    > Quickest to fix problems (We all know an OS has problems, Linux is no different).

    I was thinking of putting rEFInd on here and getting it going. Maybe putting 64gb aside to see how it works for my use and go from there.
     
  2. MacDawg macrumors P6

    MacDawg

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    Location:
    "Between the Hedges"
    #2
    I had Ubuntu installed with VMware Fusion for a while
    Simple installation and maintenance
     
  3. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    Jul 5, 2012
    #3
    How would you rate the Unity Interface? Is it good on screen real estate?
     
  4. 556fmjoe macrumors 65816

    556fmjoe

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    Apr 19, 2014
    #4
    I use Fedora 20 on a 2011 MBP and like it. Battery life is the same as on OS X. All the drivers seem to work, though I haven't bothered to test them all. Wireless works perfectly after following the instructions found here: http://wireless.kernel.org/en/users/Drivers/b43

    As far as UI is concerned, you usually have a wide variey of choices regardless of distro, and even if you don't like the one you installed, changing it is not a big deal. KDE provides the most functionality out of the box, but uses a lot of resources IMHO. I generally prefer Openbox because I'm a hopeless minimalist, but I do use KDE from time to time and find it useful and aesthetically pleasing.

    I have not used any of the following distros on Apple computers, but here's my experience with them anyway

    Linux Mint: Very user friendly and MATE is a great interface for Linux beginners. You get the huge software support of Debian without the bloat of Ubuntu. Mint is fast and you can find lots of software for it. It supported all the hardware I have used it with out of the box with no configuration required. My custom desktop currently runs Mint.

    Ubuntu: This used to be the one I recommended to beginners because most stuff worked out of the box, but it got bloated and unstable in 12.04. The last version I used was 13.10 and it was not good. Still, it has tremendous software support since it's Debian based and a huge and helpful community. Lubuntu is a lighter weight version that uses LXDE for the desktop and seemed to run much smoother when I gave it a shot.

    Arch Linux: This is by far my favorite and I had it on my Asus laptop for over a year. It's not for the faint of heart though. The best thing about Arch is its rolling release cycle that ensures you always have up to date software. It's also generally faster, more stable, and more secure than many other distros because you only install what you need and nothing else. It supported the hardware on my Asus and a custom desktop perfectly. Battery life on the Asus was better than on Windows 8. I'm considering installing this on my MBP.
     
  5. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    Jul 5, 2012
    #5
    What didn't work about wireless initially?

    And Gnome 3? Is it still a bag of hurt?

    So they didn't unbloat Unity? How are they ever going to make a phone work if they can't unbloat Unity? /facepalm

    I always said I would eventually try to install Arch. Then I go look at the Arch install instructions and get a headache.
     
  6. 556fmjoe macrumors 65816

    556fmjoe

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    Apr 19, 2014
    #6
    The b43 driver for the Broadcom 4331 chipset needs proprietary firmware in order to work. This is not included in Fedora (and many other distros) because it isn't open source. The process described at the link extracts the firmware from Broadcom's proprietary Windows driver using the fwcutter tool. Then you reload the b43 driver into the kernel using modprobe.

    I used GNOME 3 on Fedora 19 on a different machine and it was okay. It was usable, but I prefer GNOME 2's interface and lower resource usage. Unity was pretty bad when I was using it in Ubuntu 13.10 and 12.04. It was bloated and crashed repeatedly. Now, KDE is pretty bloated too if you look at it from a resource usage perspective, but it's the one desktop environment where I can tolerate the bloat because it has tremendous configurability and looks great.


    The Arch instructions could be better written IMHO. It's okay as long as nothing unexpected happens, but you really have to know what you're doing if it doesn't go according to the guide. It also doesn't account for using full disk encryption, which has different requirements, mainly with regards to partitioning and setting encrypt hooks in mkinitcpio. However, once you get Arch working, it is fantastic.

    edit: I should add that Arch requires the same Broadcom firmware extraction method that Fedora does for the BCM4331 and other chipsets. This could make for a difficult install if you don't have an ethernet port, since the wireless won't work.
     
  7. talmy macrumors 601

    talmy

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2009
    Location:
    Oregon
    #7
    I use Xubuntu 12.04 under VirtualBox. Runs fine and is 100% free. This is important to me because I've distributed a free engineering CAD program that runs under Linux to my students, providing them with the virtual machine image files. While I can run the image under OS X, it's for students with Windows 8 since the Windows version of the software is Windows 7 or XP only!

    Students had no problems with the combination, even though they've had no Linux experience.
     
  8. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    Jul 5, 2012
    #8
    Well, that shuts down me putting Fedora of Arch on this machine. I don't have access to an ethernet port, and I don't have the adapter anyway.
     
  9. 556fmjoe macrumors 65816

    556fmjoe

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    Apr 19, 2014
    #9
    It's actually only a problem for Arch because Arch requires an internet connection for the install. If you have another machine you can use to download the firmware file, you can install Fedora as normal from a live USB, boot into the new system, then copy the necessary firmware file over from a USB and continue following the instructions for extracting it and reloading the driver.

    edit: Or you could just download the firmware from OS X and put it on a USB to save for later when Fedora is up and running.
     
  10. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    Jul 5, 2012
    #10
    Alright, thanks, I think it's down to either Fedora or Lubuntu. I'll have to think about it.
     
  11. 556fmjoe macrumors 65816

    556fmjoe

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    Apr 19, 2014
    #11
    They're both pretty good. One advantage Fedora with KDE may give you is that the screen brightness, keyboard backlight, and volume buttons all work without any configuration on KDE, but not on LXDE. You can get them working on LXDE just fine (I have them working in Openbox), but you'll have to edit some configuration files by hand. Kubuntu would be another option to consider if you wanted to try KDE but with an Ubuntu/Debian based distro.
     
  12. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    Jul 5, 2012
    #12
    Have you tried cutting out the middle man and just using Debian? If so, what is it like?
     
  13. 556fmjoe macrumors 65816

    556fmjoe

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    #13
    I've never used Debian, but it does have a huge community of users and lots of software support, so it should be a good option.
     
  14. Manic Harmonic macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2011
    #14
    You know, there are some arch based distros out there that are already configured and still get the benefit of the rolling release cycle - Run the Bridge Linux or Manjaro live DVD in virtualbox and see how you like it. They're both meant to be user friendly. If you really wanted to try a teak arch install, you could just start out with a dirt cheap USB WiFi stick while you do the install.

    BTW you asked about gnome 3 earlier, in my opinion it's been greatly improved. Even Linus himself is using it now.

    There's also a Ubuntu Gnome which comes with gnome instead of unity, pretty nice distro. Also I know there's a lot of people that have moved to Linux Mint or ElementaryOS.
     
  15. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    Jul 5, 2012
    #15
    Went with the lazy route, got an Ubuntu ISO and installed it.


    Holy wow, this is way faster than I can remember my computer being. Even the WiFi! I didn't even think that was possible, simply changing the OS making a demonstrable difference in something as mundane as surfing speed.
     
  16. Quantus macrumors regular

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  17. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    #17
  18. maflynn Moderator

    maflynn

    Staff Member

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    Location:
    Boston
    #18
    I like fedora, and ran that on my older MBP. Sadly it took a lot of work to configure everything and then when the newer version of fedora rolled out, I had to re-do all that configuration. I saved the conf files, and drivers but it still required a lot.

    I gave up on Linux at that point, but of all the distros I played with, Fedora was the one I like the most.
     
  19. Renzatic Suspended

    Renzatic

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    #19
    I've toyed with Fedora a bit and thought it was pretty decent. The one biggest problem I have with it though is that I find the font rendering absolutely terrible. There are steps you can take to make it a little better, but it never feels quite up to par with some of the other distros.

    Ubuntu by comparison (or Ubuntu Gnome at least) looks almost as good as OSX.
     
  20. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    #20
    You like the Ubuntu Font Family? That's one of the things I really don't like about it.
     
  21. Renzatic Suspended

    Renzatic

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    #21
    Yeah, I think the default Ubuntu font is kinda goofy looking too. But no, I'm talking about the font rendering in general.

    Fedora doesn't do as good a job at it as Ubuntu for some reason. Out of the box, it almost looks worse than Windows XP.
     
  22. Michael Goff thread starter macrumors G4

    Michael Goff

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    Jul 5, 2012
    #22
    Ah, okay.
     

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