My Linux Journey
I first started using GNU/Linux around 2019. I was like most people really hesitant and insecure about starting out. For anyone who is used to Windows/iOS, Linux seems like an OS for hardcore "hackers" and "programmers". Some vocal parts of the Linux community don't help much with this perception, although as I write this in 2022, there has already been a LOT of work done by the community to make GNU/Linux more accessible as a "normal" desktop environment, even just in the short time I've been using it.
I was originally drawn to Linux because well, I live in extreme fucking poverty and can't afford a good computer, and I heard that using Linux instead of Windows can help when you are using outdated, slow hardware. I also was drawn to the customizability options of Linux, the ability to make my own trays and menus and so on.
Finally, while i was well aware that Microsoft and Apple are terrible monopolies, I wasn't really familiar with the particulars. I was drawn into Linux also when I started learning more about how Apple and Microsoft used clearly illegal anti-competitive practices to ensure that they became synonymous with "personal computers." They in fact have been SO successful at this that when we think of computers, rather than thinking of manufacturers and distributors like Dell, IBM, Gateway, etc, we think of Microsoft and Apple.
While my own and others' individual "boycotting" of Windows/iOS may not do much without substantial anti-trust law enforcement against the criminal racketeering of Microsoft, Apple and Google, switching to Linux still makes me feel good inside... And there are plenty of other reasons to switch other than a rather cathartic "fuck you" to Microsoft.
So, my story started out with Linux Mint. From what i could tell it seemed like the distro "most similar to Windows." I got Mint with the MATE Desktop Environment. Mint has a really nice and convenient installer, and like most distros I "previewed" it by installing it on a USB drive to test-run. I ended up liking it after using the USB-boot option for a few weeks, so I installed.
Lifting the Desktop Veil...
Mint was pretty good to me, but the MATE Desktop was a bit resource-heavy (I've never spent more than $200 on a computer, cause poverty). Most users don't even think about it, but the Desktop Environment you use can in itself be REALLY demanding even if you are doing something simple like browsing the internet, organizing files, etc.
As Windows/iOS users without options for other Desktop Environments, we tend to take it for granted that they just exist as an immuteable part of life. The whole system for organizing windows, icons, taskbars, menus, trays, and so on, is something we just don't even think of as something that can be customized beyond maybe some basic "themes."
After my eyes were opened to the possibility of other Desktop Environments that wouldn't torture my rather junky laptop, I hopped from MATE to Cinnimon to KDE to GNOME. KDE was pretty good, but had some weird quirks that bothered me (i can't remember what they were, but KDE just felt "off").
I finally settled on what is now really... the love of my life :)
I know more than most, but I'm still not too knowledgeable when it comes to coding and technical stuff... So I can't perfectly describe what about XFCE is so great. It just feels lightweight and fast, and is so easy to customize.
I stuck with Mint+XFCE for a few years. I used PlayOnLinux to run a few of my favorite Windows programs like FLStudio9 and Synthedit. I was pretty happy with Mint, but as various computers i had crapped out on me and as i started to get frustrated with how big Mint is (you won't catch me with a 1TB hard drive any time soon...) I wanted to find a smaller distro.
A few years in I also had started messing around with Raspberry Pi computers, and was pretty astonished at how much you can do on one, how well the Raspbian OS can serve as a pretty full featured desktop, and this just even more cemented in my mind that lightweight was the way to go (especially because as a musician and artist, and digital hoarder, i need all the hard drive space i can get).
I didn't do too much "distro-hopping" really. I gave an honest try with Puppy Linux, Linux Lite, and some others. I still recommend Linux Lite to people who want a tiny, snappy and modern distro, but I'm an obscurantist.
I would have gone with Gentoo or something else, but eventually I ran across Antix Linux and from the moment i USB-booted it I was in love with it. The default SpaceFM file manager and IceWM window manager were a bit offputting at first, but when i installed XFCE, everything just fell into place for me. For someone with limited hard drive space, cheap second-hand laptops, Antix worked beautifully.
This is more an emotional story than a technical one, I won't go on and explain what the deal is with Antix, Gentoo, Puppy etc. I guess i just wanted to write about my experience.
Picking a distro isn't a math problem... it's a journey!
I was maybe just "lucky" that i only went through a few distros before settling on the one i like. But keep in mind that there is no "right" distro, and really I think when it comes to picking your GNU/Linux experience, a lot of it is about just going with what feels good for you.
Thankfully, too, experimenting with GNU/Linux flavors is really easy as well! It has been a standard for a long time that most distros can be simply loaded onto a USB stick (or even a CD-R!) and given a "test-drive" before committing to installing it. I actually still keep around my Linux Lite USB stick to use as a portable little OS.
Like any journey, it isn't about where you end up, but it is about all the experiences along the way. My journey with GNU/Linux is far from over, as happy as I am with Antix+XFCE.
We'll see if i feel like updating this page later on, but for now I guess that's all i really have. I hope you had fun reading :)
A Note on GNU/Linux Elitism
It certainly doesn't help that the GNU/Linux community in some ways actively alienates regular people, and seems elitist to many. GNU/Linux is perceived as a bunch of cranky, antisocial programmers and hackers, and honestly that perception is pretty true.
While this criticism of the community is completely fair, the real problem is still the fact that criminal companies like Microsoft and Apple are allowed to dominate the market , as well as to intentionally misinform the public, thus making the work of the free software movement even harder!
In the end, it doesn't matter how kind and welcoming and "non-elitist" the free software community is, if everything they build is sabotaged, appropriated, and crowded out of the space by enormous monopolies, then the movement for free software is dead on arrival.
If the public continues to perceive free software (due to rampant monopoly smear campaigns and sabotage) as inferior, un-secure, inconvenient, "scams" and so on, there is only so much the movement itself can do to assuage that perception.
We can take issue with "elitist" atittudes in the community, yes, but this should not be a replacement for what is actually necessary: proper public education. In the early days of computing and the internet, basic coding and technology were taught in primary public education. This is no longer the case, and this is why there is so much misinformation.
This failure to educate the public on technology is not a failure of the free software movement or GNU/Linux community, but a failure of governments to provide essential education to the public.
While members of the community like me and others can try to educate the public, we are not trained educators and educating is not our primary feild of work. If it was, that is the feild we would be working in.