Those are my requirements:
- Good out-of-the-box experience: the install, GUI, default programs must be sane. All codecs and flash player need to be included. HP driver support needs to be integrated. The sane default programs include a good IRC client, a proper browser (i.e. Firefox or Chromium), a proper email client (i.e. Thunderbird).
- Good software repositories: I need to be able to install everything I want without struggle
- MTP support: I need to be able to just plug in my recent Android devices and have it mounted automatically. That means a reasonably recent version of KDE or the latest Gnome.
- Good desktop widgets: I need a CPU, RAM and heat monitor, a weather indicator, and a keyboard layout switcher
- Easy launcher. I should be able to launch a program with only 2-3 keystrokes (except for the typing of said program's name, of course)
- No 3d. The desktop must run without OpenGL and needs to be smooth (and use very little CPU doing so)
- Very stable
- No major updates or very easy updates. That gives a bias towards rolling distributions.
- Security updates are all available very very fast.
You will notice this weird 'no 3d' requirement - that is because my video card isn't well supported by Intel drivers. I observed a significant improvement in stability since I am using 2D only desktops.
That automatically removes any Cinnamon desktop, as even the 2D version is a CPU hog. KDE is a mixed bag, especially regarding the KDE wallet that is essentially ruining the experience for everyone that doesn't know how to make it behave. Gnome Fallback Mode on older versions is OK (only underwhelming). My understanding of Gnome Classic on the latest version is still relying on 3D. When it comes to SSH keys, Gnome keyring daemon has been the best option I experienced so far.
You will note that my judgment comes very quickly. I have no time for customizing something for hours. That is also why I'm sticking with the big DEs - Gnome, KDE, XFCE. I am sure Englightement is amazing, but I also don't feel like customizing for hours. Same with a plain Arch.
What about the major distributions?
- Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Mageia : No codecs pre-installed. That is a bummer. I understand the need for legal CYA, but end-users don't care. They want their Youtube kittens, and they want 'em NOW.
So we need to go to distributions derived from those. How are they faring? I tried all of those in VirtualBox with a 8 Gb virtual drive and 1 Gb RAM.
- Scientific Linux: Very very old software (Kernel 2.6, Gnome 2). Will not support MTP. Takes a ton of space to install.
- Mageia: I decided to give this one is a go at a friend's suggestion. It looks like a plain Gnome offering.
- Korora: This spin of Fedora is pretty decent. The folks on IRC are super helpful. The downside is that the update will have to go through's Fedora's pain.
- Manjaro: This Arch-based distro is pretty good. But installing Oracle's JDK from AUR was breaking for me on the VM. I generally found using yaourt to be veeeeery user-unfriendly.
- Linux Mint 15 MATE: Slick-looking, but the start menu is annoying. I can type the name of the program I want to run, have it found, but I need to click. Grr.
- LMDE: LMDE doesn't guarantee to be up-to-date on security updates. That is the only thing going against this option.