Linux distro hopping is a fun way to find the perfect desktop operating system

Here's why distro hopping can help find the perfect match between the user and the operating system.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Min Shin
Person using laptop
Johner Images/Getty Images

I've been using System76's Pop!_OS Linux for about five years now. Prior to that, my distribution of choice was elementary OS. Why the change? Mostly because I purchased System76 desktop machines (first the Leopard Extreme and then the Thelio) and Pop!_OS was the default distribution. I took to Pop!_OS almost immediately. Essentially, it was System76's take on GNOME, which offered a few extras that made perfect sense.

But over time, a couple of things happened. First off, System76 started focusing on its own in-house OS, Cosmic desktop, with the goal of creating something altogether new. The problem with that was updates started to become few and fewer and then System76 decided to skip the 23.04 update completely. Of course, that's not a terrible thing, as 23.04 was not an LTS (Long Term Support) release. And Pop!_OS 22.04 was still getting security updates.

Also: 8 things you can do with Linux that you can't do with MacOS or Windows

The big problem I started having was random lockups. I'd be in the middle of writing something and my desktop would freeze. Combine that with the 250Gb drive getting too close to full, and it was time for me to either do a fresh install of Pop!_OS or hop to another distribution completely.

After giving it some thought, I started to realize I was no longer as enamored of Pop!_OS as I once was. Sure, it was still a serviceable distribution, but there were aspects of the distribution that were starting to bother me. Beyond the instability I was experiencing, I didn't like the app launcher and the upgrade process was becoming a bit cumbersome.

Once I'd drawn that conclusion, it was time to decide which distribution would be my next landing spot. I considered going back to elementary OS but remembered the problems I had with Pulse Audio (the audio server) on that distribution. During my last couple of years with elementary OS, I was constantly struggling to get Pulse Audio to recognize my external microphone, which (given I was working on seven different podcasts at the time) was quite problematic. Sadly, with elementary OS 7, they seemed to have avoided migrating to Pipewire (Pulse Audio's replacement). That decision alone prevented me from heading back to elementary OS.

I liked the Pantheon desktop layout, so I decided to find a distribution that matched that aesthetic. The search took me to Ubuntu Budgie, which I'd only recently reviewed for ZDNET

Also: There's a new Ubuntu Linux desktop on its way

After removing the drive containing Pop!_OS (I wanted to be able to easily go back, should the need arise), I installed a 2TB SSD drive and installed Ubuntu Budgie. Almost immediately, I remembered one of the benefits of using Pop!_OS… it's optimized for System76 hardware. However, all it took was installing the System76 driver and everything was working to perfection. 

Since the switch, I haven't experienced a single issue and am quite happy with Ubuntu Budgie.

My early days with Linux

This whole process reminded me of my early days with Linux. Back then, there weren't nearly as many Linux distributions as there are now, but there were still plenty. I started off with Caldera Open Linux 1.0 and immediately switched to Red Hat 5.0. From there I started hopping from distribution to distribution, including:

I'd bounce between those and many others (or just switch desktops) until I found something that fitted my needs and personality at the time. Most often, however, my distribution of choice had an Ubuntu base, simply because I found it to be easier to work with.

Also: The best Linux laptops 

Some might consider having so many choices would be overwhelming for users. I've always found quite the opposite to be true. With so many Linux distributions to choose from, there's always hope you'll find the perfect fit. If you don't like the distribution you're currently using, pick another one. Don't like the desktop that comes with your open-source operating system? Install something else.

Back in my early days of using Linux, that was part of the joy. With so many options, I knew if I didn't like what I had, I could "distro hop" until I found the one

For those who don't know, the idea behind "distro hopping" is hopping from one Linux distribution to another until you find one you like. Back in my early days with Linux, the prospect of trying something new was exciting. When I'd become disenchanted with Red Hat, there was Ubuntu. When Ubuntu lost its charm, there was elementary OS. When elementary OS had become problematic, I could always go back to Ubuntu or try something completely off the beaten path. And the second you think you've tried them all, a new distribution comes into the picture for more exciting times.

Also: The best Linux distros for beginners

I honestly thought my days of distro hopping were over. But when Pop!_OS started showing signs of trouble for me, I knew it was time to hop again. And I don't suspect Ubuntu Budgie will be the last distribution I ever call my default. At some point, another team will release something I must try and I'll hop again.

That's part of the beauty of Linux. It's not just a more flexible, powerful, secure, and stable operating system, it's also more diverse. On top of that, you'll rarely find yourself feeling stagnant or stuck with one Linux distribution because there are hundreds to choose from.

Distro hopping with Linux has always been part of the fun. From my early days with Linux to now, I've always known the second something goes wrong or I become bored, all I have to do is select from one of the many options, install it, and see if it fits my needs. If not, on to the next.

Also: How to better monitor your Ubuntu Linux PC's temperature and voltage

And, as a helpful tip -- I use secondary drives to house all of my files, so when I go to re-install, I know all I have to do is remount the drives and I'm ready to go.

It never fails to give me peace of mind that Linux has my back… no matter which distribution I'm using.

Editorial standards