Searching For The Right Linux Distribution? Don’t Trust Google

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Winter 2021 Update: With the introduction of Steam Deck and SteamOS 3.0, this article hasn’t aged well — but the larger point remains. Community first, Google results second!

I’m part of a Linux gaming group on Facebook, and yesterday I audibly groaned in exasperation when I saw yet another Linux beginner gleefully announce “OK I’m installing SteamOS!” Those of you who’ve been immersed in the Linux world long enough might already be groaning too, and for good reason.

This is absolutely the wrong experience for these enthusiastic Linux newbies to have. While at one point Valve’s SteamOS was a shining beacon of hope for the future of Linux gaming, the distro has languished. It received a minor update (SteamOS 2.195) in the summer of 2019, but that’s irrelevant.

It’s irrelevant because SteamOS is currently based on Debian 8.1, which was released in 2015.

Valve: Taking One For The Team

Let me give Valve the praise it’s due before we continue. The company may have let SteamOS fade (for now), but it has since focused its efforts on vastly improving the entire Linux gaming ecosystem. Steam Proton enabled literally thousands of Windows-exclusive games to be installed and played right inside the Steam for Linux client. No headaches, no tweaking, no fuss. For the most part, it just works.

Valve has also made substantial improvements to the open source graphics drivers used on Linux, and we’re reaching a tipping point where many non-native Linux gamers perform better than their native Windows counterparts. It’s far from perfect, but it’s far, far better than the outlook we had in 2015.

Today you can effortlessly install modern Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Pop OS, Manjaro, Solus or elementary OS and get your proprietary Nvidia graphics driver automatically installed.

You can enjoy an operating system that looks fantastic and is constantly updated with features and security patches.

You can quickly install software like Lutris or GameHub, and leverage Valve’s Proton to enjoy games on non-Steam platforms like Epic Games or Blizzard.

You can interact with and get help from the massive, helpful communities these distros foster.

Community > Google

That’s why I was perplexed and borderline angry at how many people I’m still seeing gravitate toward SteamOS. Within the large Linux For Everyone community, I have never once seen it recommended to a new or veteran Linux user.

But I can’t fault those users for their choice. I was fortunate enough to have an instant community surrounding me when I started my Linux journey, but as I learned in this recent interview, some folks aren’t so fortunate.

Watch: Many new Linux users don’t have a community to ask. Instead, they rely on Google.

Then why is this happening? Why are these new Linux users flocking to an outdated distribution that will only serve to sour their opinion on desktop Linux? They probably did what most people do before they’ve found a community to trust: they relied on Google.

And that, my friends, is a giant mistake.

When SEO Matters More Than Helping New Users

See, I put myself in the shoes of those new users and googled “best linux gaming distro.” The top three results (arguably the only ones that matter) included two websites I visit regularly: ItsFoss and TechRadar.

And all three of these sites recommend SteamOS. Not only that, they boldly put the outdated distribution in the spot.

Below are the three articles in question. I’m only including the links so that our readership can put some pressure on these outlets, or at least try to imbue them with common sense.

UPDATE: ItsFOSS has completely revamped its article as of December 17, 2020. In an email, WePC tells me they promise to do the same. No response yet from TechRadar, arguably the biggest site in this list.

While it’s Google ultimately leading readers to these articles, it’s the authors and editors penning them who are to blame.

Though at some point, I have no doubt their intentions were good.

Pick any or all of the above articles, and you’ll easily decipher the illusion: this is old, recycled content with new dates slapped on them. These pieces were almost certainly published years ago, with smart SEO tactics which Google rewarded. So the strategy then becomes keeping that sweet traffic flowing in.

Preach it James, preach it!

The objective becomes sustained clicks, not helping users. And just think about how many users are being misled.

In fact, by not updating these popular articles with common sense recommendations, I’d argue they are actually hindering impressionable new users, and directly contributing to a negative perception of desktop Linux.

(To be fair to at least one of these authors, Nick Peers of TechRadar, his original piece was submitted and published in 2016 and the recommendations were perfectly solid at that time. He no longer writes for TechRadar.)

As my friend James Mawson so persuasively states, desktop Linux truly needs a professional marketing strategy to avoid situations like this. Situations that literally last years. James will be publishing an article here on this very topic, so please follow along and stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a fresher, more relevant piece from an outlet that actually uses Linux on a daily basis. Let’s help steer people to this one.

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