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The psychology of a distrohopper

November 4, 2009

There’s a unique breed of Linux user out there these days and they’re called “distrohoppers.” What the heck is a distrohopper? Well according to the Urban Dictionary, here’s the definition of a distrohopper:

“A distrohopper is someone that keeps switching from one Linux distribution to another, not with the intention to just test a certain Linux distribution, but with the illusion to find the perfect Linux distribution that suits all his/her needs and to install that as his/her main Operating System. Of course that distro does not exist.”

Of course sometimes less charitable words are used to describe these folks including the always nasty “distroslut.” While I certainly don’t subscribe to the idea that distrohoppers are “sluts” of any kind, I do find their mentality rather interesting as I see them sometimes on my Linux reviews blog.

Actually, I shouldn’t say “their” mentality as I must confess that I too am a distrohopper. I started out ages ago playing with different Linux distributions and just kept right on going with it. To this day I get excited when I see that a particular distro has a new release coming out. I usually can’t wait to get my hands on it to test it and see what great new stuff is in it.

So with that in mind, let’s proceed with the rest of this column.

Distrohoppers change their distros more than Tux changes his clothes!

Distrohoppers change their distros more than Tux changes his clothes!

What Makes Somebody A Distrohopper?
So what exactly makes somebody keep switching around to different Linux distributions? I don’t think it has anything to do with a natural tendency toward distropromiscuity. Rather I think that it has everything to do with a non-stop quest to investigate new possibilities and find new options in desktop Linux.

Distrohoppers have a compelling need to monitor the progress of desktop Linux by installing the latest and greatest distro. What’s changed? What new features are available? What about the theme? The icons? Distrohoppers are innately curious and have an insatiable need to keep up with the development of desktop Linux.

Distrohoppers are not content to simply read a review, they want hands on experience with a new version of a distro and that’s what makes sites like Distrowatch so popular. Every time there’s a new release of a worthwhile distro, you can bet that distrohoppers will swarm the site looking for info and download links.

Distrohopper Tools
The three main tools of a distrohopper are VirtualBox, Parallels and VMWare.

These three virtualization tools let distrohoppers constantly hop back and forth between distros. The only limit on how many different distros a distrohopper can use is the space on their hard disk. Each virtualization tool has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ll leave it to others to get into that as it’s outside the scope of this column. But if you haven’t tried using one, you owe it to yourself to grab one and start installing distros.

Yes, some distrohoppers might install distros directly onto their hard disk rather than through virtualization. But I suspect that these folks are more and more the minority as virtualization products have gotten better and better. Why fart around with actually partitioning your hard disk for real to run a distro when you can keep 50 of them tucked away to run in VirtualBox?

Distrohoppers Unite!
As with any minority group, distrohoppers might be looked down upon by the larger Linux majority. People who have settled in with a particular desktop distribution might look down their noses at distrohoppers.

Well screw these snobs. Just because distromonogamy suits them doesn’t mean it suits the rest of us. Our distropolyamorous relationships with many different Linux distros gives us a far broader, far more expansive point of view than these uptight distro snobs who think that their favorite distro is the one and only choice we should all have. Who the hell are they to judge us?

Be out and be proud of being a distrohopper!

Our vigilance and constant testing of new distros insures a higher quality of desktop Linux experience than otherwise might have happened. Without us desktop Linux as a whole would stagnate and ultimately shrivel up and die. Well okay, maybe not but it sure would be a whole lot less fun.

Distrohoppers unite! You have nothing to lose but the chains holding you to your last distro!

Are you a distrohopper? How often do you change your desktop distro? Tell me in the comments.


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32 Responses to The psychology of a distrohopper

  1. Adam on December 12, 2013 at 3:17 am

    I consider myself a distrohopper and fit your description! Due to college and a limited bandwidth internet connection I don’t hop as much as others. Typically I switch distros about every 2 months as my main OS (others in VMs). It’s rare for my main OS to be installed more then 2-3 months. Except recently with Linux Mint Debian Edition because it’s the most amazing Linux distro I’ve used!

  2. MarcoSieben on December 5, 2013 at 7:03 am

    I am a distrohopper! Addicted!
    Looking for a cure for that?

    From yesterday I am in love with CrunchBang Linux.:-)

  3. TWilkins on December 3, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I probably hop distros about 2 times or so a month. I think that the main reason for it is because there are soooo many interesting ones out there that I would hate to miss out on the next big thing!

  4. Alexandre Jaguar on August 27, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Guys, i’m guilty. Today I came back from Xubuntu to Debian in the morning, and now i’m testing LMDE… maybe i’ll stop now, hehehe! Maybe… :)

  5. gunjanthesystem on July 24, 2013 at 8:10 am

    i am a distrohopper too…. (BSD distros+Linux Distros)

  6. excollier on May 22, 2013 at 11:03 am

    I must be,I have a pc with 5 partitions, each with a different distro on it, and I am forever changing them

  7. George on August 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    I remember one night i did 2 clean installs, idk why I distro hop so much, its that there’s so much to choose from :D one distro i have in my head is Mageia, Arch, Gentoo, ah so much xD

  8. Jim on July 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    New column up about distrohopping on Eye On Linux:

    The Dark Side of Distrohopping


  9. Josemar Maciel on December 25, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Hi, Jim.

    Greetings from Brazil!

    I don´t know who invented the idea of us being “distrohoppers”, but if fits well the situation. With one point, anyway: we are a new kind of public trying to be accepted in the marketplace. After a century or so in which entrepreneurial big bosses had the luck and strategy to impose some product packages, we have the courage and we do take the time to shout “stop, this is my computer. And I demand to be respected”. And – what is inimaginably wonderful – I do have where to go to experiment, to sniff, to search for new experiences. They are rather simple. A new mouse trail, a new button on the left or right, compiz eyecandies and the like. But who cares… we aren´t buying. We are “playing our lives”, and giving to the market a serious message: we demand a lot and we won´t get satisfied and sit down with some prechoice, predistro, prejudice, whatever it may be or sound like.

    It is not a quest for the perfect distro. It is a quest for a nice relationship between everyone involving in the task of using free software.

  10. stooldebar on November 16, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    I think people like to have stuff set up for them. They basically just want to get on the internet. But they get used to certain tools and distributions will remove tools in order to be able to upgrade the next version. People end up missing some things and will switch to a new distribution offering their favorite tool.

    Kooka is about the best scanning software for me.

    KDE4 doesn’t offer it unless you have older libraries available. You could also try and compile it static linked. So much effort to polish a new distribution but so little to keep the tools available.

    In the windows world. Drivers get released for multiple versions of an OS. But in the opensource world it’s usually one version. Whatever the latest kernel is.

    So you are really stuck.

    I think what would solve the problems is to get a company to build several releases of the same distribution but targeted for different ages of machines. All including backports!

    You don’t really have that. Ubuntu is nice but asks you to make sacrifices like having an internet connection. They really should include the codecs and dvd it isn’t like anybody will mess with them…

  11. eastwind on November 8, 2009 at 5:53 am

    It s interesting point of view about distromania, but I just don’t think the term slut and distromonogamy , and finally all sexual term can really be apply to that . (I know Torvalds sayd one time , software is like sex … ) but it s just that you try to find a good tools for your need , what problem with that ? For exemple if i change a lot of time my mobile phone , does it mean that i m a mobile phone slut ??? Nonsense …

    About the distrohoppers term , I can agree a little bit , but still is the way to find a good tools that suit the needs …

    About my experience , I too tested a lot of distro , but not only for myself , but also when someone ask me to repair and install a good system on their pc , Knowing that other person don’t have same need as mine, I try to find the good distro the guy can use in long run , and that doens’t mean my distro ! (other guy don’t have same need , same skill , same language and same pc , so why a same distro ?… ) So at theses time , I begin to hunt the distro in the forest of distrowatch :)

    I don’t really like all theses graphical interface stuff , not that I don’t use it , but it change too often , and you can have a good base you can rely upon with time .

    I love stability and simplicity much more than last fancy …

    I use debian or debian derivative distro ( e.g. ubuntu , dreamlinux … )
    and about the gui I always back to WindowMaker (with a bit of konqueror ) and always use commandline interface where bash is (around every distro)

    Switching a lot of distro for exploring and hunting is good , but rely to a stability it s better (or your knowledge will be no more usefull each time a new software is there ) and only command line can provide this (including for Mac os x and Windows in some way ) . So I suggest to distrohopper to study command line , so they can discover new thing without being lost in middle of forest without guidance :)

  12. Rince on November 7, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    I distrohopped for several years, with debian based distro’s as my favs.
    fedora, ubuntu, gentoo, slackware, debian, and all of their derivates.
    But since i tried Arch linux a year ago, i never looked back. Great rolling distro, so always up to date, with just occasional problems with updating.
    so it’ll be my distro of choice for the next years…

  13. GutsyRabbit on November 7, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Well i can say i’m a distrohopper too, since i like to change my distro whenever i get the chance, that means when the mew releases are given to public download, but i keep switching only between these distros: OpenSuse, Ubuntu,Debian, and Mandriva. And i do keep a HDD free to try the latest distributions ^^ .

  14. hopper on November 6, 2009 at 7:54 am

    I’m a distrohopper. Why? Because I’m new into linux. But, maybe not only that. Let me explain. About six months ago I decided to give Linux a try. At that time I did not have internet at home, so I used to get a CD somewhere and install the distro at home. Lets say, Ubuntu. Soon I found the desktop was out of the screen, and I could not play mp3 or videos. Without internet it was difficult to install nvidea drivers and audio/video codecs. So I went out hunting other distros until I found a few with out of the box support for those items. One of them was Suse, witch behave very unstable due to the new Kde. Soon I had to reinstall it, so I thought it was important that my final choose should come with a good backup application. If something wrong happen forcing me to reinstall I could keep configurations and files. After a new hunt I found something else who suited me. So far, so good, until up to when I got my internet connection. It was a mobile 3G and unfortunately my distro of choice did not provide support for it. I had to go hunting again, but not too mutch as I thought then that Ubuntu would be ok. I gave it another try… only to find that then I did not like the Gnome desktop anymore, as I was already used to the old Kde. By that moment I had already tried a legion of distros and was used to go for a look at Distrowatch to see what new things were coming. I had learned already that Linux has many DE, has support for different hardware, like 686, 64bit, and a multitude of different software, some distros were independent, others were based on the independent ones. I was still learning and happy enough to try different solutions looking for new releases to try and evaluate their new features. All that untill today… and now that I found your article, I realised…. I’m a distrohopper !!!

  15. Brian Masinick on November 5, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    I consider myself more of a distro tester than I do a distro hopper. I have several distros installed, but for the most part, I use the same distro on a regular basis, and even when I do alternate, my regular test systems are primarily the same ones. I do use Virtualbox OSE to try out many distros, but I primarily stick with the same one. Been running sidux with KDE 4.3.2 all week long, but I am using Google ChromeOS in Virtualbox OSE right now.

  16. KGWagner on November 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    @ Jim:
    I’ve used Virtualbox in the past, but only to provide Windows with a fairly safe environment to work in as a client. Unfortunately, the only program I need to run that also requires Windows doesn’t work and play well in a virtual environment because it needs direct access to the hardware. So, it’s either dual-boot or dedicate a machine to a single task, which I don’t do often enough to justify wasting a machine on.

    I could use VirtualBox to run other distros out of curiosity, but I’m just not that curious. What are they going to do that I can’t already do? If there was some capability to be gained, that might be interesting, although again I can’t think of anything that can possibly be done in Linux that I can’t do with either Mint or Ubuntu. If another distro brought something new or different to the party, then I’d have to check it out. But cosmetics and rearranged menus aren’t going to do it.

  17. grantbow on November 5, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Use the source, Luke.

    All the time spent installing could be used learning how to file & fix bugs, package and develop the software we all use, helping everyone. :cool:

  18. oiaohm on November 5, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Really distro hoppers really should be wanting items like cgroups and multi X11 server support.

    So they can stop hopping. Server side I use openvz to run multi distributions on 1 kernel. Biggest headache is lack of X11 server support openvz. Other than that there could be one supper distribution made containing everything so ending the distro hopper problem.

  19. John on November 5, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    I used to hop around myself. I have tried a number of distributions but I kept going back to Debian for a while as I did not like distributions built on top of another distribution. I then tried OpenSUSE and liked the fact that installs were easy. I went back and forth with this between arch linux and OpenSUSE. I think that I will stick with arch linux for a while but do not like certain things and this is why I go from distribution to distribution. I do not care about the latest and greatest as I just want some thing to work the way I like it to work. Now I have a distribution that I can upgrade to the latest fairly easily.

  20. Matt Smith on November 5, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I’m not a distro hopper but I find this article very amusing. :-)I used to be until I decided upon Ubuntu. And then when KDE 4.2 came out, I switched to Kubuntu.

  21. Chris on November 5, 2009 at 6:01 am

    All of my distro hopping came about because something was not working properly in the distro that I came from. Updates on SuSE used to always take ages. Fedora trashed my system. Ubuntu used to be great but the number of crashing applications is ever-increasing. Debian is including flash players that do not really work.

  22. Kyle on November 5, 2009 at 2:50 am

    I was a distrohopper for a long time, but after I took Distrowatch out of my bookmarks bar, I stopped this behavior and now only use one distro (Kubuntu), but occasionally see if anything has changed on Arch Linux.

  23. stu on November 5, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Actually, I have several different computers of various types, from old PII to AMD 64. I tend to enjoy playing with the different linux distros, especially Debian net installs, Arch installs, and I’m looking at Gentoo next. Of course, I like running the different ‘buntus as well. One computer, however, I keep as my “main” box, usually running Ubuntu, Mint, Simply MEPIS or whatever seems easiest and most popular at the moment.
    Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. Don’t judge me…

  24. BobbyC on November 5, 2009 at 1:35 am

    Over the years I have found that too often the latest and greatest distro is simply not stable enough for me to use. While the rapid Linux development cycle is predominantly a blessing, it can also be a curse. Case in point. The first distros offering kde4 were extremely unstable. Early on installing a distro with kde4 was a waste of time and effort. Beyond the curiosity aspects.

    There is also the matter of package updates designed to improve a distro. But sometimes updates negatively impact applications. So there are always questions as to which packages to update and which to leave as is. It has been many moons since I was a distro hopper. If my curiosity gets the best of me there is always virtualization. The exception for me is my netbook. I have indeed hopped around looking for my ideal netbook distro. But I settled with Puppy.

  25. josef on November 5, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Sometimes I am distrohopper…I play with ubuntu but if their is something new going on with linux, I will be first one that turn op-side down my notebook,netbook and pc… its just pure curiosity to try something new especially the hardware. One time I was going so far that I was installing during traveling until my batteries gave up…It has a different feeling of curiosity like how far can linux go because there is allot of suprises if you finished with installing.But I have to honest I am satified with Ubuntu but still their is always new distro’s.. Lets say like this Linux comes with flavors,colours and different shapes it like icecream and if somebody offer my a new kind of icecream I will never refuse it. Dont you agree with me….I am still a kid….. :lol:

  26. Ridgeland on November 4, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I just installed Mandriva 2010.0 I have been using Ubuntu since 7.04 but still try Mandriva, SuSE and Fedora releases. I install them on a partition. I think Ubuntu 9.10 made a poor choice staying with Grub2 beta. Mandriva stuck with Grub legacy. Much nicer. Also the Mandriva installation is much more flexible, for example choosing user ID 500, my ID since Fedora Core 4. I haven’t found a perfect distro. But using a Data partition and links to common files like Firefox’s places.sqlite it’s easy to float between distros and still share bookmarks etc.

  27. Debianero on November 4, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    I was a distrohopper myself until I landed in Debian.

    Man, that was love at first sight and it happened 3 years ago.

  28. Jim on November 4, 2009 at 9:14 pm


    The base operating system doesn’t matter to distrohoppers. It may or may not be Windows, Mac OS X or Linux.

    What matters is getting the latest & greatest distro running on that computer either via virtualization or through partitioning the actual drive and installing it.

    Distrohoppers hop regardless of what their underlying operating system happens to be on that particular day.


  29. Cliff on November 4, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    There are several distros that I like but the main reason for changing is Skype. In some distros Skype will not work at all, in others it is very difficult to set or or works only partially. For a while PCLinuxOS really worked the best for me and those I communicate with by Skype. Presently Fedora 11 works the best with little problem setting it up. Unfortunately this isn’t true for Fedora 12 where it takes a lot of fiddling and even then only one earpiece on the earphones will work.

  30. tlmck on November 4, 2009 at 7:14 pm


    In the interest of full disclosure, you should really come “out” and admit that you are actually a “Mac Slut” which is the real reason why you use virtualization to test Linux distros. Not there is anything wrong with this approach, it just might help to clarify things. After all, OSX “is” just another distro. :tongue:

    As for me, I am a “whatever works best slut”, be it OSX, BSD, Windows, Linux, etal… Right now that happens to be Windows Vista with Linux running in Virtual Box.

  31. Jim on November 4, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Good point, KG.

    Have you considered using VirtualBox though? That makes it pretty easy and fun to play around with new distros while still keeping one as your current/main choice.

    Work? Um…no. The whole point is to have fun playing with the OS.

    :biggrin: :wink:

  32. KGWagner on November 4, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I haven’t been a distrohopper for several years now, but at one time it seemed like a good idea. So many distros, so little time.

    As time moves along, though, you figure out how to add/remove/configure/use programs on your own, and changing whole distros to get a different installed load right from day one loses its allure. At its heart, Linux changes little, if at all, from one distro to the next. So, it becomes more important to learn how to use the operating system than to play voyeur to those that have. After all, the OS isn’t the end, and it’s barely the means. It’s the foundation that supports the tools you use to get work done.

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