After getting my machine up and running a couple of weeks back, I created many partitions on my 80GB harddisk to install various Linux distros and compare them. I want a distro that is user friendly and easy to use as a desktop. Since this machine is going to be used primarily as a desktop for Photo Editing using Gimp (preferabley 2.0) and playing music and browsing net, I wanted a distro that could detect all my hardware and setup all the network shares (using NFS), CUPS printers, SAMBA printers, SAMBA shares etc, without having to edit any configuration files by hand.
The first distro I installed was Mandrake 10. Installation was sleek. Very polished. But it failed to detect my integrated sound (Via 8235). I know that that card is supported by ALSA which is now part of Kernel 2.6, so it should have worked out of the box. But for some reason it didn't. Except for this one hitch, everything else about mandrake is very good. I didn't have to open any configuration file in vi or emacs to setup networking, mounting NFS and SAMBA shares, configuring printers or any other settings. Mandrake's *Drake programs are very well designed and work as expected. Great Job Mandrake!
Nex was Fedora. I know that currently Fedora Core 2 Beta is available. But I purposely chose Fedora Core 1, as I was more interested in setting up a stable desktop with minimal headache of fiddling with bugs and configuration files etc. I was able to create a bootable minimal CD image and install Fedora Core 1 over the net. This time my sound card workd! Fedora detected my sound card during "First Boot" wizard and had no problems with sound. But Fedora Core 1 does not have any GUI program to configure my NFS or SAMBA shares. I know enough about Linux that I was able to add a couple of lines to my /etc/fstab to get those mounts working but there really should be a nice GUI like Mandrake to do this work. Another problem with Fedora Core 1 is that Gimp 2.0 which was recently released was not available. Well actually it is available but not very easy to install without getting into big dependency mess.
So I finally settled for Gentoo. Yes I know that in gentoo there are no nice GUIs, and I was not even expecting them. But Gentoo always has the bleeding edge stuff and it always works. Plus I get the benefit of compiling everything for my Athlon processor. I have chosen kernel 2.6, gimp 2.0 and rhythmbox 0.8.1 which finally works with ALSA now. So now I have a system where all the components that I wanted to work are working, but I could not get them without editing config files.
In summary I coundn't get a system where I had all the latest software working on my system without any problem and without having to fiddle around with configuration files. But that's life!