Why I Keep Reinstalling Linux

It drives my wife nuts when I reinstall an operating system. She'll just get used to how things are working, and then I go an format the drive and start over. We've actually gotten to the point that I'm not allowed to do anything but fix her computer, and only reinstall when things are totally botched.

But I format my drives all the time. At work, I used to do this because Windows would act wonky, and the most efficient way to fix the oddities was to reinstall. I don't really use Windows very much anymore, but I still reinstall my Linux machines just as often. Probably more so.

I think this is due to a number of issues:

* I really like to install Linux. I love that "finding drivers" is almost never required. There's something about a freshly installed OS that appeals to me. And that OS being Linux, well, that's just cooler yet.

* I like to play with different distributions. I've tried pretty much all of them, and they each offer neat "twists" that make them fun to play with.

* I change my mind all the time. ALL THE TIME. For several weeks, I'll desire to sit at my desk, and use the old IBM tower I have to write with. Then, I'll get the notion that I need to be mobile. So I'll move the IBM and set up a makeshift docking system for my laptop. Then I'll think Kubuntu is cool. But that's on my dual boot Mac, so I switch that around. It's unending, and my wife thinks I'm insane. She might be right.

* Linux has too many options, and I can't settle on something I like. Largely, I've settled on using Google Docs for my writing, but with all the free options available, it's really hard to choose one. Software monogamy is too cruel a rule.

Honestly, I think the big reason I reinstall my operating system so often, is simply because I can. It's free. FREE. In every sense of the word. I can download the latest, coolest OS for free. I can get the bleeding edge Ubuntu disk, and see what it's like. I can try Puppy Linux, because it's small, and that's cool. I can install Fedora, and try to figure out why it takes 273 CDs to install. ;)

So if you're bored this weekend, feel free to reinstall your operating system. It's tons of fun. One warning, however, if you share your computer with your significant other: Maybe you should just read a book instead. :)


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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An installer addict, eh?

candyb's picture

Ahhh... gotta be on your wife's side here. I have things in a very particular place and anytime the husband rearranges or reinstalls or moves stuff, it drives me completely insane. Hope there's no sharp objects around when it happens :)

Candy Beauchamp

Linux install

Henrik's picture

Hi Shawn
Installing and working with Linux is indeed a pleasure today. I started playing with Linux back in 1998 and really enjoy the fantastic work done by all those good guys out there. My "better half" has complained hundreds of times when I installed a new OS ... "why so, it just works, get away from my Linux... " ... oh yes, she uses Linux for playing games, writing letters, web surfing, e-mailing etc.

I can't stop (re)installing, and therefore installed an extra hard disk and a switch which gives power to the one or the other hard disk. The two worlds are thus completely separated: One is rock stable and just sits there humming patiently while my wife is humming ... patiently, and the other is sometimes SuSE, sometimes Fedora etc etc. The documents we create and need access to are on our good old desktop, recycled as a file server running ... yes : Linux :-))

why reinstall

cls's picture

I switched to Debian on my home workstation about eight years ago. Haven't had to reinstall yet. All the hardware has been changed out many times. It's easier to copy the file systems to a new drive than do a new install. All the dist-upgrades have worked, except 3.1 to 4.0 was rough because of switching to udev. I would not recommend doing that remotely. I'm putting my new customers on Ubuntu, and I don't expect them to ever have to reinstall either.

The only reasons I can see to reinstall are to change distros or you got rooted. Or your distro doesn't do dist-upgrades right.


rograt's picture

VirtualBox. Free,easy, as many virtual computers as you want.
Available from www.virtualbox.org . They have a Debian repository. Cool.
Even supports other OS's including that big expensive one.
Run and try as many OS as you want until you find that perfect one, and then realize it was Debian testing, that was your host OS all along. :)

Why I keep reinstalling Linux

Anonymous's picture

This is why I have seven PC's which I built myself, so that I can pick and choose which PC's I keep one OS on, and which one I keep changing to a new OS.

There's a lot of perspective from the top of the mountain.

reiisi's picture

And that's a good reason to climb it regularly.

Some people think the computer industry is mature. (Some insist on forcing it to be mature, even though it is not, so that they can profit by "commoditizing" it.

It isn't mature, so it makes sense to look at different tools that are available, even though it sometimes means re-installing to try them.

But I must ask, I don't get the joke about 273 CDs. My last two re-installs took exactly two CDs, and the live CD was just because I wanted to play with it. The re-install before that, the live CD wasn't official yet, so I only got the rescue CD and used that to cut the partitions and start the install. I have, on occasion, grabbed the whole set of CDs (five, the last time I did that) just in case I wanted to carry them around with me, But I generally only used three of those in the actual install.

Just poking fun...

Shawn Powers's picture

I usually install Fedora on my servers here at work, (actually, K12LTSP, based on Fedora) and every year it seems to take more and more CDs. :)

I actually only ever burn the first one, and do an NFS based install -- but I think the last Fedora set weighed in at 7 ISO images. That's not a problem, it just means it comes with lots of software, but I pretty much tease whenever I can.

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

Me too...

Anand Vaidya's picture

I reinstall my main workstation (actually laptop) *atleast* twice a year. That syncs with Kubuntu releases. So it seems quite common among us, Linux users...

I may reinstall once or twice in between, if I mess up my machine very badly (eg: while trying KDE4 alfa :-(

My homepc usually tracks the alpha->beta->stable release of kubuntu, so there is never peace at home ;-), as far as homepc is concerned. My wife is resigned to living with an unstable system, hehe But I don't get many complaints if ADSL connects with no problems and Firefox runs fine.

Anyway, my computer used to be a OPEN computer, meaning, all parts (CPU, disks etc) spread around on my table but due to spouse pressure, I have boxed it up nicely. Some improvement there, atlast...


Anonymous's picture

Perhaps you should invest some time in learning LVM. I find this one of the best features of Linux. If I want to try another distro, I just make a new logical volume. When I'm done, I can destroy the volume and release the disk space back into the pool.

Also, when tinkering (oh yes, it will happen) I can make a snapshot of the relevant partition and play until my heart's content (or distro is borked) and easily revert back to the old snapshot. This is particularly handy for those distros that "upgrade" e.g. Ubuntu.

And having /home on its own logical volume means I can carry my settings between distros. If I am feeling cautious, I'll use a writable snapshot of /home for the new install so any changes can be ignored by the existing installations.

Even if you don't think you need LVM, you should use it anyway (because you DO need it, you just haven't realised it yet.)

Wawoo! Here I am with

Anonymous's picture

Wawoo! Here I am with someone who is just like me. I used to reinstall Linux from time to time for no reason other than I like installing it. I love Linux and I love to see it working on every machine. Recently, I had to stop this habit because I am getting my important files growing in size and importance.
Yes, Linux is FREE with all the meaning of this word and this is why I love watching it getting installed on my machines.

We all have our own ways

chris101010's picture

I have an iMac for the family, but use Parallels VM's to test out new things. I've got a Linux laptop on which I regularly test out new stuff as well. And then I also have a desktop with swappable hard drives in a drawer. Easy that, just pop another drawer in and you've got a different OS. Inside is a second disk which is used by all OS's, and that one has all the data on it.
At the moment, we've got Mac OS X Leopard, Vista Ultimate, PC Linux OS, SIMPLYMepis, Ubuntu 7.10.

Lovely Jubbly.

hahahaha...I do that too. I

feng shaun's picture

hahahaha...I do that too. I just like the feel of a fresh fedora install! it's so appealing as you say!

Distro Fever

Sean Lynch's picture

You have a condition called 'Distro fever'.

Don't worry, it isn't harmful. It usually occurs after someone has become confident and comfortable with using Linux. It is actually a good sign.

Most people try a few different distros until they hit on the one that works on their equipment and meets their needs. They'll run into a few road bumps in their early usage days, but they'll work through the bumps and figure out where to go for help in forums and documentation. They're willing to do this because 'their' distro works with their video card or with their modem, and the others wouldn't. During this early period some users become fierce defenders of 'their' distro. They don't even realize that 'their' distro would probably be a different distro if they had a different video card or modem or whatever.

The user will get comfortable with 'their' distro, and then gain confidence and comfort with Linux itself. This is usually when distro fever strikes.

I always set new users up with 10 or 20 GB unformatted for their first bout of distro fever.

By leaving a nice chunk of disk real estate unformatted, users with distro fever can stake their claim on that territory when distro fever attacks. This lets them leave the main distro alone.

Distro fever comes and goes, like malaria, but its onset should be welcomed. It is a sign of growth in your knowledge and understanding. Although I have found that a nice dose of tonic water laced with rum, ice and a squeeze of lime goes well when doing a Linux install.

Try Virtual Machines!

Anonymous's picture

Next up for you - install new Linuxes into a Virtual Machine.
This will allow you to play around without losing anything from your main machine.

I use OpenVZ for linux-based virtual machines - separating services onto different servers. I can have a new virtual machine running in OpenVZ in only 2 minutes, with almost zero overhead (except for a few megs of disk space) because OpenVZ is not an emulator.

I also use VMWare for non-linux installs, or where I need to simulate hardware devices. I have a script which duplicates a VMWare guest, so I can start another instance of "braindead OS" in a couple of minutes.

Another distro junkie - but needs to play well with others too

panfish's picture

I have fallen into habit of trying differnet distros too, keeping them for a few months then going back newest Ubuntu. Problem has always been the stuff I want to keep and all the settings I need to remember.

I need a tutorial on that "standard partiton" thing some of you mention. How do you do it,use it, keep it around between taste tests of different distros? Multi-boot systems aren't good because I always seem to want/need a file or widget that unreachable because its on the other boot's side.

I put VMWare on my work PC to see if I can do all my work stuff running linux(RHEL5 WS). If I can then I plan to rebuild work PC as linux box. Might have to put WinXP in its place - ie make it a VMWare or VirtualBox guest. Of course I won't exactly tell work's IT staff. They gave me full admin rights years ago and insisted I take care of my PC because they are afraid to touch it. My claim to fame here is I've managed to kill every distro I've had to use at least once and I hold the record for pegging our network pipe.

Only draw back to my moving to linux on my work PC is all the years of email and other files I need to keep and be able to use. And, well, I do still have to share stuff with others at work too. (sigh)

tried gentoo yet?

beso's picture

well, i was also switching distros for quite some time, but after trying out gentoo i can assure you that i've didn't went back to reinstall it again. one reason is that compiling everything is not so fast, but the main reason is that it's use flags and config options would give you the possibility to personalize your system as much as you want. then there's the fact that there isn't a versioning system in gentoo and so you don't need to reinstall everything but just the new updated stuffs. also i have to tell that the core components are really put together really well. for all the people who like to install, reinstall, test there isn't any better distro since in portage tree has almost everything and the stuff that isn't there can be found out in various overlays that are fast to configure, update and mantain. if you want to try it out use daniel robins stages from funtoo ( http://www.funtoo.org/linux/ ) since they're more up-to-date than the gentoo stages found on gentoo.org. also install ccache after uncompressing the stage3 (this is the base system without portage and kernel) since it will help you with compile time after the first one. icecc ( http://en.opensuse.org/Icecream ) is also very good since you could split compile between various computers in the network. with these tools you'll be able to have a very high fun and to increase linux skills with gentoo.

have fun in your little hell

deadcabbit's picture

Don't you have a job? Don't you have kids? Don't you have better things to do? "I do it because I can" is a bit dumb for me, sry.

Well, that's the reason

Anonymous's picture

Well, that's the reason Edmund Hillary and George Mallory climbed Mount Everest, so I think you shouldn't discount such a reason so readily; it makes you look foolish.

Everest because I can?

TsukubaSteve's picture

That is by far the lamest retort I have ever heard. What good has come out of climbing that stupid mountain for climbings sake? Possibly in the top 5 colossal wastes of energy in my book. But hey, everyone is entitled to a stupid opinion, even me! ;)

Well then..

Anonymous Gabe's picture

why did you spend energy responding to posts on this thread? Why am i spending time doing so? Why are we spending time surfing the net? Arghh, the madness! So much time/energy wasted by us humans....

Although I agree because I can is not the whole story. It also includes "because I like to" or "because I want to say I did it". The former applies to many linux installs described here. The latter to Mt Everest.


Shawn Powers's picture


Yes, Anonymous Gabe hit the nail on the head. It's largely due to the "because I can" mentality -- but that's only really appealing because, "I really like to" as well.

I'm not a fan of bowling, I don't really like to watch football on TV, and although it angers my wife and doctor, I'm not really too keen on jogging. So for my enjoyment, it's tinkering with computers. And my tinker of choice? Usually Linux.

Maybe I should combine mountain climbing and Linux installing. I'd be getting my exercise, and I'd be able to say that I installed Linux on a mountain top... :)

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

deadcabbit is right

mmark's picture

No, I think deadcabbit is right. Reinstalling and reconfiguring your workstation at the drop of a hat is a total productivity drain. (I know, it's a habit that I got into for a couple of years.) Amit Singh over at kernelthread.org has a nice little piece on the psychology of constant tweaking and reinstalling:


I like reinstalling Linux too

Vasudev Ram's picture

Nice article :)

I do too, and for some of the same reasons you mention. One other reason is that you get better at installing it, the more you do it, and one more is, you keep learning new stuff.

Vasudev Ram
Vasudev Ram
Dancing Bison Enterprises
Software consulting and training
Biz site: http://www.dancingbison.com
Blog (on software innovation): http://jugad.livejournal.com
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Anonymous's picture

I do that too but I have a dedicated"test system". My wife has her own system that I don't mess with unless she asks.

Well NOW I do...

Shawn Powers's picture

Yeah, me too. Now anyway. :)

It's been made perfectly clear to me that my wife's computer is off limits. Unless it breaks. (And honestly, that's not very often now that I don't touch it...)

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

+1 We must be kindred

Anonymous's picture

+1 We must be kindred spirits. One thing any new installer junkie must know is that you always keep a "stable" install on one partition so if you screw everything else up you still have one good operating system. (I haven't used Slackware in 5 years. Time to give it a run again and see if it's package managers have caught up to the other distros.)

Growing Up

David Legg's picture

Well yes, you love to do Linux installations for a while, but frankly nowadays it is so easy that a Windows geek could do it. In fact, it's much easier than installing Windows. But when you grow up, you begin to get bored with doing easy installs and actually start using computers for doing useful things. Windows users don't have time to re-install their OS because they are too busy doing AV updates. Also they can't afford to rebuild because something nasty will ask them for money if they are careless enough to change their hard disk or motherboard, but they are probably happy doing AV updates all the time on their super-powerful PCs as they get slower and slower and slower every day, aching for a rebuild, because Windows machines just get so slow after a while that it seems less painful just to buy a new one, as if the old one had just run out of steam somehow. Then the old machine gets cadged by a Linux freak who rebuilds it and immediately has a nearly new super fast PC :)

and it stays super fast :))

Ditto on the kindred

Anonymous's picture

Ditto on the kindred spirit!!! I must admit, I too am a new installer junkie...

I realized this only recently. I've been using linux for 1 year to the month. I installed SuSE first. It worked great; things couldn't be better. Then one day, I decided to "check out" another distro; so I made space on my hard drive. In doing so, I trashed my system, so I had to re-install SuSE. After I did that, things were great again. But after a couple weeks, I had the inclination to try another distro -- and there's where I got hooked. I convinced myself I could stop at any time, and that all the tinkering was 'necessary'. Well... several installs (and several mortal threats to my life by my wife) later, I ended up formatting the whole drive to give it to PCLOS. It has worked [unbelievably] flawlessly for the last 5 months.

Where I realized that I was hopeless was when I again felt that "urge" recently to tinker with another distro -- for no apparent reason!

Me: Hi, my name is Steve, and I am a linux install junkie.
Group[all together]: < HI, Steve. >

It's nice to know that I'm

Anonymous's picture

It's nice to know that I'm not the only poor soul that goes through this:)
I've been good recently. I have managed to stay with Slackware for some time now, resisting the urge to try out some new distro. It's kind of funny that I always come back to slack.

Use Partitions

Ridgeland's picture

I have 10 plus partitions of 10 GB for Linux OS. I test any flavor that sounds interesting. I keep data (mp3, jpg, odt etc) in a partition for data (180 GB) and use NFS for my wife's laptop. My wife's laptop has 4 partitions for OS. One she wont allow me to "fix" or upgrade - Ubuntu 7.04 with wifi broadcom working. I also use Ubuntu 7.04 but trying dozens of other Linux OSes has not caused any problems for me or my wife. I reset GRUB each new install so it points back to my main Ubuntu 7.04 partition. I also use a second Ubuntu 7.04 partition to test any package that sounds interesting. If it clobbers the system I cp -a the good 7.04 and play some more.


Anonymous's picture

Use LVM, then you can create, delete and resize partitions at any time, without wasting space.