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2020-04-03

The Zen of KISS Linux

My thoughts on the distro, the philosophy and my experience in general

I installed KISS early in January on my main machine—an HP Envy 13 (2017), and I have since noticed a lot of changes in my workflow, my approach to software (and its development), and in life as a whole. I wouldn’t call KISS “life changing”, as that would be overly dramatic, but it has definitely reshaped my outlook towards technology—for better or worse.

When I talk about KISS to people—online or IRL---I get some pretty interesting reactions and comments.1 Ranging from “Oh cool.” to “You must be retarded.”, I’ve heard it all. A classic and a personal favourite of mine, “I don’t use meme distros because I actually get work done.” It is actually, quite the opposite—I’ve been so much more productive using KISS than any other operating system. I’ll explain why shortly.

The beauty of this “distro”, is it isn’t much of a distribution at all. There is no big team, no mailing lists, no infrastructure. The entire setup is so loose, and this makes it very convenient to swap things out for alternatives. The main (and potentially community) repos all reside locally on your system. In the event that Dylan decides to call it quits and switches to Windows, we can simply just bump versions ourselves, locally! The KISS Guidestones document is a good read.

In the subseqent paragraphs, I’ve laid out the different things about KISS that stand out to me, and make using the system a lot more enjoyable.

the package system

Packaging for KISS has been delightful, to say the least. It takes me about 2 mins to write and publish a new package. Here’s the radare2 package, which I maintain, for example.

The build file (executable):

#!/bin/sh -e

./configure \
    --prefix=/usr

make
make DESTDIR="$1" install

The version file:

4.3.1 1

The checksums file (generated using kiss checksum radare2):

4abcb9c9dff24eab44d64d392e115ae774ab1ad90d04f2c983d96d7d7f9476aa  4.3.1.tar.gz

And finally, the sources file:

https://github.com/radareorg/radare2/archive/4.3.1.tar.gz

This is literally the bare minimum that you need to define a package. There’s also the depends file where you specify the dependencies for your package. kiss also generates a manifests file to track all the files and directories that your package creates during installation, for their removal, if and when that occurs. Now compare this process with any other distribution’s.

the community

As far as I know, it mostly consists of the #kisslinux channel on Freenode and the r/kisslinux subreddit. It’s not that big, but it’s suprisingly active, and super helpful. There have been some interested new KISS-related projects too: kiss-games—a repository for, well, Linux games; kiss-ppc64le and kiss-aarch64—KISS Linux ports for PowerPC and ARM64 architectures; wyvertux—an attempt at a GNU-free Linux distribution, using KISS as a base; and tons more.

the philosophy

Software today is far too complex. And its complexity is only growing. Some might argue that this is inevitable, and it is in fact progress. I disagree. Blindly adding layers and layers of abstraction (Docker, modern web “apps") isn’t progress. Look at the Linux desktop ecosystem today, for example—monstrosities like GNOME and KDE are a result of this…new wave software engineering.

I see KISS as a symbol of defiance against this malformed notion. You don’t need all the bloat these DEs ship with to have a usable system. Agreed, it’s a bit more effort to get up and running, but it is entirely worth it. Think of it as a clean table—feels good to sit down and work on, doesn’t it?

Let’s take my own experience, for example. One of the initial few software I used to install on a new system was dunst—a notification daemon. Unfortunately, it depends on D-Bus, which is Poetterware; ergo, not on KISS. However, using a system without notifications has been very pleasant. Nothing to distract you while you’re in the zone.

Another instance, again involving D-Bus (or not), is Bluetooth audio. As it happens, my laptop’s 3.5mm jack is rekt, and I need to use Bluetooth for audio, if at all. Sadly, Bluetooth audio on Linux hard-depends on D-Bus. Bluetooth stacks that don’t rely on D-Bus do exist, like on Android, but porting them over to desktop is non-trivial. However, I used this to my advantage and decided not to consume media on my laptop. This has drastically boosted my productivity, since I literally cannot watch YouTube even if I wanted to. My laptop is now strictly work-only. If I do need to watch the occasional video / listen to music, I use my phone. Compartmentalizing work and play to separate devices has worked out pretty well for me.

I’m slowly noticing myself favor low-tech (or no-tech) solutions to simple problems too. Like notetaking—I’ve tried plaintext files, Vim Wiki, Markdown, but nothing beats actually using pen and paper. Tech, from what I can see, doesn’t solve problems very effectively. In some cases, it only causes more of them. I might write another post discussing my thoughts on this in further detail.

I’m not sure what I intended this post to be, but I’m pretty happy with the mindspill. To conclude this already long monologue, let me clarify one little thing y’all are probably thinking, “Okay man, are you suggesting that we regress to the Dark Ages?”. No, I’m not suggesting that we regress, but rather, progress mindfully.


  1. No, I don’t go “I use KISS btw”. I don’t bring it up unless provoked. 

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