Welcome to linuxconfig.org forum and thank you for taking time to provide us with a valuable and extremely motivating feedback.
Yes, I too remember those days and know exactly what are you talking about. It was an absolute pain, but fun regardless! However, the advantage was that once you set it up it simply worked endlessly and on top of that you learned a great deal!
That time there was no online documentation or you could not simply use google to search for a quick answers. Hence, the Linux users groups were created around the world and the “true” GNU/Linux community was booming, new friendships created and everybody was happy to help with no obligations.
Today the story is different again. Every piece of code or configuration stanza is documented, we have few clicks installation wizards, hint/guides/answers are searchable via google and based on that, everybody now claims to be a Linux master/guru. Linux user groups as we knew them are disappearing. Example:
Well, I think that the above is a clear sign about how many people truly understood the meaning of free software and GNU ideology on top of which any distribution in its core is build upon.
Today’s so called Linux operating system is commercial as anything else hiding behind the smoke screen of OpenSource. To get the sense of purpose, ideology and meaning today, one should start using GNU in GNU/Linux or Lignux and look no further than LibrePlanet.
Mint or Ubuntu are great for beginners who wish to start using the system quickly.
I’m personally not a big fan of Ubuntu/Mint as it does not teach the value of free software and GNU ideology but I do NOT condemn people for using it.
So far my preference was always Debian GNU/Linux and if possible without nonfree repository. I simply take it as an insult and refuse to use something which has Amazon Launcher installed as default.
I’m kind of doing the same thing except of the external HDD I’ve got cloud installed on a local network such as NextCloud. This way I can easily share my data between any hosts and can sync my data easily upon re-install.
Founder @ Linuxconfig.org