Fast with many packages is not the only selection criteria for a Linux distribution, but it's important. "Click and wait... Download manually packages on a regular basis??" -> "no thanks".
I've used many Linux Distributions over the years: Redhat, Mandriva(previously Mandrake), Debian, Gentoo, Slackware, CentOS, Fedora, Knoppix, Suse, Zenwalk, Ubuntu, etc.
My main machine at work usually runs some Linux variant. I was lucky enough to always have that luxury since I started to work "As long as you don't need support and you can work with it, you can run Linux on your PC".
Linux distributions perceived speed
Redhat based distributions have to be the slowest around, so I tend not to use them, unless I have to. Among the fastest Linux distros(non minimalistic), I would count in Slackware, Gentoo and few others.
Today I tried Arch Linux for the first time. I must say that I'm very much impressed with the raw speed. I would even dare to say that it feels faster than Gentoo or Slackware, without any additional optimization or custom kernel compiled.
Linux distributions with nice package managers
Couple of years ago, RPM based distributions were annoying. It was a real dependency hell depending on where you grabbed your RPM package... Nowadays things are better(yum, etc.), but RPM dependency resolution traumatized me for good...
As soon as I was introduced to Debian, I never looked back. For a quick install in few minutes Ubuntu will do and for a server a pure Debian distro is nice. Once in a while, I try couple of Linux distributions just for fun.
Having a nice set of packages available is cool especially when your distribution has a "reliable and powerful" package manager.
What a dev like me wants from a Linux distro
These days, I only need few things from a Linux distro:
- It has to be fast, as I like to multitask but I also have couple of GB of RAM to spare.
- No RPM based distro, Debian or something else. I've always preferred Debian for its apt-get super powers. apt-get has been around for a while and I like it a LOT.
- I don't need a graphical installer but I also don't want to a full installation from chroot with tons of steps, unless I have time to kill...
- Many packages should be available via the package manager of the distribution, as I try to avoid compiling too many applications.
- Flexible installation options (base system vs full desktop/server system). When I have time, I build a system with only what I need...