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A million distros? Bring ’em on

Reproducing here my rather longish comment on this rant on LinuxDevCenter about there being so many Linux distributions.

I think you ignore the benefits of having the thousand and one linux distros around.

First, all of these distros are in the end attempts to do something _different_. Puppy Linux was one of the first ones to run completely from RAM, and for that reason it was blazingly fast. Try asking a Fedora or an OpenSUSE admin to include something like that. The mainstream distros are also slow on the uptake for a lot of new software – FC6 still doesn’t have Firefox 2.0 for example – and so there is choice for the users, which directly contributes to lack of frustration.

Second, a number of distributions are created and meant only for targeted and small groups of people, for example, programmers in Bioinformatics. There is great benefit in that, because a relatively new user to Linux can simply be told to install this; and his/her required software will run straight off it. Another classic example is Knopmyth for running a media-center out of a live CD.

Third, and somewhat related to the second, is that the burgeoning numbers of distros are directly indicative of choice and freedom of Linux. I have yet to meet someone who comes over to Linux because it looks good or even because it never crashes – a Windows hater can easily go to Mac OS X. What Mac OS X lacks, however, is complete freedom – what drivers you use, basic system principles (try putting your Users (/home) into another partition on OS X and you’ll find its quite tough – and may break with an OS update). People come to Linux in the long term because of software freedom – and nothing says freedom like “whatever you want to do – there’s probably a distro that does it”.

Fourth, and probably the most important – don’t you see that these distros mean there is so much of effort in the community to develop Linux? It’s infinitely easier to just join a project than start your own, yet people do it – which means Linux development is in good shape for the years to come. If only a few major distros – those supported by companies – are left at some point, I’ll seriously start to doubt the community’s interest and/or capability of maintaining Linux anymore.

2 Comments

  1. antrix wrote:

    IMHO, your fourth point is perhaps the most significant one.

    Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  2. jagga wrote:

    this might be surprising but i kind of agree with the author. before you go all nuts, the author is actually talking about the lack of standardization in the *nix world. every distro has its own nuances, its own way of doing things (keeping file structures, config software, etc.) which in itself is not a bad thing but makes things hard to change/try new distributions. these things are esp. bad for commandline users who dont use the config software. a trivial example is the way in which the network interfaces are configured, in fcX world we have ifcfg-ethX files whereas in debian world everything has to be in a single interfaces file(i think it is called interfaces but not sure of the name). Again I am not saying one way is better than the other but just that they are *different*.
    i agree that diversity is good in config software but i would really appreciate if all the distributions conformed to some kind of standard about where they would store the files internally. i would really **love** to experience the same backend for all the distributions and have different frontends….
    Just quoting the authors clarification from the same rant site “Walt: I think you missed some of my points. My rant against the proliferation of multitudes of distributions is that they all decide to do things differently. I’m talking about basic, simple things like where in the filesystem they put key bits of software. Despite supposed standards (a couple of conflicting ones, anyway) many distributors just do it differently because they can, not for any good or compelling reason.

    Ubuntu, for example, puts X modules in a different place than most current distros. Perhaps it’s a Debianism or a new standard everyone should follow. I honestly don’t know. I do know that with vanilla Ubuntu (or Kubuntu or Xubuntu) that you can’t do:

    ./configure

    make

    make install

    for an X based app and have any prayer of it working unless you tell configure where to find things. Yes, configuration options can fix that issue. A newcomer won’t know that, will they?

    GNewSense (it’s not GNUSense) would be a nightmare for the typical user coming over from Windows. It would put them off Linux, perhaps permanently, if their very normal hardware simply doesn’t work. It would be unusable in a corporate server farm as well. I see building a user base and gaining acceptance as more important than what Carla describes as hundreds of half-baked distros.

    I don’t think you can extend my argument to window managers. I share your dislike for Gnome and KDE, though I do see KDE as probably the best choice for newcomers to Linux migrating from Windows provided they have a system with the necessary horsepower. My last two distro reviews covered Vector Linux 5.8 Standard (Xfce4 desktop) and Xubuntu Edgy Eft (also Xfce4 desktop).

    The need for lightweight distributions for older hardware and corresponding lightweight applications and window managers is pretty well undisputed. My article (rant?) talks about “general purpose distributions”, not specialized ones with a distinct purpose not filled by Fedora or Ubuntu or Debian or SuSe. I also didn’t put a fixed number on how many distributions there should be. I just said a distro for the sake of yet another distro is a really bad idea, particularly when it breaks standards and makes the life of newcomers to Linux difficult.

    FSF doesn’t believe that 99% free is free enough. They are ideologically driven. They don’t believe in having a choice to include or exclude proprietary software. They believe it is all evil. I just don’t share Richard Stallman’s view of the software world or all of his ideology. OK, maybe proprietary software is truly evil, but for now it remains a necessary evil. That, too, was one of my main points.
    Caitlyn Martin | January 16, 2007 02:44 PM “

    Friday, January 26, 2007 at 10:50 am | Permalink

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