Skip to content

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.