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Too Many Linux Distros Make For Open Source Mess 554

Posted by samzenpus
from the 300-flavors dept.
AlexGr writes "Remember the 1980s worries about how the "forking" of Unix could hurt that operating system's chances for adoption? That was nothing compared to the mess we've got today with Linux, where upwards of 300 distributions vie for the attention of computer users seeking an alternative to Windows."
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Too Many Linux Distros Make For Open Source Mess

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  • The thing is, a distro for Linux is shaping more and more to be a complete product out of the box. It has dev tools, office tools, web tools, games, whatever you want. While it would be nice to have a setup program that worked across all Linuxes that developers wrote too, it might be constraining too.

    It makes sense, though, in a way, because if all the software is actually free, why not upgrade all of it at once and be done with it? I've downloaded a ton of stuff for Windows over the last year, but I've not really done anything with my Linux but -use it- over the same. Except, I blew away my X windows and I have no idea how to get it back... Time for a new distro.

    It's really simple.
  • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:11AM (#19911321) Homepage Journal
    Slashdot is feeding a troll who just wants links from Slashdot back to his blog. There is essentially no content in his post except to comment that there are hundreds of Linux distributions. He doesn't make any reasonable case that this actually does harm. It's also not news. There have been that many Linux distributions for a long time. But tonight's troll, who wants to draw traffic to his Information Week blog, got on the Slashdot front page tonight because he knows that baiting us is the way to do it.

    Forking of software development projects has interesting consequences,sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes neither. Having more than onedistribution... I'm not sure that "forking" is even the right word toapply to that.

    Bruce

  • by janrinok (846318) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:24AM (#19911397)
    How many different models/marques of cars (automobiles) are there? The good ones survive and get developed and the less popular ones disappear. I haven't noticed anyone crying out that everybody is getting confused regarding which model to buy. They look at what they want from a car, narrow down the field to a reasonable number of choices and then make their decision. But there will always be a place for a vehicle that has a specific role or function - farm tractor, fork-lift truck, armoured vehicle etc. It is the same with distros.
  • by MikeFM (12491) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:26AM (#19911417) Homepage Journal
    I think for business use you'd be talking RedHat, Novell, IBM, or possibly Debian. Myself, I only use RedHat/Fedora or Debian for anything serious. Anything else is just some damn upstart or old and crochtity. ;)
  • by Flying pig (925874) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:44AM (#19911493)
    most Linux distros are just the equivalent of the different versions of Windows you get on OEM machines. End user versions like many from Dell include loads of crapware and bloatware - sorry, antivirus programs-, or bundled MS Works. Corporates often come with added management controls and built in Office. Small business machines from Acer come with hidden partition restores and management consoles. Many notebooks some with such specialised Windows versions that the only way to fix a broken system is a complete restore because of all the custom drivers. In reality, the range of Windows distribution versions is probably many times greater than the range of Linux distros.

    The car analogy is a good one too. There are now far fewer platforms than there are models, e.g. in Europe VW has the Polo, Golf, A4, A5 and A6 platforms that are used by a wide range of models spread over several brand names (SEAT, Skoda, AUDI, VW). Ubuntu can be seen as using exactly the same approach, with Kubuntu, Edubuntu and Ubuntu as brands but based on a small number of real platform variants. You can argue that the Linux world is actually more visibly attuned to the consumer market, while Windows is more like Communism - the State of Gates decides what the factories will make, and the end users put up with what they are given.

  • Re:which is why (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:54AM (#19911545) Journal
    The problem here is that a lot of those distributions are obscure and aimed at very specific markets. The average user looking for Linux really doesn't have to search long to find a generic Linux/BSD distro that will suit their needs. I'd expect someone to do a little research anyway before they jump in to any significant software change.

    http://www.linux.org/dist/ [linux.org]

    If someone doesn't want to take 30 minutes to do some research, they should just go to their local computer store, hand over a bundle of cash and let the salesman pick things off the shelf for them until the cash is gone. I don't use Linux, I prefer the BSDs, but it took me less than 5 minutes to narrow it down to 3 choices.
  • Not that many (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xenocide2 (231786) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @04:35AM (#19911695) Homepage
    There's several Linux distributions, but relatively few offer themselves as legitimate "alternatives to Windows". Certainly, I wouldn't describe Gentoo as "like Windows, but Free". Many distributions are solving fundamentally different problems than what Windows is sold for. KNOPPIX doesn't strike me as a replacement for Windows, although it is highly popular. Some are better considered OSX alternatives, as they're intended for PPC platforms.

    Not that there aren't several distributions pining for Windows converts, but many are little more than venues to demonstrate some piece of software, or built to satisfy some narrow need, be it wireless router or multimedia studio. They serve their purpose adequately and there's no reason to believe that that they distract from the much smaller set of world class desktop Linux offerings. The number of distributions is a function of the flexibility of their design (ie dpkg isn't perfect for embedded systems with the cross compiling and all), and their willingness to integrate diverse communities. Personally, I'm beginning to think that Ubuntu may put an end to this discussion over the next few years. dpkg's limitations are not insurmountable, and they've done a much better job of attracting and integrating projects, unlike Debian's explicit efforts to distance itself from KNOPPIX etc. But don't mistake this for a prediction that they'll somehow put an end to hobbyist distros ("I want to do this because I can") or the motivation to fork-for-profit (Ulteo?).
  • Re:How many... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by itsdapead (734413) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:04AM (#19911831)

    Ubuntu, Fedora, SUSE, Redhat, Gentoo, Slackware, Debian?
    • RedHat and SUSE are specialised distros for customers who need entrerprise-grade (i.e. expensive) support.
    • Gentoo is a specialised distro for people who need/want everything compiled with the optimal settings for their specific hardware.
    • Debian is a specialised distro for (a) people who want a minimal/stable base installation without sacrificing gazillions of ready-made packages; (b) GPL purists; (c) people using minority architectures.
    • Haven't tried Slackware since 1996 - since its still around it obviously meets the needs of some user group
    • Ubuntu focusses on ease of use while trying to preserve FOSS ideology
    • Linspire etc. focus on windows "switchers" and take a more pragmatic approach to FOSS ideology than Ubuntu.
    • Fedora is the "free" bleeding edge sandbox for RedHat
    • Mandriva seems to focus on a slick desktop experience

    Yeah, all this choice and flexibility is a terrible thing - especially since under the hood they're all using very similar concepts, applications, file formats, so even if you choose the wrong one to start with, switching is boringly trivial. Bring back one-size-fits-all...

  • Re:Hrm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spike1 (675478) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:18AM (#19911889)
    Simple.
    They fill a need in function.
    How many distributions are there once you've discounted the ones that are EXTREMELY FOCUSSED?
    Lose the rescue distros. The distros designed to run from a single floppy, the distros designed to have a single function such as firewall-on-a-floppy types.

    Once you've edited the list down to lose all those you get down to a reasonable number.

    The 300 distros is too much argument is as brain dead now as it was 5 years ago.
    A spouting of wintrolls. "Linux has too much choice, how can people know which distro to use when there're so many, blah blah blah". But when more than half of the ones out there are of the type described above, and a third or more of the rest are live cd variations, the actual "desktop linux" and "server linux" focussed distros probably only add up to about 50.

    And only 6 of those will be picked by "newbies" anyway.
  • Re:Hrm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hdparm (575302) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:24AM (#19911921) Homepage
    You have a pretty shallow look at the issue.

    Clued-in people won't even bother looking at obscure distros for any business deployments. Clueless ones will have lots of trouble even finding them.

    Another side of the whole argument - how many of 295 mentioned distributions (I excluded RH/fedora, debian/ubuntu, SuSE, Mandrake and Gentoo) are all-purpose systems? We need to exclude embedded ones and strictly specialised distros (like, say IPCop firewall), etc.

    Having choice is always good thing. Using 'too much choice' with negative connotation has been translated long time ago. It's called FUD.
  • by Rick17JJ (744063) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @06:19AM (#19912153)

    Over the last year or two Ubuntu has become by far the most popular distro for the average Linux user, especially for desktop use at home. The article dismisses Ubuntu as just "the flavor of the month." It's more than just that, the popularity of Ubuntu is unprecedented. For the first time ever we finally have a distro that is starting to become the dominate choice. Ubuntu is typically what new Linux users who don't already have a favorite distro choose. Red Hat and SuSE remain popular with businesses, perhaps because they can get paid technical support if necessary (I don't know much about that). But, for the average Linux user Ubuntu increasingly the winner. There is also a server version of Ubuntu, as well.

    Ubuntu [wikipedia.org] is a Debian derived distro. Of those Linux users who don't use Ubuntu, many of them use Debian or a Debian derived distro such as Kubuntu or Mepis. They all use the apt-get package manager and some variation of Debian packages for installing, upgrading or removing new software. There are also easy to use point-and-click GUI front ends for apt-get such as Synaptic or Adept. Since they are all Debian derived distros they probably aren't a lot different. Even Knoppix, which is the most popular live CD version of Linux, is a Debian derived distro.

    Kubuntu [wikipedia.org], which I use, is just a variation of Ubuntu. Kubuntu is just a version of Ubuntu that uses the KDE desktop and it's preferred selection of software instead of Gnome. A Ubuntu user, could use the Synaptic Package Manager to easily download and install the kubuntu-desktop package as well. I started with Ubuntu, then added Kubuntu and then made KDE my default choice when booting up. I ended up with both selections of software in the menu plus those programs I later added as well.

    The article also mentions "Linux from scratch." That would appeal to the same kind of person who would like to build their own house themselves or assemble their own ham radio or car from a kit, just so they know how it all goes together. It's not for the average Linux user. Linux is becoming less of a fragmented market than it was several years ago. There are also various specialized distros for special purposes such as KnoppMyth [mysettopbox.tv] which, for example, is for building your own Linux based personal video recorder. As for myself, I have used Linux at home for about 6 or 7 years. I started with Red Hat, then Slackware and am now using Kubuntu. Various other distros are good too, if someone is more familiar with one of them.

  • Re:Hrm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GrenDel Fuego (2558) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @08:29AM (#19912775)
    Just in case anyone wanted to see how it turned out last time [slashdot.org] ;)
  • Re:Hrm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by plague3106 (71849) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @08:47AM (#19912913)
    But the combination of essentially only two distros focusing in a major (and successful) way on enterprise users - Red Hat and SUSE - and, on the other hand, Ubuntu becoming the major enthusiast distro by far, leads to a world in which we have basically 3 main distros: Red Hat, SUSE, Ubuntu.

    Funny, I remember when it was RedHat, deb or slack. Then RedHat, knoppix, Mandriva. Then Redhat, Gentoo. So far it seems only RedHat is a constant, but others come and go.
  • Re:Hrm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Endo13 (1000782) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @10:07AM (#19913745)

    Umm...no. Home users also generally are going to use one of the main distros. And again, they use the same libraries and packages. If you properly package your software and specify dependencies and such, it should just work on any distro (with a few minor niggles here and there, of course, but it's the same as making sure it works between win2k and winxp). If you are using a distro beyond the big 3 (SuSE, RedHat, Ubuntu), then you are probably already smart enough to deal with any issues from installing 3rd party software...or you are too stupid to realize that starting with Linux From Scratch was a bad idea.
    That's not the point. The point is, all Linux distros together are only a small percentage of OSes in use, while XP is up to about 75% by itself. That means you can develop your software for only XP (without worrying about any other versions of Windows, including Vista) and still have millions of potential customers who already have the systems to run your software. With Linux, even if your software "should just work on any distro (with a few minor niggles here and there, of course, but it's the same as making sure it works between win2k and winxp)" it's those minor niggles here and there that are the problem. So you develop your software for one major distro of Linux (which nets you what, about 2% of total PC marketshare?) and then deal with the "minor niggles here and there" for another 1% here, .5% there, .01% for another distro, etc. It's not nearly as cost effective as just designing your software for Windows XP. All of which makes me increasingly frustrated, because I don't want to use Windows of any flavor, but I keep finding myself stuck with it simply because the software I want/need isn't available for Linux because no one wants to develop for Linux because it's just not worth the extra time and money. If there was one version of Linux with one GUI and one package system for all the homePC users to use you'd see a lot more developers programming for "Linux". I keep hoping Ubuntu will step up to the plate (but wait... do we want Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, or Edubuntu?) and fill that need, but obviously it's not happened yet.
  • by pato101 (851725) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @11:23AM (#19914745) Journal
    Couldn't agree more. In my company we used to develop inhouse specific software for several unices (Silicon graphics, AIX, HP-UX, Solaris and RedHat Linux). It was tedious to check the software anywhere, but I also state that you gained a lot in quality since some bugs only raised at several platforms (and if you did not correct them, they finally raised somehow in the future around the other platforms). Now we only do Linux, and I miss that platform variety. Fortunately, now we have two platforms again: 32bit and 64bit linux; and believe me, lots of bugs have been solved with the 64bit porting.

As far as we know, our computer has never had an undetected error. -- Weisert

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