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Too Many Linux Distros Make For Open Source Mess 554

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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  • Hrm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NaCh0 ( 6124 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:04AM (#19911269)
    Must be a really slow news day to bring back this ancient argument.

    • Re:Hrm... (Score:4, Funny)

      by der'morat'aman ( 1076365 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:05AM (#19911281)
      That, or they're resurrecting it as a service for those of us who didn't see it the first time...
    • Re:Hrm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FyRE666 ( 263011 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:09AM (#19911311) Homepage
      It's not really a choice of 300 anyway for business; there are only two main distros: SuSE and Redhat. Sure, I've used others on production systems, but those two are focused on business users, and have the support systems in place that the overwhelming majority of the other distros don't. Personally I use Ubuntu and Gentoo at home, but wouldn't choose these for the company servers.

      BTW, where the hell is the option to respond to the original article?! I can only respond to an existing article now...
      • Re:Hrm... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by froggero1 ( 848930 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:13AM (#19911339)
        one of the good things about linux is that there's many five (give or take) spots that the marjority of the casual home based linux guy is going to choose. that said, there's these other 350+ distros competing for a peice of that action. competition = good... cathedral... bazaar... we've done this argument before.

        just because the top guy changes every once in a while, doesn't mean anything in respect to the quality of the guy sitting on top, they've still got to beat out the other plethora of distros.

        ps: the reply button is in the floaty box to the left now.
        • by FyRE666 ( 263011 )
          ps: the reply button is in the floaty box to the left now.

          Ah, thanks! What a strange idea - putting the most important option for this site over in a side box, in tiny text, as the third item in a small list. Maybe Slashdot's trying to reduce the load on its servers ;-)
          • used to only be the two options there... they've added that "update" button/feature fairly recently IFAIK.
        • Re:Hrm... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by lord sibn ( 649162 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:28AM (#19911947)
          Indeed. JoeLinux may be "competing" with the major distributions for attention, but there really are only a few major players out there. JoeLinux is going to have to be one awesome distribution if it is going to really come out of nowhere and get somebody's attention, something like Gentoo and Ubuntu did.

          Until that happens, JoeLinux may as well only exist for Joe and his nerd buddies; to complain about having "too many distributions" is (to me) kind of like complaining at having too many McDonalds (or whatever your preferred chain is). They are all similar. They all serve mostly the same food, with mostly the same flavour. So you should only need one or two, right?

          (Disclaimer: I checked for the existence of JoeLinux at distrowatch, but the closest match I found was "JoLinux," which is absolutely not the fictitious distribution to which I was referring)
          • Re:Hrm... (Score:5, Funny)

            by jez9999 ( 618189 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @08:05AM (#19912557) Homepage Journal
            (Disclaimer: I checked for the existence of JoeLinux at distrowatch, but the closest match I found was "JoLinux," which is absolutely not the fictitious distribution to which I was referring)

            I just released JoeLinux - me and my 2 buddies use it, you insensitive clod!
      • .. and now, Oracle Unbreakable Linux, which is essentially Red Hat re-badged.
        • and now, Oracle Unbreakable Linux, which is essentially Red Hat re-badged.

          which isnt anything more than an electric can opener with an electronical brain hitched to the back of it.
    • Re:Hrm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SamSim ( 630795 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @04:06AM (#19911581) Homepage Journal
      Just because an argument's ancient doesn't mean it's not still valid. Plus, after all, the number of distributions has been rising for a long time. Maybe the argument carries more weight now than it used to.
      • Just because an argument's ancient doesn't mean it's not still valid. Plus, after all, the number of distributions has been rising for a long time. Maybe the argument carries more weight now than it used to.
        You're assuming it ever had validity. It was an argument brought up years ago. Yet Linux use has increased since then and continues to grow. If this is really an issue, it must not be a very compelling one.
        • Re:Hrm... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Asmodai ( 13932 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @04:57AM (#19911797) Homepage
          It has validity, the argument that more is better does not necessarily hold true. If you look at the uptake numbers you will see large clusters around projects like: Red Hat, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, Slackware, Gentoo, Red Flag and SuSE (and perhaps 1 or 2 others I forget now). The rest of the distributions leads a marginal existence unless they satisfy a very local need (Red Flag or one of those Indic-supporting ones).

          So what else do those distributions serve except egocentrical purposes, especially since the majority consists from taking a large well-known distribution and only tweaking it slightly and, tada, Monkey Nutsack Linux is born.

          Seriously, for most consumers, assuming Linux is still going after Windows and the desktop, more choice is not necessarily better, especially not when it numbers in the hundreds.
          • Re:Hrm... (Score:4, Interesting)

            by spike1 ( 675478 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:18AM (#19911889)
            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:5, Insightful)

            by giorgiofr ( 887762 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:18AM (#19911891)
            "Most consumers" do not care about Linux; those that do, only care because their geek friend is trying to make them switch. Said geek will choose a suitable distro and install it for them. And, for the intended market, any major distro is just as good.
            The fragmentation of Linux distros has nothing to do with it being slowly accepted as a mainstream OS; lack of specialized apps, shaky hardware support and the usual suspects are to blame for that. As well as the fact that for most people Windows and pirated Office Just Work(tm) (which they kinda do, come to think of it) so why change?
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by jez9999 ( 618189 )
              As well as the fact that for most people Windows and pirated Office Just Work(tm) (which they kinda do, come to think of it) so why change?

              Because they want to become legal?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by hdparm ( 575302 )
            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 ch
          • Re:Hrm... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by NickFortune ( 613926 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @07:44AM (#19912421) Homepage Journal

            It has validity, the argument that more is better does not necessarily hold true.

            That doesn't follow. More is not necessarily better, but neither is it necessarily worse. Nor is less automatically better for that matter.

            So what else do those distributions serve except egocentrical purposes, especially since the majority consists from taking a large well-known distribution and only tweaking it slightly

            You mean like Knoppix, which I believe invented the LiveCD, and is still the recovery disc of choice for a great many of us? Or maybe DamnSmallLinux, which packs into 50MB and will run on just about anything? Then there's Smoothwall which vainly flatters the egos of its developers by providing a dedicated, hardened distribution capable of converting an old computer into a firewall router?

            That's to name but a few. There are a lot of specialist distros out there supporting a specific activitity, interest or region.

            Seriously, for most consumers, assuming Linux is still going after Windows and the desktop, more choice is not necessarily better, especially not when it numbers in the hundreds.

            If you're worried about users migrating from windows, then we have enough trouble drawing people's attention to the big names like Ubunbtu and RedHat. I doubt the existence of tomsrtbt or Astrumi are even going to impinge upon their awareness, let alone sow the seeds of confusion

      • Re:Hrm... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SnowZero ( 92219 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:33AM (#19911981)
        There are also too many flavors of ice cream. I mean, with the hundreds of flavors around, how can businesses buying ice cream for their employees ever narrow it to just a few flavors that their employees will likely approve of? The choice is just too difficult.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          There are also too many flavors of ice cream. I mean, with the hundreds of flavors around, how can businesses buying ice cream for their employees ever narrow it to just a few flavors that their employees will likely approve of? The choice is just too difficult.

          i agree, in fact, i would say that there are too many restaurants in general. do we really need to distinguish between mexican and cuban food? do we really need different pizza chains? don't get me started on burger chains. why can't we all jus

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by b1ufox ( 987621 )
      The problem which author perhaps missed can summed up as -
      - lack of coherency of packages/package management and tools among distros.
      - lack of a common template or rules or standards over which distros can be made.

      But at the same time it does happen doesn't it? e.g for car there are a thousand varities out there. Anyway To protect this LSB(linux standards base) is formed.

      BTW linux kernel is still same and shared by all.Only versions used are different.

      So its just the userspace tools and prog
      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )
        Funny you should bring up package management...
        Linux may have lots of different package managers, but within the same distro the package management remains the same.
        Contrast that to commercial unixes, where many third party proprietary apps have their own nonstandard installers...
        Or windows, where virtually all apps have their own nonstandard binary installers.
        Or OSX where some apps drag+drop, some use apple's installer and some use their own installers.
        If you consider each distro as an OS in it's own right
    • by Gerzel ( 240421 ) *
      I've always wondered about this. How do you count linux distros? I mean there are distros that are old and unmaintained, which I suppose you'd have to take off of the count. There are distros that are so small or targeted to a specific app, such as ones made for a specific bit of hardware.

      There are also distros that have different flavors of themselves such as Ubuntu Xubuntu, EdUbuntu, Kubuntu, does that count as one or four distros(or more as I think there are even more *ubuntu distros). For that matte
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by GrenDel Fuego ( 2558 )
      Just in case anyone wanted to see how it turned out last time [slashdot.org] ;)
  • How many... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gunny01 ( 1022579 ) <niggerslol&nigs,us> on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:05AM (#19911277) Homepage
    are actually in use though? Ubuntu, Fedora, SUSE, Redhat, Gentoo, Slackware, Debian? There are many distros, but most are specialized forks. Most people would use one of the listed ones.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cbhacking ( 979169 )
      You forgot Mandriva (which is a great distro for people who want lots of shiny eye candy and the ability to use Red Hat packages - at least, I think it's still compatible with them - and it's relatively newcomer-friendly) and Knoppix (which almost nobody would install, but most Linux types and more then a few Windows users will have a copy of it somewhere). Mepis deserves mention as well, I'd say... its package selection could be better, but it's a great distro in terms of hardware support, pioneered the in
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:51AM (#19911527)
      When there were many UNIXes, the problem was that software written on one would not work on the other. Linux has maintained almost complete binary compatibility for applications for ages (I guess a.out binaries could now be considered "not compatible"). All that is needed is to install a compatibility library. This means that essentially all of those different distributions are equivalent to one single UNIX version.

      People really don't remember their history any more. There wasn't even really source level compatibility from UNIX to UNIX. There were two completely different operating systems (BSD and SystemV) both used as the basis for the different incompatible UNIXes. If you used, for example the "ps" command, the arguments would be different from one to the other. This meant that even shell scripts weren't portable. Claiming that the different Linux distributions are like different UNIXes is crazy when you compare the differences between SunOS4 and SunOS5 (also known as Solaris) which are bigger than the differences between RedHat 6 and Gentoo 2007. Damn youngsters.
    • Ubuntu, Fedora, SUSE, Redhat, Gentoo, Slackware, Debian?

      This makes seven, not much more than the six "distros" of Windows Vista...
      • Well 4, But when you go from one version to another, there are no real differences, other than some of the included features. Linux distros vary much more. The way you do things on Ubuntu and Debian are not quite the same as Red Hat. Sometimes software doesn't always run correctly on each distro.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by itsdapead ( 734413 )

      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 trie
    • by linhux ( 104645 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:39AM (#19912017) Homepage
      I work with QA in a team that produces traditional closed-source software for Linux. The thing is, thanks do the fact that there are so many Linux distribution, our software quality automatically increases. This is how it works: we, of course, need to test on as many distros as possible. Naturally, we focus on the distros that customers use. But basically, we just shove in as many different Linux variants as possible into our testing systems (given our hardware constraints), and each night test the latest nightly builds on some 30+ different distribution/version/architecture combinations. This might seem like a lot of work, but it turns out we can find the most obscure bugs thanks to testing on such a diverse set of platforms. And in the end, this gives us an advantage in that it forces us to produce code that works well on pretty much all different kinds of Linux configurations out there. Usually, since the more specialised distributions tend to be based on one of the mainstream ones, we automatically cover most of them too. If a big customer starts using a customized Linux distribution, we're likely to add that to our automatic testing system, too, but usually the big names are enough.

      So while it may seem a hassle to test on a vast number of platform, it really makes you think about code robustness and quality in a different way. Of course, there is a long way to go in certain areas, not to mention universal third-party package management and desktop integration, but we're slowly getting there, too.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pato101 ( 851725 )
        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: 32
  • 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
    • by jhoger ( 519683 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:39AM (#19911463) Homepage
      The striking thing about all of the distros I've seen is that barring incidental things like packaging systems, KDE or Gnome, etc. they are largely the same. The biggest change I've seen of late is an huge increase in quality of the free-as-in-freedom distros.

      But why would you want to invest a large %age of your time making something that well, is already done reasonably well by somebody else.

      What would be nice is if the smaller distros start to take a role of really experimenting and breaking the rules.

      OLPC is an example of what I'm talking about. They work from requirements, think outside the box and have come up with something truly amazing, something new.

      So those slaving away on their boutique distro that looks like the rest, please, find something better to do, like really innovating. That's the only way to make your distro a break-out success anyway.

      It's kind of like US presidential candidates. The field starts out pretty wide but you know early on most of them don't have a chance. The fringe candidates should at least make themselves useful, speak the truth and stir things up.

      -- John.
  • by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:07AM (#19911293)
    You don't need to know all 300 distros to make a good choice. It is pretty clear which distros are mainstream and which ones are not. If you are looking for a general-purpose replacement for general-purpose Windows, you can go with Ubuntu, Suse, Redhat, Debian or Mandriva. Almost only if you're "hardcore", you will dive into special-purpose distros such as business card/feather linux, freesco, etc. That is from a user perspective. From developers perspective there is such a thing as LSB.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MikeFM ( 12491 )
      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. ;)
      • IBM? I don't recall that distribution.

        For big business, it's down to either RedHat or SuSE because they graciously allow you pay huge amounts of money for support, training and so on. Debian is fine but the lack of "The Debian Company" means it's more limited to non critical roles or small businesses/non profit organisations. Ubuntu is more for home users.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rick17JJ ( 744063 )

      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

  • yeah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scapermoya ( 769847 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:08AM (#19911303) Homepage
    I have always kinda thought that this was at least one of the reasons why linux adoption is low among the 'mild computer user' crowd. It isn't easy to explain to them either, since there isn't a corollary in the "windows world" where nearly all of those users reside (with good reason).

    maybe with this recent gathering of support behind ubuntu there is the potential for more of a standard-bearer in the linux world, at least in the eyes of those who only use windows/osx.
    • Lol... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by msimm ( 580077 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:48AM (#19911513) Homepage
      Most people don't know a thing about the throng of Linux based distros. It's more an insider joke. You're mild computer user knows one or two at best. If they know more they've been digging around and no longer fit the category.

      The truth is that the diversity is great. I don't want to see 1000's of distros pushed mainstream per-se, but there is often a reason for the variety. It suits someone anyway.

      What I would like to see is more collaboration. Why is Redhat/Fedora building the cludgy system-config* and Suse sticking with YAST while Mandrake (who seems to be losing favor but has committed all their development to the GPL) created DrakeConfig, which actually almost worked.
      • I agree with you, but imagine someone who has only heard about "Linux". so this person googles "download linux [google.com]", and what do they get?
        some pages talking about "distributions", which is jargon-y when it comes to software. also, some homepages for ubuntu, redhat, suse, mandravia, etc. and that's just the first page.
        granted, an intelligent/motivated person would dig a little deeper and eventually figure it out. but as much as the linux community is SURE that the OS they tout is better than what's basically d
        • Re:Lol... (Score:4, Informative)

          by backwardMechanic ( 959818 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @06:36AM (#19912201) Homepage
          I remember when I was first trying to make the switch - I was completely confused by all the distributions. We need more people saying "it doesn't really matter, pick one". I eventually chose Redhat, because I had a couple of friends running it, and figured they could help out if I got stuck. I've just visited linux.org to see what they say. There is a distributions link on the front page, which is good. But then it gets harder. There is a distribution search facility to get you started. I can choose a language (good), category (what's the difference between mainstream and personal?) and platform (for your average Windows user, what the hell is a platform?). The results are slightly more worrying. Debian comes up first (good so far), Gentoo second (I'm a Gentoo user, but I wouldn't recommend it to noobs), and so on. There are a bunch of links to out-of-date books on Amazon, and information about distros I've never heard of. If we're serious about having more people use Linux, we're not helping ourselves. Maybe the current situation is okay - Linux is largely used by power users, and we enjoy it's power and manage the rough edges. But if we really want Linux to be available to all, we could make it easier to get started. Ubuntu helps a lot in this respect, but you need to know something about Linux to have even heard of Ubuntu. It's easy to forget, having got used to the Linux world, how confusing it looks from the outside.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dionysus ( 12737 )

          why do we even want more people using linux anyway, aside from some high-and-mighty "it could be so much better!!!" mentality? it's not like the support that matters (developers) is going to give out, and it all seems very healthy lately.
          Hardware support. The more Linux users, the less likely we get hardware that only supports Windows. Or do you think Intel or Nvidia would make sure that their newest hardware had linux drivers if Linux didn't have the number of users it had.
  • 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.


    • by jkrise ( 535370 )
      Bruce, I'd like to have your views on the topic of numerous Linux distros. I actually believe that "United we Fall, Divided we Stand" is true when it comes to surviving cash-rich monopolies. The only thing that needs to be common could be the kernel, the license.. and a few thought leaders, sharing similar philosophies. That way the focus could come back to "What the software can do" rather than "Which company or brand is good".

      What do you think?
  • by jsse ( 254124 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:15AM (#19911357) Homepage Journal
    Otherwise, no. of Linux distros would soon exceed no. of Linux users!

    Do something!
    • Otherwise, no. of Linux distros would soon exceed no. of Linux users!

      Do something!
      Calm down..... there is no reason to get worried until the number of Linux forks exceeds the number of malware products available for Windows.
  • Not so much nowadays (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wiseman1024 ( 993899 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:16AM (#19911359)
    This was and maybe still is a valid point (although diversity isn't that troublesome for businesses), but now Debian-based distributions and especially *Ubuntu got extremely popular, and are in the way to become the defacto standard for Linux, whereas other distributions will remain domain-specific. For example, if you have a business and want tech service and all that, you may want to try SuSE or Red Hat. And if you are a ricer, you may want to try Gentoo :p .

    Fortunately, natural selection and evolution of distros made one very popular, which means more packages and less compiling for the general public. This is what Linux needs. The fact there are many other distros for more specific or purist purposes is alright - it doesn't affect Linux' adoption because if you're concerned about popularity you get *Ubuntu.
    • The fact there are many other distros for more specific or purist purposes is alright - it doesn't affect Linux' adoption because if you're concerned about popularity you get *Ubuntu.

      I find your post incredibly ironic because this is the first use of "*Ubuntu" I've seen. When making the argument that Ubuntu is now the mainstream, de facto Linux and is the cure for the confusion that choice evokes in newcomers, it seems counterproductive to liken Ubuntu to the confused multitudes of Unix and Unix clones (co

    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @05:43AM (#19912031) Journal
      It wasn't ever true. Linux distros were never like the great Unix fragmentation mess.

      What we have now are maybe 10% distros which pack a _slightly_ different mix of the same tools, or just different default tools, or sometimes just and maybe have a slightly different config tool. Or maybe they'll install one tool in /opt (e.g., SuSE) which others install in /usr. And about 90% which just download RedHat's RPM's and put their own name and logo on it, so basically they don't even really count as different distros.

      Either way, from an end-user point of view, whop-de-do, you run the same tools, with the same options and the same interface. That's especially important because for an end-user the OS doesn't even really matter. The computer is just a tool, and the OS is... well, I think Joe Average isn't even sure what the OS is, he just knows he has to have one to run the important part: the apps. What matters is what you can run on that computer. (See the endless "but it doesn't run MS Office" and "but I can't play the latest games on it" arguments.)

      Even if one distro skipped a tool you want, you know, there's nothing to stop you to download it yourself.

      The Unix fragmentation was a whole different issue. Each of the major vendors actually worked hard to lock their customers in. Unix got fuc^H^H^H forked so hard, it wasn't compatible even at source level any more.

      As I always remind people, people want interoperability and open standards when they're the underdog, and they want free access to the top dog's customers. When they're on top, even on a niche, they don't want that any more. Then they want walled gardens and penned captive customers that they can milk and shear regularly. Then they want you to think, "damn, if I get a mainframe to replace these aging Sun servers we have, we'll have to change all this mountain of source code, and for some we don't even have the devs any more and for some, well, we thought we're smart if we get it cheaper without sources... oh well, better buy the next servers from Sun too." And the difference in parameters and effects for the supplied tools, meant you got to retrain all your admins and rewrite your scripts too.

      When you're at the top of your own niche, it's all about trade barriers. You want to make it as hard as possible for a competitor to steal your customers. (And unsurprisingly, IBM for example was not only on the receiving end of an antitrust trial long before MS, but also the word FUD was originally used about IBM's practices.)

      So, anyway, that's what they did there: each took their own fork of Unix and ran in their own direction with it, as far from everyone else as they could and could afford to. AIX and Solarix, for example, weren't just different distros, they were almost different operating systems. "Portability" was only a buzzword everyone used only in marketing, but tried to keep it to a minimum otherwise. It meant little more than that they all had a C compiler (but even then with subtle "improvements" of their own), and they had to have the same standard C library (but again, each felt free to make their own subtle "improvements" to it.)

      What I'm getting at is: in a way the plethora of distros is even a good thing in that aspect. Noone is that secure at the top, or even king of the hill at all. (Not to mention they're all underdogs in the shadow of the 800 pound gorilla called Microsoft.) Noone is in a position to fork their version of Linux and try to lock customers in it.

      Lock-in doesn't work when you're the underdog. The same fence that keeps your customers from escaping, also keeps you from reaching everyone else's customers. So noone does it when they have 10% of the market. At that point, you want open standards.

      And with the current Linux market structure, we're pretty safe and secure that everyone will want open standards for the next decade straight. Unless MS manages to implode, anyway.
  • by Gopal.V ( 532678 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:18AM (#19911367) Homepage Journal
    A distro is not a fork. It is not a fork if the patches flow upstream.

    I know there are exceptions to this rule (iceweasel, icedove) but in general, all distros contribute back to the same pool.

    The only issue here is consumer choice, not wasted developer power (unlike real forks). And the Novell fiasco shows the problems
    with having a single "one true way" distro - even if it is a community project (in which case its death comes from group
    think and dragging its feet on decisions).

    A distro, 'taint a fork ...
    • A distro is not a fork. It is not a fork if the patches flow upstream.
      I know there are exceptions to this rule (iceweasel, icedove) but in general, all distros contribute back to the same pool.

      Pool? Patches? An installer isn't a patch for Linux, the GNU tools, or anything. It's a brand new deal. Likewise for a bootable CD from which to run the installer. Likewise for a package management system. These tools, which define a distribution, are not patches, and there is no stream for them to flow up. The

  • by thesymbolicfrog ( 907527 ) <sloanes.kNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:22AM (#19911381)
    Surely not.

    After all...

    This. Is. SLASHDOT!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:24AM (#19911391)
    Also, there are to many brands (not to speak of models!) of cars. My prediction is that cars will TOTALY fail within a year or two and the horse+carridge will make a glorious return!
  • what if there's 300 linux distro's? i can compile just about anything on all of them. More choice, is NEVER a bad thing.
  • 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 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.

  • same old, same old (Score:4, Insightful)

    by l3v1 ( 787564 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:26AM (#19911415)
    Remember the 1980s worries about how the "forking" of Unix could hurt that operating system's chances for adoption?

    Yes, I remember. All of us can see now how "forking" hurt Linux's adoption. Not. Besides, wouldn't hurt to try figuring out what the difference between forks and distros are before next time.

  • It's simply evolution taking its course - some distros will arise from the soup and start to out-reproduce the others. It's already happening with the likes of Fedora, Debian, SUSE, Red Hat, the-ones-you've-heard-of etc etc.
  • With Microsoft working in so many ways to "compete" with Linux, it complicates their plans when they've got so many different "companies" to "compete" with. Toss in a little GPL V3 and I'll bet the ivory tower crowd at MS are drinking Maalox and ducking chairs these days...
  • by OwlWhacker ( 758974 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:46AM (#19911503) Homepage Journal
    Too many Linux distros make for Open Source mess

    Isn't that the same as suggesting too many different brands of cellular telephone make for a communications mess?

    "Oh dear me, there are far too many different cell phones! How do I choose? What do I do? Oh, damn it, I'll just send letters instead."

    I think not.

  • It's like evolution, only better.

    Why? If Linux evolved like animals, then only the strongest would survive, and characteristics of the weaker distros (even good ones) would die with them. But distro evolution is even better, the good characteristics of all distros make their way into the strongest distros.

    The evolution of Linux distros may look messy, but it is underpinned by natural force that, over time, comes up with wonderful results.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rick17JJ ( 744063 )

      That may apply even more so to the various Linux Software packages that are available. In most cases there are several similar projects that do almost the same thing being developed at the same time. For example in the case of Linux word processors, the choices include OpenOffice Writer, Abiword, and KWord and desktop publishing software such as Scribus and LyX. If any software project experiences problems the Linux users can move on to one of the other better choices. Either that, or with GPL licensed

  • It doesn't matter (Score:3, Insightful)

    by doyoulikeworms ( 1094003 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:51AM (#19911529)
    Because the average person that has even heard of Linux only knows of one distro: Ubuntu.
  • by simong ( 32944 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @04:21AM (#19911633) Homepage
    If this piece of pointless fluff is in the paper edition of Information Week, there are number of the more clue-free CTOs in this world reading it and going 'hmmm, maybe I shouldn't listen to the sysadmins and put this new application on Windows Server 2003 instead of Debian Linux'. Microsoft win another couple of licenses and the CTO gains a few more enemies. This sort of article has 'FNORD' overprinted on it in invisible ink. The answer, as always, is to be more prepared than the bosses.
  • Shouldn't there be a virtual machine that runs binaries across all new distros sorta like the windows .exe file? That way you could have a closed source software vendor that sells it's products to the Linux OS.
  • I also remember the 1980s worries about how the "multiplication" of restaurants could hurt the chances of people eating out. That was nothing compared to the mess we've got today with tourism, where upwards of 1 million destinations vie for the attention of tourists seeking an alternative to holidaying at home.
  • 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?).
  • Some choice is better than no choices at all.
    A lot of choices can be less useful than fewer choices.
    Too many choices could be useless.
    I'd prefer something like the BSD world where there are a few mainstream distributions and some destop oriented derivatives.
    The real advantage coming from fewer distributions is that there would be a low fragmentation in resource assignment, bot human and economic.
    I fear that Linus never thought about such a pletora when he gave freedom to the community.
  • I mean, how large is the Persian army?
    We might need more than 300.
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @06:50AM (#19912237) Homepage Journal
    When we saw the Unix fragmentation, we saw a bunch of different flavors that ran each on some kind of proprietary hardware (or a bit less proprietary, when it used an industry standard bus like VME) that were actively marketed by the makers of such hardware and were deliberately incompatible with each other in order to provide some measure of lock-in and differentiation on a largely common software platform.

    If we ignore the vanity Linuxes (the ones someone did to claim they made one) and the specific-purpose ones (router-on-a-floppy, rescue, media-box) and the opportunistic ones ("let's nail some OEM deal to make some cash" kind) we are left with only a handful of very serious vendors pitching what amounts to be the same product plus some limited bells and whistles, that run on mostly any computer you happen to have, and making money out of supporting it rather than selling you disks (or tapes, if we account for those ancient times) and servers/workstations.

    The difference is that I could not run the same binaries on my DG Aviion systems and on my IBM AIX boxes. I can install a Red Hat package on my Ubuntu notebook any time I feel like it (I usually don't)
  • Ecosystem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bWareiWare.co.uk ( 660144 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @07:04AM (#19912275) Homepage
    Earth has 1,250,000 species of animal. This is obviously a bad thing, and we should limit this to just 1 or 2 for the greater good!

    Yes some Linux distros are a bit pointless, a fair few are redundant and some serve a niche that doesn't exist. But we actually need a large number of distros suited for different environments and in each niche the needs to be some competition to ensure quality.

    A small list of niches off the top of my head:
    Ideological (Debian)
    Source based (Gentoo)
    Business Server (RHEL, SUSE Server)
    Business Desktop (RedHat, SUSE Desktop)
    Home (Ubuntu, Linspire)
    LiveCD (Knoppix, Morphix)
    Router (LEAF, FREESCO)
    Specialist (Musix, GNUstep)
    Localised (Red Flag, this is really a whole extra dimension with server/desktop distros etc. needed for each local).

    And that doesn't take into accounts preferences like Gnome/KDE, architecture, stable/bleading edge, security/easy of use etc, all of which can effect distro choice in any of the categories above.
  • 300? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 19, 2007 @07:30AM (#19912371)
    300 distros against the mighty empire of Microsoft. This is insanity! No, this is Linux!
  • by bl8n8r ( 649187 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @07:31AM (#19912379)
    "Precisely how many distros there are is probably unknown"
        How is that important, and who really cares?
        It's a lot better than being roped into something you have no
        way out of. At least with Open Source, you have options to
        do things differently if they're not working.

    "Ubuntu, which is clearly the flavor of the month "
        Debian has been a favorite for a long time. It may be one
        of the oldest distros. Ubuntu is merely icing on top of a
        Debian based system. If you remove all the init 5 stuff, you
        basically have a command line Debian system ready to be anything
        you want it to be. As well as a robust update system and all
        the great free stuff that makes linux so great.

        Other distros follow this same paradigm. Centos, Fedora, Red Hat.
        The underpinnings (since you are in an arcane mood) are the same,
        It's the name that changes.

    "Ah, so Linux is like a religion."
        If you mean Linux is based on on the idea of something that works and
        has a large following of people that understand it's advantages,
        then yes.

    "It is indeed true that the kernel hasn't forked in any significant way"
        Other than XFree86, I haven't had any other forks impact me in the least.
        And the xorg fork was a necessity. I think forking is good to the extent
        that it drives people to come up with new ideas. The duplicating effort
        argument I dont agree with. If we hadn't re-invented the wheel at least
        once, we'd still be riding on round stones.

    "There's no other way to put it: Linux is a forking mess."
        And not under the control of a forking monopoly. Just because you find
        duplicated effort in many different distros doesn't mean that's automatically
        bad. You need to understand that people need to experiment. Distrowatch
        is evidence of the experimenting people are doing. You should be glad
        these people are putting alternatives out there for you. When you go to
        write your column in Vista someday and you DRM key says your running a
        pirated version and shuts you out, you'll consider it Linux again.

    "So I'll grant readers that, if there's anything amiss with my argument"
        Oh, there's plenty amiss. I think you got up on the wrong side of the
        bed this morning. Everyone has bad days, it sounds like this is your's.
  • by mrb000gus ( 696332 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @07:57AM (#19912495)
    The thing about all the different cars, cellphones, etc out there is that they still work in a similar way to each other.

    The cellphones that don't have buttons laid out in familiar ways (eg the Nokia that had all the buttons in a circle like a dial, etc) never become mainstream, even if they may be better than the others.

    Similarly, if you got into a car and instead of the ignition key there was a touchscreen on the dashboard, and the gears were shortcut keys built into the back of the steering wheel, then even tho this may be more efficient than the mechanical interface we're used to, it would be difficult to catch on.

    In short:
    - Any mac user can navigate their way around any other Mac desktop with ease.
    - Any Windows user can navigate their way around any other Windows desktop with ease.
    - The boon and curse of Linux is how configurable the interface is, and hence how different 2 desktops can be from each other.

    (Unless you're the girl from Jurassic Park who can recognise "Unix" from a 3D file explorer).

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham