Choice is good

Yes, I know LinuxCon is next, and that’s in mid-August, but I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing and with Linus being there and all. But if you’re going to the next show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!)

Spending a lazy Sunday at home for a change — thanks to a newspaper colleague who needed Tuesday off (thank you, Kalin) — it might come as a surprise that I found myself at a loss for a topic to write about. So started the usual drill: I always check LXer.com every morning when I wake up, but then went to a couple of other sites, checked my Google Alerts for Linux-related items, and nothing really jumped out at me.

[You might imagine, if you've read this blog regularly in the past, that "nothing really jumped out at me" usually translates to "nothing caused me to get so rabidly incensed that I had to ask someone for a spatula to scrape myself off the ceiling." But I digress.]

Then I went to DistroWatch.com because, frankly, I hadn’t been there in awhile. For those of you who are interested in all things FOSS, DistroWatch is an interesting place to not only keep up with which distros are peaking and ebbing in the great scoreboard of FOSS, but also to see who has released what when, and sometimes, why.

I decided to take a look at how many active distros — including those which also are Solaris- and BSD-based — there are as of today, July 31. It’s down a bit since I last looked, which has been literally several years ago.

We’re “down” to 324, and if memory serves, the last check I did had the active number in the 350s.

This always kick-starts the “how-many-distros-do-we-really-need” debate, which I have always considered a non-starter. I’ve crossed verbal swords in the past with others who say that a figure like 324 is insane, that there are too many distros available and that there should be much fewer distros so we don’t have to bend our brains having to choose.

I say 324 — or whatever the number is or becomes — is a perfect number, and that external forces should decide how many Linux/Solaris/BSD distros there are. These external forces, of course, are both driven by market and Darwinian factors. You make a good, solid distro, foster a good team and growing community around it, the project moves up the DistroWatch list and — ping! — profit. Conversely, you don’t make a good distro, and these forces — especially the Darwinian one — puts you where you belong.

The reality is that out of the 324 active distros listed on DistroWatch, there are probably between 35 and 50 that will be usable by the general public; that is, those whose computer abilities may end at pointing and clicking. And that’s OK, too. I’d just as soon put my mother in a flaming box of dynamite as I would have her use Phayoune Linux on her desktop. [Phayoune users note: Do not flame me -- I am only using your distro as an example in this case. I am sure it's a wonderful distro for those using it in Thailiand, but the point here is that not all distros are for everyone, and that Phayoune may not be for my mother since she's not Thai, for starters.]

[Oh, and Mom, I would never EVER put you in a flaming box of dynamite. No, really Mom. I swear.]

Or here’s another way of putting this in perspective: Don’t look at the list on DistroWatch and make a list of as many distros that come to mind. How many did you get? Ten? Thirty? More? Well, the more you can name, the more in tune you are with what’s going on, FOSS-wise. Don’t consider that a challenge, but just as an indicator of which distros are doing some heavy lifting in the FOSS realm and, in the grand scale of things, are getting things right. Bear in mind, too, that just because you can’t name a distro, it doesn’t mean that it’s not useful or important in its own way; especially if that particular distro is specialized or based on a particular language or culture (see Phayoune, for example).

But the number of distros — whatever it might be — is what it should be.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
Add to Technorati Favorites EFF Binary Freedom Dead button Wordpress button Xfce button dbEntrance button AntiX 7.0 fedora badge XubuntuEliminate DRM!

About these ads
  1. Bob McKeand
    July 31, 2011 at 5:20 pm | #1

    Mrs. Panik has in the past week or so DLed and burned at least
    two dozen (that is 24) of the distro’s on DistroWatch. Most of
    them were non starters. There may be a pun in there because
    many just would not run. Couple of near winners but at the moment she is still looking for something that really “works” on that Dell mini12.

    Larry the Free Software Guy said: “But the number of distros — whatever it might be — is what it should be.”
    Sorry Larry, there should be one more distro….the one that works
    on the Dell mini12.

    Peace, Bob

    • July 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm | #2

      Non-starters — very funny, Bob.

      It’s interesting: We have a HP Mini 9 that is part of the Fedora Project’s event box that seems to work well with the current version of Fedora. Also I’ve had great luck with distros on hardware when others couldn’t get the same distro to work on the same hardware — not even at gunpoint. Also the reverse has happened — I’ve been left for dead with a distro while others are joyfully zipping along with the same one. It’s a mystery, to say the least.

      If you have tried “only” 24, you still have 300 left to go through. Best regards to Mrs. Panik.

  2. Bob McKeand
    August 1, 2011 at 8:21 am | #3

    Dear Mr. Free Software Guy, The various but unequal Dell minis
    are quit a mystery. They each seem to have different components
    that are unfriendly to Linux. So once again the Colonel and Mrs.
    Panik pledge to never, ever, buy a computer that was not built for
    Linux! Of course we made this vow before and then in the heat of
    consumerism have purchased something that fell short of the ideal.

    At the moment Mrs. Panik is running Peppermint, Her mutterings
    seem to be mostly positive but I think her heart was broken when
    CrunchBand failed. So it goes. F14 was pretty good, I think there
    was an update that caused problems, something stopped working.

    Peace, Bob

  3. Bob McKeand
    August 1, 2011 at 8:22 am | #4

    Dear Mr. Free Software Guy, The various but unequal Dell minis
    are quit a mystery. They each seem to have different components
    that are unfriendly to Linux. So once again the Colonel and Mrs.
    Panik pledge to never, ever, buy a computer that was not built for
    Linux! Of course we made this vow before and then in the heat of
    consumerism have purchased something that fell short of the ideal.

    At the moment Mrs. Panik is running Peppermint, Her mutterings
    seem to be mostly positive but I think her heart was broken when
    CrunchBang failed. So it goes. F14 was pretty good, I think there
    was an update that caused problems, something stopped working.

    Peace, Bob

  1. August 7, 2011 at 4:13 am | #1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers

%d bloggers like this: