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Choice is good

July 31, 2011 5 comments

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.)
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Random thoughts to live by

September 4, 2008 Leave a comment

While writing and doing other things that come with everyday life, I came across (or actually had a hand in) the following things:

Lindependence heads north to Portland: I’ve outlined this more in the Lindependence 2008 Diary blog, but it bears repeating. Lindependence takes a trip to Portland become a different kind of Trail Blazer; that is, bringing GNU/Linux and Free/Open Source Software to northern Oregon. David Kaplan, the organizer up there for Lindependence Portland has a Web page here for the event itself, and if you’re in the area, by all means stop by. I’ll be talking more about this as time goes on, without fail.

Happy birthday to GNU: GNU leaves the 18-24 demographic behind and joins the adult world in turning 25 years old on Sept. 27. It was on that day in 1983 that Richard Stallman (who I had the honor of chauffeuring around Northern California in February) announced that he intended to create a Unix-like system that would be completely open and hackable, giving anyone the right to modify and distribute it. British comedian Stephen Fry — known to some as the comedian Dietrich in the movie “V for Vendetta” (although his oevure is far more extensive) — has made this video outlining the history of GNU and its place in the digital realm with aplomb.

Chrome dome: For the past seven hours, I’ve been using Google’s Chrome on the Wintel box at my desk at the Santa Cruz Sentinel (which I mention so this blog pops up on the Google search by my boss, Marc DesJardins — Hey, Marc!), and I have to say that it has done everything I’ve asked it too so far, except run the Stephen Fry video. What I did get was the message saying that there was an error and that the browser had to shut down. Uh oh. So long blog entry. But what happened was that Chrome actually just jettisoned the offending tab, leaving the other four intact. Very cool, Google. Here’s hoping that the Linux version of Chrome is better than the Linux version of Picasa.

Film, as they say, at 11.

[FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs HeliOS Solutions West in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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