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.
Lists: We all make ‘em and, judging by what appears on LXer.com, we all read ‘em. A great majority of them are worthwhile and informative; others, not so much.
Over the last few months, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of “Top $NUMBER List of $VERY_COOL_PROGRAMS” on LXer.com and thought that perhaps a list of the best lists might be helpful to navigate these uncharted waters.
Doing this list David Letterman style, we’ll start at 10 and work our way down to the Number 1 Linux list over the last few months. Ready?
10. 8 of the Best Free Astronomy Apps — An excellent list for those into astronomy: What could be better than free star charting apps? Me, I’m all in on KStars. Thank Steven Epps for this — many of the lists you’ll find in the ether of the Internet come from him.
9. Fedora 15′s Five Best Features — This review by Steven Vaughan-Nichols should be renamed “Five Good Things about Fedora 15 and a Song of Despair” (with apologies to Pablo Neruda), since he starts out by bemoaning (rightfully) the shortcomings of GNOME 3, and then following up with a list of five good things about the release.
8. 31 Great Tutorials for Inkscape — You might as well call this the Baskin Robbins of Inkscape tutorials, and the Unixmen, who normally have some good tutorials on hand, give us a veritable ice cream store of knowledge on this great software.
7. 7 of the Best Free Linux GPS Tools — Another list from Steve Epps. A program can be found here to let you know where you’re going and where you’ve been.
6. Five Must Have GNOME Shell Extensions — If you’re running Fedora 15 with GNOME 3, this list will come in handy.
5. 5 things I like in Ubuntu 11.04 (Unity) and 10 things which I don’t — Dark Duck likes and dislikes several things about Natty Narwhal, and the interesting perspective here is that some of the likes and dislikes are the same.
4. 9 Good CD and DVD Burning Tools for Ubuntu/Linux — While these aren’t necessarily soley Ubuntu tools, it provides a good list.
3. Top 6 Quicklists for Ubuntu 11.04 Natty to Enhance Unity Launcher Functionality — … and if you said that all in one breath, you get a prize. Manuel Jose seems to be on top of all things Ubuntu, and he gets a prize for providing adequate alternatives for Unity users.
2. 7.5 Reasons to Look Forward to Fedora 15 — Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier adds a list of things that, at the time, were coming up in the now-released Fedora 15, and the half-point goes to . . . nope, no spoiler alert here.
Which brings us to the top Linux list of the past few months, brought to you by LXer.com:
1. 70 Open Source Replacements for Small Business Software — In a word: Damn.
Got an item I missed? Pass it on.
More than one person — several actually, none of whom will be named here, to protect the innocent — asked me recently, “Did you see Carla Schroder’s article in LXer.com on Ubuntu?”
I did. In fact, all ego aside (and we’ll wait a few minutes until we’ve had a chance to move that large thing aside), I may have had a hand in this through my contribution to a LXer.com forum item where I said:
“If you’ll permit me a tangent, is Ubuntu “ashamed” to call itself Linux? If you go to their Web page, on the main page you won’t find the word “Linux” anywhere. I finally found it on an “About Ubuntu” page in the second or third paragraph. If you go to the openSUSE main page, Linux is there; same with Fedora and Debian (though Debian goes the GNU/Linux route).
Just wondering aloud . . . .”
Later, if you’re reading along with us on this forum, Carla Schroder (a.k.a., tuxchick) says:
“Ubuntu has many good points, not the least of which are kick-starting serious effort in making a really good desktop Linux, making inroads into the commercial computer market, genuinely welcoming new contributors, and inspiring hosts of respins and derivatives. Think back to the pre-Ubuntu days– Debian releases were stretching out ever longer (over three years!), Mandriva is perennially in crisis, Red Hat is uninterested in the consumer market….hmmm, methinks I spy an article in this subject.” (emphasis added)
So I’ll take a bow for contributing to the inspiration behind Carla writing this article, which is outstanding. Its outstanding nature outshines the fact that there are a couple of minuscule glitches in the article itself — one is that while Red Hat may not care about the desktop market, it established Fedora Core and the Fedora Project at the same time it “went enterprise” (not terribly clear in the article), and Fedora started roughly a year before Ubuntu came along. Also, for all the great things it rightfully says about Ubuntu — let me repeat that, for all the great things it rightfully says about Ubuntu — it still doesn’t address the community’s lack of technical contributions back to the greater FOSS community, for starters.
But let’s not go there now.
Let’s talk instead about how being respectfully critical or showing calm and reasoned dissent contributes to the greater good of all — for those being criticized as well as for those making the observations. Let’s talk about taking what’s being said at face value rather than looking into a subtext that more than likely doesn’t exist.
Bear in mind: When done for the greater good, dissent is not disloyalty.
I’m an Ubuntu user; though it’s not my primary distro of choice, I still use it on a variety of machines. My daughter is an Ubuntu user, and it is her distro of choice, as outlined in our UpSCALE talk (Mimi and I are at the 27:23) at the Southern California Linux Expo this year.
As noted here and elsewhere, I have had differences of opinion regarding how Ubuntu does things, and I have been critical of the credit Ubuntu wrongfully gets for technical contributions made by others. Until this changes, I will continue to be critical of Ubuntu, just as I am critical of Fedora — which is my distro of choice, though I am no longer officially a part of that community — and openSUSE and any other distro or community when criticism is warranted.
My purpose in bringing up shortcomings is to have those in a position to do so correct them — and if I can, I will correct them myself — rather than to berate those doing what I think is misguided or just wrong.
Also, it should be noted that I have also been known to heap praise on those communities that deserve it, bearing in mind that a distro that gets praise one day for doing something good for FOSS may get criticism on another for doing something not-so-good.
The fact of the matter is I don’t expect Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, Debian or any other distro or FOSS program, to be perfect. I do, however, demand distros and communities to live up to the higher standards that we as FOSS users and advocates have set — the most basic of which is that everyone contributes and everyone benefits — and I don’t find this an unreasonable position.
So next time you find someone being critical, ask yourself whether the criticism is valid and if there is a solution to this criticism, other than an ad hominem response (yes, I’m looking at you, Mark Shuttleworth).
Oh, and critics: It’s good to have a solution to go along with your critique. Admittedly, I should do this better, and promise to do so going forward.