Unless you’re a motorhead to a varying degree — and an older one at that — you probably don’t know who John Cooper is. His contributions in racing circles — putting the engine behind the driver in his Cooper Formula 1 cars in the late 1950s — would normally cement his place in automotive history, but he didn’t stop there.
The thing for which Cooper is more widely known is modifying the British Motor Corporation’s Mini in the 1960s, adding his name to make it the Mini Cooper while adding a higher degree of performance that won the little car that could a warehouse full of rally trophies and Sports Car Club of America club racing victories.
Around the same time as the development of the first Mini Coopers, across the pond in America Carroll Shelby took the Ford Mustang and with a vision of making it faster and better, he gave us the Shelby Mustang along with the whole Shelby Cobra series (not to mention, later, the Dodge Viper). Shelby’s association with Ford started a trend in the U.S. of taking a mass produced car and making it into a high performance machine.
So go ahead and ask: “Larry the Free Software Guy, what the heck does this have to do with Linux and FOSS?”
It’s simple. Linux and FOSS has their own versions of John Cooper and Carroll Shelby making high performance versions of mass produced distros, building on the foundation of one of the “big three” Linux distros to make fire-breathing, pixel-burning distros; distros that are the digital equivalent of vehicles that are more than just for taking the kids to soccer practice or zipping over to the grocery store.
Not everyone can drive a Cobra or a Testarossa, nor does everyone want to. But knowing that the option is there, and that there are people out there providing those options, is one of Linux/FOSS’s strengths.
We see this in distros like Kororaa, where Chris Smart and his team once based their distro on Gentoo and switched “manufacturers” to use Fedora in producing a solid, quick distro that works well right out of the box.
Jeff Hoogland and his band of developers at Bodhi Linux marry the lightweight Enlightenment desktop environment to Ubuntu. A combination of the lightweight desktop and the users’ choice of what to include in their own digital vehicle makes this perhaps the best combination of getting the best performance out of one’s machine.
Pixel-burning performance is one of the hallmarks at Crunchbang. Philip Newborough, a web developer and GNU/Linux enthusiast living and working in Lincoln, England, takes John Cooper’s legacy to heart — in a digital sense — while he and his team provide a Openbox-based window manager with Debian rumbling under the hood.
We even see this high performance riff on the enterprise Linux side, where in a digital “garage” Derek Carter, Clint Savage and others are gearing up GoOSe Linux. This project deserves special mention because not only is the performance measured on the instruments, but also on the community building process in an enterprise realm.
Examples are abundant, and forgive me if I don’t get to all of them. There are others who deserve mention: Salix OS provides a distro worthy of flamed fenders and racing stripes. Kenneth Granerud had a high performance distro in Wolvix which, due to some personal upheavals, became dormant, but in talking with him recently we might see it come back sometime soon.
So when someone complains about the fact that there are 320-something distros out there, bear in mind many of them are not for everyone.
So buckle up, and let’s be careful out there.