Over on Slashdot today I came across yet another "too many Linux distros" debate, this time started by Alexander Wolfe of InformationWeek. While I think that Wolfe has a point, he also misses the real problem.
In business out of the hundreds of distros to choose from there are only two real choices - RedHat and SuSE. In the business arena the too many distros argument is a moot point since they're pretty much invisible. It's outside of the business arena that too much choice ultimately leads to confusion.
Now, the purpose of this post is not to start a flame war (honestly!). It's really a follow-on to several posts that I've already made here on this topic where I've touched on the subject of too many distros but each time failed to fully explain why too many distros leads to problems. I'll try and do a better job of explaining things here.
300+ Linux distros (actually it's a lot less than this if you exclude the highly specialized versions) can be seen as a good thing in that it leads to choice and competition. For example, you won't complain if you had 300+ printers to choose from, in fact, that would be a good thing because you could choose the best printer from the herd to suit your needs. The same could be said for Linux distros but for the fact that it's extremely difficult to get your head around all the choices. Or let me phrase that a little different - I can't get my head around all the different choices. I've latched onto Ubuntu as my Linux distro of choice but that's at the expense of other available options such as PCLinuxOS, openSuSE, Fedora, Debian, Sabayon and a whole raft of other distros. For me, it really is a case of too many distros, not enough time to experiment with them all. Unlike printers where I have manufacturer information to do on, I can't find an overall roadmap for Linux distros that gives me an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each distro. I'm not suggesting Ultimate, Business, Home Premium and Home Basic versions of Linux to make life easier, but some kind of map would be handy. Maybe there is one ... let me know if there is.
OK, too many distros isn't the thing that's holding Linux back (I'd put lack of broad driver support and no real killer apps as being much higher up the list) but it does make is difficult to get a overview of what distro is best suited to different applications. Choice is a good thing, but only if there's an easy way to get an overview of the choices (think menu or catalog).