The death of the Linux distro

The death of the Linux distro

Summary: The distro is dead, long live the platform.

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The Linux distro is dying, but that's not a bad thing. Instead of thinking in distros, the platform (or the environment) is rapidly becoming the differentiator when it comes to different flavors of the free OS, and this will give Linux the much-deserved boost it deserves.

The argument was made succinctly by Brian Proffitt over on ITWorld:

Distributions are becoming less important, period. This has been articulated before, but I'll say it again: there is a lot more importance being placed on the desktop environment running on top of the given Linux distribution in question than the distro itself. Haven't you noticed?

More and more, it's no longer about "I run Fedora" or "openSUSE rocks"… now the conversations have shifted to things like how much better Cinnamon is than Unity, or how Trinity kicks mainline KDE's butt.

I've always had a bit of a problem with Linux when it came to using a distros as the differentiator between different flavors of Linux. It never seemed logical to me to categorize different Linux builds in such an arbitrary way, especially given how many options and choices there were available. Some Linux advocates claim that choice is a good thing, and that the more distros the better, but given the fact that there's always been highly dominant Linux distros (such as Ubuntu, or nowadays Mint), the users themselves have blown this argument out of the water.

Choice is good, but too much choice leads to endless confusion. And when it came to creating confusion, Linux distros were good at doing just that. Unless you carried out careful research, you really didn't know what made one distro different to another. Sure, if you knew what you were doing you could customize and configure and eventually roll-your-own bespoke version of Linux, but if that was the Linux advantage, why didn't everyone do that and eliminate the need for distros altogether? People are more interested in what the OS can do rather than what it's called or who made it.

This has already happened in the mobile space. Take a look at how Android has become the dominant Linux distro on mobile platforms. People don't care (and many times don't even know) about the Linux connection, instead they choose a platform that works for them, be that tablets versus smartphone, one brand versus another, or one skin on top of Android versus another. Fragmentation in this sector would have been deadly because each distro (despite the fact that they shared a single origin) would be fighting it out among each other rather than uniting and putting pressure on the competition. Android has become the powerhouse that it is because it's presented a unified front to the competition.

Android may be enjoying considerable success, but that's not stopping other players from trying to break into the game. Take Mozilla's new 'Boot to Gecko' project:

A truly Web-based OS for mobile phones and tablets would enable the ultimate in user choice and developer opportunity, both from a technology and an ecosystem point of view. Boot to Gecko is a project to build a OS that runs HTML5, JavaScript and CSS directly on device hardware without the need for an intermediate OS layer. The system will include a rich user experience, new APIs that expose the power of modern mobile phones through simple JavaScript interfaces; a privilege model to safely and consistently deliver these capabilities to websites and apps with the user in control. Boot to Gecko leverages BrowserID, the Open Web app ecosystem and an identity and apps model that puts users and developers in control.

Mozilla is also being clear that 'Boot to Gecko' isn't Android:

Is B2G based on Android?

No. B2G uses some of the same low-level building blocks used in Android (Linux kernel, libusb, etc) in order to reduce the burden on ODMs/OEMs to bring up B2G on new hardware. However, B2G is not based on Android, and will not be compatible with the Android stack (in particular B2G will not run Android applications).

So again, while B2G is essentially a Linux distro, people will come to this via a specific platform device as opposed to downloading a distro and installing it on existing hardware. The platform will drive adoption, rather than loyalty to a specific distro.

Another reason that the distro is dying is our slow but inevitable move to a post-PC world. Yes, the PC continue to be dominant and very important, but more personal devices such as tablets and smartphones are increasingly taking out attention away from that 'big box with the TV thing attached to it' that sit on our desks. PCs in their various shape and sizes (desktops, notebooks, netbooks, ultabooks ...) are essentially a reworking of the same idea, and as such each variation became yet another platform for OEMs run load Windows onto. Post-PC devices are different, and there's plenty of differentiation between between the various devices. While Android is currently the distro of the day on smartphone and tablets, this is likely to change as different classes of devices emerge.

As distros become a thing of the past, Linux will flourish on a myriad of platforms, both PC and post-PC. In fact, that 'year of the Linux' that fanboys have been talking about for over a decade now might actually come true.

Long live Linux.

Topics: Operating Systems, Linux, Open Source, Software

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71 comments
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  • RE: The death of the Linux distro

    "Boot to Gecko ... runs HTML5, JavaScript and CSS directly on device hardware without the need for an intermediate OS layer." Gee, that must be three times better than TRS-80 which would only boot to Basic.
    Krog_z
    • Boot to Gecko Becomes the OS

      @Krog_z <br>Obviously Boot to Gecko is not going to work like old computers such as the TRS-80, the Timex/Sinclair 1000, the ZX Spectrum, etc., which booted to a BASIC programming environment. It's just that HTML 5, JavaScript, and CSS generally run in a browser environment which in turn runs on the base operating system. Boot to Gecko will be a graphical environment as a browser is, but it will be the operating system rather than running on top of it. (This is all, of course, assuming that the project actually progresses to release quality.)
      CFWhitman
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @CFWhitman - erm, can you spell sarcasm?
        bitcrazed
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @bitcrazed

        Sarkazum.

        Was that right?
        x I'm tc
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @CFWhitman

        They really need a sarcasm font, don't they?
        benched42
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @CFWhitman

        SarChasm - lovely spot near the Grand Canyon. :)
        admiraljkb
      • I Know It's Sarcasm

        I knew that the post was sarcastic. The question is, what was the point of the sarcasm? It sounds like he is making fun of Boot to Gecko itself rather than the text in the article. He sounds as though he's pointing out that it's not a typical operating system environment, but something more akin to older systems that dumped you into a development environment. That of course is not the case. Boot to Gecko is an alternative way to virtualize the application environment, like Dalvik for Android and WinRT for Windows Phone 7.
        CFWhitman
    • RE: The death of the Linux distro

      @Krog_z ... my TRS-80 booted to TRS-DOS ... (LS-DOS).
      BrentRBrian
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @BrentRBrian Ah ... memories of a 4KB RAM limit and copying code I barely understood from the back of a magazine just so that I could play a new game.
        daengbo
  • RE: The death of the Linux distro

    It's more the pity then that the desktop environments are in such a mess.
    Millions of Gnome 2 users are trying to find a workable alternative.
    With the additional disaster that will be Windows 8, even more will be looking for that alternative.
    Chipesh
    • RE: The death of the Linux distro

      @Chipesh Disaster?? Only a die hard Nix fan would even think that.
      Franciscus101
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @Franciscus101
        I beg to differ. I use Linux and Windows, but prefer Windows. I think Windows 7 is the best OS I've ever used, and I started with 3.11. I don't think I'll make the switch to 8 unless or until I'm forced to.
        clfitz
    • RE: The death of the Linux distro

      @Chipesh , you wish NIX fanboy. People that need to get serious desktop workdone, do not waste their time on NIX.
      heyu
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @heyu
        "People that need to get serious desktop workdone"

        Unfortunately Metro is not a serious desktop. Neither is Gnome 3 or Unity.
        txscott
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @heyu <br><br>Actually, I ended up on Ubuntu full time because the tools I was using were all cross platform and Ubuntu doesn't crash or have the other problems of Windows. (Like Corporate IT pushing a bad change control down that BSoD's your laptop right before a presentation)

        As rshol noted, Metro isn't a serious desktop. It's a mobile UI just like Gnome3 and Unity. The last major Desktop UI's left are KDE, XFCE, and LXDE. Out of those KDE is the only cross platform one that will run on Windows, Linux and BSD (and mobile phones as well).
        admiraljkb
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @heyu

        That's not a reasonable statement. I've run two businesses for years entirely on Linux. I spend around 12 hours a day on a desktop or laptop with Linux and get lots of serious work done. I only use Windows for games at this point. I like Windows 7 - it is a good OS. I prefer Linux, however.
        Steerpike7
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        I should add that I know a number of people who do serious work in Linux; and a number who do serious work in Windows or OS X. Unless you're somehow impaired, I think you can use any of them as a serious tool for business.
        Steerpike7
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @heyu. You are correct. People that need to get serious desktop work done use Mac. People that need to get serious computing done use NIX. People that are confused use that other kluge.
        rmjivaro
      • RE: The death of the Linux distro

        @heyu - your comment shows how little experience you seem to have.

        If you work in almost any form of Engineering job, then Linux is overwhelmingly where the work is done.

        If you are an accountant you use Windows.

        If you want to Dick about and act like a fashion victim you use a Mac.
        cauleyflower
    • RE: The death of the Linux distro

      @Chipesh and giving XFCE a much needed boost I think :)
      explodingwalrus