Too Many Linux Distributions?

Too Many Linux Distributions?

Summary: I had to deal with the "why are there so many Linux distributions? It's too confusing!


I had to deal with the "why are there so many Linux distributions? It's too confusing!" whinging again over the weekend. I've decided to succumb to the tide, and agree - there are too many distributions, and we should immediately start reducing them, to a target of ONE TRUE LINUX DISTRIBUTION. No choice, no variations, no options, one kernel, one desktop, one window manager, one set of programs, utilities and applications. Period. We can call it "Windux" (since Lindows didn't work out too well...).

While we are at it, we need to get busy on removing all those pesky choices from the rest of our lives. Why on earth is there more than one kind of car available? Choose one, shut down the rest, and keep things uniform and simple. The same goes for major home appliances - who wants to have to decide between so many different appliance suppliers? Pick one, get rid of the rest, and the world will be a better place. While we are at it, what about breakfast cereals? How are we supposed to decide between the multitude on the shelves today? It makes my head spin every time I go shopping. Get rid of them all - not only all the different suppliers, but all of the different brands from each supplier. Fill the shelf with Corn Flakes, and we will all be better off, won't we?

Bzzzzzt. NOT. No thanks. I want to live in a world where I have a choice. Where Jake can come along and tell me about a Linux distribution that I have never heard of before, but which is so right for his needs that he gets all excited in writing about it. A world where one of the major Linux distributions can stumble, and either make a major mistake, or just take a couple of years to get out the next version, and all the others just keep moving ahead, so I can use whichever one works best for me at the time.



Topic: Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    Yeah but.

    There is such a thing as too much choice. How many cornflakes varieties does the world really need? How many toothpastes? A choice of one is too few. A choice of 20 is too many. Maybe around six to ten is about right to cover off everyone's needs?
    Manek Dubash
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    That's the rub, isn't it? Who is to decide where the line is drawn? When I go back the to U.S. now, and the supermarket has literally a hundred different kinds of breakfast cereal covering the shelves on two full aisles, that is clearly too much choice for me. But who is in a position to reduce that choice, and how? What gets eliminated? Things like "Count Chocula", "Frankenberry" or "Fruit Loops" may be obvious targets, just as the "cool" Linux distribution from someone working alone out of their basement or garage. But what about the six new varieties of "Special K", that's a reputable brand, isn't it? Does it get the axe? Is that similar to saying "Ubuntu derivatives get spared because they come from a reputable brand"?

    Here's an even more thought-provoking way of looking at it, and getting away from the whole Linux/Windows/MacOS inflammation. I also mentioned automobiles - I think everyone would agree that we don't want to eliminate all but one manufacturer (if we did, would it be called Trabant?), but I also think that the current state of the market shows that whatever the current number is, it is too many - whether you say it is too much choice, or you say it is too many vehicles for the market to support. The current wave of bankruptcy and consolidation is one way to reduce that number, but is there another that is better or less painful? Is that similar to having "too many" Linux distributions?

    I don't know the right answer here, if there is one. I only know that all the rubbish that is constantly thrown around claiming that "too many" distributions is "the problem" is just that - rubbish.

    Thanks for reading and commenting - I'm always interested in hearing your opinions.

  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    Choice in itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. But as a mechanism to improve the lot of society (by breaking up a monopoly that charges too much) is a good thing.

    My only observation about the number of Linux distros is in relation to some jam research done in a supermarket (sorry, can't remember the show). Apparently 5 is about the right number. Too much jam, then the customer just gives up on jam altogether. Too little jam, then there's no choice to be made. The analogy with Linux is that I use Ubuntu and Puredyne: these are what I recommened *unless* there is an absolutely compelling reason to use a different distro. My 'supermarket shelf' is jw, I'll read his reviews of Mandriva, Fedora, etc and if any of these jams catch my fancy, then I'll have a taste. But I'll stick with what I know in the meantime!
    Jake Rayson
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    I have just had a somewhat radical thought.

    Why don't schools teach kids how to make informed choices? It seems that today everything is geared to getting people to just accept whatever is thrown at them.

    Now, I do realise the dangers of this suggestion, but I expect (having written letters to my MP critical of the government) I am already on the 'Domestic Extremists' database.
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    You're asking for people to be taught analytical thinking. How dangerous would that be for our lords and masters?
    Manek Dubash
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    @ Manek & Tezzer: what a thought? Us teachers teach kids to think? :O
    oh, wait, isn't that what we're supposed to do anyway..? ;)

    On a slightly more serious note (well, as serious as one can get inbetween writing reports to the effect that the students cannot apparently think for themselves..) I don't see why having some choice is a bad thing. If Windoze can have several versions of their flagship OS on the market, why not have some choice out there for Linux?
    I agree with JW that there is probably no right answer to this conundrum. after all, all of the current OSes started out small, so who's to say that some of the new distros won't be next years killer OS?
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    Your question is a dangerous one, since it begs the question of who makes the decision about which distributions get eliminated. And how do you eliminate a distribution from the marketplace that is the internet? I think you must have been having a mental block on something to write with the deadline approaching. Editors should allow for writers to have those moments when nothing is ready to be submitted. Or, would the editor, under pressure himself, be inclined to issue a demerit on account of your lack of production, which could accumulate to retiring your column? Oh, wait, did I just suggest a way to eliminate yet another of the seemingly endless opinions on the internet? Maybe there are too many opinion pieces on the internet?
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    To me Its not about nailing one version down and crowning it above other's, its about the Linux developers agreeing on some core fundamental factor's.

    As so to ease both the use of for a end home user and developers developing for such home desktops, for example some of the installation systems/practices, and any varying core kernels if some things like these can be unified somewhat then surely that's better all around.

    It doesn't detract nor stop anyone using any of the other distributions if any thing they to could also adopt some of these practices, whilst still pushing further developments in their own key area's.

    Some unification in practices would definitely enhance the open source community, without damaging it.
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    @Texlan - You need to go back and read my original blog post again, you have completely missed the point. By the way, you also missed my position and relationship to this fine site - I don't work for them, I'm not under any deadline, and they don't have much to say about what or when I write, as long as I keep it civil and legal.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, anyway.

  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    I'm writing from the U.S. of A., so my comments are filtered by my experiences here.
    When AT&T had a communications monopoly, there were telephones almost everywhere, even the (in)famous telephone booth, but innovation was stifled. This was done for the 'reason' that telephone companies wouldn't connect the remoter portions of the country without a monopolistic profit to be made. This is probably also why the U.S. of A. has one of the slowest broadband speeds of the developing world.
    Yes, competition is messy, especially from the consumer end. The cost of lessened competition is the foregone innovations from that 'fringe' idea.
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    Good point, and actually a very good comparison, thanks.

    This pretty much corresponds with what I had thought after all of this discussion. The multitude of Linux distributions is messy, that's probably a good word to describe it. But if I have to choose between too many and too few, or too many and only one, even speaking purely of Linux, I would choose too many every time.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    Hmmm. Second bite at the choices business.

    I've tried SUSE, Mandriva, Slackware, Fedora and debian and their derivatives. These days I mostly stick with debian-esque distros, but I'll admit a lot of that is down to overall familiarity.

    However I still very much want lots of choice because...

    At home I have one computer dedicated to music creation - I'm a bit of a composer. The distro is the highly specialised and extremely stable 64studio.

    My home office machine on the other hand runs debian squeeze with a slimmed down window manager configured for speed and productivity across multiple applications.

    I also have an eee netbook with standard but slightly thinned down ubuntu (I prefer this to NBR)

    At work I use a computer that sometimes has to be available to other engineers, so it's a more 'bloated' version of squeeze with a gnome desktop and wine.

    In the office there is also a machine that is used by literally everyone, mostly of on-line web based ordering, some spreadsheet work and writing a few letters. This has the latest pretty version of ubuntu.

    Some of the control stuff we produce needs a decent display (and occasionally touch screen). For these we use the absolute minimum debian install and just pull in Xorg and configure it to go straight to the single tasking application (no desktop at all). A little microATX board running at 500MHz boots up in about 40 seconds.
  • Too Many Linux Distributions?

    Strictly sarcastic.
    While we are to eliminate choices about all of the material items, how about we go ahead and take all the money, in the world, and divide it equally among all the citizens. Then we would all be equal, and would happily drive the same car, and eat the same cereal. Of course you would still have to work the same hours, but you would have to pay for those who had no job, so they could be equal. Choice, or no choice.
  • My C:\drive is on a removable slide. I have 12 of them. 5 are in various flavors of Linux.
    I collect OS like some people collect coins or stamps.
    I am still trying to find one Linux that will do everything I want to do.
    Many Linux distributions are worthless trash that waste time and patience to install, then lock you out on a "Password Loop" by refusing your password. Many have ludicrously fine print. For someone who does not know how to adjust the font size, that software is useless. Some have fonts so small you can't read it at all, thus can't adjust the font size.
    I sometimes think Bill Gates pays someone to write those distributions just to sabotage Linux and discourage people from using it.
    It would be simple to adjust the font size as soon as it was installed so a newbe did not start out with an enigma.
    Passwords should be optional.
  • It's true that there are a lot of distributions, and making the decision of which one to use can definitely be a turnoff to a newcomer to Linux. I always recommend one of the mainstream distributions like Ubuntu, Fedora, etc. on desktops, and CentOS on servers. However, I am really curious to see how Ubuntu Server Edition looks, it sounds promising. First, I know these will always be around and won't disappear by the wayside. Second, they are actively being supported, developed, and refined so they are quite stable and software is easy to find. I've had excellent luck migrating users from Windows XP to Fedora. The look and feel is basic and easy to figure out for most users. I haven't used Ubuntu in a while but your recent reviews on the various flavors of Ubuntu look very nice.