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Are there really too many distros? 29 July, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Distro Wars, Linux, Ubuntu.
Tags: , , ,

Many people seem to be saying it of late; that there are too many Linux distributions (distros), and that the choice is too hard for new users. While it may be hard to choose for some new users (without the help of a friend, a guide or common sense in some instances), I disagree with the argument that there are too many distros. A few points on the matter:

1 Major distributions control most of the market

Have a look at this:

As you can see, as a percentage of people using linux on the desktop, 30 % use Ubuntu (including major derivatives), and 20 % Suse. That means that all of those countless others are ‘competing’ for only 50% of the market. If we say that there are 500 distros, then 498 are crammed into 50%. Also Red hat, Fedora and Gentoo chomp up another 15%. That means that roughly less than a third of regular, day to day Linux installs are of not mainstream distros, leaving roughly 495 distros to fight it out over 35%. See where this is going?

2 Minor distros

Unfortunately sites like distrowatch tend to include distros that two men and a dog use in their full lists. Many are worked on only as a hobby or project by a maintainer, and they are only ever small and die out when people lose interest. They do not really intend to have users new to the Linux operating system use them, so the idea that theri existence turns people away I don’t buy.

3 Specialised distros

Don’t get me wrong; a huge number of distros are doing really great work catering for a specific need or use (small, live, etc…) This is another fact commonly overlooked, with many believing that all distros are ‘competing’ for the same market. If you download Asianux, don’t be durprised that the default language isn’t English. Same goes for Spanish and Portugeese distros. Many distros are specialised for some puprose or another. If you are an ordinary user, you are not interested in versions for government or hospital use. That rules some out.

4 Distros run in the family

This may seem a minor point to those that don’t get it, but distros branch out from families, usually using the same package management system. Different methods of software installation work different ways. Therefore, we need to have different families. Also it is worth recognising that some customisations of some major distros are not that significant, and are not really distros in their own right.

5 News hyperbole

There is a perception that all distros are significantly different. All distros talk themselves up, and tech news writers tend to use hyperbole when they report on new releases, suggesting that each new release is somehow radical and completely different to the last. This may make a story sound exciting, but usually the biggest change that users will notice between releases is the default desktop.

6 Linux is not a company

Many people have suggested that Linus exert control over distros to amke them all merge into one. This fundamentally assumes that Linux and the open source community operates in the same way as other software producers to create a product. Linux, however, is not a company selling a product. There are companies involved, that talk up their own products, but there is no central “Linux” PR organisation. Linus is there to develop a kernel, not to try and make Linux’s use widespread.

7 Too many desktops?

Some have suggested that choosing a desktop is complicated. Firstly, there is not a great choice between mainstream desktops. Choose one of three. Next, if you feel like something different, it’s easy to install another desktop. They’re all the same (more or less). The differences are hyped up, with the different ‘camps’ zealously defending their product. (you should see some of the arguments between gnome and KDE, they’re really vicious over nothing) In reality, all are pretty much just as easy to use, except for minimal environments (icewm, fluxbox etc…)

Next I’ll write about how to go about choosing a distro.



1. ubuntucat - 29 July, 2008

Of course there aren’t too many distros.

People don’t mind choice. They just mind meaningless choice. If they can make informed choices, people actually like choices. No one I know wants only one restaurant, one cell phone, one book, one screwdriver available.

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