Practical Technology

for practical people.

There are too darned many Linuxes


By my count, there are one million, two hundred and seventy thousand, and four hundred and seventeen Linux distributions.

Nah, I’m kidding. There are only, by my quick count, one hundred and forty one Linux distributions. Currently shipping. For the Intel platform. In English.

Is it just me, or is something wrong here?

Now, I love operating systems. You name it — CP/M, TOPS-20, VAX/VMS, AmigaOS, VM/MVS, Windows from 1.0 up to Windows Embedded for Point of Service, and more shades of Unix and Linux than you can shake a stick at — chances are, I’ve run it.

For me, besides being having an odd hobby, part of my stock in trade as a technology journalist is the theory and practice of operating systems.

What’s your excuse?

Seriously. Why are there so many people wasting their time inventing and re-inventing Linux?

Yes, I said “wasting” and I meant it.

I mean, come on guys! Over one hundred Linux distributions?!

Don’t you think your time could be better spent on making the Linux mainstream better? Linux is an equal-opportunity operating system. If you can write the code, Linus can use it.

Or, if that’s too grand for you, why not help with OpenSUSE? It’s a new project and it’s a nifty Linux distribution. What’s not to like?

Not your speed? OK, well Fedora, Red Hat’s community distribution can also stand some help. Or, instead of working on lots of little Debian distributions, you could work on the main Debian tree?

If you’re building a distribution to learn the ins-and-outs of Linux, I think you’ll learn more by working on one of the established projects.

By reading over the various distribution development mailing lists — a must for any would-be Linux developer — you’ll quickly learn to avoid the potholes that have swallowed up countless programmers before you.

More to the point, how much are you really contributing to Linux and open-source by spending hours on rebuilding Linux?

There are a ton of open-source projects out there that could use your help. For example, Linux still needs drivers. Until half or more of PCs are running Linux, it probably always will.

Want to build some specific functionality? Maybe, there’s already a project out there working towards that goal that doesn’t involve rebuilding Linux at the same time. Check out SourceForge. You might just be surprised at what is already being worked on.

Absolutely sure that you have a new, wonderful idea for a distribution that no one else has ever had?

Well. I doubt it.

At the very least, wander through some of the distributions already out there on LinuxISO and DistroWatch. Between the two of them, you’ll find most of the current English-language Linux distributions.

If you still can’t find the distribution of your dreams, maybe you want to think whether it’s really that good an idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for new or small Linux distributions. I’m extremely fond of MEPIS and Xandros.

I also always carry a couple of the live rescue Linux CDs with me like INSERT (Inside Security Rescue Toolkit) and SystemRescueCd. They’ve saved my friends’ Windows and Linux machines more times than I can tell.

On the other hand, you may not know it, but while Linux can go on forever, Linux distributions can, and do, die.

Immunix? Stampede Linux? Storm Linux? Those were noteworthy Linuxes in their day, and they’re all history now. Even the support of a major company, as was the case with Hewlett-Packard and HP Secure Linux, is no guarantee of success.

No, when you get right down to it there’s really very, very little need for yet another Linux distribution.

So, if you’re tempted, do the open-source world a favor — work on an existing project. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.

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