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Are there too many distros?

Our podcast is released every two weeks, and in our regular Open Ballot section we ask you, our readers, what you think - and there's no room for sitting on the fence, because your answer needs to be either "yes" or "no" along with any explanation you feel like attaching.

We're about to record our third episode, so it's time to tell us what you think: are there too many Linux distros? Is such a thing even possible, or do we already have so much choice that newbies are overwhelmed with Ubuntu respins containing nothing more than a different wallpaper?

Tell us in the comments below, and we'll read out the best in the episode!


Your comments

As long as there are only a

As long as there are only a handful large (in the sense that there are lots of users) distros, and it is today, then I think it's healthy to have lots of niché distros, that are made for a specific purpose ('Do one thing, and do it well'). My answer would be 'no', then.

No. As Mats said, there are

No. As Mats said, there are only a handful of parent distros, upon which most of the rest depend. Each one is usually a respin in order to be something specific (e.g. Scientific Linux, MythBuntu) which is probably very useful to those who use them.

I've heard the argument that it's too confusing for people considering switching to Linux, but I don't buy that either. When I got curious about Linux I simply checked Distrowatch for the major distros, and asked around on message boards and in IRC. I got the same responses everywhere; knowing I was new to Linux everyone recommended the same three or four distros so I had an excellent starting point.

The number of distros out there is a natural result of all the software being free. I can't think of any definitely negative repercussions, and any negatives that people can think of are surely outweighed by the positives.

Yes. However I understand

Yes. However I understand why. What there really are too many of is derivatives of distros ie Ubunutu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu...etc.

Yes, definitely. A couple of

Yes, definitely. A couple of years ago when I wanted to try again linux I couldn't decide which one is suitable for me. Originally I have used slackware but I wanted to try something more up-to-date that time. If you look to http://www.linux.com/distributions/ list, the many-many linux distros does not help a newbie to choose from.

I don't think there are too

I don't think there are too many distros. There is however too little information readily available to help decide which one suits you. The magazine could help by developing a profile of the kind of user who would get the most out of a particular distribution. It does not mean you would end up using that distro but it would be a good starting point.

Are there too many

Are there too many distributions? Yes. Is having too many a bad thing? Yes & No.

Perhaps it's not the number of distributions, but rather the number of different niches available for those distributions to fulfill. The major distros have fairly clear and distinct areas of focus, A distribution like Ubuntu can happily live alongside Slackware or Gentoo or RHEL. The problem occurs when you get a hundred different distributions, all working on the same premise (e.g. easy to use desktop with full multimedia support built-in), all using the same basic repositories and packages (e.g. Ubuntu) and differing only in the colour of their wallpaper. That to me is a very inefficient use of resources and creative talent. I'm certainly not advocating that all desktop distros should merge with Ubuntu, but anyone who wants to start another respin of a larger distro should first consider carefully their goals and whether their time and effort might not be better spent contributing somewhere else.

Ultimately, there seems to be a process of natural selection which will separate the Linux distro community into a small group of popular mainstream distros which make-up the majority of the market, and a massive group of everything else.

The only problem with this approach comes when you want to sell Linux to a Windows using world. In that situation, a united front is surely the only hope for Linux to make major inroads into the dominance of proprietary operating systems. Perhaps the community has to make a decision. Is it willing to get behind a united front and take on the world or remain a relatively fragmented group of distros and projects for geeks and the curious.

The thing is, does it really

The thing is, does it really matter whether there are there too many distros or not? I mean, if we decide there are, what exactly are we going to do about it? You can't stop people producing them.

The big four will no doubt continue to lead the way and get the most publicity. Likewise, the constantly evolving second, third and fourth divisions will no doubt continue to trundle around in the background, keeping the developers occupied and offering the occasional welcome diversion to those of us who like to stray from the well-known and well-trodden from time to time.

Quite honestly, I don't think the fact that Linux is a hotch potch of hundreds of different distros is necessarily a contributory factor to its lack of uptake by the Windows using world. Even if there was only one Linux, people still wouldn't rush to convert. Because of its complexity (let's face it, there's no guarantee it will even install on any particular computer), it is destined for ever to be an operating system for "the geeks and the curious". Let us not kid ourselves differently!

It really depends how you

It really depends how you look at it. If you are already using Linux you will probably very quickly be able to decide whether or not you like some distro by looking at the packages, desktop environment, and other parameters. So, for Linux users I guess there are several arguments as to why there are not too many distros (or why the number of distros may not even matter).

However. Having worked as a supporter for Windows-based systems I have a pretty clear idea about the average level of computer knowledge in the population. I don't know if it will come as a surprise that 1) a surprisingly large amount of the population doesn't know what a browser is (they just click the little blue 'e' to "open the internet"), 2) even more disturbingly, a large amount of the population doesn't know what an operating system is and regards Windows as a 'natural part of the computer', and 3) the vast majority will IMMEDIATELY forget about using software that requires just a tiny amount of technical knowledge. If you are already aware of these fact, you will also know that somewhere between 85 and 95 percent of your average Windows users will quit the idea of trying out Linux the moment they are encountered with the fact that they have to choose between different distros. So, in regards to making Linux more popular even 2 different distros is one too many ...

I think, on balance, that

I think, on balance, that Kasper is right; most people haven't a clue and get confused that there is more than one version of Linux and that Windows programs probably won't work on a computer running Linux (whadaya mean there are no Linux viruses?)
I have put Linux on several peoples computers but they still hanker after Bill's Bar-B-cue :roll:

In a word, no. What we have

In a word, no.
What we have are several "big" distros and many many niche distros.
A google search for Linux throws up four results giving information from sites such as linux.com, wikipedia, and google news. The fifth is the Ubuntu home page, an ideal starting point for a new user. Once started most users distro hop at some point and so will probably end up trying Fedora, Suse, etc... They may find themselves wanting a particular use out of their operating system and so find themselves using a niche distro. Others will find themselves slowly becoming more and more comfortable with Linux and may move off to distros such as Arch, Gentoo, Debian or Slackware.

I'm not saying everyone should start with Ubuntu, I started with Suse, in my travels I used many distros but those which spent any considerable on my systems were sabayon, mepis, sidux, and finally Debian (testing). In my tool box I keep copies of backtrack, knoppix, gParted and DSL.

My point is the first distros you tend to hear about are big easy to use distros with big followings who can help a new user through the shift to Linux. As you build expertise you can move to more advanced distros (should you wish to).

No. I used to think there

No.

I used to think there were too many when I was new and easily overwhelmed. But, now that I know how and why to tweak out an install/installer I really appreciate that people are out there doing it for me. I think a more valid concern may be are there too many package managers or too many desktop environments. Those are the things that compromise software development/distribution and user experience.



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