Saturday, November 23, 2013

Does Linux have too many versions?

Today I was reading a response to a SuSE 3.1 review. The responder commented on how "Linux" has too many versions that work differently and that they should all amalgamate.

That made me reflect on one of the main difficulties of explaining GNU/Linux based distributions: We (Free software advocates) haven't been able to properly explain that "Linux" is not an operating system, It is the kernel that drives many Distributions mostly based on the GNU/Linux operating system.

When people say "Linux has many versions" it shows that even people that use one of them don't fully understand that they are talking about many different Distributions. Some more experimental, some more free (as in freedom), some more stable, some more mass market appealing.

For example:

  • SuSE and Ubuntu with commercial support and proprietary extensions
  • Debian is one of the most stable and more free (as in freedom), but at the expense of older software
  • Linux Miint is in between both
  •  gNewSense is mean to be totally free or proprietary extensions.

"Development teams" for the different distributions are mainly responsible for the packaging and polishing the configuration. That's why the packaging and configuration tools tend to be different. But for the most part they all follow the same standards and moving from one to the other is not a difficult task.

If you are new to Free software, just try a few of them. Stick to one you like. After a while, you will be able to do things in any of them with little difficulty.

If you are a seasoned Free software user, I ask that, when speaking to other people, you to use the name of the Distribution you are using and maybe adding "which is a GNU/linux operating system".

This may help new users understand how we don't have fragmentation, we have options.


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Charles said...

My own feeling is that having many Linux distributions give people a lot more choice. There would be no Ubuntu without Debian (at least not how it is now). No Mandriva/Mandrake/OpenSUSE without Red Hat and no "distribution X" without all of them.

I don't believe the argument that unifying distributions would lead to a better Linux *distribution*. It would be like arguing every version of Windows got better over the years (I'm sure there are some that will argue this way). The great thing about having choice is that if I don't like the Unity desktop I can go for XFCE, Enlightenment, or something that works better.

Also in my experience some Linux distributions work better on particular hardware. On my desktop at home I run Kubuntu, my notebook Xubuntu, but I've run SuSE Pro (years ago), Fedora/Red Hat, Mandrake/Mandriva, Debian GNU/Linux, and CentOS.

Choice is good!