Saturday, July 16, 2005


Linux and the greater good

There's yet another story about how there's too many Linux distributions, too many toolkits, too many packaging systems, and if people don't start cooperating, Linux will never succeed on the desktop, etc.

Notice how people talk about this: "Linux" (ie, the tens of thousands of developers worldwide writing the software that together make up what we call a Linux system.) should have this, "Linux" should have that. Fewer, more powerful distros, tools to do what I want. People who talk likes this are essentially saying to people working for free: "Write my code". If you don't like it, shut up and code.

Secondly, is having lots of distributions really all that bad? For broad view of this, see Rick Moen's excellent essay Fear of Forking. But in the case of distributions, do you ever hear anyone talking about how great it was back when you only could use SLS? I wasn't using Linux then, so I googled to make sure I was right about SLS really being the only game in town early on. I found this LWN article on early Linux distributions. Notice this bit:

SLS dominated the market until the developers made a decision to change the executable format (if you remember the a.out to ELF conversion you'll remember this). This was not well received by the user base. Just around the time this happened Patrick Volkerding had taken SLS and adapted, modified, tweaked and cleaned it up making it a different thing all together. He called it Slackware. With the unpopular direction SLS had taken, Slackware quickly replaced it and became the dominant distribution used by nearly everyone. In fact it's still in use today.

What was, in essense, the first distribution, forked because people didn't like it. People didn't like it, so they changed it, and made it their own. So, in what for the lack of a better word I shall call the "mind" of a Slashdotter, what should have been done? Indeed, would they have supported Linux in the first place? Or would they have said, "There's enough Unixes. Don't make another."?

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