Too many Linux distributions?

That’s one you often hear, right? There are too many Linux distributions, and that’s a problem. To some people, who then feel compelled to blog about it. Most of the times, the reasons stated are confusion for new Linux users, and lack of a unified install method for all Linuxes.

Let’s start with that confusion. Apparently, the new Linux user won’t know what to choose when faced with all the (over 300) possibilities, but be honest here, to the “outside world”, Linux has become synonymous with “Ubuntu”. I’m not saying Ubuntu is the best, but when I see Linux mentioned in PC magazines in Belgium, it’s always Ubuntu. That’s not a bad thing…Ubuntu’s pretty easy, so that hypothetical new Linux user shouldn’t have too many problems with it.
In any case, installing an OS is not something you should do without preparation. Someone who searches for a Linux distribution to replace Windows, and decides on Devil Linux (just an example), should have known better.

Then, the different package managers. Yes, there’s rpm, and deb, and tar.gz, and pacman and pisi etc. But why should this matter to end-users? It doesn’t. Yes, it creates extra work for the packagers of each distribution, but the user doesn’t notice that. He’s using the front-end provided by his or her distribution. It doesn’t matter if that piece of software is called Yast, or synaptic, or adept or whatever…it’s always easy. Search for a package. Click. Installed. No hassle.

Are there any real advantages to having so many distributions around? Perhaps not, but I won’t deny anyone the pleasure of releasing his own distro, just because he can. Or her, of course. That’s the fun of it. And every now and then, there’s a new distribution that really makes an impact, like Ubuntu.

In the end, there isn’t any advantage to having only one dominant Linux distribution either. Yes, new users wouldn’t be confused and there would be only one way to install software, making it easier for package maintainers. But what would be the point? To lure in new users? To take on Windows and OS X? Why? There’s this feeling among some people that Linux HAS to grow, that it HAS to become the dominant OS, because it’s (arguably) so much better. I don’t agree. It would be nice if some people knew that the answer to their virus-ridden problems is freely available, but that’s all. Otherwise, let people use what they’re happy with.

Plus, a little competition never hurt anybody. It improves quality. You want to write a CD-burner? You better make it as good as K3b. A music manager? Amarok’s your target there. The same goes for distributions. I believe that Ubuntu gave the other distributions a good kick in the rear. It came on the scene being the best. These days, OpenSuse, Mandriva, even Pardus…are (almost?) as good.
So let Linux users and developers tinker, and write new programs, and create new distributions, and try stuff with their PC, and find new ways to do the same stuff. It’s just Linux way. It’s FUN.



7 Responses to Too many Linux distributions?

  1. Dak says:

    I don’t think that too many distributions is a bad thing, but I often wonder if all the dev’s out there focused on say 5 distributions, how much further along Linux might be.

    Vista has several incarnations of it’s operating system, and Apple has just OS X, and both operating systems seem to have that professional look and feel, that some Linux distros lack.

    I’m not a Linux flamer by no means, as my file server and media server are both running Linux, while my Dell notebook has a dual boot of Vista and Ubuntu installed.

    Bottom line, it’s all about choice, and that’s why there are so many Linux distros.

  2. celettu says:


    you’re right of course,but I think that, when you but all the devs together, you’ll get a flaming row. Even if they stay friendly towards each other, agreeing over anything will be difficult. Some of th ebest Linux distros are one-man-projects.

    After all, Microsoft has a gazillion devs and it still took them six years to make Vista.

  3. promotinglinux says:

    Too many choices confuses the consumer. Support Linux Unification.

    Editor’s note: follow the link if you want to, but the site is either a joke and terribly unfunny, or meant to be taken seriously and terribly wrong.

  4. Eddie Wilson says:

    The Linux Unification link goes to a site that basically tries to discredit Linux. It is a propaganda site to the hilt and should not be taken seriously at all.

  5. JohnMc says:

    Lets flip it around shall we? If Linux were treated like a creature and we only had 5 distro ‘families’ many a zoologist would consider that an endangered species. Another words there is value in diversity of specie whether they are animals or distributions.

    Consider Linux a Herd and the individual distros as animals. Some will be eaten by other creatures [aka Xandros buying out Lindows]. Some will drift off into a waddi and never be heard from again, covered over by the sands of time. [eg Unix SYSVII] But there is vibrance in being part of the Herd. By cross breeding ideas the Herd slowly improves. Bad ideas being pruned out.

    Size of the Herd matters too. Were there only 5 distros then a company like a Microsoft could as a matter of course buy them out one by one, eliminating the FOSS OS threat. But there are hundreds. Many of which have no financial interests other than some recognition. But that very breadth of the Herd gives pause to a Microsoft that there is no way they could ‘get’ them all.

    Long live the Herd.

  6. If you take a closer look at the different distributions, then most of them are variations on other distributions.

    If you compare mint, ubuntu and debian for example, they’re not really that different. They all have the same packaging system, configuration files are in the same locations. They mainly just differ in the choice of packages, which are installed standardly.

    It’s true that on a first glance it’s quite confusing for new users. That’s why it’s quite nice to have a distribution like ubuntu, which is an easy starting point.

  7. Riku says:

    I feel that the distro diversity is a blessing. I can (and do) run Linux on my desktop, my cheap wlan router, my network hard drive, my netbook, even on my ipod. If Linux was a monolithic single-distribution operating system, this would not be possible.

    As Linux is free from the commercial constraints that some of it’s competitors have, it’s possible for the developers to concentrate in creating the best operating system they can, not the worst that can sell.

    Who cares if the “customers” face too many choices, it’s not about customers, it’s about computers. If a potential user ends up not using Linux because of too many choices, it’s not really my loss, it’s theirs. You can always ask the community for tips and opinions if it feels too hard to choose.

    Changing from Windows to Linux is like changing from riding a car to work to riding a motorcycle. You get faster around the traffic jams, but you will get wet if it’s raining.

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