Originally Published: Friday, 22 October 1999 Author: Rob Thomas
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Wars Between Us

At a first glance, the Linux community may seem like a band of musketeers, united by a common purpose to overrun the world with their Free Software, all for one and one for all. That is, of course, unless the subject of distributions comes up. Don't be expecting a pat on the back from D'Artagnan over at the Debian booth....

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At a first glance, the Linux community may seem like a band of musketeers, united by a common purpose to overrun the world with their Free Software, all for one and one for all. That is, of course, unless the subject of distributions comes up. Don't be expecting a pat on the back from D'Artagnan over at the Debian booth.

The majority of the Linux community would happily inform you that they are fine with any distribution, after all, it's all Linux. Except of course, for Slackware, because it's old, slow, and uses libc5. Or Red Hat, it's too commercial. Or Debian, the packaging sucks. Or Mandrake, the logo looks silly. And the list of arguments goes on. Users would love to tell you that they believe in complete distribution impartiality, but will then proceed to tell you why they think you should run their distribution of choice.

Distributions date back to 1993 when Pat Volkerding was playing with his copy of Linux. He added features, removed them, installed software, removed software, and kept on like this until he had a wildly different Linux system then the one he installed. He called it "Slackware", and thus the first Linux distribution was born. Since then, over 50 distros have sprung, and are still being born today. Why? Because of the General Public License. Because of Open Source. Anybody can take a copy of any distribution, take out the stuff they don't like, put in the stuff they do like, and all of a sudden they've got a new distribution.

The general consensus is that distribution variety is a good thing. After all, people like to choose. Choice is about freedom. And that freedom comes from using Free Software. Close your eyes and think about the Windows-using sheep that have yet to be herded. They mill about, running Microsoft products and chewing grass, all the while thinking that they are the ones with variety. The bigger sheep of the flock run NT, and the few black ones have a "Plus" extension which allows for even more colorful windows. But yet we all know sheep live dull lives. That's why we run Linux.

"Having a favorite distribution is fine and dandy," you say. "But why all the arguing?" People love to argue, and computer people even more so. Platform wars have been waged for so long, it's a wonder people still use computers anymore. Do you have opinions? Have you ever shared them with anyone else? Of course sharing opinions and worshiping your distribution of choice with the caps-lock key depressed are slightly different things. But they are both natural responses to having your territory threatened. Let's say you liked running Red Hat Linux. Let's also say I walked up to you and told you I hated Red Hat and gave you a few reasons why nobody should run it. Would you smile and walk away? After all, that's what your parents told you to do the next time that troublemaker in 4th grade tried to steal your cookies. But no! You would let him have it with all your might.

At this point I have to mention a slight detail. People know what kind of emotions surface when a "Distribution War" starts. Therefore they try to avoid these things. Usually, if you are in an online environment (newsgroup, chat, mailing list, etc), someone will spot your provocative statements and let you know that distribution fights aren't welcome. That's why there are places like DistroWars, a Web site I put up to provide a locale for distribution debate.

Granted, some distributions are in a more developed stage. They are put together by different people with varying lives. Keep in mind that these developers are giving away their project. They aren't trying to call it "Robix," or "Davix," or even "Jeffix," or offer their company to Microsoft for half a billion. They are releasing it for free, and even providing you with the code they used to create it.

While every distribution has its advantages and its disadvantages, they are all different. Most distributions have their own targeted users, and are designed the way they are for a reason. When somebody politely suggests that you try their favorite distro, keep in mind that they are merely advocating, which is something Linux users do best. Advocacy is one of the strongest components of the Linux community, and distribution advocacy is part of that. While there is no clear superior distribution, please remember that without the distribution diversity we have, there would be no Linux community.

Rob Thomas, rthomas@linux.com.





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