Wednesday 25 April 2007

Desktop Linux - distribution fragmentation

I've had an intention in mind for some time now to seriously investigating desktop Linux for professional life. This intention has been driven by a number of factors, but until the advent of Vista gave me a vision of the future, the intention remained just that. Why?

From a personal perspective, it could be because I'm too old or too dim (or both) to go through a great deal of education and re-education trying to work out which distro will provide adequate return on the investment in time and effort. It seems to me that the first port of call is the question "Which distro?". With DistroWatch. recording 350+ distributions it is far too easy to be intimidated out of the market. It gets a little easier when one starts to realise that actually they are not all independent of each other - Ubuntu, Linspire, Knoppix are, for example all based on (extensions of) Debian. Aha! that helps a little. The picture becomes even clearer with a graphical representation of the family tree and a text-based tree here.

So now I have a clearer idea where the distro's are coming from but it doesn't asnwer the question "Which one?". Next port of call was the Linux distribution chooser. Depending on the variations of answers to the perhaps over-simplistic questions I got pointed towards OpenSuSE, Fedora or Ubuntu. But WHOOOOOOA! while trying to get my head around the the distro thing, I've ended up with RSS feeds from a dozen or so sources. It doesn't take much to realise that Novell and OpenSuSE have incurred the displeasure of at least a section of the 'community', and Red Hat has its fair share of critics. The last thing I need is to spend a lot of time assimilating the vagaries of a distro that may be marginalised by the wider Linux community. Ubuntu it is.

An Ubuntu it has stayed so far.  It does (almost) everything I wanted it to, and certainly everything I needed it to (not always ideally, but I'll make do). I have a server running on an old laptop, a desktop and notebook running as workstations; Ubuntu itself is going from strength to strength; Canonical has the philosophy right in term of community (although at some point in the future they are going to have to find a way to turn a profit), and I see no compelling reason to move away from where I am. I can get on with 'real' work with a feeling of comfort that the tools I use will be OK for the next while.

That's great. I'm going to recommend Linux to my old Dad. Not.

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