Fragmented efforts

Having had a friend at a party last night tell me about some new Linux distro he was playing with, I found myself wondering… Which inevitably led to wandering. Now I am pondering why, exactly, there need to be 326 linux distros out there.

I’ve used a lot of distros over my time as an admin. Ubuntu, Edubuntu, Debian, RedHat, Fedora, CentOS, SUSE, Gentoo, etc etc etc. I acknowledge the need for and utility of some specialized distros. Hell, I keep SystemRescueCD in my bag at all times. At my personal count, though, there are four major package management systems fueling these beasts (apt, rpm, portage, and yast, not counting the *BSD stuff)… so why the split?

Seriously folks… 326 distros? Even half that number is insanity. I can’t help but think that countless meat-cycles are utterly wasted on duplicate effort. I think that some of these, especially the minor forks, could be more intelligently served by being a role in some greater distro. This is the tack Edubuntu has taken, as an example- it’s really just an in-place modification of Ubuntu.More intelligent package management (or, probably, more intelligent use of the existent package management) would probably obviate most of the need for entirely separate distros here. When you think of the amount of energy spent in building and maintaining community, documentation, updating, etc, it’s really a massively wasteful expenditure of energy.

I think this is simultaneously the greatest strength and greatest weakness of Open Source Software. The culture of freedom has led us to a severely fractured software landscape, which makes things vastly more difficult than they need to be. Specifically, users and vendors are completely screwed. As an example, the VMWare Tools client package(required for virtual machines for many reasons) comes as source or as an .RPM. Compiling from source, to me, is a sort of last resort. Package managers exist for a (very good) reason, and honestly I rarely find the need to install anything from source these days. The benefits of package management(namely, ease of integration and updating) are too compelling to ignore… but ignore them I must, in cases like this.

I don’t have any solution to offer here- smarter folk than I have been thwarted by this problem. I just thought I’d gripe for a minute.

November 22, 2008 • Tags: , , • Posted in: Linux, VMware

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