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Too many free operating systems? I don't think so.

Some people say that there are too many GNU/Linux distributions, too many people just doing their own instead of joining an existing effort. In essence their criticism is towards the fact that so many people in the Free Software community actually take their freedom and pursue their dreams instead of finding their place in somebody else's vision. Sometimes the criticism is pointed towards those who duplicate a lot of the effort, just for a few small modifications. They are for consolidation. They want to build a cathedral out of the bazaar.

And why would we want to do that when we already have a cathedral, the one we escaped from?

Among the biggest motivators to that kind of thinking is the goal of mainstream adoption of Free Operating Systems like GNU/Linux. People aren't used to choosing their computer operating environment because after more than a decade of Microsoft's monopoly it has become a default choice. The idea that they now have to actually invest some thought into choosing an operating system is being instinctively frowned upon.

But that doesn't mean we have to provide less choice. It just means we have to provide proper guidance, something like what does. Point people to options which will satisfy their needs while significantly bettering their computing experience and empowering them as computer users.

And so most people end up recommending one of the major distributions such as Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Fedora etc. It is relevant to note that these were once fresh and new projects that some could have frowned upon because they were doing something others already did. But in the Free Software world, this variety is what leads to innovation, even if sometimes at the expense of duplicated effort.

That said, after all this time, with about 300 distributions, in such vastness of choice, I still find it hard to locate my perfect OS. There is still at least one combination which appears nobody achieved yet. In a sense, while some are calling for less choice I find myself with too little choice as options that I narrow down my choice to all require a compromise.

Now, we could say that I can't have everything perfect, that there will always be a compromise to make, that I should just find what fits my desires best and learn to live with it. However, on the other hand, isn't this exactly the opposite of the spirit in which Free Software world grew? We don't "learn to live with" anything. If we want something we get it, sooner or later - we scratch the itch and ultimately make significant progress.

So what is my perfect OS, that combination I couldn't find any other OS implementing? Well, here are some of the properties that I keep looking for.

  • High availability of software and support.
  • Natively supports running very recent, but stable software
  • Has simple, but powerful and fast package management with an easy to use GUI front.
  • Uses as simple underlying system as possible (nothing is complex to read unless it really has to be, think KISS))
  • Smooth, rounded up user friendly experience (it just works)
  • It makes a distinction between free and non-free software offering only Free Software by default
  • Uses a rolling release update method (new versions are merely snapshots at certain points in time, upgrades can be completely automatic)

So I claim that there is no Free OS or a GNU/Linux distribution which fully fits the above requirements, at least none that I found. I am sure some would want to contest that so let me be the first to provide some examples.

First that may come to mind here is Ubuntu, which comes close, but it doesn't have rolling release updates, ships with non-free bits by default, isn't exactly compliant with the KISS (Keep It Simple Silly) principle and isn't all that rounded up always either, at least 64bit version.

Is it Debian? It almost could be if unstable wasn't unstable or if stable was as recent as unstable. It is simply too slow moving. So what about sidux? Yeah, not exactly a rounded up experience if you ask me. As if dpkg/apt/synaptic wasn't enough I need to run some scripts and be on look out in order to avoid breakages.. this impairs user friendliness.

Is it Frugalware (a Slackware based distro that uses pacman package manager)? It is very close, but seriously lacks "high availability" and developers and also isn't yet very rounded up.

Fedora? Yum and Pirut is not my idea of a simple and fast package management. Also no rolling release updates at all.

And so what else is there really? The world of GNU/Linux is divided into Debian based, RPM based and the rest which is further divided into Slackware based, Arch based and source based (like Gentoo) where finding user friendly options is more scarce. Frugalware and Zenwalk are exceptions, but they don't cut it to above yet.

And people say there is too much choice?? It pretty much comes down to basically only 3 ways. Choose one and you're already going to be making significant compromises.

No. The killer distro hasn't arrived yet. Not for me. Until it does, I will be on the look out for more choice, not less.

Thank you


I just wanted to add this.

I just wanted to add this. If someone recommends a distro which fits all of the above requirements except, as can be expected, the popularity, I would have one last wish for it. It would have to have a good catchy marketable name.

If I could get to believe in such a distribution and people behind it I would be willing to help put it on the map. As a web publisher I'd consider starting a promotional campaign on its behalf through a web site that would refer people to that distro in a most user friendly way that we can collectively imagine - even friendlier than, which I always considered to be very effective at selling Apple's stuff.

If I could just find that OS that I can call home and without hesitation put my efforts into, that would make me happy. Ever since I use GNU/Linux I've never really found a home in any distro so far the way some people do (think Helios or Devnet for PCLinuxOS, who really did put their distro on the map). It was always a passing thing to me.

I am a distro hopper looking to settle, but I wont settle easily (not if all of the above requirements are met). Eye

Thank you

Perfect OS?


Is it Debian? It almost could be if unstable wasn't unstable or if stable was as recent as unstable.

...which, of course, neatly ignores what is the most generally perfect OS for people with some Linux experience, Debian Testing ... now Lenny.

Testing is also quite slow

Testing is also quite slow moving. What kernel is in testing? Ubuntu has already switched to 2.6.22 and Fedora is even on 2.6.23. AFAIK, this hasn't even arrived to sid yet, let alone testing.

Not to mention compiz fusion which is in both Fedora and Ubuntu and in Debian isn't even in sid yet. Also, how about GNOME 2.20?

The thing is, if Ubuntu and Fedora can do it today IMHO it isn't so unreasonable to expect it today. I don't like waiting for new software that much.

But the whole problem with Debian, with the exception of stable which is simply unacceptably old, is that people have varying opinions about the actual stability of testing and sid, leaving you basically scratching your head and hoping for the best, which is not how I imagine a very user friendly and rounded up experience. I've seen people say testing is more unstable than sid, and vice versa. I've been hearing about big incoming breakages for which to prepare.. well I don't want to be on the look out for software breakages.

Debian is an institution and a great distro for servers, some enthusiast's desktops and developers, but it really needs a new act when it comes to people who are neither, except perhaps enthusiasts, but not of the kind who like chasing around with their distro.


In defense of Debian


Testing currently has 2.6.22 and has had so for a while.

Compiz-fusion is also in the testing repos. It's not installed by default, but personally I like metacity as a default with an option to change to compiz fusion. Unstable has gnome 2.20.

I agree that stable is really old, but it has a niche and is perfectly suited for servers and people who need rock stable computing.

In my opinion, testing is up to date enough for me. My only qualm so far (after converting from ubuntu) has been that vlc has been removed from the testing repositories because of some security issues. Building from source was a pain, but if I had known how to backport from unstable at the time, it would have been relatively painless. I can't really think of any software I want that I can't easily get. Yes, installing gnome 2.20 would be a simple backport if I wanted it, but I'd rather wait the extra time for the much better stability.

I think I've found my perfect niche in debian testing. Their philosophies on free software and their rolling release cycle, along with a strong community and stable environment make it my perfect OS.

There's only a ten day delay from unstable to testing, and to be fair, ubuntu pulls from debian unstable for each release. Fedora may be way ahead of the two new software, but I'd prefer to stay a little further away from the edge.

Bananas and icecream


Well, I guess if I'd think there's too much choice I'd probably not do EasyLFS, or at least not make it public.
But hey, I think for (almost) every distro there's a reason for it to exist, if it's tuned for ease of use and easy transition from Windows to Linux (Ubuntu), well tested and stable software for servers and users that really depend on reliability (Debian), bleeding-edge where you sometimes can experience little problems (Fedora) or hardcore source-based distros (EasyLFS), there's always somebody there who might consider giving it a shot.

We are a community used to not just take things the way they are, because we have the choice.
When you run Windows you get your pile of blackboxes and you have to take them the way they are (like bananas). There's little room to customize things.
Linux on the other hand, with it's different flavors (distros) offers a different experience every time you try another taste (just like icecream).
Everybody has a different flavor they like most, and some even like a banana-split (which would be a dual-boot ;-) ), but sometimes people might get bored of their favorite taste because they got fed up of it or maybe the taste has been changed a bit so they just don't like it that much anymore, so they look for a different flavor, or maybe even create their own.

I think most distros have been started just for their developers, because they didn't like certain things about the distros they looked into. Just like me. I think Linux from Scratch is a great book and gives you a great system, but the stable-version tends to be a bit too far from recent for my taste, and there's some things I like to have in my system that are not part of LFS, either as replacement (like using Lilo instead of Grub) or in addition (like SELinux and many other packages). Also I think that doing LFS over and over doesn't make much sense. Of course I suggest that every true Linux-enthusiast should try LFS once, because there's so much to learn, but if you really like using the system it's a pain in the ass to build it again when there's a new version. That's why I came up with EasyLFS. It was planned to make my own life easier, because I did LFS three or four times already, and I wanted to have something that just does it for me, the way I like it, and with some extra stuff I like on top. That it then went public was a decision made because I like the spirit of sharing your work with others. I guess there might be more people out there who have done LFS a couple of times already and really like using it, and maybe they like the way EasyLFS goes, making things easier to install with more recent and more software.

After this little excourse I just like to sum it all up in this:
Most distros have their user-base, might it be thousands of people or just a handfull. But as long as people use it there's always room for it.

Of course this doesn't make it easier for people who like to switch to Linux, but that's where sites like GGL come in, and we too. We all use Linux for some time already, I use it since 1999. So we are the guys who can tell people what might be a good choice for them, the same way GGL does it by recommending only three distros.
For me the landscape of recommendations look like this:

  • Easy to use:
    Ubuntu, Fedora
  • Server:
    Debian, EnGarde Secure Linux
  • Advanced Users:
    Debian, Slackware
  • Hardcore Users:
    LFS, EasyLFS

Of course there are other good distros that might be worth recommending, but I have made experience with all these distros, so that's my choice. Of course a hardcore user might not be interested in one of the hardcore-distros and maybe just like to use something easy, like Fedora. As said, I started working with Linux in 1999, and ever since I compiled most of my stuff. My first distro was Suse 6.2, which later on I totally stripped down to the basics and then even ran with KDE3.
But now I have changed my scope a bit. Now I am using Fedora, because it's easy to handle. I don't want to spend so much time anymore on making things work as I did before when I was using LFS. I just don't have the time anymore. And the time I have I can better use for the development of EasyLFS.


chipmaster wrote:

Compiz-fusion is also in the testing repos. It's not installed by default, but personally I like metacity as a default with an option to change to compiz fusion.

I recently asked on a Debian channel if compiz fusion is in unstable and they pointed me to a project which was supposed to do that meaning it's not there yet. So if it's not in unstable how can it be in testing.

I don't really have an issue with it not being installed by default so much. Let it just be easily available from the repository.

I'm not sure about not having GNOME 2.20 yet.. it's a really great thing and I've already gotten used to it. I don't like waiting more than others (like Ubuntu) to get my hands on the latest desktop, but from what I heard there's always a significant delay on testing..

I don't know yet.. maybe I do end up going with Debian after all, but it's definitely not meeting all expectations for me and I've gotten a bit comfy on Fedora 8 by now.. although I'd gladly ditch yum for apt-get and rpm for deb on it. Eye

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