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 GetGNULinux.org 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.