Story 2014-02-25 3EV Linux Insider investigates why some Linux distros just disappear

Linux Insider investigates why some Linux distros just disappear

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in linux on (#3EV)
It's long been the case that the world of Linux distributions offers at least one compelling choice for virtually every taste and purpose, but -- much like those dissatisfied with the weather in New England -- users who don't see a distro they like need only wait a few minutes. The open source nature of Linux means that users not only can fork and create entirely new distros of their own at will, but also take advantage of others' efforts to do so -- and those efforts are ongoing.

What makes one distro last and another give up? Linux Insider takes a closer look.
Reply 10 comments

It's simple, really. (Score: 5, Informative)

by foobarbazbot@pipedot.org on 2014-02-25 18:11 (#6C)

For your distro to last, you need one of two approaches:
  1. one dictator who's such a tough son-of-a-bitch that he not only can defy ordinary counting sequences but also survives mysterious illnesses that every doctor misdiagnoses.
  2. lots of people, and a sufficiently robust community governance model to make any of them expendable.

The distros that have followed one of these models have outlasted every distro that hasn't.

Re: It's simple, really. (Score: 5, Insightful)

by number6x@pipedot.org on 2014-02-25 21:19 (#6E)

Slackware does both of these.

Re: It's simple, really. (Score: 2)

by foobarbazbot@pipedot.org on 2014-02-28 08:54 (#80)

Well, the second one was aimed at Debian. I wouldn't describe slackware in quite such terms -- there's a lot of people, and then there's a lot of people. And I really don't know enough about the organization to know what impact Pat getting run over by a bus would have. (And I hope I never have to find out.)

Re: It's simple, really. (Score: 2, Informative)

by wjwlsn@pipedot.org on 2014-02-25 23:14 (#6G)

Ha, what a brilliant description of Slackware... still my favourite distro, and so much better than SLS.

TFA doesn't really do much to answer the question (Score: 2, Insightful)

by danieldvorkin@pipedot.org on 2014-02-25 18:16 (#6D)

It lists some that have succeeded and some that haven't, but doesn't really get into what might distinguish distros in the first group from those in the second. To be fair, I'm not sure there's any way to do this. With any new type of product, there are usually a bunch of small players at first, and then it gets narrowed down to a few big ones with a few others coming and going around the fringes. Very often this process is kind of mysterious and there's no obvious reason why the ones that succeed and persist do so. (The people running successful companies, or OSS projects, or what-have-you, will of course tell themselves it's because they have special knowledge that others lack. They're almost always fooling themselves.) In any case, I suspect that the Linux distro world is fairly mature at this point, with the Red Hat and Debian families pretty well entrenched.

Depends on niche utility and marketing too (Score: 3, Insightful)

by zafiro17@pipedot.org on 2014-02-26 11:44 (#6P)

openSUSE (and formerly SuSE) is my go-to distro usually, though I use Bodhi and FreeBSD a lot, too. I think SUSE has had trouble differentiating itself from other big distros like RedHat but still does a good job and not because of its distro manager but because it's been able to establish itself as an enterprise grade distro with good support and good reliability.

But have a look at Distrowatch and there are hundreds of niche distros that seem to offer little added value. "... is a distro based on Ubuntu with an XFCE desktop styled to look like a Mac." Really? We need a whole new distro with all that entails (quality control, package management, etc.) just for Ubuntu+DE+Theme? Those are the ones that seem to melt into the sunset.

Others are niche but provide either a new approach, a new technology, or fit a unique niche very well. PuppyLinux is a good example - awesome on low spec hardware. Scientific Linux brings in a lot of non-mainstream tools useful to a certain community. GRML tried to appeal to a small niche of ZSH lovers who prefer the console to XWindows, and when that sort of fizzled, tried to appeal in a different way (that doesn't seem to be taking either). There was another distro - now long gone - that decided to offer a very limited set of packages useful to businesses (office suite, RealPlayer, a couple of other things). Who wants to standardize on a distro that intentionally reduces your possibilities to do other useful things? I could use RedHat and get all that plus more.

Ultimately it takes a bit of branding and marketing, not in the "advertise the f*ck out of it" way but in the "show how this distro is different, serves a real need and/or fixes a problem you are currently experiencing" way. Not all distros do that.

Re: Depends on niche utility and marketing too (Score: 4, Informative)

by koen@pipedot.org on 2014-02-26 15:03 (#6W)

"... is a distro based on Ubuntu with an XFCE desktop styled to look like a Mac." Really? We need a whole new distro with all that entails (quality control, package management, etc.) just for Ubuntu+DE+Theme? Those are the ones that seem to melt into the sunset.

That would be Xubuntu, which is actually a very good distro. I was a SuSE user for many years (1998-2008), but I'm very happy with Xubuntu now and I don't think it will disappear soon. XFCE is very customizable, I changed the layout/theme for my needs, not looking like a Mac in any way. It has the advantages of Ubuntu without the disadvantages (being: Unity, the Amazon Spyware, Ubuntu One - but that can be installed if needed).

I have installed Xubuntu on several of my friend's and family's computer, non-technical people who are doing really well with it.

Re: Depends on niche utility and marketing too (Score: 2, Informative)

by zafiro17@pipedot.org on 2014-02-26 15:31 (#70)

Hi Koen - I made that example up, so it wasn't Xubuntu I was thinking of (which I would mentally group together with the other Ubuntu variants anyway). But I do remember several niche distros that really boiled down little more than visual styling.

Actually, Xubuntu seems to be more popular than ever now that many Ubuntuers have rejected the obligatory Gnome3 upgrade. Nice time to be XFCE!

Re: Depends on niche utility and marketing too (Score: 2, Funny)

by koen@pipedot.org on 2014-02-26 18:21 (#74)

I see your point.

Re: Depends on niche utility and marketing too (Score: 3, Interesting)

by darnkitten@pipedot.org on 2014-02-26 22:13 (#79)

I have installed Xubuntu on several of my friend's and family's computer, non-technical people who are doing really well with it.
I am doing a 6-month min. trial of xfce for the first time (on Ubuntu Studio). I like it--it is simple, and sleek with minimal use of system resources. The only things (at present) that drive me crazy are the(click and drag) to copy/shift+click and drag) to move behaviour--I'd really like to switch those around--; and the lack of a built-in robust sub-folder-capable file search for thunar.

I'll need to try Xubuntu, as I am looking for a user-friendly distro to install on some old (XP) Public Access Computers at the library I run.