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Linux and Main: The Great Unfolding

Nov 22, 2002, 03:00 (14 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dennis E. Powell)

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"The collapse of dozens of also-ran Linux companies--and there will one day be a collectors market in the CDs they sent out--led many to the wrong conclusion. As a result, the big guys changed direction and marched as fast as they could toward the server market. Desktop Linux hadn't died, they said, it had been stillborn. Linux distributions still for the most part shipped the same stuff, but this stuff was more server oriented than before.

"It was during this period that one of the best features of boxed Linux distributions disappeared. Time was, part--much--of the printed documentation was a list of the packages included, what they did, and what they required in order to run, their dependencies. This was very useful for two reasons. First, it allowed the user to install a bare system, then go back and pick and choose to arrive at the system he or she desired. Second, it was a reminder of the fact that no matter how much in lockstep distributions seemed to be, it was all still up to the user. But this useful bit of documentation has all but disappeared in favor of a flood of increasingly flashy--not to say reliable--automatic, we-know-best installers. Perhaps this was to make tech support easier, which presupposes that tech support was planned, maybe as a way of making money on otherwise free software. I've not heard many happy Linux tech support stories involving distributions; when answers are gained, they involve mailing lists or email to package developers.

"The absence of a desktop Linux market was further evidenced, or so we were told, by the failure of various distributions aimed at desktop users. Few pointed out that this might just have been because those distributions weren't much good. A nice, standard little distribution, which complied with the LSB and FHS, that provided a kernel and XFree86 and a choice of desktops, perhaps some configuration tools, and the things necessary to compile applications--this we did not see. 'Desktop' distributions tried to reinvent the wheel, making themselves incompatible with everything else, splitting off 'devel' parts of packages, and trying to tie users to binaries from that particular distribution. Every time desktop Linux said 'I'm not dead yet,' along came some ill-conceived distribution to club it over the head..."

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