I am increasingly convinced all of the arguments between Linux
distributions are going to become moot very soon. If they aren't
Not that I have anything against diversity, mind you. I have
(and will) actively support the right to create and use any Linux
distribution you want. My concern is, I think the distributions are
becoming so similar in their construction, and the differences
between them so subtle, the whole notion of distribution
superiority is completely moot.
When people compare distributions, what--really--are they
comparing? Assuming a common platform, here's a quick list of the
more commonly reviewed aspects:
Right away, you can cross off "Included Applications" as a real
basis for comparison. If Distro X has 493 packages and Distro Y
only has 351 packages, it would not take very long to go out and
download the "missing" 142 packages and get them into Distro Y. You
might be able to take a half-point or so off for unavailable
packages (rare, but possible) or the inconvenience of not getting
what you want right off the bat, but that's really nitpicky.
So, too, can we cross off the "Eyecandy" and "Drivers"
categories. Anything Distro X has should be available in some form
(even if it's source code) for Distros Y and Z.
This gets us down to the real key differentiators between
distributions: what kernel is it loaded with, how is the distro
installed, and how does it handle package management? In truth, the
kernel should not be that big of a difference anyway, but since the
commercial vendors take such glee in modifying "stock" Linux
kernels and gussying them up with their own unique brand of coding
fun, we have to say that it makes a big difference.
Many times, though, a review will focus on how easily a distro
is installed and how well is its software managed. This tends to
drive some readers nuts, because focusing on the installation seems
silly. But reviewers still do it because its one of the few
legitimately unique things any given distro has going for it. Geez,
we even give the installation software names, like Anaconda. Even
now, the need to highlight installation seems a tad overzealous:
Linux typically installs pretty well these days, and any
installation glitch that might occur is usually due to a missing
piece of software--which isn't strictly the installation program's
Which leads us to what I believe is the most contended aspect of
distros--the one thing that really separates them: how their
package management system works. Is it source-based? RPM-based?
Deb-based? Is there a good GUI tool like YaST or Synaptic to handle
the job? How do the command line apps work? Whenever I install a
new distro, this seems to be the one thing that's really unique
about it: and most often where the distribution succeeds or
As time goes on, I wonder how long this one true bit of
uniqueness will last. As more and more of the smaller distros adopt
one of the big commercial package managers to handle this task,
even this aspect won't stay diverse for long.
I imagine this theory might kick up a lot of dust, and I am sure
there will be examples of some truly distro-unique software out
there that I have neglected. But let's be honest here: how many of
those "unique" aspects are really unique that that distro, or
simply are just preferences that someone else has reinvented in
When distros first started, the differences between them were
night and day. Now, it seems that the real differences boil down to
the package management and one other thing I haven't mentioned:
where does the distro fall on the freedom vs. proprietary software
scale? How free a distro is can become one of the most important
features for anyone choosing a distribution.
Does this mean that we are moving towards one Linux to rule them
all, despite ourselves? No, I think that as long as the creative
spirit and commercial interests are alive, there will always be
separate distributions. But when you find yourself trashing one
distro over another, just remember: but for a few small
differences, your favorite would be exactly like your loathed
distro. It's just the way the same building blocks were put
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