Are There Any Evil Distros?

If you take a gander at the number of Linux distributions listed at Distrowatch, you'll find there are tons of "forks" and "offshoots" from one distribution to another. With Linux, we have the freedom to do that, but I'm curious if there are any Linux flavors that are truly offensive to people. There has been some controversial uprising in the past, but it begs the questions -- does the freedom to fork ever cross over into creepville?


Redhat got its fair share of grief when it took the grassroots Linux, and pushed it into the commercial realm. (Redhat may not have been the first to do this, I'm not entirely sure, but they were the most popular to do so back in the day). There are still some bitter feelings for Redhat by many folks. I think it's fair to say, however, that Redhat's commercial ventures pushed Linux into places it wouldn't have otherwise gone. So are they evil? Are they misguided? Or are they awesome?

Lindows (Linspire)

In a very aggressive attempt to dethrone Microsoft, Linspire was controversially released as a Linux distribution that you paid for. It was a bit creepy for the Linux users of the day, because it felt dirty to do something like that. It had enough fanfare, both positive and negative, that Microsoft felt it pertinent to sue them out of their original "Lindows" name. While Lindows itself was largely a spit in the face of Microsoft, Linux users also felt a bit burned by the extremely commercial feel of it. Did that make them evil? Were they misguided? Or, were they awesome?


Ubuntu is the current king of the land. While it's still a newcomer, relatively speaking, Ubuntu has done amazing things in making Linux usable by the general population. Ubuntu, however, is only so amazing because it is based on Debian. The Ubuntu team hasn't made their product commercial by any means, but many people think they are unfairly taking credit for all the Debian footwork. Does that make Ubuntu wise? Or are they evil for using Debian as their base?

Linux Mint

Even Ubuntu has its offshoots. Lots in fact. One of the more controversial ones is Linux Mint. Just like Ubuntu uses the Debian base, Linux Mint uses Ubuntu for the majority of their innards. Also like Ubuntu, Linux Mint adds a lot of new features and implements some fundamental changes -- but the Linux Mint team relies heavily on the work of the Ubuntu team. Does that make them efficient? Does it make them evil? Or doesn't it define them at all?

When we talk about Linux and Open Source, we always come back to the word "free". Ultimately, we are free to decide for ourselves if a given distro tactic is evil or innovative. We have the freedom to choose whether we find companies morally corrupt or fiscally efficient. Heck, we even have the freedom to disagree with each other. :)


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


Anonymous's picture

Sorry for being the token grammar pest, but there is a definite culture within geekdom that disdains using correct spelling and grammar, and really now- shouldn't an associate editor have some basic skills? Or at least a good copy editor or proofreader?

"Even Ubuntu has it's offshoots." Its, not it's. It's = it is. Its is possessive.

Red Hat, not Redhat. (ahem, basic research there. Hint:

"Ubuntu is the current kind of the land." I think you mean "king"?

"There has been some controversial uprisings .." It should be "...have been..."

"The Ubuntu team hasn't made their product commercial..." Should be "haven't."

That's a lot of errors for a short article. Overall I agree with the folks who think this is pretty much content-free flamebait. Did LJ hire you to attract the Jerry Springer demographic? I liked it better when LJ stuck with useful material.


Anonymous's picture

This is something that's always amazed me. A programming language is exacting in its demands of grammar, spelling, and word order. So many programmers master the intricacies of C and PHP yet make a botch of something like English, which is simple in comparison.

I'll nominate PuppyLinux. It's really great for beginners, and it is handy for booting a broken Win box to sort out software and hardware glitches. It has the most bizarre licensing scheme I've seen, not to mention it runs as root.


Anonymous's picture

Your last comment is incorrect. The subject is team and as written "team hasn't" is correct. Neither Ubuntu nor team is a plural noun. 8)

You may want to learn to

Anonymous's picture

You may want to learn to spell grammar.

Kiwi Linux is evil

Icebreaker's picture

Kiwi Linux is really evil, fake and extremely lame ... they are so lame that they haven't changed the "About Ubuntu" :)

Other than that ... there is no evil :D

Sorry, but this article is ridiculous

Anonymous's picture

No offense, but I expect more from an editor of Linux Journal.

You have described the situation inaccurately concerning Redhat and Lindows. Nobody was upset that these distros were available for a fee. Myself, and many others, bought them off the shelf at computer stores like Comp USA.

With Redhat, the controversy was when they stopped selling it over the counter, split the distro into commercial and community versions (Fedora), and then claimed they had never previously sold a version for home desktop use, which flew in the face of all facts. It was the coarse way they handled the migration that offended people, not the fact that they sold it commercially before, or after.

With Lindows, concerns included things like charging for software which could to a more savvy user be downloaded for free. Again, it had nothing to do with cost as in beer, versus the feeling, once again, that the "community" was being abused.

Not getting your facts straight is a hell of a lot more evil than any distro may be.

Of course it's ridiculous

Anonymous's picture

Taking things from other projects to improve them, or tweak them to one's way, is the open source way. It's about not having to reinvent the wheel. This is how distros are and will be created.

In addition to, not instead of...

Shawn Powers's picture

Perhaps you were not upset by Redhat during the time when they filed their IPO, but some folks were. There were concerns about them violating GPL once they went public, or that they'd lose the support of the community, etc. I personally have no beef with Redhat, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a big hoopla as they delved into commercial territory like no other distribution had done.

And Lindows was despised by many folks because of their payment scheme. It did have to do with cost, and it did anger the community (I distinctly remember being angry myself).

Again, it's fine if you disagree with me.

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

Lindows and RED HAT

Anonymous's picture

Not Redhat.

You're confusing "the community" with "the freeloaders." Red Hat angered the free-as-in-freeloader crowd when it stopped distributing ISO images, and released only SRPMs. And look at all the terrible things that happened since then- the f-a-i-fs threatened to go freeload on some other free-beer distribution, Fedora was released, and CentOS, White Box, Pie Box, and a zillion other Red Hat (note: that's Red Hat, not Redhat) free-of-cost clones were born.

Lindows was a different deal. They did not invent paying for a Linux distribution- Red Hat had been charging money for boxed sets and for support for years, Libranet cost money, and Progeny charged for custom services, and several others. Lindows didn't really bother anyone until Kevin Carmony became CEO, and then it degenerated into a wasteland of bugs, cheesy marketing, and a complete misunderstanding of what FOSS is about. You should recall the run-as-root fiasco, and their relentless hawking of Click n Run, and their overly-enthusiastic polluting of Linux with proprietary drivers and codecs, even when it was unnecessary.

This article belongs on CNet, along with the rest of the poorly-researched and pointless articles they're famous for. This is Linux Journal, though it's becoming more difficult to recognize it, and I think the LJ bosses seriously misunderstand their readership if they think low-quality, throwaway material is going to succeed.

Thats the beauty of

Adhavan's picture

Thats the beauty of open-source. Its not that they steal other's work. One makes use of other work to give better and alternative product.


Adam Williamson's picture

I must admit, I have ShakyCam footage of Debian twirling its pencil moustache, stroking a pure white cat, and building a secret underground base below the volcano that is my inadequately-cooled laptop.

In other words...what a silly article.


Shawn Powers's picture

Well, with my last name, you certainly made me laugh. :D

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

Source for Red Hat LTSP Binaries

Anonymous's picture

Hey, now there is a good one. Red Hat uses specially patched binaries for its LTSP offering. I have been shut out, slammed and ridiculed for even asking but hey isn't that the rule? Say Red Hat show me that LTSP source!

Evil, or Offensive?

Anonymous's picture

Did you want real evil, or just offensive?

Back in the day, (Redhat 4.2?) there used to be an option during installation to choose "Redneck" as the language (instead of English, German, etc.). I'm sure that probably offended some folks, but it was a RIOT to run a system using Redneck. Instead of "Are you sure?" the system would ask "Ya'll sure ya wanna do that?" (or words to that effect).

It made being a Sysadmin a little more fun . . . til management found out.

That is hilarious! Nothing

Carl Anderson's picture

That is hilarious! Nothing wrong with making some people feel more at home on their system. If you knew German well and selected that you wouldn't see that as wrong, even if it wasn't your native language. And regional languages are indeed languages, even if they are not all that different from the 'general' version.

Evil Linux?

Dave's picture

I can't speak about Redhat or Linspire (because I'm not all that knowledgeable about either) but if we're calling a distro "evil" simply because it uses a substantial part of other, earlier distros, we're missing the entire point of Open Source.

ALL modern FOSS projects rely substantially on earlier projects.

Debian people support Ubuntu, Ubuntu people support Debian.

I have seen certain specific distros turn to the darkside, but only by violating the GPL. Sveasoft comes to mind...

There is one evil distro

Anonymous's picture

Actually there is one trully evil distro -

Ubuntu may not be evil..

Anonymous's picture

Ubuntu may not be evil, but mark my works, Canonical is. When the 'free' money runs out, and they have to start making a profit, all the paid shills and 'community' support will evaporate, and they will be left with only n00bs and people who have been sucked in, but don't have the time or inclination to support for free.

Relax! If you knew about

Anonymous's picture

Relax! If you knew about the history of the various Linux distros, this wouldn't confuse you. The more market share Ubuntu has, the more chance of hooking companies with service contracts. It's simple, effective, and practiced (see Red Hat) business model.

Red Hat Evil ???

Johnny Hughes's picture

I am flabbergasted to understand how anyone could consider Red Hat as evil.

They support the Fedora Project that basically provides a continuation of the older Red Hat Linux branch, so the people that want a six month released distro can get one that is pretty much the same as it always was.

They release the source code of their Enterprise distribution to the general public AND they clearly define what they want changed to allow rebuilds like CentOS to exist, making a free alternative providing the same enterprise functionality as their "Flagship paid version" easy enough to build.

They also just settled a patent lawsuit in a manner that was compatible with the GPL and not just in their own interest.

They provide paid programmers to many of the major projects including gcc, the kernel, xorg, and many others.

Evil, far from it.

Grow up

dumper4311's picture

Get a grip. The only thing worse than some of the patently stupid comments left about this piece, is the flamebait article itself.

Crap like this serves no constructive purpose. Self righteous crusades on such a meaningless subject simply make the "community" (such as it is) look ridiculous to potential users - home or corporate.

The author should be ashamed for trying to pass this off as professional journalism. Commenting zealots should likewise be ashamed for bashing any other F/OSS project - like it or not. Turn your energies to something useful like constructively contributing to a project you approve of - for whatever reason.

The much touted "freedom" so briefly mentioned in this piece includes with it a conveniently overlooked responsibility. The author, and his friendly neighborhood bashers in the peanut gallery are every bit as "evil" as any distro, deal, or business they slam. Try spending a little less time tearing down things you don't like, and constructively supporting the "freedom" you claim to revere.

Pot calling the kettle

TK's picture

And I quote, "Try spending a little less time tearing down things you don't like..."

Does this strike anyone else as highly hypocritical considering the rant he just vomited?

Anyway, if a distro is evil is in the mind of the observer. I'm not a relativist, but in this case it is not a religious ideal no matter what the RMS camp states. I like his ideas but sprinkle them with a ton of pragmatism.

So, about the only "evil" I'd consider is if a distro truly does a deal with the Redmond devil. ;)

You missed PCLinuxOS and

Tinks's picture

You missed PCLinuxOS and Mandriva

Well the first Linux distro

Anonymous's picture

Well the first Linux distro I ever used was Linspire, then I moved on to Ubuntu, & now I am currently using LinuxMint. So I guess I sure know how to pick controversial distros :p .

Evil *distros*: no. Evil *acts* by people/companies: yes!

Sum Yung Gai's picture

I don't consider the LindowsOS or Linspire distros "evil". I consider them software. I choose whether to use them or not; the software itself is not forcing me to use it. Same with SuSE Linux; while that distro is not my preference, it is not itself "evil".

On the other hand, I consider the top bosses of Linspire Inc. and Novell Inc. as having done horribly evil acts by taking out these "patent agreements" with Microsoft and putting us all at greater risk. These companies' executives essentially made deals with the Devil for "short-term quarterly gains" reasons. The long-term was tossed out.

Caldera/SCO OpenLinux was not "evil". Matter of fact, I'd say that Caldera was "good" before 2002. But the executives at The SCO Group committed heinous evil, as far as I'm concerned. They've acted just like the executives at Microsoft would if the latter thought they could get away with it.

For these reasons, I will not touch SuSE, I will not touch Linspire/Freespire, and I certainly will not touch any SCO Group product.

Now, I will gladly use Redhat/CentOS. Some folks at the company are certainly arrogant. But the company as a whole has done great good for the FOSS community and freedom generally, and for that reason, I fully support Red Hat. The same is true of both Canonical and Pat Volkerding, hence my enthusiastic usage (and promotion) of Ubuntu and Slackware, respectively.


What about PCLinuxOS

Anonymous's picture

I thought this would be an article about PCLinuxOS. They are my poster child for an evil distro. I've often wondered if they are kept afloat by MicroSoft as a disruption to the Linux world.

I have to admit, I second

Another Anonymous's picture

I have to admit, I second the notion. PCLinuxOS has been notorious for being called out for a number of controversies, not the least of which being run by people who rub many users the wrong way with their other shenanigans.


ChooseOpen's picture

How about Xandros and their recent fling with Microsoft?

Those that support EXTORTION

rob enderle's picture

I will use and demo every GnuLinux distro


I do not support extortion.
I do not support groups that would sign those kind of deals.

Shuttleworth, Mandriva's french guy, Red Hat and others have my admiration for how they stood up to anyone trying to put a wedge in our community, to claim that there is one 'safe' Linux and all the others were not.

I am not a RH user but they showed this week how to act for your own benefits and for those of the whole community.

Its a question of principle.
As a “Non-compensated individual hobbyist developer”, it is also a question of respect.

I can be a dedicated Gentoo/Slackware nerdlinger and still recommend Kubuntu and PCLinuxOS for friends and family who want free tech support from me.
Those arent my distros of choice but I have no qualms recommending them.

I know that FLOSS principles arent and shouldnt be the principal preoccupation of Harriet Housewife using the web as her primary computer interaction but there are many, many more who do than there are who dont.
The loss of 3 distros from my repertoire is meaningless.

Re: Xandros

Anonymous's picture

Not to mention all the proprietary stuff Xandros does.
I really expected to see Xandros on this list, not Red Hat.

I expected to see SuSE

LostOverThere's picture

I expected to see SuSE there...

This is dumb

Anonymous's picture

This is absurd. This article just asks random questions with no evidence or arguments to back it up. Where does Ubuntu take all the credit for Debian? Both their site and the About in the distro tell that Ubuntu is based on "Debian - A world renowned Linux distribution".

Linux Mint is evil because its based off Ubuntu - WTF!?

You, sir, are exactly right.

Carl Anderson's picture

You, sir, are exactly right. I was quite confused when I read the actual article. I thought they would perhaps point out some Neo-Nazi Distro or something like that. The other route they could have taken might have been about some funny little idea of Good and Evil, but they didn't do that either, so I'm sort of confused as to the article's purpose, too.