The case for National Linux Distributions

There's a lot of news flying around at the moment about the latest Russian attempt to create a national, Linux-based operating system. Let's take a look at some of the issues that surround the creation of national Linux distributions.

The first point to make is that this isn’t the first Russian attempt to adopt open source software. In 2007, the Armada group won the government tender to supply Russian schools with a Linux based operating system, making use of ALT Linux, a Russian fork of Mandrake Linux. Red Flag (China), Pardus (Turkey) and Bayahnian (Philippines ) were all created to meet the requirements of state institutions.

A national standard Linux distribution solves two of the biggest problems that face Linux adoption in education, business and government institutions:

First, Linux suffers from the problem of offering simply too much choice in terms of desktop environments and applications. If every school in the UK (for example) switched over to Linux and open source tomorrow, they could, conceivably, all be using considerably different set ups. A national standard distribution offers the advantage of a standard platform that workers and students can be trained to use and maintain.

Second, and this is a point that I think that a lot of people miss, most efforts to introduce Linux aren’t based around a strategic, simultaneous push. For example, a school will be reluctant to switch to a system that isn’t going to be in use in the workplace. For the same reasons, a workplace is unlikely to use a system that education doesn’t use.

If you were a parent who didn’t know much about computers, how would you feel if you discovered that your kids were being trained on a computer system that wasn’t in use outside of education, or one that was being used in schools but not in higher education? If you were a business, wouldn’t the fact that a given system is being gradually introduced into schools and other government institutions make it seem more attractive?

Even if establishing a national Linux distribution amounted to merely nominating Ubuntu or Fedora as the standard open source desktop for a country, it would be a step in the right direction. What’s being offered to businesses, education and government offices at moment is a proposition that is confusing and uncoordinated.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


Comment viewing options

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

National Linux Distributions

Anonymous's picture

Yeah, a Microsoft approach to Linux: One OS, fewer choices with the only choices being those by a single body seeing over all the cry babies. Sad, that people want something better but want to drive it down to some common level that comes in a cool box and a phone number to call.

We can have the National Linux Distributions, just as long as that BS doesn't screw up what so many have worked so hard for. Let the cry babies stay with Microsoft or Apple, they are both a ONE minded concept that thinking isn't required.

nationalized distro

Donald Norman GA, USA's picture

As far as I'm concerned the less "nationalizations" the better. Whenever government, any government, takes control of something it becomes overweight, overpriced and overdone. Linux is about freedom; let's leave it that way.

Donald Norman

National Linux

Caesar Tjalbo's picture

Not so well known perhaps is Lightweight Portable Security (LPS), a live-CD from the US Air Force. Link.

Ow and good luck training kids for stuff that's used in the work place. By the time they leave school the browser-du-jour might be the next fresh breath ala Google's Chrome or still IE6, leave alone more specialized software. Why bother teaching kids to write with pen and paper, eh?

If you were a parent who...

Linux observer's picture

"If you were a parent who didn’t know much about computers, how would you feel if you discovered that your kids were being trained on a computer system that wasn’t in use outside of education..."

So why nobody minds that the only programming language which is studied in most Russian schools and even universities is Turbo Pascal? ;) Does anybody use it outside of education?

The idea of national Linux OS is beautiful, but in today's conditions in Russia it can lead only to steal a lot of money by vendor of "national Linux".

ALT Linux

akartsev's picture

Actually Russian national distro is a direct consequence of Ponosov's case

'If you were a parent who didn’t know much about computers, how would you feel if you discovered that your kids were being trained on a computer system that wasn’t in use outside of education,..'

If you really think so then Linux is not the best option as the majority of desktop installations use Windows. So I totally disagree with the thesis. Sorry...

The main educational objective is to provide understanding of principles and not to train some specific skills. Indeed certain button-clicking skills might become useless even in a few years (remember windows 3.1?). So it doesn't really matter which Linux distro or some other OS to use as long as you're able to demonstrate principles.

On the other hand we do no deal with an army of teachers who are Linux gurus and definitely some Linux training courses should be established. Probably that's one of the reasons why Russian government decided to create national Linux distro.

Actually russian linux (in

inkvizitor68sl's picture

Actually russian linux (in goverment view, off course. Nothing against ALT and etc.) is - (if you can translate it)

but anyway:

I mean that russian goverment - is not those organisation who have ability to choose, prepare, develop any distro. They will be old as hell.

Who is who

akartsev's picture

Sure government itself doesn't code. You're too critical be be indulgent to the distro in the link. Certification is a very expansive and lasting procedure. If I were a military guy I'd prefer security and robustness over another cool feature. Kalashnikov over M-16 ;)

Yeah... goverment will code.

inkvizitor68sl's picture

Yeah... goverment will code. lol.

Off course i mean, that developers, which will be choosen by this goverment - will be idiots. Trust me. I am living here. And i am already tried to develop something for goverment. Really. They're looking not for good specs, but for those, who will accept and keep in secret stealing of project's money. Nothing more. We can talk about 80% stealed at "programming" projects, where we don't need wasting money for something physical.

As i can see for any russian IT projects at last year (new DCs, "linux to schools" and etc.) - all of them was just big place for stealing/ripping money. In fact i can see, that Russian Ubuntu Loco getting Linux to schools much and much faster, than goverment. It is just Loco. ~100 active members. They're doing it for fre at free time.

> Certification is a very expansive and lasting procedure.
Yeah, so expansive and lasting, that they can't accept keyboard/mouse configurators over 5 years. Don't even talk about it. With SUCH resources (as human as finance) 200k stirngs of code can be checked per week without any problems. Just nobody cares. Maybe they're right. But next one project will be similiar ancient linux based on RHEL.

They're don't know about 2 perfect communities - Debian and Ubuntu. They are still thinks, that Linux can't do essential items (i read about words like "you can play games", "yoou cant listen music", "you cant watch movies at Linux" from those who is coordinating "Linux to schools"). I am not critical around them.

It is not just variety of

Anonymous's picture

It is not just variety of choice that has adoption at a standstill, but the lack of consistency in the systems behavior. It cannot be said that one something works in a linux distribution it will always work. Nor can it be said that the manner in which to configur the system fremains the same. This is an impossible. Environment to port to if there are financial constraints. Also the underlying turrmoil with libraries makes large apps difficult to build. Try packagesource and you will see what I mean.

Solve these problems, THEN talk about adoptipon.

Character set & language

ukguy's picture

I would think Russia has an added incentive as they use a different character set (as well as language) to the developers of most distributions. I confess to ignorance about how good the localisation is currently but I do see it as an extra hurdle.

Spy Linux

Mickboa's picture

If the Russian Government gets into building a National Linux Distro, You could call it SPY LINUX, because that is what the Russia Government does , Spy on it's citizens.


inkvizitor68sl's picture

oh lol....

everything here is for "stealing money". Don't even worry. We already have "national linux" - based on RHEL 3 or RHEL 4 - with 2.4.x kern and gcc version released at 2004.

In fact - Russian Loco, LUGs, Russian Fedora and etc. - we're installing Ubuntu/Fedora at schools. And noone waiting for russian distro.

Liberation is the key.

Brotherred's picture

I know this is not the point that most people want to talk about. But from my first use of RH9 and all I have heard from the FSF is about liberation of thought and there by speech. The most well known national distributions are from communist countries. Russia is becoming more closed by the day (back to the old days) so I include them as well as China and North Korea.

Flame me if you want and call me a troll but liberation of thought is a selling point for GNU/GPL and in part for all of Open Source software. It is also the most undelivered point.

Er.. its software

Anonymous's picture

You put too much responsibility on the software! Liberating your thought as you put it, is your job not the software's job. Free software is a tool that makes it easier for you to "liberate your thought", but you have to consciously accept and implement Free Software's underlying principles to get that benefit. You have to do it, not the software.

P.S Open Source Software is different from Free Software. The former puts the emphasis on the technology, the latter puts the emphasis on the freedom.


How does freedom happen?

Brotherred's picture

The liberation of thought does not will not happen when the people receiving the system might be put in prison for the free expression of thought be it in source or opinion.

I dunno perhaps I do put too much responsibility on software. Linus's goal on record was/is "Just for fun" Richard Stallmans goal was/is for liberation of all kinds and his way of doing that was/is through source code. National distributions from communist countries satisfy only Linus's need to have fun with his code.

Russia is not a communist

Egor's picture

Russia is not a communist country, in case you've missed the last twenty years. You're not going to go to jail for installing linux on your computer. Yes, often public government efforts such as bringing Linux to schools is just a front and PR pitch, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing in the long run. People are getting exposure to it, it's a starting point. Admins upgrading the system themselves once it's become a school standard is not too long of a stretch.

As if that is on topic

Brotherred's picture

Russia is more and more closed by the day. Boris Yeltsen (is that how you spell it?) is demonized for destroying Soviet Russia.

Also another commenter said something like where government is involved it is often overdone, overweight, and overpriced. I agree with that. People think that a person just using Linux distro X will get a taste of freedom. Have we learn nothing from the DVR mess? Where I know many who can not upgrade their hardrive space with out buying a new machine? Just to use that as an example, is that freedom realized?

OSS and Free/ Libre

Brotherred's picture

This recognizes and explains a bit of what you were saying about Open Source and Freesoftware. I think about it constantly. I have read "Just for Fun" by the way and I know why I disagree with Linus and do agree with RMS but do not have the backbone or knowledge to conform it.

I don't necessarily find this

Anonymous's picture

I don't necessarily find this a bad idea. We already do have a major commercial Linux distribution based on this side of the pond. Somehow, I just don't think this concept could be made to fly in the face of Microsoft.

Maybe if we made Microsoft the National Microsoft distribution at the same time?

Aw. Then we'd have problems w/ Apple, and they aren't using Apple OS any longer, they're using BSD. Berkley would likely get upset if we let Apple be the National BSD distribution.

I'm thinking America will probably have to beg off on this National Linux thing. For the time being anyway...

Under the hood

djfake's picture

Teaching kids linux from an early age helps them learn about computing and not just how to navigate a particular GUI or click inside a browser. Let them get under the hood, compile a program, use the command line, switch windowing systems, mount compatible file systems and host a website. We'll have little geniuses in no time.

Or is that a threat?

"If you were a parent who

Sj's picture

"If you were a parent who didn’t know much about computers, how would you feel if you discovered that your kids were being trained on a computer system that wasn’t in use outside of education, or one that was being used in schools but not in higher education?"

Apple is and has always been highly involved in K-12 education, and is generally not used in mod higher education or businesses...

I agree...

Anonymous's picture

I have a private school that I do tech consulting for and they are all mac on the user end, K-8. Apple also has some really cheap licensing programs when it comes to education... Still I am slowing pushing linux servers into there network.... hopefully :)

I have had a few run ins with parents when it comes to the "Macs\linux isn't used in the workforce, and that you should really switch over to windows".... sorry Dad but your kid probably knows how to work the computer better than you do and I think he can figure out windows if he's compiling and installing programs from source code :)

Parents\Adults need to learn how to use Linux\Mac first to get the real push into education\government on the desktop, otherwise it will be Windows for a long time...

Brazil also sponsors the use

Anonymous's picture

Brazil also sponsors the use of Linux..

"If you were a parent who didn’t know much about computers, how would you feel if you discovered that your kids were being trained on a computer system that wasn’t in use outside of education..."

While it may be true if you're thinking about commercial desktop systems, it is the opposite if you consider computer servers, mobile phones, embedded devices and so on..

well this is interesting......

Uwaterloo's picture

From my experience through out my public schooling using windows, I can say that it would have not been any different if the school used ubuntu or something similar. Sure some minor differences would occur, Firefox instead of IE, VS Microsoft office, etc. But when it comes down to it, these are really the same thing for most computer users. Any student who wanted to do something more advanced that required one OS over another would not be doing that in school but probably on their own time (schools tend to fail at teaching in dept into anything interesting).

As for silly parent worries, just tell them how much money it will save to the schools. (Money+Taxes > everything else) == true;

Additionally, at my university, all cs work is done on Linux systems even though 75-90% of all of our Co-op and full-time jobs use Windows as the development environment.

Don't Forget

NOYB's picture

Don't forget Cuba (Nova) and Venezuela (Canaima) have also decided to switch.

big surprise

markh's picture

another "formerly" communist country trying to ram-rod something down from the top....imagine that >_>

about standards

Roland's picture

The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them. We have standards for nuts & bolts, but not wrenches. Linux is unix(tm), wherever you find it, and your skills are tranferrable to (say) OSX, BSD, or AIX. I like open standards like this. Much ado about nothing.