Linux and plethorization

Why is it that Linux distros divide and multiply? And do we have a better name for how and why that's done than, say, "forking"?

That question goes through my mind when I look at the ever-changing Top 100 list at DistroWatch, and when I look, for example, at the many children of Debian, including grandchildren through Ubuntu.

For the many years I've been writing about Linux, it has always amazed me that no distro ever wins, in the sense that it vanquishes many opponents in the marketplace. Instead success breeds other successes through forks, variants and derivations by other labels.

In explaining how this works recently, I used the verb "plethorize" and the noun "plethorization", both derived from the noun plethora, which comes to us from Greek via Latin. In the Greek it meant "fullness". As synonyms Wiktionary lists "(excess, abundance): glut, surfeit, superfluity, slew". So I suggest that plethorize would mean to create abundance, and plethorization would be a generalized process of doing that.

What makes Linux an ideal example of plethorization is its abundantly useful nature. It lends itself toward endlessness in the ways it gives you to try, fail, retry, succeed and improve. That's why it's hard to fight against it. Whacking at it becomes like the sorcerer's apprentice taking an ax to his magic broom. Each splinter becomes a new magic broom. The difference with Linux is that all the magic brooms go off in their own directions, try different approaches, and improve in their own ways, all along sharing the results with everyone who is interested.

Anyway, here's the beginning of an experiment. On Google today we see these search results:

I used the + to force exact returns.

It'll be interesting to see how those change.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


Comment viewing options

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

Hmm, seems to be 'remix' to

Ross Reedstrom's picture

Hmm, seems to be 'remix' to me. Most of the 'spawn'ed distros are just different meta-packaging of the underlying parent. Some in Debian have taken to calling them 'blends' or 'reblends'.

Any force divided is no force at all.

d_rwin's picture

The distros embody a purpose, solution, work .. What cant be matched today.

Next distro is a solution for tomorrow for a problem that was yesterday.
What we all forget…
Its all GNU/Linux within.:-)

I think we should appreciate that.


Trace's picture

Two's company, three's a crowd. A Plethora is a full-blown party!


Chrispy's picture

I've only been using linux for about a year. Started with Ubuntu, then Mint, now OpenSUSE. My understanding is that with few exceptions, all the window managers, package apps, gnome, KDE, etc. and all the apps, can be used with any distro. So, if that's true, then aren't the different distros really just prepackaged setups that save noobs like me from trying to find out what options are available, installing them, tweaking them and then getting them to play nice with the other components?



Anonymous's picture

Results 1 - 10 of about 4,350 for +plethorization

New distro

Anonymous's picture

I am starting a new distro to replace all the many and varied ones already in existence.

Who's with me!



bumpy's picture

Come to think of it, there is no need for a neologism. "Ramification" covers the meaning nicely. Though the word is often misused, a ramification is a branch, or the act or process of branching, or a structure formed of branches, or a configuration of branching parts, or something related or derived by branching.


Doc Searls's picture

Ah yes, An appropriate point, since I am reading (and writing) this in a London Hotel.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

wretched excess

bumpy's picture

In current usage, "plethora" means not merely "abundance" but "overabundance" or "excess". So I think it's entirely appropriate.

I don't think we need anyone regulating how many distros there ought to be, but I suspect some of the effort that has gone into some of them could have been better spent in other ways.

This is OSS in full force.

Daniel Hedblom's picture

The forking and starting of new projects is what drives OSS forward. Just like in evolution it doesnt matter in the end if 300 dists fail if one hits a very good point. While some people complain about choice the choice is mostly superficial, having a different version of debian often comes down to different sets of packages in the default install. Another benefit is that the different projects is run with different people with very disparate goals. That way you can have extremists from Stallman to De Iqaza benefit from the same work.

It also makes Linux very hard to target or kill, makes Microsoft very sad on the eye.

Google hits

smpratz's picture
  • +Antidisestablishmentplethorization, 0 results

Am I doing this right?


Anonymous's picture

Perhaps "mituxis" would be a good one.


the complethexity of it

Don Lindsay's picture

is a good thing.

Ubuntu came along and fixed the things that Debian was getting wrong and Knoppix wasn't fixing.

Fedora is making Red Hat accessable to humans.

Now Mint comes along and makes Ubuntu re-evaluate itself.

The Good Thing is that once you account for the VAR stuff these groups add, underneath is really the same GPL'd gnu-linux that we all enjoy, so it isnt that big a deal. The fact that there is VAR type competition in the gnu-linux space just makes it a better product and keeps the developers honest. This is really proof that the GPL works.

On the other hand

Renich Bon Ciric's picture

Well, I like this POV. It's nice and I never saw it this way.

But, IMHO, I consider this "spawning" of distros to be a waste of valuable resources and it points out our lack of good organization and collective conciousness.

IMHO, I think that, those resources (talents, knowledge, etc) could be much better invested if, we, all, would participate on the parent distros in an organized way.

If you could choose 10 or 20 distros; the parent ones, and you could collaborate with them, we would be standing in a whole new ground today. GNU & Linux would be a lot further, IMHO.

So, instead of ironically calling your app "yet another package manager" and we could standarize... maybe have just 2 or 3 options, we could generate much more progress.

Maybe, if, instead, of making your own distro, you could collaborate and/or maintain a repository that includes your configs, packages and content; you would enlarge a particular distro in a great way and not waste your time in another edition of debian or fedora.

Maybe we could, just, have some common ground (thinking of LSB) so we could participate among distros.

It's just my POV.

A waste of time?

Anonymous Striker's picture

How can you consider forks, sprawns, rekindles, branches, deviations, and new distros a waste of valuable resources? And as for a lack of a collective consciousness, My ARSE. I am so tired of listening to such whining about collectiveness and the good of humanity and crap. I'm my own bloody man. An individual. And if I want to use (or make) a spark off of an existing distro, then it's precisely because I WANT to that is good enough reason.

Why the bloody hell are we not all living in caves and mud huts? We could do THAT collectively, along with scratching and picking each other for fleas. Why do we have boats and cars and planes and bikes, when we could have just camped out on the savanah and been all collectively peachy-keen? WHY do we have houses, huts, cabins, condos, apartments, townhouses, yurts, tents, and a PLETHORA of other shelters, when caves seemed good enough for grandpa. Why change anything? Bollocks.

And don't get me started on that whole ART thing... and why all those colors? Aren't mud brown, rock grey, murky water beige, and piss yellow enough colors for everybody? All this time spent with paints and canvas and pastels is a bloody waste of resources. To hell with them all, I say.

Now, if you don't mind, I'm off to find that joint of meat I buried last week and eat it raw as is fitting. None of that fancy "cooking" for me, it's a waste of time and resources.

(No, don't ask me how I wound up on this infernal electronc-squeezing, light-emitting, signal-squirting collection of metal and mineral and dead dinosaur... I don't really know.)

Team work

Renich Bon Ciric's picture

Well, all those things and alternatives you're pointing were made possible by teamwork. Even electricity and man-not-living-in-caves.

You're right; we're all free to do whatever we please. You might, as well, walk in the opposite direction of where your job is and never make it there... the point here is that we have decisions to make. One of them is creating a new distro every time you please and re-inventing it every time you boot... or collaborate with an existing project to make it even better.

That's sort of my point... do what what you please, but please, do smart not stupid.

Linux and plethorization

Michael Mitchell's picture

Plethorization sounds somewhat clumsy. It simply suggests abundance without indicating origin. I would suggest using the verb 'spawn' whose noun has the meaning 'to bring something into being, especially in large numbers' which seems to adequately and precisely explain and describe the process taking place in the Linux eco-system.


tracy_anne's picture

Yet I can't find a single reference to Linux when I spell the word correctly... Plethorisation.

Sat Sep 19, 22:26, MESZ

Anonymous's picture

Sat Sep 19, 22:26, MESZ (4:26 pm EST)

* +Plethora, 6,600,000 results
* +plethorize, 40 results
* +plethorization, 246 results


Doc Searls's picture

... is now up to 8500 results. 11pm Eastern, September 25.
... and 9700 at 2:39pm Eastern, September 27.

Just plotting a course here. :-)

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal