One standard dist. with choices?

The comments on the single distro story got me thinking about what I want/need/use. I have been using Linux since before Bill Gates heard of it and my uses, needs and interests have changed over time.

Ten or more years ago I was in the "I need to get Linux to do X" mode. That included a web server, an office network and a bunch of desktops—some for geeks but also some for the rest of the office including the shipping clerk and the receptionist. The right answer varied but, in virtually every case, it was:

  1. Start with a stable distribution
  2. Customize it do work in each environment

While I am capable of patching the kernel if need be, I don't want to. Linux is a tool. The more systems I can set up with close to zero work, the more time I have left to do the geeky side of Linux where it is needed. The map of Linux systems in my life looks like this:

  • My personal desktop that I also use for program development. It is running Kubuntu.
  • An IBM laptop that I mostly use to "try things". It is running Kubuntu.
  • An Asus laptop that is my "travel system". It is running Kubuntu.
  • Two other desktops in my office. They are running Kubuntu.
  • Desktop in the livingroom for "everyone". It is running Kubuntu and has an assortment of logins in English and Spanish.
  • The future biofilter system for the Geek Ranch. It will probably be running Devil Linux.
  • A remote controlled FM radio station system. I set it up a few years ago as a test and don't even remember what distribution I used. But, it will be running from flash memory and will use Devil or some other "mini-Linux".
  • Two different shared Linux hosts where I have some web sites such as the one for the Geek Ranch. I actually don't know what they are running and am glad to say that I don't have to know.

Does this mean I have become a non-geek? No, not at all. But, I don't enjoy just setting up desktops. As I have proved here, a 10 year old with no computer experience, can quickly become a happy Kubuntu user. That means I have more time to work on strange projects such as embedded systems. Thus, Kubuntu is my "one standard". That doesn't mean I think Kubuntu is the one distribution that is right for everyone—it is just the "it works for desktops" choice for me.


Phil Hughes


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What about Arch Linux?

Chris Giles's picture

I used Kubuntu for a while and thought it was good. I then switched to Arch Linux and haven't looked back.

I reckon any standardisation attempts should centre around modern distributions like Arch and Foresight.

Wake up Linux Standard Base

Anonymous's picture

Wake up Linux Standard Base is working on a common core to all Distributions.

So there will be a common core one day.

the most cool feature

beso's picture

the most cool feature of a linux system is the following:
if you have the same machine standard (ie amd64 or i686) and you set up one machine then to setup another machine in the same way (even with different hw) you just have to image the first machine and then (maybe) recompile the kernel and you're done. everything works without problems.
or if you want to upgrade a desktop system changing mb and such, there is one probability you'll need to recompile the kernel and you've done.
for example i've bought a new mobo some weeks ago for my desktop because the old one was starting to go mad locking the pc from time to time and the things that i needed to do after installing it was to just plug in the pc and reboot into linux.
of course i've had to throw away some 3-4 hours to reinstall the windows system dual boot because i needed it.

Stop it.

tracyanne's picture

Stop perpetuating the misinformation that Linux is Ubuntu.

Linux: Just Ubuntu or Not?

Anonymous's picture

Linux adoption is still an uphill battle. Not because of merits, of which Linux has plenty, but (mainly) because of Microsoft's dirty tactics. So, I think every honest effort should be put on spreading information about Linux. And starting with Ubuntu is as honest an effort as any.

My point is that you have to start somewhere, and Ubuntu is one of the most recognizable "brands" of Linux. And after your "newbie" has started with it, s/he will begin to ask questions like "can't I do this or that some other way?", at which point s/he will discover more, and more, and more about Linux and the *other* distributions: Mandriva, RedHat/Fedora, SuSE (SUSE?), you-name-it.

So, my suggestion at this point is to accept that it is OK to mention Ubuntu first, as long as information is also given that it is not the only one - and use the opportunity to show/educate your "newbie" about choice and freedom.
(BTW, choice and freedom *outside* of the computer world, too. Too large a part of humankind seems to be throwing *both* away... But this belongs in another topic, right? :-) )

Yes, please stop it.

Anonymous's picture

Yes, please cut it out; this is Linux Journal, not PC Magazine et al. And while I'm already sounding curmudgeonly, I might as well add that I'd like to see the word "distro" go away. The word is "distribution" -- and abbreviating it so haphazardly makes us sound like wannabe l337 Windows script kiddies.

For newbies, maybe it is

Phil Hughes's picture

To me, and certainly a lot of LJ readers, Linux is a lot of things. First, we know what is generically called Linux is a combination of Linus' kernel ideas, some amazing cooperation, GNU software, BSD software and a lot more. We know about FSF licenses, Mozilla licenses, BSD licenses, ... We know about source code, proprietary drivers and even 32- vs. 64-bit processors.

On the Microsoft Windoze side, people might know they are running 2000, XP, Vista but, for most of them Windoze is "a system". Many will think that includes Word, ... They either don't know more or don't care more. The computer, with software they can use, is a tool.

Enter Kubuntu/Ubuntu. For those people we can say:

  1. Put this CD or DVD in your drive
  2. Wait for it to start up
  3. Try it out
  4. If you like what you see and would rather run this than what you have, click on the install icon

Some of us may have no interest in/not like this group of people. But, if the long-time goal of Linux, world dominatin, is to be realized, these people need to be running Linux. Giving them a class in open licenses, distribution choices and such will not accomplish that goal. Being able to get them to click on the install icon will.

If "the word" that makes that happen is Ubuntu, so be it. Now, is it? I think so. The "really free" nature of the software including even mailing you a CD or DVD really does lower the cost of playing with Linux to zero dollars. The effort that has make Ubuntu "just work" cuts the time to give it a try to a few minutes.

Now, am I giving Canonical all the credit for making a Linux system that just works? Of course not. Looking way back, we saw the addition of installable kernel modules, for example. That was an important piece that got us to "it just works". There are certainly lots more pieces that contributed as well.

What I do give Canonical credit for is the marketing approach that Linux needs if it is to attain world domination. Someday, when there are more Ubuntu desktops that Windoze desktops, we will know we have reached critical mass. Then we will probably be ready to start telling the newbies that they are not running Ubuntu but, the Ubuntu distribution of the Linux operating system.

Phil Hughes

Another thing I might point out

Tracyanne's picture

is that none of the Linux newbies, I've upgraded to Linux, would be there. They are not the people who would download a live cd, or even send away to some company in the Ilse of white.

They are there because I showed them there is a better way.

So whether Ubuntu is easier for newbies than other desktop Linuxes or not, and it's not, makes no difference to these people.

What we need from you is information about Linux not just Ubuntu Linux.

Exactly right

Phil Hughes's picture
You said
none of the Linux newbies, I've upgraded to Linux, would be there. They are not the people who would download a live cd, or even send away to some company in the Ilse of white.
That is pretty much my point. The people we Linux users upgrade are probably not going to know what a Linux is. But, for world domination to succeed in my lifetime, people need to upgrade to Linux themselves. Thus, the "it just works" tool becomes oh so important.

Let me take this argument away from the "Linux isn't Ubuntu" argument for a minute. will serve the needs of at least 90% and probably greater than 99% of the users of Microsoft Office. It's free even for Windoze. How many Windoze users do you know that use I know zero. Now, I could install for them, I suppose, but their preference (what I see here) is to use a pirated copy of Word, It seems to me that "less than trivial" is what is needed to get hundreds of millions of people moved to Linux.

Now, if someone happens to pop a Kubuntu/Ubuntu DVD into their computer (or you just plant it there so the next time the reboot they will be running Linux with no questions asked), they might just notice that works and they might just decide to click on the Install icon. For me, it's worth a try. For you, go ahead and keep on installing Debian or whatever for people. It's not bad, just a different approach.

Phil Hughes

How do we really get there?

KB's picture

The argument over what Linux is and is not is kind of a moot point. To Linux users, it's obvious. To your average computer user, Linux is something other than there system. It's just not there yet. I can convert people all I want, and they love what I give to them, but as soon as they run into an application they want or need (games mostly) that isn't available for Linux, they want their Windows back.

The real question is how did MS get there? They got there by making sure that their OS (dos) was installed on PC-clones, they got there by getting the developers to code for their OS, they got there with a pretty, easy-to-use (it really was at the time), experience for the user. They did it by making sure that everything a person wanted to do on their home computer was available with windows. When the internet blew up, and everybody started getting a computer, 3.11/95/98 was what they got. As a result, that's what their office got, b/c it drastically reduced the training (read: cost) required for new employees. But, the biggest thing MS did throughout the entire process, was marketing, even if it was a bit shady at times (see DR-DOS and the "inability" to run win3.11).

What does Linux have to offer? Making sure the OS is installed on their PC when they buy it, not yet, but Dell is offering Ubuntu now. Getting developers to create code for Linux, very much yes, and very much no. There are lots of people coding for Linux, but the leading edge games are not written for Linux. Pretty, easy to use experience for the user. Yes, very much so, and the change to Linux is easier than the change to Vista from XP, IMO. Is everything a person wants to do at home available for Linux? Not yet, games are the big one, and some of the alternatives to windows based apps are not up to par with the windows based apps. I keep a windows machine around for 3 things, Quicken (GNU-cash is pitiful), a slide/negative scanner that only has windows drivers available, and my wife. The biggest thing that MS ever did to help itself is marketing, and the only Linux distribution for the home with serious marketing behind it is Ubuntu.

So say what you will about not referring to Linux in general as Ubuntu, but as far as the general public is concerned, and as far as the future of Linux being a common 3rd option among regular joes, Ubuntu is the only Linux they ever hear about, and therefore IS Linux in their eyes. For Lnux to make it to the average household, MS has to be literally defeated at their own game. Marketing. MS is truly a remarkable story of marketing and sales in the sens that an inferior product came out on top, and dominated incredibly, because of marketing and sales. That fact CANNOT be ignored when trying to bring Linux into the mainstream. So far, Canonical (SP?) is the only one who has taken strides to do that. This will change, when Google decides to release their internal OS on the world, they are a marketing machine. Or when Red Hat decides that the desktop is important to their future and begins to take strides towards that. I feel their focus is correctly on continuing to increase their share of the server market.

I'm not an Ubuntu homer, I actually run Fedora on 3 computers, and a F9 USB persistent installation that I'm playing with, and Ubuntu on zero computers, though I did try out 7.10 for a while, and the new 8.04 from a liveCD for a few days.

This is supposed to be Linux Magazine not Ubuntu Magazine

tracyanne's picture

So lets have a whole lot less marketing of Canonical's products, unless they've paid for the ads, and a whole lot more time spent on Gnu/Linux distributions in general.

Of course the amount of time and effort you put into pushing Canonical's product, even in your most recent reply to me, is reason the suspect that they are paying you for all this press coverage.

Canonical has already paid for the ads

Anonymous's picture

It is difficult to understand what tracyanne's view is... but it seems short-sighted out of unmotivated anger against Canonical. Ubuntu/Canonical have a big presence in the Linux scenario. Therefore, they get (a proportionally high) press coverage. That's it! What's the problem? I know - and like - the *other big distributions*, too, and I do see them regularly covered in the press.

It is not all about money, you know? I don't think Canonical has to pay the press to get coverage. They *earned* it!

Please, correct if I'm wrong.

You never complained when Red Hat was all that got mentioned

Anonymous's picture

You never complained when Red Hat was the market buzz. IMHO, that was before many people knew enough about it to truly evaluate the merits of the various distros, from the standpoint of engineering, not marketing. People seem to be moving towards the Debian + Ubuntu based distros simply because they are more natural to use and thus easier to maintain. The basic philosophy of community development and support is more in keeping with the spirit of the GNU Project. When I search for an answer to a question at google, I get actual replies with answers instead of a web page expecting me to pay money to Red Hat before I can view the answer. Red Hat didn't pay every programmer for that software they sell, so those answers ought to be publicly available!

Long live Debian, Ubuntu, and the entire family of product lines based upon them! A very stable platform indeed.

That should read

tracyanne's picture

"a Linux magazine not an Ubuntu Magazine"

Re: That should read

Galactic-ac's picture

tracyanne, It's nice to learn there's somebody out there reading Linux Journal apparently even more irritated by *buntu-centrism than I am.

Hear hear. I use Gentoo on

P. Schorfheide's picture

Hear hear. I use Gentoo on my desktop and never came close to convincing any of my family to use it, and a few minutes with Ubuntu changed their minds in a hurry.

Your experience would apply to any of the Desktop Distributions

tracyanne's picture

All of them are easy t install are easy to use. In fact some have a much better record of installing on hardware than the one these turkeys keep on pushing at people, and don't require that newbies learn the CLI just to get the OS to work properly.

Once again you are spreading Mis-Information

tracyanne's picture

Enter Kubuntu/Ubuntu. For those people we can say:

1. Put this CD or DVD in your drive
2. Wait for it to start up
3. Try it out
4. If you like what you see and would rather run this than what you have, click on the install icon

This applies to quite a number of Linux Ditributions. Mandriva PCLinuxOS for example.

And yes I do care very much about this group of people. What I do is sell preconfigured Linux PCs or upgrade windows PCs (Both XP and Vista) to Mandriva Linux.

Unlike you, I am not willing to perpetuate a myth. To my customers Linux is Mandriva. Unlike you, however, I take the time to educate these new Linux users. Unlike you I don't perpetuate mis-information, I make sure they know that there is a whole world of choice out there, and That GNU/Linux is not just the distribution that I choose to use, and can support best.


Phil Hughes's picture

I guess I continue to miss you point—but at least I now understand why you are saying what you are saying.

I don't sell anything Linux-related. And I don't spread mis-information. I happen to know that I can hand someone a Kubuntu/Ubuntu CD or DVD, they can try it and then can click to install it. I have done this lots of times. And so I will continue to say that can be done.

Now that we know you sell a competing product, I think we all understand why you would like your product to get more press. Well, the way to do that is to make it worthy of more press. Canonical made a promose to release updates every six months and they have done it. They made a promise to make Linux easier to install, work on more hardware, ... and they have done it. And they continue to grab more and more Linux desktops. Canonical has gone as far as to mail you a DVD for free with them paying the postage. That is news.

Mandriva (the last time I checked) is not a bad distribution. I can see some people selecting it. Ok, fine. But, to get the kind of press coverage Canonical is getting, you actually need something that makes your product new, different or innovative. I am not sure that Madriva is doing that. If they are, great. Talk about it.

Now, rather than pick on "the press" for talking about what they see as news, maybe you need to reflect on how "selling" Kubuntu/Ubuntu rather than Mandriva might get you involved in all that talk.

Phil Hughes

Whatever happened to...

rickb928's picture

...the Linux Standard Base?

Would an LSB - based set of distros solve some of this? Start with LSB, add packages for your GUI, apps, security, specialization?

Some distros don't lend themselves to LSB - the embedded systems, perhaps. And your weather station or radio station might benefit from a more specialized, smaller distro.

And there goes the hope of a one-size-fits-all distro world. It doesn't take much to make a good case for many custom distros.

In the Windows world, ignoring the extreme examples of mobile devices wanting CE and Windows Mobile, you besically get a few flavors of Windows: Visa Basic/Premium/Ultimate, in the Home/Business versions, Windows Server whatever, and of course XP Home or Professional... Even in a fairly limited Windows world, there are what, 5 flavors of Vista?

If you look at the Linux world, the major players (Ubuntu, Suse, Fedora, and what, the rest?) constitute a not much different market, from the choices viewpoint. And if servers are included, then is it CentOS, and two others?

I see the Linux option of several different distros, with competing options, to be a good thing. Of course, if the LSB came to pass, would this put us in a position of being at greater risk from a kernel crack that could expose most distros, rather than the mishmash of various kernel revs now being distributed?

If it isn't the LSB, there is no unification force in Linux. Game over for now.

Like I said...

wintermute740's picture

Like I said in the other article, it's about the right tool for the job. But because I've been using Slackware for so long (since about version .96 or so), when asked for a recommendation on distros, I invariably say Slackware before even thinking about usage or the end user themselves. In a recent situation, I helped a friend install Slackware on a spare machine. A month or so later, he was recounting how he conquered installing some package or other that would have been trivial to install on another distro such as Ubuntu. I apologized for recommending Slackware without thinking, but he actually thanked me for my recommendation because he said it forced him to actually learn the OS.

One ring rules them ALL!

Anonymous's picture

One ring rules them ALL!

And in Redmond bind them...

John Bailey's picture

And in Redmond bind them...

The whole point of Linux is diversity!

pjharper's picture

There is a lot of FUD about needing one true Linux. For a lot of people Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse or Mandriva are great. They are easy to install, have helpful user communities and are therefore easy to learn. Debian is also pretty easy to install these days. Gentoo would be fine if I had broadband. They also have excellent docs and community. And let us not forget Slackware whose 12.1 DVD iso is slowly coming to me over the worlds slowest bittorrent in Cambodia! The Slackware people in my experience are very helpful to new users provided you ask clear questions.

I notice that most people don't wear the same clothes, drive the same cars and using the same brand of petrol/gasoline. We are all different and have different needs. If we did the readers of this Magazine would all be content with Microsoft products.

Business's users are in a different boat. They do require standardization. Simple pick a mainstream distro for your orgainsation, select good people and run it.

The rest of us are free to choose. And if Linux doesn't work for you...FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, OpenSolaris....

But don't make a monoculture of Linux. Don't believe me read: CyberInsecurity: The Cost of Monopoly How the Dominance of Microsoft's Products Poses a Risk to Security

"Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people's brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead." Arundhati Roy (Author)