Should Linux Standardize on a Single Distro?

When I demonstrate software for Linux Journal, I tend to use Ubuntu as my operating system. The reason is simply because Ubuntu is extremely popular, but it begs the question, should the Linux community standardize on a single distribution? Let's look at some of the pros and cons:

Advantages of a Single Linux Distro

  • Linux support would be simplified, as the quesion of "what distro" wouldn't be relevant.
  • Software vendors could release a single package that would install on all Linux desktops.
  • The apt/rpm/yum/up2date/synaptic wars would end.
  • Linux certification would be easier to define.
  • Tux would be everyone's logo. :)

I'm sure I could come up with many other advantages that a "One Distro to Rule Them All" idea would provide. The problem is that the disadvantages are so profound, I think it negates any validity to the first list. Just a few:

Disadvantages to a Standard Linux Distribution

  • A select few individuals at the top would control the present and future direction of Linux.
  • There would be no internal competition in the Linux community. How sad would it be if we only had Windows and OSX to compare ourselves to?
  • We lose the ability to choose, which is a fundamental part of everything Linux stands for.
  • We become a monolithic, bloated, close minded, inbred, operating system with no hope for innovation, and no motivation to think different.

Ok, I admit, the last point is starting to get preachy. It's important to realize, however, that our diversity is where we draw our strength. It's the community that empowers us. It's the freedom to choose that allows us find the solution that best fits our needs, instead of taking whatever vendor solution is provided.

So yes, I tend to use Ubuntu. For my purpose, it makes the most sense. Thankfully, you have the right to choose whatever you like. And that's the way it should be. Thanks Linux.


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.

Well sophisticated essay and

Billigflug's picture

Well sophisticated essay and well structured pros and cons you mention. But what´s most important is the main adavantage you pointed out: I wouldn´t change the strategy of Linux, as you say your community is your strenght, so why confuse it?

I am strongly against Linux

acid's picture

I am strongly against Linux "standardizing" into 1 distro. As many people have said, the choice is one of the best things about Linux. However, I would like to see the differant distros have a common package manager whether it is RPM, Synaptics, or whatever. As another person mentioned, it can be a pain to get a LAMP server up across differant distros... Things like that would be good. This way, more companies would start developing software to run on Linux making it a even larger competitor of MS and Mac, but still retain the Open Source views. I know many ppl who would like to use Linux, and have tried, but are too dependent on other OS's because of certain games/software that they want to use. But as far as making 1 standard distro.. no way. There are things about each distro that work to its advantage, and should stay that way. And if you tried to combine all the great points/features of each distro into 1 main one, then you would have 1 bloated, heavy OS that has too many features that most people would not use thus turning our beloved OS into another Windows.

What kind of standardization?

Masinick, Brian's picture

I would not mind if the commercial end of Linux software solidified on a common framework and the commercial vendor list stabilized between two to four sizable vendors, but as far as "Linux" overall, I think one of the main attributes, like it or not (I DO), is that you can mix and match, creating hundreds, if not thousands, of variations on a general purpose system. Most of the resulting systems are still general purpose in function, but do a few things exceptionally well. Linux is also well suited to paring down and forming a single purpose, specific system, which is why we see Linux kernels in embedded devices all the way up to some of the largest, massively scaled super computer multiprocessor clustered networks in the world.

So for me, I could care less whether Linux standardizes commercially or not as long as the underlying technologies continue to track the current computing trends and remain relevant to whatever is being done with hardware. Standards are nice when they encourage sharing and innovation, but should not be used to limit creativity.

OS vs Distribution

Fri13's picture

Okay, first we need to understand what Operating System really is. For most normal users, OS is that what Microsoft marketing has sold to users, that the OS is everything what you have on the Installation CD/DVD and OS includes support, brand, OpenOffice, Firefox etc. Wrong!

There is technical terminology what is OS. Operating System is not the whole package what you get when you install distribution, those are called as Products. Dont mistake OS and product, it's false and you are just playing to Microsoft pocket!

OS is software what allows you to use your computer and run your applications to do your job! When you browse web with firefox, you dont use firefox, when you write document with OpenOffice, you dont write it with your OS, you write it with Office application, when you edit your photos with GIMP or manage them with digiKam, you dont use your OS, you use those applications. What is OS then? It is API for hardware and other software. Operating System is software what is under software what you use to do your things.

Most users believe that GUI is THE Operating System. Wrong! It is not, it's just a software what is TOP of OS. Because we are now talking about GNU/Linux, what is very modular, free and Open Source, we need to understand what is OS. It is not what Microsoft markets, it is not clone of Microsoft broduct called "Windows NT" (what is rebranded for every new version, XP > Vista > Windows 7 and all versions has multiple versions/editions).

Microsoft went to court because it was using it's monopoly position to drive competitors away, it was called then browser wars. Before that, browser was not part of OS, it just came with it. Then Microsoft planned to integrate to OS to drive netscape away. Everything would be OK if Internet Explorer wouldn't be part of OS but OEM and other users could remove it, that wasn't possible because it was integrated to OS. Microsoft has integrated lot of stuff to OS, so those are part of OS. Many applications comes WITH OS, but ain't part of OS. Like Windows games and notepad etc, everything what isn't part of OS, can be removed from Add/remove panel.

GNU/Linux is different, you can get it and install it from source. You have just a OS, no applications, no GUI... just a command line. You dont do anything with it.
That's why we have distributions who takes OS and a lots of applications and makes a product from it what they sell or offer, all under GPL!

When you get Ubuntu and you browse web or listen music, you dont use OS, you just use those applications what came with OS. Dont think that those are part of OS.

Layers go:

Hardware > Operating System > Software platform > Applications. Operating system just offers a base for softwares to work. This is GNU/Linux! Microsoft windows is different OS and it has GUI intagrated to OS, it has browser intagrated and even mediaplayer. That's why EU gave 500 million payment to Microsoft because you couldn't remove those, so MS made Edition N what has WMP removed from OS.

Now, when we talk about we should have one distribution, we are actually talkin that we should have only ONE application to do every job. Because GNOME or KDE (any windowmanager or desktopenviroment) are just applications running top of OS. You can remove those and still you have OS but you dont have graphical desktop or applications what those offers. You can use commandline applications or other method to get graphical interface.

Now we have problem and it is called "Ubuntu". Sorry about it but it is problem for whole community. Because Ubuntu is using same market techniges like Microsoft. It is promoting iself as OS. It is marketing itself different OS than any other distribution. And it is BAD! Canonical is like Microsoft, it wasn money, nothing else. It's like Novell and Red Hat. They just need to obey GPL! They play nice so long as they need to community. Now if we take all other distributions expect one, we are in deep *it. because we give monopoly to that corporation.

There is people who are promoting Ubuntu as best OS ever... they dont understand that OS is somewhere under the GNOME, it's just somewhere there. It's like a city, you cant say is Bus- or trainline part of city, or are taxis part of city. You cant say that firefox or openoffice is part of OS because those ain't intagrated to OS, those are just apps what are running top of OS, you can remove them and your OS is still functional.

What we then need? We need that different distributions obey LSB and other similar standards, like free desktop etc. They work together with upstream coders and does not implent so much own stuff what brakes things. We need that OS is always the same, so closed source coders can relay that information that OS isn't changed for what they build their stuff. If they code it for software platform like Qt or GTK+, they dont need to know what OS is running under.

And there are people who are refering that "Distribution" means exacly same as "Operating System". Last time when I checked dictionary, there were no mention about OS need to include support, brand or any other stuff what is part of product what is sold by marketing it!

We need to stop calling the system as OS because it isn't true! I repeat, OS is just group of softwares under the GUI what makes applications to run together and talk with hardware.
The whole system what you install e.x when you install Ubuntu, isn't OS, OS is under everything, hided from eyes etc.

So, what is distribution? Different product from same OS. That's why we have different distributions, not different OS's. Windows NT (XP, Vista, 7) and GNU/Linux are different Operating Systems. MacOSX is different OS than GNU/Linux. Ubuntu, Mandriva and OpenSUSE are all same OS but different kind build to be different kinds products.

So do we need one distribution? Hell no! We are slipping to same position as Windows world, that there is only ONE company what rules all.

Even that we have so many different distributions, development isn't slower, actually it is faster because so many different kind coder can test different kind stuff and if it is proofed to work, other distributions take that code and implent it to itself.

GNU/Linux is the tree, roots are Open Source and GPL (freedom), and all appels and oranges what we collect from that tree, are GNU/Linux! We cant make OS what run everywhere unless it is Free and you can remove parts of it. Just like we now have! We have ONE OS what we can customise and we can sell it or give it away and sell support. We can bundle softwares with it for different products, what we still have ONE source, just many taste from it.

So, we dont need to try handle the community, the market. It evols itself and bad apples and oranges drop away by itself, no need to tell that people should work just one specific product!

Let give democracy and sosialism work together and evolve best tree (OS) for us so we can enjoy it's fruits! After all, we all are together here!

You know there really are

Anonymous's picture

You know there really are only two companies that make soap powder but sooo many brands. Every time one or the other wants to grab some more market share, hey - introduce another brand.

But we really do need standardisation - and to have a single package management system.

No! What's wrong with you?

ikaruga's picture

No! What's wrong with you? If there's only one distro -- there's no choice. Isn't that what Linux is all about?

Standardization on Linux sounds too much like M$

Anonymous's picture

I agree...what IS wrong with this person??? Why would anyone want to give-up on freedom and the ability to choose what works better for them. Only to have to settle for another Windows like way of computing.

Sounds too much like the practices of M$ to me. One system...oh mean soon we will have to wait for a release date of patches too right??? M$ are already feeling the damages of this way of thinking and practice.


C'mon guy!!! WHY???

I guess if you want to kill-off Linux this would be the approach to making that happen.

No two people are the why force us to be???

My two cents...LOL

Hang on a minute. A bit of balanced argument please.

Anonymous's picture

I thought that the point of this article was to create discussion not so that people can rant at each other.

Firstly I think that having a single distro would be wrong as there are lots of different distros for different purposes. It is easier than creating a massive OS that does everything.

I think it would be better if distros such as PuppyLinux and DamnSmallLinux were merged together to create a stand distros for small data capacity items like USB drives, this would allow for everyone of the two distros to work together and so improve it at a greater rate.
This could also work with big distros if the option given to choose the window manager and other parts of the OS.

On the other hand, if you really want the distro of your dreams then you should create it yourself and that if you wnat to pass it on you should name it a sub-distro of whatever type. If it is totally new and innovative then it should be labled as independent.

I also think that lists of a distros pros and cons and what is was designed for given so as to make it easier for people trying to get into Linux. Then they can make their own once they are comfortable with the OS.

OK, so the mergence of the distros would take a lot of time but surely it would make it easier in the future.

Even M$ have different

Anonymous's picture

Even M$ have different versions of Vista. One for work, one for home, one for blah...blah...blah! Do they all have the same functionality? I think NOT. One version works fine on a blazing fast computer...same version on a slower computer and you a get Puppy Linux-like look-n-feel. don't get what you want when the OS is proprietary! You have to settle for what's available and wait for fixes.

News Flash Bill and Steve...We are not in an prohibition era, you are not Al Capone, and we are not feenin for you product...even though the US is pretty much in recession.

Like I read earlier, a single distro is for those who think the distro they have is the better of them all. I'm sure they don't have the same exact hardware or interests in apps as everyone else that uses a computer, so why would their distro be the choice for all?

Linux = FREEDOM; not MAC not M$!

Even some MAC users rather install Linux distros on their brand new MACs, why, because they can...they have that choice!

A decision for the Market,

Anonymous's picture

A decision for the Market, not the Vanguard.

Minimal Standards

Jean-Luc Livi's picture

LSB. FHS. A standard packaging API (or equivalent). Standardization of configuration files.

All distribution should have a "compatible mode" that would fully respect those standards. However, to not throw away the benefits of diversity, distributions might *add* their distro-specific tricks. It would leave the choice to the user. Isn't that what we all want?

Just a thought...

Call it "Y" ?

esalkin's picture

If we have a single distro it should be named "Y" as in distroY because that is what it will do.

A better solution is a set of standards so that PHP is always in the same path and MySQL can be installed from any server with any installer on any distro without having to edit 15 files and recomple 6 others. My dream is to never have to use FIND again.

I want to choose a distro based on its real strengths not by how may apps have been "tweaked" to work with it.

i think the real issue is's picture

i think the real issue is some kind of standardized dependency notation so that a third party can create a kind of metapackage or something that can then be turned into a full distro package by reading the dependencies files and incorporating that into whatever package manager is being used by the distro of choice.

this preferably by said metapackage being doubleclickable by the user (but should not be a binary program or script file, but rather a file type linked to the package generator for that distro).

No Need

Ken Sarkies's picture

I don't see a need for this, and as others have said, you could never do it. But there is a need for a Linux platform which can be a focus for commercial software so that Linux can penetrate more into the home and workplace. The reason Windows dominates the latter is because a lot of specialized business software has been produced only for Windows. With enough pressure developers may port their software to Linux, but they are most unlikely to open-source it and they will only do it for a stable and carefully standardized distribution. Maybe Ubuntu is the one to provide this.

You are mostly right, I

Anonymous's picture

You are mostly right, I believe, that the need for a linux 'platform' (as opposed to a single 'distribution') is relevant. However, that platform is already forming, in the guise of a short list of popular distributions, that can work together with minor effort. Also, there's gnome and kde, which regardless of the distribution in which they're used can provide a more or less general platform for developers.
Furthermore, one is more likely to open source his or her software if the general platform is varied and requires minor adjustments to be made, and more likely to push for a closed source superpackage for the hypothetical single linux distro.

Also, I think it's the nature of the GPL that essentially prohibits a single distro from being the only one, since it allows forking and re-releasing. Just look at all the ubuntu derivatives. Once the need arises for customization, it will happen, possibly with drastic changes, and possibly more popular than the original.

"We become a monolithic,

Anonymous's picture

"We become a monolithic, bloated, close minded, inbred, operating system with no hope for innovation, and no motivation to think different."

oh, right... it's like extending what happens on the linux kernel to the rest of the OS

one single LINUX

petez's picture

NO. Ubuntu has not worked for me. I have tried it on 3 different computers, one Intel two AMD. I have tried Kubuntu too and other flavors of it like MINT and PCUser, if they installed they all crashed before the week was over. I have on MY drive openSUSE, MANDRIVApowerpack2008, SABAYON3.4e, PCLos, SUSEsled, installed and am able to log to either of them work and update.Other people only use UBUNTU especially the magazine writers. ONE single DISTRIBUITION will not work. LINUX is a multitude of IDEAS that cannot all be contained in a workable solution. LINUX is DIVERSITY.


diversity can't work together?

vhrocker's picture

"LINUX is a multitude of IDEAS that cannot all be contained in a workable solution. LINUX is DIVERSITY."

So what you are saying is... diversity can't integrate? With your ideology, America is screwed... right?

I disagree, but agree a little with what I THINK you are trying to say in his sentence. Linux, like America is made up of many people (working) together. America: people of different cultures; Linux: people of different ideas.

But America has law and order (BTW, I love the show). Like each American state each has its own law, they all share the common federal law... and each state's law can not conflict with federal law (unless Constitutionality is not an issue).

The idea is that standards need to exist; and they do, for a reason. We have IEEE standards, for example all Wireless cards should work the same. We have web standards, such as web browsers displaying pages the same (though more work needs to be done on this). Likewise, Linux distros should have a standard way of working, installing programs, and having those programs interface with other programs in a standard way. It still leaves diversity, style, and performance functionality to be customized.

Possible point of standartization

Anonymous's picture

Let's go through the list:

Linux support would be simplified, as the quesion of "what distro" wouldn't be relevant.

Single distro is not necessary, it is enough to explain to users that if they want cheap answers to silly questions, they should use Ubuntu (or other distro delegated to that role)

Software vendors could release a single package that would install on all Linux desktops.

That is, you want to make it easier for closed source application vendors to bypass distribution vendors. Will not work for obvious reasons, but will have a beneficial side effect of making distribution vendor's work easier.

The apt/rpm/yum/up2date/synaptic wars would end.

If Yum was better than Rpm for the needs of Rmp users, they would have used it. This wars do not hurt anybody.

Linux certification would be easier to define.

Do we need sertified apps or high quality apps? Closed source crap vendors need sertification most to hide their fialures.

So, the only real benefit from going to a sigle distro is that maintaining that distro will be easier. The problem is not to get an RPM from software vendor, it is to get something from the vendor that can be easily turned into an Rmp or whatever.

It is sufficient to standardize on a single meta distro, sort of Gentoo; in particular, prohibit RPATH. But how can a vendor be FORCED to provide something in a given format so that it is easy to make any package, be it Deb, Rpm, or Tgz? A pipe dream...

Stupid article of the year award

drokmed's picture

What a stupid idea. I can't believe your editor let you submit something like this.

What's next? Too many OS's? Everyone stop using Linux and go back to Windows?

One Ring Rule Them All

Anonymous's picture

One Ring Rule Them All!

The right tool for the job...

wintermute740's picture

It's all about the right tool for the job. I use Ubuntu on one of my notebooks, simply because it's the only distro that "just works" on this specific notebook. In general, my distro of choice is, and always has been, Slackware (I even have a pipe-smoking Tux tattoo on my ankle), but I just don't feel like tweaking it for this one notebook. I use Mythbuntu on my DVR. Most of my servers run Slackware, but my firewall runs Debian. I've also run RedHat on one of my servers because it was supported by the hardware vendor while other distros left me on my own.

"We become a monolithic,

Anonymous's picture

"We become a monolithic, bloated, close minded, inbred, operating system with no hope for innovation, and no motivation to think different.".... We Become M$ Winblows!

standadize components instead of distro

beso's picture

the distro standardization is a very bad idea, but the standardization of some components is good.
for example the standardization should consist in where the configuration and the shared libs are installed. i've seen ubuntu doing some stuff, gentoo having the config managed in different way and opensuse in another one, the shared libs installation is also a little different between the various distros. so, the best thing to do is to standardize some base stuff like this one so that a stuff that is able to install on rhel could be able to find its dependencies also on gentoo for example. one example of this is oracle db that is a pain to install on distros different than the ones officially supported.

We already do that

Warmotor's picture

If we code for SDL, our compiled binaries are garanteed to work on any modern distro. SDL is also easily portable to other Operating Systems and trumps trying to access resources directly via the kernel.

Programming for Gnome or KDE yields usable results on those respective environments, although it's admittedly less universal. The file system is pretty much constant, the back-end stuff is universal... aside from compiling an RPM vs. an apt package I don't see where the compatibility issue lies. My binaries work on every distro I've thrown at them so far.

I think we're all making mountains out of mole-hills. Can someone please give me an example of a linux executable that is exclusive to one branch of distros?

This couldn't be done.

MaximB's picture

While I'm aware of the advantages of a single distro I say it also couldn't be done, not practicably and it doesn't fit into "our communities ideology".
It's all about choice as you know, and you can't forbid someone making his own distro.
5 years ago Ubuntu wasn't popular, it was Red Hat who ruled the enterprise, and guess what ? we didn't have more programs then now.
As long as we got the source, every program could be made to work with any distro.

Another disadventage of one distro to rule them all is...

Anonymous's picture

Companies can make their software closed source which is what Linux is all about. Also things like drivers, would also be cloesd source (no need to then share source code)

Should Linux Standardize on a Single Distro?

mrdtr's picture

No, no, no. I think the fact that there are specialized distros for different uses, such as Scientific Linux, is a huge plus for linux. Plus I like having the choice that linux distro's offer me, and don't want that taken away - if I wanted one choice to choose from, I would have stayed with Windows or Mac.
Besides the kernel, the only other thing that I think that would be better off with standardization, is package management. It would surely simplify installation of software for everyone involved from the creators of software to the end user.

We need diversity

Anonymous's picture

Ubuntu may be well packaged for single-user desktop distribution and small home-office server, but it's quite lacking in the enterprise space. There are a lot more than is required in setting up systems in an enterprise, and Ubuntu is not it. Red Hat has had years of experience there, and Fedora reflects that.

There is a reason why Red Hat and Fedora is popular, and if you don't know why, then that's because you don't know much about enterprise infrastructure.

I'd rather have one single core system (linux) but various packaging and distributions to suit different needs. I tried Ubuntu every time a new version came out, and it never met my expectation compared to Fedora.

I use a small linux distribution for a wireless router, Fedora/Red Hat for enterprise setup, server-only data processing system using Debian, and Ubuntu for my boss's desktop. They are all linux, and each has its strength for what it's designed. I'd like to keep linux that way.


James Sparenberg's picture

If you do then you move from "something for everyone" to "nothing for anyone"

NO! That's missing the whole

Anonymous's picture

NO! That's missing the whole point of linux..


T. J. Brumfield's picture

Ubuntu all but completely ignores KDE, has had numerous buggy releases, is pretty fanatical about free-only packages, and gives the user very little choice.

If the Linux world standardized to that distro alone, they'd destroy most of the advantages they hold over Windows.

I don't think we need hundreds of distros, and I'd love to see more consolidation and cooperation, but certainly not one distro.

I'd like to see the entire community support say RHEL/CentOS for server purposes.

I'd like to see Fedora/SUSE combine and work together towards making the best desktop RPM-based distro, with strong support for both Gnome and KDE.

I'd like to see Debian/Ubuntu/Mint combine and work together towards making the best DEB-based distro, and wake up to KDE. Kubuntu is pathetic.

There are some other niches, such as Media Centers, or DSL, source-based distros, etc. However, hundreds of distros are a bit extreme.

Re: Ubuntu?

Joe Mama's picture

Ubuntu all but completely ignores KDE, has had numerous buggy releases, is pretty fanatical about free-only packages, and gives the user very little choice.

Actually Fedora is more fanatical than Ubuntu about the "freeness" of its packages.

Don't forget Debian.

Tuxly_Tuxford_McTuxtington's picture

Don't forget Debian.

Obviously, the answer is no, "Linux" shouldn't--and can't anyway

Terrell Prude', Jr.'s picture

The question itself is worded very poorly. "Linux" is a kernel. It cannot "standardize" on a distro any more than GCC or tar can.

I think the question you really wanted to ask is, "should Linux *users* and/or *developers* standardize on a single distro?" Now, that question actually makes sense. I'll attempt to answer that one.

No, I don't believe that we should, necessarily. Let people have choice. On the x86 thick-client desktop, I prefer Slackware and Ubuntu. On the server, I prefer Debian and CentOS/RHEL. On my PowerPC boxes, I prefer Yellow Dog Linux.

And then there are the thin-client scenarios, where LTSP is a wonderful tool. Among the turnkey LTSP distros, K12LTSP, which is Red Hat-based, is currently second to none. Edubuntu has come a long way over the last couple of years as well and continues to advance.

The fact that Ubuntu exists is evidence of why we don't want to "standardize" on a single distro. Debian was great back in the day...once you got it going. But getting to that point was challenging for relative newbies. I actually found Slackware easier to install than Debian back then! Well, along came Ubuntu and basically made "Debian for Dummies" (yes, I count myself among the "dummies", still). Guess what? Debian's a lot more user-friendly now, largely for that reason.

All these teams coming up with cool're going to get cross-pollination. Since it's all Free Software, such cross-pollination is not only very legal, but also very encouraged! That's how we move ahead. Using the Ubuntu example, that's how Debian's moving ahead.

So, what *should* we do?

We should insist that any of our software is coded to truly open standards. We should code to the standards, not just GNOME or KDE or XFce, whenever possible. We should use standard interfaces, not "distro-specific" stuff, when we write our code. In the vast majority of cases, this is exactly what happens. We just need to keep doing that.

We also need to ensure that we *officially* test our software on not just several GNU/Linux distros, but also the BSD's. and Firefox are canonical examples of why this needs to be done more.

So no, "Linux" shouldn't "standardize" on a distro. What we *should* standardize on is an attitude of cooperation between the various teams that make the distros. And we should standardize on an attitude of writing all apps to be cross-distro (e. g. not RPM or DEB, but TGZ).


Life is too complicated

FredR's picture

Yes, standardize. Things are too complicated, and I'm getting old. I say, why stop at Linux? We should have one type of car, one type of ice cream, and one type of $thing_society_argues_about.

Beyond that bit of sarcasm... there's many different types of people. There's always going to be many different ways of doing the same things. Name 10 things you did today. I bet if I did the same 10 things, and we compared notes, we did them completely differently. Our environment, our upbringing, and other daily factors helped us decide on how to accomplish those 10 things.

So there's always going to be many Linux flavors. The RedHat way to do things, the Debian, way to do things, the Ubuntu way to do things.

Think about perl. Plenty of people can write the same perl program many, many different ways. If you're a perl programmer (I'm barely one), and I recognize you're better than I am, we'll settle in our pecking order... you'll convince and influence me your ways may be better, and there are reasons why.

I think it's a good thing Linux interest is growing. The multitude of different distributions is a tribute to that.

-- FLR or flrichar is a superfan of Linux Journal, and goofs around in the LJ IRC Channel

Good Thought, Right Conclusion

Mark R. Hinkle's picture

Shawn, I think that you hit the nail on the head. While having a standard distribution would help Linux (especially on the desktop) reach critical mass. That lack of diversity among developers and projects would negate one of Linux' greatest strengths.

mmmmm ice-cream

uxe1's picture

ive noticed, that those who like Linux LOVE LINUX, and thats because its like ice cream. i like chocolate you like strawberry, but both of us agree that Neapolitan isn't very good. it might be nice to standardize some of the package managers and the like, but choice is what makes Linux, well Linux

Linux preach

Anonymous's picture

What do you want people to think when someone says "Linux"? "Ah.. Linux, hmm, the latest is Hardy Heron isn't it?".

That's wrong.

When I think Linux it's: "Linux.. FREEDOM. CHOICE."

Yes, that's correct. The best thing about Linux is that you have so much choice. And the choice should remain balanced. I don't think it would be good if everybody suddenly started to praise Ubuntu.

But if we need some basic standards? I'm not sure.. I think distros like Ubuntu makes basically everything rather easy so I don't think it's necesary to focus on standards to be more user-friendly. I mean, why should ArchLinux for instance, be "newbie-friendly"?

I think one of the (many) pros of Linux is because it has _no_ standards (except for a Linux kernel and package-manager maybe). If a standard distro was created, it would be very easy to destroy Linux. Linux is currently divided into so many open projects that such a thing is simply impossible.

The most importing thing is that the different "standards" can work on other Linux systems which they were intended to, and that they do (it's not impossible at least).

Standardized Linux is necessary for mass-market appeal

Golodh's picture

Yes in the sense that the current gaggle of Linux distributions has no merit for end-users. For hobbyists, yes, for users with specialist requirements, yes, but not for ordinary desktop users (the vast majority of PC users). It's annoying, confusing, and it keeps Linux down because it keeps Linux fragmented.

I hear that Linux as an OS has finally matured enough that it can recede into the background. Great! If Linux is to achieve dominance on the desktop, it must offer a good end-user experience (especially for dumb end-users who do not want to see a command-line prompt anywhere and who never read any documentation). Mass-market appeal in other words.

In order for that to happen, the current "divergent" development effort (where you get lots of GUI experiments and radical changes every 3 months or so) needs to turn into a "convergent" one (where *one* approach is selected as "best practice" and honed to perfection). We have seen this happen in the kernel, we are seeing it in the window managers (KDE and Gnome), and it's about time we start seeing it in the distributions.

I think that those who oppose such standardization on grounds that it makes Linux too easy to use ("I'm fed up with you newbie Linux users trying to turn it into Windows") should be ignored as the hormonal teenage boys they are.

Windows dominates the desktop because it's good enough for 90% of people, fairly user-friendly, quite uniform and ubiquitous, and of course because it comes bundled with the hardware. The "Windows" experience is determined first by the applications, and only in second instance by the OS. As a case in point, I personally install Total Commander (a Norton Commander clone), Qedit, and Mozilla, as the first programs on any new Windows computer and from then on never have any dealings with "Windows Explorer" or "Internet Explorer" anymore, and I only use Windows to start my applications and to drive the clipboard. I think that puts the OS in its proper place: out of the way.

Linux may win on price, freedom, reliability, resistance to malware and hacking, but it still looses out because you can't _count_ on thoughtlessly installing package xyz on distribution abc by downloading and then double-clicking on it, and then expect it all to work. Despite all the package managers.

That's an unforgivably poor user-experience which ensures that end-users (meaning people who start up their PC to accomplish something, not teenagers who have nothing to do except play around with the OS) will get irritated. On Windows it just works (well ... by and large). That's the difference. As long as that persists Windows has the advantage.

In addition, on the application front, you have the "let's try something new" school of programming. A most worthy attitude, and one that may well result in improved software.

However ... when I use Linux, I always install Mozilla as my browser, I stay away from KDE- and GNOME-specific browsers. Simply because I think Mozilla is good enough, and I don't want to have one IDE here and another one over there. This is an even more dangerous fragmentation than the fragmentation of the distributions.

An insightful comment by earlier posters is that you might be able to make do with API-standardization. That would mean *one* directory structure, *one* place where software can find out everything that's installed (In Windows that's called the Registry). Then you could standardize on *one* package format and *one* installer. And make those work intuitively and flawlessly across *all* distributions.

One Distro - Less bugs/complications - No Support Contracts

Anonymous's picture

Lets face it If there is only one distro then there would be less bugs better application integration, better usability, more intuitive, It would probably just work. Isnt that what computers were meant to do.

But who could sell support contracts then?

Just for an instance think about this. If there were 13 different versions of the linux kernel with 13+ git repositories each being independently worked on, do you think it would be as stable as it is today. I think even linus would need to buy a support contract to use linux.

Sir, the final point of your

Anonymous's picture

Sir, the final point of your list of arguments for standardization is specious. Whether you know it or not, Tux already IS everybody's logo.


Webmistress's picture

I would argue that Tux is a "mascot." Distributions have widely varying logos. In particular, I am quite fond of the openSUSE Chameleon and the Puppy Linux Puppy.

Katherine Druckman is webmistress at You might find her on Twitter or at the Southwest Drupal Summit


Shawn Powers's picture

I was just being silly. I tend to do that. :)

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.

Standardization - yes

martin jasny's picture

With a universal standard (Debian would be the best, ubuntu second best, because some Debian packages are broken on ubuntu) Linux would get a tremendous boost. There would still be some marginal distributions to increase the choice. So we would still have the choice.

Without standardization, ALL Linux distributions are going to be only marginal. We would have the same choice as above, but much more work to install Linux and applications, chase for drivers etc.


Anonymous's picture

*cough* Uh, how about BSDs...? What advantages have they provided, and disadvantages incurred? Seems like a unified linux distro looking-glass to me...


Anonymous's picture

No, no, then again no. One of the main advantages of linux is the ability to choose. Beyond that being able to extend how you see fit. Distro's should however adhere to the Linux Standards Base (LSB) and the File Hierarchy Standard(FHS).


Cherita Chen's picture

For everyone reading this thread - this is the only post yet that has any merit (other than the parent).

The rest of you wannabes need to keep your uninformed opinions and FUD out of the limelight as that's what hurts Linux more than anything else.

And for you "Linux Journal", stop dumbing down your magazine to cater to these morons. Am I the only one who is seeing this?

multiple posts deleted

Webmistress's picture

Please feel free to contact me if you are having trouble with comments. Thanks.

Katherine Druckman is webmistress at You might find her on Twitter or at the Southwest Drupal Summit

Standardize APIs not the distros.

Anonymous's picture

I agree with many of you, we need some sort of API standardization. Standardizing the APIs does not mean each distro has to be the same, but each distro would meet a minimum standard. Setting standards would help upstream developers assure their products would be usable with minimal tweeking.

An example of meeting minimum requirements is the 802.11 wireless standard. Companies like Linksys, Netgear, Cisco, Belkin, etc.. meet the standards of this specification, but they add there own twist and features to the products they sell. Doing so, allows end users to feel comfortable any wireless product they use will work with any other wireless product on a basic level. The advanced features of each product is what sets each product appart from the other.