How Many Distributions?
I have been seeing what I consider to be a disturbing trend in the Linux community. A computer wizard discovers Linux, decides it's cool, but doesn't think any of the current distributions are adequate. So, he gets together with a few of his friends and begins working on “yet another” Linux distribution. Don't get me wrong, these guys are great! They are investing a lot of time and effort in attempting to put together the “boss” distribution.
Somehow though, I can't help but feel that the community would be better served if these enthusiasts picked their favorite distribution and contributed toward making it the ultimate distribution. The more distributions are available, the more difficult it becomes for newcomers to make a choice and experts to keep up with them all. Even worse, as distributions become more and more divergent, Linux applications will not work on all of them. Thus, they are competitors with each other rather than united in competition with Microsoft and Apple.
In calling for a Linux Standard Base System Project, Bruce Perens said:
Binary compatibility between Linux distributions has become a casualty of the competition between them. There are vast differences in versions of libraries, etc., that make it difficult for a commercial application to target more than one Linux distribution. This fragmentation is one of the main reasons that UNIX was crippled in the computer market.
Bruce is right: there needs to be a base standard. Then, using that standard, programmers should contribute to their favorite distribution rather than creating a new one. Let's be sure that Linux doesn't follow the same path as UNIX.
In a similar vein, if the newcomer is not a programmer, he often chooses to create another resources web page rather than a distribution. Every week I hear of a new Linux page. Again, these pages have excellent material, but a lot of them duplicate each other. When another newbie looks for Linux information, he finds not just a few Linux pages, but many. Sorting through them all is time consuming and confusing. I think a better method for the new enthusiast would be to pick a page that's been around a while and appeals to him personally, then offer to contribute to it. Most webmasters for these pages are glad to receive current information.
SSC has always been willing to provide space for new sections and add information provided by others in order to ensure that our Linux Resources page is as comprehensive and attractive as possible. This attitude is not unique to us—slashdot.org and Linux Weekly News are other sites willing to accept contributions from the community.
I'm not saying we should have only one Linux distribution; we just don't need one for every new person who discovers Linux. The message here is, don't reinvent the wheel—pick your favorite distribution or resources page and help make it better.
In our October issue, we have a great article about how Cisco Systems is using Linux print servers worldwide. The author, Damian Ivereigh, discusses technical issues involved with the print system and provides the method and code for solving common problems. If you work for a large corporation (or even a small one) with chaotic print services, this article is a must read.
As usual, I had more articles for our graphics focus issue than would fit in this magazine. So, in our next issue we will continue this focus with an article about a set of audio tools for Linux called Sculptor. These tools can be used for manipulating audio spectra and providing continuous audio output.
Once again, Linux Journal has outsourced its subscription services; this time to a fulfillment house in Missouri City, Texas. We truly believe that in the long term, this solution will provide the best service to our subscribers. Unfortunately, this house was not prepared for the massive amount of e-mail LJ receives, and so is off to a shaky start. I apologize to those of you who got caught in this transition and did not receive timely answers to your mail. I expect that by the time you read this, all problems will have been solved, and services will be running smoothly.
Do your part to help cut down on the amount of e-mail subscription services receives. Before writing complaint e-mail, check our web site for your subscription status and finger email@example.com for the actual mailing date of the current issue.
6th USENIX Tcl/Tk Conference, September 14-18, 1998, San Diego, CA, http://www.usenix.org/events/tcl98/
ISPCON Fall '98, September 28-October 1, 1998, San Jose, CA, http://www.ispcon.com/
DECUS '98, October 3-8, 1998, Los Angeles, CA, http://www.decus.org/
Atlanta Linux Showcase, Second Annual, October 23-24, 1998, Atlanta, GA, http://www.ale.org/showcase/