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.

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