Linux and plethorization

by Doc Searls

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.