Will Every Linux Distro Soon Look the Same?

Last week was one of those weeks on the Linux blogs where every thread seems to boil down to the same message, as if coordinated by invisible cosmic forces.

Fedora 9 was unleashed, of course, bringing joy to the hearts of many. Perhaps more notable than the details of the release itself, however, was its timing.

Specifically, it hasn’t escaped the notice of astute Linux bloggers that Fedora 9, Ubuntu Hardy Heron and OpenSuSE 11 have all arrived in remarkably quick succession. Indeed, Ubuntu’s Mark Shuttleworth even just sounded a call for coordinated release cycles among the major Linux distributions.

That news in itself caused some consternation both on Shuttleworth’s blog and on Slashdot, where more than 200 comments appeared within about 24 hours.

Spotlight on Ubuntu

On LXer, meanwhile, gsh raised the related question of whether Ubuntu is “stealing thunder” away from Linux in general and other distributions.

Then there was the recent review in InformationWeek, “Linux Shootout: 7 Desktop Distros Compared,” that got picked up on Slashdot, provoking a lively debate there.

The icing on the cake was ChannelWeb’s side-by-side comparison of some of those distros, pointing out in particular the growing similarity among them.

Taken together, it seemed to be a single, unified Linuxy theme emanating from the blogosphere.

E Pluribus Unum?

“It’s looking more than ever like an evolution to a common interface for major Linux distributions,” wrote Anonymous on Slashdot. “Would this be a good thing or a bad thing?”

If the goal is to get more people into Linux, then “some commonality across the major distros might be a good thing,” wrote psychodelicacy. “On the other hand, it’s not so great for the smaller distros if we get a kind of monolithic Linux which dominates the market and means that people are less willing to try something different.”

On the other hand: “I think the best thing that could happen for Linux on the desktop is for one of the two major environments (I don’t care which) to become THE standard, supported Linux X desktop standard,” countered Reality Master.

“I know, choice is good. So is focusing your efforts on making one usable product that people can standardize on,” Reality Master continued. “Don’t even think of it as a product, think of it as a protocol. HTTP won out over Gopher, and the first is everywhere and makes all kinds of apps able to talk to each other; the second is a (fondly, for me) remembered also ran. And that’s a good thing.”

Have Cake, Eating It Too

With so many choices currently on the market, the question is a compelling one. What if they did mostly converge into one or two basic iterations?

“I do see a continuing trend for Linux as it tries to become more user friendly, which seems to be driving it to a more unified standard look and feel,” Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. “Unfortunately, this tends to translate to a Windows desktop, which I think is far from a perfect interface for users, and is not the best choice. But, if you want the masses to feel comfortable, you drive your interface to something they’re familiar with.

“That said, there is still good news,” yagu continued. “The beauty of the Linux world is how highly configurable it is, so for those who want to be different (think different?), they can configure their desktop to be virtually anything they want. We (Linux users) get to eat our cake and have it too!”

‘A Moot Point’

Indeed, “Commonality in some aspects of Linux is not necessarily a bad thing,” Foogazi blogger Adam Kane agreed. “It allows for more uniformity amongst all of the distros out there.”

If there were a common, default installation interface among all Linux distros, “it would be much easier to switch distros and feel comfortable if you desired,” Kane pointed out. “I’m not saying that this uniformity has to be required, but having it as a default, or as an option would do a lot of good for the community.”

Of course, in the end, “it’s really a moot point,” Kane told LinuxInsider. “Linux allows you the freedom to customize your interface however you’d like.”

Counterpoint: Flexibility Trend

Release schedules notwithstanding, “there’s very little desire to make a SINGLE appearance to GNU/Linux — in fact, it’s just the opposite,” Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider.

“I’ve seldom heard people argue, ‘I wish my desktop looked just like the next guy’s!’, but rather ‘I wish KDE handled themes better, I’d like to change this aspect…,” Dean added. “I think the movement towards flexibility is gaining a lot of steam.”

Something for Everyone

As for Ubuntu, “I don’t think it’s stealing anyone’s thunder,” Gerhard Mack, a Montreal-based consultant and Slashdot blogger, told LinuxInsider. “There has always been that one distro that’s more popular than the rest, so I expect it will stay that way until Ubuntu gets overtaken by someone else. Anything that drives more people to Linux without bastardizing the system too much can’t possibly be a bad thing.”

In the end, “the fact that there are so many distros shows the strength of the Free Software ecosystem,” Dean concluded. “The fact that so many exist, and stay alive, indicate that different people’s needs are being met.”

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