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.comment: Separated By a Common Operating System - page 4

From Disaster Arises . . . More Disaster

  • June 27, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

In its 7.2 distribution, SuSE goes far in making Linux very easy for the newbie. But in so doing, it gratuitously makes life tougher for the Linux user who has been around the block a time or two. It tries to lock users into getting software only as binaries from SuSE -- RPMs for other things such as XCDRoast often just won't work with SuSE 7.2 (nor is SuSE alone in this; other distributions seem equally bent on fragmenting Linux into oblivion) -- and it not only supposes that users employ its cute little configuration tools, it flat-out insists on it, to the point of actually undoing changes made by other means. The Corel refugee won't much care, but somebody coming from Caldera will probably be pretty irritated, with good reason. It makes sense for SuSE to welcome such persons rather than do things for no apparent purpose other than to render useless their existing knowledge of Linux.

This column started out in the hope of comparing Progeny with SuSE; that fell apart when I realized that Progeny's take on things, inherited from the Debian to which I understand it remains true, is just too different from the RPM-based-distributions' way of doing things for me to learn it in a short time. What I went on to discover, though, is that the lumping together of RPM-based distros really can't be done, either. They are beset by incompatibilities such that they might as well be different operating systems (with some exceptions for people who compile their own stuff, presuming that they remember to install the -devel version of everything, which is also ridiculous). Knowledge of one distribution has little to do with any other distribution. This sort of thing occasionally results in indignant howls, as when Red Hat shipped gcc-2.96. Usually, though, it goes largely unnoticed. But it has its effect, and that is confusion among prospective users. Not long ago, if you got a Linux distribution you got Debian, Slackware, or something else, and the something elses were largely interchangeable as to what they installed -- the differences were in installation and configuration tools, the newness of the stuff included, and what applications were provided. Upgrading was fairly simple, because an RPM for one would probably work for all. And Linux desktop use grew.

Now incompatibilities are being introduced hand over fist, as distributions fight for a bigger and bigger piece of a diminishing pie, until oneday one will own all of nothing. Does this do anything useful for the distributions, users, Linux, anybody? Well, no. And while I've singled SuSE out because it's the one where I've most recently encountered this nonsense, no distribution is exempt. If Microsoft were to cook up a plan to cause Linux to disappear in a virtual Tower of Babel it could scarcely be more effective than that which has been adopted by distributions on their own, voluntarily.

Churchill's words ring true.

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