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Seeking the One True Linux: Is Linux Distro-hopping a Thing of the Past? - page 2

One True Linux

  • February 24, 2010
  • By Brian Proffitt

Bigger, less humorous, problems can occur if users get "siloed" into their distributions and stop looking beyond their horizons for solutions that they might be able to use. While cross-pollination of features between distributions happens more at the developer level, closing down another potential vector of idea-sharing is not usually a good thing.

Still, despite these disadvantages, I do believe that at the user level, the net effect of more users staying with their "home" distros is ultimately positive. The diversity of Linux is something I have long advocated, but there is truth in the saying "a jack of all trades is master of none." Besides, most power users may tease other distros, but in the end, a good feature is a good feature and these users will recognize that.

The tricky part in all of this is making sure that users (and the developers they work with) don't become so siloed that they work on their own distribution to the exclusion of all else. In the old days, when developers were royalty of Linux and user needs were treated like requests from the peasantry, this happened a lot. You would easily see applications that were tied to one distribution and other apps that performed the same functionality on other distros.

Eventually, this practice died down, but the issue of packaging applications was still a hurdle. Yeah, there was an RPM package for my app, but heaven help me if I was running a Debian-based distribution, or vice versa.

This is, occasionally, still a problem, but savvy developers who are listening to their user communities more than ever are using build services to make packages for various distros or creating installation scripts to get an application going regardless of the ultimate destination. Other tools, like the Linux Standard Base and the Linux AppChecker, also aid developers with application portability.

The upshot of all of this is that unless it's something that is very distro-specific (like YaST, Yum, or APT), most applications built for Linux are going to have less problems today running across multiple distributions.

Now that this is the case, and now that Linux apps are becoming so feature-rich, hunting around for new distros to get new features and apps really is a thing of the past.

Still, I don't expect distro-hopping to go away anytime soon. Linux is still a platform where the endless tweakers and hobbyists can still have some fun. Sometimes I see some cool eye candy and get distro-envy myself. It won't be a disaster if the practice continues.

But I do believe that individual distributions will be stronger the less migratory their users are. At the end of the day, stronger distros mean a stronger Linux for users.

Brian Proffitt, former ruler of Linux Planet, is a Linux and Open Source expert who writes for a number of publications, including Linux.com and ITWorld. Formerly the Community Manager for Linux.com and the Linux Foundation, he is the author of 17 Linux and Open Source works, including The Joy of Linux. His online works are read by nearly a half million people on a daily basis.

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