Your views wanted: are there too many distros?


Our podcast is released every two weeks, and in our regular Open Ballot section we ask you, our readers, what you think - and there's no room for sitting on the fence, because your answer needs to be either "yes" or "no" along with any explanation you feel like attaching.

We're about to record our third episode, so it's time to tell us what you think: are there too many Linux distros? Is such a thing even possible, or do we already have so much choice that newbies are overwhelmed with Ubuntu respins containing nothing more than a different wallpaper?

Tell us in the comments below, and we'll read out the best in the episode!

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Your comments


No there are not too many distro's.
I know there are not enough distro's because I can never quite find exactly what I am looking for in a distro for a given machine and have to tweak and fiddle. Some may say that what I am looking for is a distro to tweak and fiddle with, but this is true on only one of my machines.

Yes and no

My answer is no, there are not too many distros, but it's a fact that there are too many SIMILAR distros. Also another thing I don't like is that there are too many people working for too many distros: most major distributions seem to aim at the same kind of target, and I think this is a waste of resources.
At the end of the day the pluralism is what makes Linux great by a certain point of view (if you're the type to appreciate this freedom... on the other hand many will say that the fact that Mac is one and it's made to run only on Apple machines makes it great too, it's a matter of tastes), and I believe the problem with Linux is not in its distributions, which are proving to become better day by day, but still lies in the poor support of professional developers and hardware manufacturer.

Yes, there are too many

Yes, there are too many distros.

The good thing is that there are only 3 major ones (OpenSUSE, Fedora, Ubuntu) and for most of the cases you're fine just supporting those.

And no, having a different wallpaper and preinstalling one more program than your competitor does not make the OS any more superior.


There are too many distros, yes. But we still need a few to do certain things by default (for a certain purpose).

The main ones should satisfy most users, Ubuntu, Mandriva, openSUSE, Fedora, Debian. They all do different things.

The rest occupy a quite niche market... I think new users are a bit confused as to which to choose, even if they have a chooser.

But we've got quite enough of "Just because I can" distros that are not maintained and "I'll just put a different window manager on Ubuntu and call it something different" distros.

I'm making my own distro, but it's aimed at very small computers and netbooks, offering a simple interface... from scratch. But my rant is that people who take an existing distribution, change it a tiny bit and re-release it are quite foolish.

No. it's about choice!

Isn't this like saying are there too many different cars on the road? Isn't it all about choice?
While some would like an Audi R8 (Er.. me, if there's a free one going!) others are happy with a Morris Minor. Both get you from A to B.
Most Distros have different attributes; fast boot, small footprint, suit netbooks/media boxes, etc.
It's also one up on Windows... Windows users have to shell out for whatever applications they want to attain their "Distro" of choice. We Linux people are spoiled! Keep it that way!


There are not too many distros. Are there more than we need? Perhaps. But I don't think such a thing as to many Linux distros is possible. The problems created by having many distributions are outweighed by the benefits.


Yes, there are too many distros.

One great thing about open source is that anyone can take an app / OS, make some changes and redistribute it. But why call it a new distro. Why can't we call Linux Mint a variation of Ubuntu. And, taking that a step further, can't we just call Ubuntu a variation of Debian?

The way I see it, we've got a few main branches (OpenSUSE, Fedora / Red Hat, Debian, Mandriva) with lots of respins hanging off each one.

If we were to limit the way the term distro is used, perhaps newbies wouldn't be so overwhelmed by the choices on offer. When I switched to Linux, I would have loved for someone to say to me

"Here are your four choices: Mandriva, Debian, OpenSUSE and Fedora. The positives and negatives of each one are ... ... and once you've made your choice, you can then take your time investigating a subset of variations, until you find the one that suits you the most".

I think...therefore, the

I think...therefore, the number of distros should be limited to 365. One for each day of the year.


There can't be too many. It's like saying "are there too many pieces of OSS?". Each one was created for a particular purpose. If you said "let's just have x distros", you'd have so many needs going unfulfilled.

Differentiation and findability

A Linux distro is like having your own customized OS. So one would imagine a loooong wizard that asks you what you plan to do with your new machine, and then selects the best distro to suit your needs. Or better yet, creates a new distro out of your answers.

Of course, that's way too idealistic, but I think that people create their own distros based upon their specific itches.

Constrast this with Windows or MacOS X which come in one or a handful of flavours. What the OS designers did in those companies is to imagine or research the most common usages across their user base, which they then used to make decisions on how to package the OS. Ubuntu and OpenSUSE can be said to work similarly, although they have the advantage of a much larger inventory of software components (which is also a burden to integrate).

So is having many distros (how many are there? around 400 on DistroWatch) a good or bad thing?

As with most other things, depends how we deal with them. DistroWatch makes an honorable attempt at inventorying and indexing the available distros. On their search page, for example, you can choose many criteria to limit your search. Unfortunately, it's an old-school site that doesn't benefit from user recommendations and other Web 2.0 niceties - which could be useful in that case to let people recommend distros to each other etc.

The problem that remains is symptomatic of the whole open source movement: how to reach the mass market (Windows users) with that seemingly messy situation? That's not for Linux distros specifically to worry about, and besides, I think Ubuntu is becoming the "default" distro for Linux-curious people. We can thank them for this.

It Depends on Where you are coming from

I'm at the moment of my computer life, thinking whether I want to switch from Windows to a Linux distribution.

I know about all the major distributions, Fedora, Red Hat, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Debian. I've listened to a number of linux podcasts, read a number of websites, even read magazines and their reviews of different distributions of linux, and I'm so confused I don't know where to start. Based purely on this information, there are too many distributions.

However, since people like to have individual customisations of linux, then I'd be happy to have websites sharing all the packages required for people to move from the base installation, to a more customised installation of their chosen distribution. If people who chose this path wanted to share their 'distribution', then they can provide installation instructions to achieve the desired result from the main linux distribution.

I know that seems more difficult for newer people, but I really like the ease with with the main installations work without too much configuration, people with more linux skills will find customising their installations more rewarding. I know I did going from Ubuntu, to add the KDE interface for testing on this machine,



No you cant put a limit on these things.

No you can't put a limit on these things and you shouldn't be able to. A new user to liunx has probably only heard of Ubuntu anyway and doesn't concern himself/herself with any other distrobutions until they are a bit more experienced.

When I started with linux a few years ago I started with Suse and after a while I understood exactly how the free software world works and what was a distro was and how it takes from upstream projects.

New users aren't confused by all the choice because they start off with one of the main distros and probably 90 percent start with the same one Ubuntu.


I find that I use .deb package managed distros for my computers, however, they are not the same distros just based on the same premise. I use what works best with that particular computer. So more distros please.


More effort please to characterise each distro & describe the target user

Too many?

Simply, no.
In more detail, all Linux distros spring from the same Gnu/Linux/Free Software pool, this is only possible because the pool is "free" and given human nature it's also inevitable that there should be so much variety. Trying to confine developers to a restricted number of distributions, to which they might be allowed to contribute, would be likely to put them off, limiting their contributions and thus the overall variety and strength of the pool.
As it is, any promising idea developed on the fringes can find its way into the mainstream and similarly any developments by the mainstream distributors can find their way into specialised distributions that satisfy a particular need.
If GNU/Linux is all about choice, then the large numbers of distros being actively developed and supported, either professionally or on a voluntary basis, shows us that choice is what people want.

Is this a rhetorical question?

If not, the answer is of course 'No'. The great strength of Linux is its ability to adapt to the requirements of the user, and if someone doesn't like the way one distro/package does things they are enabled to make it work the way they want it to. The freedom to do this is the single greatest asset of Linux and the thing that keeps me hopeful that Linux will still be here in the next decade and even the next century....barring biblical armageddon, planet killing asteriods or indeed all the dolphins leaving the Earth.

Damn good question!

I don't think there are too many distros. Sure, there are ALOT, but like many of the comments above mention, there are the main distros and there are respins. Its just a matter of finding what suits you and finding a subset that moves you. I don't think the problem is the amount of choice, I think that would appeal to new users. The only problems I see for new users wanting to switch to linux is the hardware compatibility (particularly with wireless), and of course the 'addiction' to windows, it's essentially a matter of unlearning bad Windows habits and learning how to use new apps.
Keep the distros coming, just as long as any innovations are put back into the community for all distros to benefit.
Remember: It's all about freedom of choice

I like the fact that some of

I like the fact that some of the deb-based distributions include different drivers, so that if one doesn't work on my laptop, another does. I settled on deb-based after using rpm-based distributions for several years, and fighting dependency hell. I also appreciate the light distros for older machines, so no there are not too many distros.

Yes, there are too many

Yes, there are too many distros.
Linux developers try not to re-invent the wheels; except for the OS they use. How ironic is that?

Good thing is we now came down to 2; RPM-based, and Debian-based. But this is the last stand as both parties have strong support behind them.


If we look at Linux as an environment instead of as a product, the question answers itself. To stay alive, an environment needs new input, new genes that enable it to adapt to always-changing conditions. Most of those new genes come and go unnoticed with little or no effect, just like most new Linux distros. But some of them provide the raw material for whole new directions and flurries of creativity. There is no way to tell in advance which is which.

I don't see the downside of a lot of distros. Confusing? Please. Are people claiming that they've carefully studied 233 distros and just can't decide? That's bull. There are a few big dogs that are well documented and well publicized. They are the natural and obvious starting point for new and potential users. To claim otherwise is like complaining that there are too many kinds of apples, so the confused masses are forced to eat only chiquita bananas.

Are all the alleged new distros sometimes annoying when they turn out to just change the wallpaper on some other distro? Yeah. But so what? Nobody's forced to read about them or to look at them. Strikes me as incredibly arrogant to tell folks working on free software what they can acceptably do and not do. In other words, this is a nonsense question.


Ubuntu, Suse and Red Hat/Fedora are the big three, and these are the ones for the "normal desktop users", whatever that means in Linux-land.

However, the whole point of FLOSS is to allow experimentation, customization and wide applicability. The other distros are very useful in targeted areas. Mythbuntu for media, INSERT for system rescue, Operator for security testing... and many more.

And, of course, it's not just PCs - don't forget all those little distros running embedded devices around the world.


No, there aren't enough distro's
Yes, There are to many to similar distro's,
It would be great if distro's could specialize in a particulair area, Ubuntu studio touched on the subject but found it a little unstable, and whacked to many things in one distro

I don't mind seeing 5 ubuntu or fedora spinoff's as long as they really have a purpose, ie:
* slim builds for netbooks
* design studios (Specialised for gimp and blender)
* audio studio's (With a much more stable Real time kernel)
* Actual desktop distro's (without apache and other unnecessary programs on the desktop), with a much better look as standard, such as composition/Compiz and Awn enabled, there are some awesome Icon's and themes that can make linux way more attractive than MacOS X, plus additional tweaks to boost performance (ie: swappiness=0)
* Pure servers (without desktop additions such as gimp or the games and nonsense (who needs that on a server?)

No. Diversity is key

There are general distros, specialist distros, make-your-own distros, distros designed for different hardware, etc.
There are distros that work better for some people than others.

This huge number of distros caters to half-a-ton of differing users needs.

This type of diversity is why so many institutions use linux on their products (not necessarily just laptops and desktops) because they can take linux and cater it to their needs.

Also, the open source licences allow and, some would say, encourage this diversity.

Would you prefer a lets-include-everything-in-one-distro-like-MS-tries-to-do distro? It would be downloadable as a 5 DVD set (soon to be eight), unable to run on all but the latest hardware, and give you one way to do things (if you want to do things differently, tough), etc.

Linux has different distros because there are different people, with different needs, out there. No one person is the same, therefore no one linux distro is the same.

Playing into the hands of Microsoft

Well, Microsoft will be laughing all the way to the bank.

It's a case of Divide And Rule; instead of the Linux community banding together to win over the public - and manufacturers, developers etc - we have most of the people posting here wanting yet more distros.

With this sort of attitude Windows will still rule, and the tremendous skills that the Linux community has will still be fragmented (and even wasted - on yet another distro for two people and their dog...), instead of banding together to produce a killer OS that will blow Windows (and OSX) away.

The market leader is still safe, unfortunately. The nearest we have to a challenger is Ubuntu, but with a thousand voices shounting "me me me" instead of a unified voice behind (at the moment) Ubuntu shouting "US! US! US!" and making a difference, nothing will change.

Yes - far too many.

As an XP user who occasionally dips his elbow into the world of Linux to see if there is something there to interest me, I am bewildered by all the Linux variations and I don't see the reason for them all.

I wonder if it comes down to a tribe mentality, like supporting a particular sports team, when you ought to all pull together. All these varieties undermine the take-up of Linux as a serious alternative to the Windows or Mac OS.

Why should anyone commit to a particular 'here today - gone tomorrow' flavour of Linux, then have to start all over again and learn the foibles of another one?

Would it not be better all round if all you clever computer people could concentrate your efforts on polishing up just half a dozen varieties and get them spot-on. Then Mr Gates & Co. might take you seriously.

As far as I am concerned, all I want is a stable and user-friendly OS that looks good and that I can easily install and run good aps on, without ever going near a command line.

Characterisation - Me Too

I endorse the comment about characterisation. Clear goals!

Definitely there are not too

Definitely there are not too many distros.
If somebody is overwhelmed by its variety simply use Ubuntu and don't bother with the rest.
Variety and choice always good even if it looks chaotic at 1st sight.

Incomplete Question!

I think the answer has got to depend on how you interpret the question.

Too many distributions for what? It depends on the goal, so the complete question could be any one of the following:

- Are there too many distributions for the average user to easily adopt one?
- Are there too many distributions that pointlessly dilute developer/packager etc. talent?
and so on...

But personally I think there are several advantages to having several distributions: choice, competition, specialization/niche. And of course the glut of distributions out there are actually just a result of freedom, which is of course a great thing.

Then again...

Ok, so looking at the summary one more time, it looks like the *complete* question is:

Does the mass of distros out there make it difficult for newbies to adopt any of them?

I have to say it does, but I think there's a better way of looking at the problem. Distributions suffer from a branding problem. After all, most distributions are branded first as Linux, while the brand of the distro itself is secondary.

Consider this question: How many people running Mac OS X know that they're running Mac OS X but don't realize that they're running Unix. Probably a lot. Now how many people running Mandriva know that they're running Mandriva don't know that it's Linux? Almost nobody.

Distributions attempting to appeal to newbies will do themselves a favor to the extent that they can escape the nebulous and confusing brand of Linux and shape their own identities. In the land of Desktop Linux, the brand will be the only thing that sets you apart anyway, since code is open source.

To best illustrate this point, look at Mac OS X. Not a Linux distro of course but look under the hood. They have a Unix foundation which they can be reasonably proud of, but that's never where the focus is with them. You never hear the word "Unix" in an Apple commercial. It's not that their trying to hide the fact, but it's not a core part of their identity.

I think every Linux distro still has much work to do at building up the brand. And the brand should evoke impressions of user-friendliness, stability ("It just works"), features (video, photos, you name it), and style.

Yes or maybe No

Assuming that we would like Linux to gain credibility as a viable alternative to Windows, then it has to be yes. There are far too many. If all the variations were largely compatible then it might not matter so much. Also hardware is often unsupported, and that can cause a lot of hassle to new users, which they obviously don't want.
Quite often a distro which works well on one set of hardware, will not work as well on another set of hardware, this makes life even more difficult for the newbie, and the choice of OS rapidly returns to Windows, where usually at least, most hardware works.
The Linux press currently seem to think that the only distro in town is Ubuntu, well I have tried many many distros, and I can assure you, it isn't. There are plenty of other equally good or better distros out there.
If on the other hand, you don't care if Linux increases in popularity, and simply want to play around in your own Linux world as a hobby, then fine, there may as well be a thousand Linux distros, but it won't help Linux as an OS.

Too many incomplete distros.

Too many incomplete distros. The distros do not identify or state the purpose of the distros and many times distro fails to serve the purpose on diverse system hardware configurations and setup.
I think linux needs few complete fail safe desktop distros which will perform flawless on majority standard desktops and laptop hardware configuration.

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