Friday, August 06, 2004

Splitting Linux

Before those of you who know better howl at me, let me get this straight: I understand that a Linux distribution is not Linux.

But the reality is that people tend to think of it that way, that Linux is a Linux distribution. For a long time people never understood why I wasn't using RedHat, like everybody else. I wasn't using it because I understood that I could go to any Linux distribution and switch back later as long as I was on the Intel platform. For a time RedHat was Linux. I still think that some business that they get is simply just because the users don't know about the other distributions or haven't bothered to take a look. For now onwards, the term Linux will largely mean Linux distributions.

Today I installed Fedora Core 2 (FC2). Now, I use Mandrake on my desktops and a mix of other distributions on the servers. My RH8 servers were looking long in the tooth and I figured out I needed to refresh them. So I got the set of FC2 disks that came with this month's Linux Format and burned disk 3 and 4 from the Internet. As I was configuring them, I became acutely aware of how different it was to configure Linux under FC2 than under Mandrake. As with all of my machines, I install Webmin to help me administer them. That me got me fiddling with the package managers and demonstrating how different the approaches of Mandrake and FC2 was when it came to package management resources. Basically, I was finding it hard to find any of the programs that helped me to configure some of the stuff, mot of the time the programs I was used to on Mandrake but not entirely. Some programs that I assumed were part of KDE were also missing or quite hard to find..

It then dawned to me not only that I was just using a different distribution but a distribution meant for someone else. I was so used to Mandrake, a distribution clearly gunning for the desktop, that I was upset with Fedora for not doing enough to have it as easily configurable as Mandrake. It was ok with me finally because I realized that RedHat/Fedora were really about servers. Both distributions were catering to their consituency and their unique requirements and environment. For example, with a server, configuration is a once off thing and the people using them were expected to know what they were doing. On a desktop, the configuration can change quite often as USB devices are plugged and pulled. Plus, most of the time people don't know or care what they are doing to the computer as long as they can use it.

It is important that Linux distributions become adjusted for the environment that it will live in. This leverages on it's nature to be flexible through the choices of the programs it includes as part of the distribution which includes configuration tools. By adapting to the environment, Linux addresses the unique environment that it will function in be it a server or desktop of today or the embedded device of tomorrow. It is very much a version of tolerance within the space of Linux technology.

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