posted by Adam S on Tue 9th Dec 2003 02:53 UTC
IconLinux news is getting more and more exciting, and somehow, managing to get less and less interesting. Why? Because the speed of development is getting so rapid that it's hard to get excited for each upcoming release, keep your system completely up to date, and even remember what the current version of your favorite distributions are. This breakneck pace of development means good and bad things, but I have a few ideas about how I expect it to turn out.

The opinions in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily those of

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of distributions out there. In fact, with Knoppix, almost anyone can make his own. Each season, it seems we watch some distributions fold and others form. It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart. Think you're an expert? Answer these questions quickly:

  • 1) Which distro uses Pacman as a package manager?
  • 2) Which distro was created by former Red Hat KDE'er Bernhard "Bero" Rosenkraenzer?
  • 3) Which distro is Vector Linux based on?
  • 4) Name any three Debian-based distros.
  • 5) Name three source-based distros.

    According to a recent post on, "It is time to face the facts: the number of Linux distributions is growing at an alarming rate. On average, around 3 - 4 new distributions are submitted to this site every week, a fact that makes maintaining the individual pages and monitoring new releases increasingly time consuming. The DistroWatch database now lists a total of 205 Linux distributions (of which 24 have been officially discontinued) with 75 more on the waiting list. It is no longer easy to keep up." Distributions change often, as does the popularity of each. Keeping up is almost impossible. Many Linux users install new distributions every few days, weeks, or months. Sadly, many of these folks keep a Windows installation - not because they prefer Windows, but because it's a "safe haven" for their data which can't find a permanent home on any given Linux distribution. Can this pace continue? I say no.

    Predicting the future is always risky for an author, especially one who contributes to internet sites, where your words are often instantly accessible to the curious. But I'm going to put my money on the table and take some guesses about the future of Linux. Here, in no particular order, are six theories that I believe are inevitabilities. Keep in mind that although I've been liberal in tone, nearly everything in this piece is speculation or opinion and is subject to debate. Not all of these theories are necessarily entirely original thought, but all arguments are.

    1) Major Linux distributions will collapse into a small, powerful group.
    "Major players" in the Linux market, until recently, included Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake, Debian, and Slackware. Some would argue more or less, but now you have a number of popular distros making inroads into the community, Xandros, LindowsOS, and Gentoo to name a few. Another fringe including Yoper, ELX, and TurboLinux are making plays for corporate desktops. I'm coining a new term for this era of Linux computing: distribution bloat. We have hundreds of groups offering us what is essentially minor tweaks and optimizations of a very similar base. This cannot continue at this pace. There will from this point on, be a growing number of Linux installation packages as people become more skilled, but there will be fewer distributions on a mass scale as commercial Linux stabilizes.

    I think we'll see the commercial Linux market boil down to two or three players, and this has already begun. I expect it to be a Ximian-ized Novell/SUSE distribution, Red Hat, and some sort of Debian offshoot - whether it's User Linux or not remains to be seen. Sun's Linux offering, Java Desktop System, will be deployed in Solaris committed companies and not much more.

    2) Neither KDE nor Gnome will "win;" a third desktop environment will emerge.
    The KDE/Gnome debate is a troll's dream come true. People are often passionate about their desktop environment. I believe they both have strengths and weaknesses. However, a third DE, with a clean and usable base, will emerge in time, its sole mission to unify the Linux GUI. Only when there is true consistency of the look and feel of the desktop, or close to it, will Linux become a viable home OS for an average user. Currently, we see this consistency forged by common Qt and GKT themes, and offerings like Ximian Desktop which attempts to mask the different nature of each application. This is not about lack of choice - it is, however, about not allowing choice to supercede usability of the whole product.

    Features that a desktop must include are obvious by now: cut & paste must work the same way throughout the OS, menus must be the same in all file manager windows, the same shortcut keys must apply in all applications, and all applications must have the same window borders. Many seemingly basic tasks that haven't entirely matured, or in some cases, been accomplished at all, yet.

    In any event, the DE's importance will lessen once greater platform neutrality exists. This will doubtlessly cause many to argue that I am wrong - admittedly, it's a tall order especially with Gnome and KDE becoming established and accomplishing so much. I maintain that unless there is some sort of merging, not a set of standards like, but rather, a common base for development, that there will be a fragmented feel to Linux that simply doesn't exist in Windows today.

    Table of contents
    1. "The Future of Linux, Page 1"
    2. "The Future of Linux, Page 2"
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