Linux distributors should adopt Debian

Corporate IT is plagued by a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder known as DUH -- Dementia Upgradia Habitua. It manifests itself through the irrational assumption that the only way a company can maintain a competitive edge in productivity is to upgrade everything. Because hardware and software are continually in a state of change, DUH compels corporate IT to remain in a continual state of upgrade.

DUH may afflict anyone from the lowliest grunt to the most senior management. Regardless of where it afflicts your organization, I've come to the sorry conclusion that DUH is almost always incurable. The philosophy "if it ain't broke don't fix it" may make perfect sense to most people, but few IT departments are allowed to live by it even if they want to.

I pondered this DUH problem as I wrote last week's column, in which I pleaded the case for all Linux distributors to standardize on the same base Linux distribution. This week, I urge all commercial Linux distributors to adopt Debian GNU/Linux as the standard base distribution specifically because of the way it addresses the DUH phenomenon.

Debian is not a cure for DUH. But it almost completely eliminates the consequences -- the cost and difficulty of upgrading -- at least as far as operating systems go.

Debian allows you to satisfy your DUH compulsions easily and for free. To upgrade a Debian system, you simply type the command apt-get update, followed by apt-get dist-upgrade. This tells Debian to find the latest packages on the Internet, resolve their dependencies, then download, install, and configure the packages on your machine.

Depending on how you configure your system, you can upgrade your Debian GNU/Linux to the latest current version, the latest build of the next version, or even to the unstable development version. Or you can limit your automatic upgrades to include only security fixes and then be more selective about upgrading to new builds or versions.

The good news is that customers can never be left stranded when they choose a Debian-based distribution. I installed the Debian-based Storm Linux 2000 to get Debian on my system. When Stormix filed for bankruptcy and disconnected their upgrade servers, I pointed my system to the standard Debian servers and continued to upgrade my software without so much as a hiccup.

The bad news is that Stormix's use of Debian could be at least one reason why it filed for bankruptcy. Consider the business implications of selling a distribution on Debian: The distributor is adopting a system that is designed to make it nearly impossible to sell its customers any upgrades, thus cutting off a primary source of revenue.

But as counterintuitive to business as it may be, Linux distributors would be wise to consider this approach. The apt-get upgrade system is precisely what customers need. If commercial distributors don't adopt Debian as a base distribution or at least supply something competitive with Debian's upgrade system, I predict Debian itself will rear up and bite them in the bahootie.

And that's just as it should be. Most Linux distributions today shouldn't exist at all because they're still competing on the uniqueness of their version of Linux rather than on the value they add to a standard base distribution. This approach will damage the Linux market and drive all but the biggest Linux distributors into bankruptcy.

Nicholas Petreley is founding editor of LinuxWorld (www.linuxworld.com). Reach him at nicholas@petreley.com.

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