When Linux companies accept the inevitable

Last week I suggested that all commercial distributions adopt Debian as the foundation for their Linux distribution. Gauging from the response I received, most readers misunderstood my rationale for choosing Debian as a prime candidate for a Linux distribution standard. I'll gladly take the blame for that.

Despite how I waxed rhapsodic over Debian's apt-get program last week, this isn't about Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) package format versus Debian package format, nor about the apt-get program versus the various RPM update programs available. This is about all major commercial Linux distributors agreeing to start with a common, comprehensive, standard Linux distribution and add value above and beyond that foundation.

This Linux distribution standard must be broad enough to eliminate kernel, application, and package incompatibility issues . It must document strict installation and maintenance policies by which all Linux software must be developed and packaged. An independent group must maintain and provide this distribution so that no single commercial entity can manipulate the standard to its exclusive advantage.

The independent Linux distribution standard group should divide its work into several levels. It should continue to maintain and improve the current version, develop the next version, and experiment with ideas for future versions. In addition, the group should maintain a repository of security fixes. All of the levels of development must be freely available to both customers and developers. Customers and developers must be able to update or upgrade their base Linux distribution easily and without cost, regardless of the commercial Linux distribution they chose.

I believe Debian GNU/Linux currently fits the above description best and would be the easiest to tweak wherever it does not compare well to other distributions. But please don't fixate on Debian or packaging issues. Of course, Debian has many weaknesses, including even its packaging format, as many readers aptly pointed out. If Debian offends you, forget about it. The point is for all commercial distributions to adopt the kind of standard distribution I describe above, wherever it originates.

Look at the advantages. If all commercial Linux distributors agreed to begin with a Linux distribution standard and build from there, they would no longer have to devote so much talent toward maintaining a base distribution -- an effort that is needlessly duplicated across all commercial distributors. They could easily redirect a portion of their development talent to improving the base distribution and devote the rest of their talent toward the task of building the kind of unique added value to their commercial offerings that would bust the Linux market wide open.

About now, it should become obvious that if the commercial Linux distributors followed my advice they would no longer be Linux distributors at all. They would be distributors of support and value-added software. What should be equally obvious, however, is that this is not only a good thing, it is inevitable.

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

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