Last week’s FOSS Force poll was only up for a few hours before we had to take it down.
It dealt with the issue of community distros. If you’re interested, you’re welcome to take a gander at the article that accompanied the poll. Mainly, it sought to determine what you considered to be a community GNU/Linux distro. There had been quite a bit of discussion on the subject here on our site, so we decided to put it to you in a down and dirty poll, just to see if we could come to any kind of consensus.
The comments to our poll article became quite heated. It seems that hardly anybody wanted to be left off the community distro bandwagon. Everybody wanted their favorite Linux distro to be considered a community distro.
A lot of people took a notion that if their distro was said not to be a community distro, then that was the same as saying that it was full of bugs or didn’t work properly or something like that. It was like if we said your red car is not a black car, that somehow that meant we were saying there was something defective about your red car because it wasn’t black. It was odd. Made no sense to us. Still doesn’t.
Although the discussion was getting a little overheated and difficult to follow in some ways, the poll was going great. Many of you were voting and we were getting a pretty good idea of how people in the FOSS community feel about community Linux distros. That is, things were going good until some fanboy (or girl) of one of the distros decided to shift the odds by stuffing the ballot box.
As one of our readers pointed-out, running a fair online poll is pretty much a doomed enterprise from the start. We always know that going into a new poll; that’s why we stress the fact that our polls are unscientific. We recognize there’s nothing we can do about a fan going to a distro’s forums and urging everyone to come to our site to vote for the cause. We can live with that. In fact, in a way it’s part of the fun. However, when we discovered that in less than an hour, a single user had managed to place nearly a hundred votes for a single distro, we felt we had no choice but to shut the poll down. At this point the results wouldn’t be merely unscientific; they’d be completely and utterly meaningless.
We were disappointed, but it wasn’t a big thing. We learned a lesson and tightened the method we use to keep users from voting more than once. It’s still not foolproof, of course. People can still cheat, if they insist, but they’ll have to work a little harder to do it.
After shutting the poll down, we hadn’t intended to revive it, thinking it probably best to let that sleeping dog continue with its nap. Many of you had expressed the opinion that defining a “community distro” was a very simplistic and meaningless endeavor. We were sure we didn’t agree and were a little perturbed when we read remarks on one distro’s forums saying that those on our site who expressed a preference for non-commercial community distros sounded like Marxists. C’est la vie. If you’re not 100% for business then you must be 100% against business, or so the theory goes. Time to put the community distro poll to rest, we figured.
Then a few FOSS writers, independent of our discussion here on FOSS Force, began writing on other sites about different distros and the importance of the communities around them. One of the things that two of these writers in particular seemed to imply is that all distros exist to serve communities of particular types of users. While this might seem to be a simple obvious truth, a Homer Simpson “D’oh!” if you will, we think there might be depths to this idea that are not so obvious.
Of particular interest to us was the different takes these writers had on the nature of the communities that different popular distros represent. Often these were surprisingly different from what had been our intuitive understanding.
Take DarkDuck for instance. In his piece, Divergence in the distros: how the Linux community is splitting into a two-tier system, he puts distros into two major categories. There are distros that are basically commercial, surrounded by a community of what would generally be called consumers, with members who are often new to GNU/Linux. He cites Mint, Zorin, and Ubuntu as belonging to this category. In the other camp are distros that are built and maintained primarily for developers. In this camp he sites Debian, Fedora, and openSUSE as examples.
For us, this is something of a departure from what we’ve always perceived to be “common knowledge.” To us, it’s always seemed obvious that Debian should be held apart from commercially sponsored distros like Fedora and openSUSE. DarkDuck’s contention gave us pause to reflect, eliciting an out-of-the-box cognitive moment if you will.
Another recent article on Linux distros, their differences and their communities, has been published by Bruce Byfield in an essay called What makes for a community distribution? Here we’re treated to a straightforward look at a number of popular GNU/Linux distros and how their management style affects their respective communities. Distros covered are Debian, Mageia, Mint, Fedora, openSUSE and Ubuntu.
A commonality in these articles is that both of these writers seem to think the community surrounding a distro can easily be as important as other considerations such as which package manager or desktop environment the distro uses by default. Indeed, a distro’s technical aspects might very well be guided by the nature of the distro’s community following.
Another article we found pertinent to this discussion is Fanboys in Free Software published on the blog of Martin Gräßlin, who maintains the KDE Plasma Compositor and Window Manager (KWin). This article gives us a different look than the previous two. It’s not a snapshot of the community surrounding open source projects per se, but a look into the psychology of fans, those individual members of a software’s user community who identify so obsessively with a project that any criticism of the project is taken personally. We found Mr. Gräßlin’s insights to be thought provoking, and may explain some of he unreasonableness and rudeness we often encounter in article comments and on forums.
Which gets us back to our community distro do-over poll.
It’s exactly like the last poll, the one we pulled for ballot stuffing, but a little different. The question is pretty much the same: “Which GNU/Linux distros do you consider to be legitimate community distros?” We’ve changed the distros offered as options somewhat. This time around we’re just offering the top ten distros from the Page Hit Ranking at Distrowatch. You can vote for as many distros as you want. Like last time, you can also add to our list by ticking “Other” and typing-in any distros you think are important community distros.
Also exactly like last time, you’re invited to share with us your thoughts on this subject by commenting on this article.