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Do-over for Linux Community Distro Poll

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.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 16/06/2013 15:15:36
end_date 18/07/2013 12:27:32
Poll Results:
Which GNU/Linux distros do you consider to be legitimate community distros? (choose all that apply)

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.

15 comments to Do-over for Linux Community Distro Poll

  • Why is CentOS not on your list?

    Community Enterprise Operating System is the name … we have community members doing QA, Bugs, Forum Moderators, IRC Ops, and one of the most used community mailing lists in open source.

  • Kenneth Herring

    It seems to me that any distro that is constantly being improved via updates on a regular basis is community supported.

  • The answer to why CentOS is not on the list is in the article: It’s not one of the top ten distributions on Distrowatch. There is no pre-bias about whether the distributions qualify as “community” distributions or not.

    Of course, this whole question may be partly just a matter of semantics. What does “community distribution” mean?

    Does it mean community controlled? If so, how do you classify distributions that are nearly one-man shows (at least where one man has the final say) like Slackware?

    Perhaps it’s community as opposed to corporate controlled. That would seem to make the split more obvious in most cases, but some might not agree on that definition of “community” (we see they didn’t when it came to Fedora for instance).

    If you’re going to go by community influence, then it’s all a matter of degree of influence because pretty much every distribution has a significant amount of community influence in the long run.

  • I voted for all of them. Even Ubuntu.

  • Ryan

    This poll clearly isn’t going to be useful either. Only 20% of people voted for Debian, the most community of any of the ones on this list, and 22 people have voted for Ubuntu, a distro that comes with adware preinstalled and has a link to Amazon on its home bar in the default installation.

  • @Ryan You’re looking at the results wrong. Remember, this isn’t a poll where voters are limited to voting for only one distro. Let’s look at Debian. As I write this, 168 people have voted in the poll. These 168 people have voted for a total of 573 distros. This means that each voter has voted for a little over three distros.

    If we look at Debian, we see that 116 people have voted for Debian as a bonefide community distro. Since there have only been 168 people voting, this means that a whopping 69% of the voters have voted for Debian as one of their choices.

    Now let’s look at Ubuntu. Of our 168 voters, 22 have indicated they think Ubuntu to be a bonefide community distro. This means that only about 13% of the people who’ve voted in this poll have cast a vote for Ubuntu.

  • @Johnny Hughes We’re more than familiar with CentOS, Mr. Johnny. We have two LAMP servers running CentOS as our personal server OS of choice. You men and women do good work, and we appreciate it.

  • CentOS may not be listed on DW, but IIRC, it’s the most popular community server OS in the world. No drama, just works.

    As for Slackware, I know it’s officially a commercial distribution, meaning you are free to either buy it or download it freely (the full version, not some reduced thing). On the other hand, I have yet to find a distribution where bug reports are read and treated personally by the distribution maintainer himself. See here for example and search the page for my name (appears twice):

    ftp://ftp.osuosl.org/pub/slackware/slackware-14.0/ChangeLog.txt

    I would suggest some different categorizations for distributions. For example:

    a) Distributions that JustWork(tm) vs. those that don’t.

    b) The drama queens vs. the quiet ones.

    Cheers,

    Niki

  • Lizbeth

    I had a totally different view on the meaning of community distro. To me, a community distro means one that is maintained outside the offical scope of the distro’s organizers. As an example I cite Linux Mint Debian Edition which officially maintains a distro that comes offically supported with mate and cinnamon desktops. Someone in the community decides they want to respin the iso’s with unofficially supported KDE and XFCE desktops. The member or members of the community make this happen, not the distro’s maintainers – though the official distro’s maintainers provode the guidlines for this unofficial distro, they don’t do the actual work. In my mind the unofficial community maintained desktop variants are the community distros. This is what provides the richness to the community of the distro and the broader linux community, the collaboration and training up of how all this works. Unfortunately for LMDE, the most compotent community supporters are now producing SolydXK, a new distro maintained by the team who produced the community distros for LMDE. No here I come along and decide that I like SOlydXK’s distro but that I want to make an openbox version of SolydXK and that by following their guidance and standards I maintain a SolydXK openbox ISO. That new community supported version now becomes SolydXK’s community supported version.

    This is of course a different sort of thing with Ubuntu (that spun off of debian) and now has XUbuntu, EDubuntu, Kubuntu, & Lubuntu which are offical recognized distros that spun off of Ubuntu with their own ISO’s and supports. But those too would be examples of community distros in my mind as they (as far as I know) exist outside the scope of Ubuntu’s intents.

    Further, I would assert that anything outside of Debian, Redhat, Slackware, Arch and of course Gentoo could be construed as community distros under my definintion as I understand those are basicly the five base distros that everything else spins off of.

    Also, are there more to be considered as base distros? Chromium and Android perhaps as they exist as independent distros that others might build off of? And aren’t all of these basically spinoffs of Unix?

    Of course I realize this is not at all what your poll had in mind. But it does say something I hope is useful and not just mudding the waters up more.

    Yes I am a novice compared to all of you but this is how it occurs to me.

  • On the contrary, Lizbeth, you haven’t muddied the waters. You’ve just given us yet another wonderfully stated unique perspective. Thank you!

  • “Further, I would assert that anything outside of Debian, Redhat, Slackware, Arch and of course Gentoo could be construed as community distros under my definintion as I understand those are basicly the five base distros that everything else spins off of.”

    That’s an overstatement, FWIW – there are other independent distros that even have their own derivatives. Mandriva is one (it started life as a fork of RH many years ago, but hasn’t rebased itself against RH since, like, 1999 or something). OpenSUSE is similarly independent. You can’t assume all RPM distros are RH derivatives.

  • Lizbetrh

    “That’s an overstatement, FWIW” – Adam Williamson

    Actually it isn’t. If you had read the entire reply that I had posted you would have also read :

    “Also, are there more to be considered as base distros? Chromium and Android perhaps as they exist as independent distros that others might build off of?”

    That statement of mine turns the text you quoted from an assertion (which I did make based on my known understanding) into a question that seeks for input from other more knowledgeable people than myself; a fact reinforced by the closing remark:

    “Yes I am a novice compared to all of you but this is how it occurs to me.”

    You also say: “You can’t assume all RPM distros are RH derivatives.”

    I actually wasn’t assuming that. That’s why I asked for input on other distros.

    Further you say: “Mandriva is one (it started life as a fork of RH many years ago, but hasn’t rebased itself against RH since, like, 1999 or something).”

    But so it is a spin off then that has taken it’s fork and gone it’s own way and it may be very different today than Red Hat but it does owe its existence to Red Hat – and more than just the rpm packing system.

    Then you say: “OpenSUSE is similarly independent.”

    So by that I should assume it owes it’s existence to Red Hat and has also taken its fork and ran (away with the spoon?) with it from some Red Hat distro release but also hasn’t rebased itself with Red Hat in a long time?

    I thank you for pointing that all out to me. That’s vital knowledge to know. I actually started my linux initiation with Mandriva back in 2004-2005-ish.

    I am also (like probably many) a big fan of Parted Magic. When I say a big fan I do mean of course that I am a big fan of using that distro and those tools but I do not mean to say that I have been active in the community forums or pursued a depth of understanding about that distro. Today I discovered this statement from their web pages:

    “Pre-made packages:
    Parted Magic is not Slackware based, but the main tool chain was compiled on Slackware. If you would like to add programs your best bet is to use TXZ packages from Slackware 14.x. You can also use DEB files, but Parted Magic will not make any attempt to resolve dependencies.
    Note that there is no guarantee that these “foreign” packages will install or run correctly.”

    So it seems we could add Parted Magic to the list of linux foundation distros that are built from the ground up as you put it.

    If anyone is still reading this, Please add more base distros to the list that were not once spin offs of some other distro.

    The main point of what I am was getting at though is that the richness of the linux experience is the open source reality; our ability to adapt what we like to better serve the needs of a community that finds it vital. All these distros, independent built or spun off of some other distro (at some point) are all dependent on the needs communities that use them so lets not get territorial about the linux hunting grounds. Liunx thrives or dies by defense and retaliation of who’s got the biggest business or who gets the biggest rewards from their efforts (though those do exist as a thing) but by the ability of communities to cooperate and collaborate, to grow and expand to meet the varied and changing needs of everyone.

  • Lizbetrh

    In order to correct some typos in my closing paragraph:

    The main point of what I am was getting at though is that the richness of the linux experience is the open source reality; our ability to adapt what we like to better serve the needs of a community that finds it vital. All these distros, independent built or spun off of some other distro (at some point) are all dependent on the needs communities that use them so lets not get territorial about the linux hunting grounds. Liunx does not thrive or die by defense and retaliation of who’s got the biggest business or who gets the biggest rewards from their efforts or even who has the best computer training (though those do exist as a thing) but by the ability of communities to cooperate and collaborate, to grow and expand to meet the varied and changing needs of everyone.

  • SamShovel

    Lizbetrh,
    I do believe that you have pretty nicely summed the situation up as regards the lay of the land. I have been philosophically attracted to the FOSS movement and Richard Stallman’s FSF for many years; but I just didn’t have the time or opportunity to take the plunge myself. In the corporate world you work with the systems that are given. Apple products seemed to be for dummies or posers and Windows…There just had to be something better. Now as a geezer I can indulge myself and maybe even be able to contribute something back (to FOSS movement that is.) I know that there are most likely many nameless others involved in the heavy lifting of any endevour. So I don’t take any umbrage that you left them out of your summery. It is easy to see the spirit in which you wrote your summery. Why does it need to be decontextualized? I personally believe it’s a sickness of the post-modernist mindset. And the response that you got is what I hear from others who would like to come into the FOSS movement but are put off by the rather rude treatment they get from many in the existing community. I have never known any other group that claims that they have a desire to see their numbers increased be such hard-asses. If you make the slightest faux pas as far as the self-annointed gate keepers are concerned get ready for a bitch-slap. I am lucky that I have found a local mentor of the sort that you find in Ham Radio. The mentor’s are called Elmers partly I believe to keep from being too smug. They remember what it was like when they first started out. Maybe that is what some of these flammers need to study. I doubt very much that there is anky other social-technical fraternity that nurtures newbies like the ham operators do. They try to give back what they have themselves received. For myself, I just try to keep a low profile and try to learn as much as I can as I can see how hostile things can get when other people think they know your motivations. The thing is they are usually wrong. I’ll probably get dissed for having the temerity to post this. Liz, thanks again for your posts.