It was a hard lesson learned.
The problem was, it wasn’t just me who suffered. It was dozens of people in my organization, and had this happened a month later than it did, it could have been hundreds.
We’ve had some fairly high profile Linux distros fold up their tents and move along. Whether due to a lack of financial support or the project growing larger than a one man dev team can manage, distros do go away. It’s never for a good reason but the fact remains: When a distro ceases to exist, a lot of people get left in the lurch.
Most recently, it was CrunchBang which rang the bell. I could feel the conflict and sadness in lead developer Philip Newborough’s statement. He didn’t want to do this, but for his own reasons he did. But what struck me in the middle of my being was his statement:
“As for me, while I’m deeply sad to let go of a project that in many ways has defined my existence for many years.”
A project that has defined his existence for many years. That hit me pretty hard. I myself am the center of a project which affects hundreds of people and I cannot fathom what it would be like to make a statement like this. While I know the day may come, it still bothers me to even think about that day. And I do acknowledge that one day it will come.
But it’s not just Phillip. The same fates befell two other well known distros not that long ago. Andrew Wyatt brought Fuduntu to an end, a premature end many felt. Not too long after that, Ikey Doherty announced that he would no longer develop his extremely popular SolusOS. I personally covered that announcement here on FOSS Force. Both distros ended for their own reasons. Whether it was the lack of funding or developers who were not able to juggle their professional and home lives with projects that seemed to have a life of their own…
The fact remains that those distros are gone. Neither project’s user base was insignificant. At one time, SolusOS had clawed its way to the fifth place on DistroWatch. Argue the validity of a DistroWatch ranking or not, a distro’s popularity can be at least empirically noted by that measure.
How many users were left afloat amid the wreckage of those distros? I say it was in the tens of thousands. But it could have been much worse. My organization Reglue had become deeply invested in the progression and development of both these distros. Reglue was ready to throw full in to SolusOS 2.0. Fortunately we had a plan B.
If you are going to rely upon a Linux distro, you would probably do yourself a favor by having a plan B yourself. Many of us distro hop as a hobby…seeing what the new various releases bring. But some of us use a Linux distro as a means of conducting our business. Reglue depends on a stable Linux distro to bring computing into the homes of hundreds of kids who cannot afford a computer. We bring the full force of the Linux community to bear within those computers.
We’ve learned that it’s prudent to build our house on rock and not sand. It seems the sands under our feet are more than capable of swallowing entire Linux distro projects whole. We’ve placed our trust in distros that are built on rock. Sure, the same thing could someday happen to them…but my bet is that it won’t. I’ve staked a lot on that belief.
But it is not all doom and gloom when it comes to Linux distros that go away. Recently, it was a good thing to see one of them come back. Welcome back Jeff Hoogland. You were sorely missed. Your return was, indeed, good news.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue