Two stories caught my eye this week. On tuesday, and to the horror of most of its users, Microsoft announced that Windows 7 will ship in six different versions. Most of which have pesky little limitations.
A day earlier, Linus Torvalds said in an interview with Distrowatch that having ‘hundreds’ of different Linux distributions is ‘absolutely required’. So where most Windows users would have greatly preferred a single version of ‘their’ OS, Linux’s founding father sees no problem with having hundreds. I have to admit that I tend to agree with the Windows community on this one.
592 versions and counting…
There are actually over five hundred distributions of Linux and BSD currently listed on Distrowatch. Some of those cater to very specific niches. I’ve used a few of them on my Eee-PC, and it’s great that there are specific Linux versions for certain devices. But even if you take those hardware-specific versions out of the equations, there are still over nearly three hundred that are aimed at desktop computing. Distrowatch currently lists eleven of those as ‘major distributions‘ and offers a comprehensive guide that helps you choose. But that’s still a pretty daunting task for newbies like me, even more so because most offer various sub-versions (Xubuntu, Kubuntu, etc…)
Six degrees of being seperated from your money
With Windows, the choice is much more limited, but still pretty tough. If you’re going for anything but the pricy ‘ultimate’ edition, you’ll be missing features you might need later on. And while most Linux distributions can be retrofitted to do anything with a little elbow grease, with Windows the investment would probably need to be of the monetary kind. Still, the relative simplicity of choosing a Windows version is probably what the average consumer prefers. If Linux.org would simply offer a big download button for “Desktop Linux 2009” that would probably help lure in more Windows users than the current abundance of options.
From a development perspective, Linus is probably right. The different distributions help ‘keep everybody honest’, and there’s nothing like a little competition to keep everybody on their toes. But it might also very well be what’s standing in the way of Linux’ success on the desktop.