Open Source Strategies

A blog about open source software and business models, enterprise software, and the opentaps Open Source ERP + CRM Suite.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Are There Too Many Linux Distros

Here's a real quote from an open source user recently:
"The more distributions the more confusing it is for the customer! You can watch that on the linux side. Microsoft is laughing while the linuxworld is diversifying instead of concentrating powers."

Question: If there were six billion Linux distributions out there, would it be good or bad for Linux?

Answer: Good. Everybody on the planet would be using and promoting his/her own Linux distro, and Linux would be the dominant operating system.

This is not as silly as it sounds. Like many markets, the dominant brand (Microsoft in this case) sells a one-size-fits-all solution for everybody, while the upstart tries to focus on specialized niches. In the case of Linux, this has happened with multiple distributions, each targeted with its own niche.

Each Linux distribution seems to have its own audience, its own personality, and its own advocacy or sales force. The Debian user may vociferously criticize Red Hat or SuSE, but enterprises which use Red Hat or SuSE probably would not find Debian agreeable. Similarly, distributions such as Red Flag Linux from China or Mandriva from France satisfy needs that US-based distributors do not or cannot.

Is this good for Linux? Ultimately, yes. Each distribution can target its own niche more effectively and form a closer bond with its users. Those users are, in turn, more likely to speak up for their favorite distributions. Just as importantly, Linux re-sellers can still sell Linux, even if they do not like one particular reseller. The net result is recruiting the largest sales force possible for Linux.

Is the competition between Linux distributions wasteful? Perhaps, but that's the cost of a free enterprise system. Is it confusing to the user? Perhaps, but comparison shopping is natural for all other products, so why should it be scary for software?

Are we all so conditioned by monopoly that even open source advocates find the signs of free enterprise threatening?

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