Politics and Pragmatism in Using Linux Distributions

Recently I’ve been making decisions on which Linux distribution deserves my support when I write how-to or similar articles. I started my journey with Ubuntu. Out of all, this is the distribution closest to my heart and may be it always will be. I ventured into CentOS for work-related reasons and found it to be a workhorse. I forayed into Fedora on a netbook with some success. I have had to use a bit of SLES for more work-related stuff. And I have been attracted to, used, and migrated businesses to Debian. Both politics and pragmatism have played a part each time I used a distribution. And thus this post.

You can see from my recent posts that I have made a decision to go with Fedora. It was mostly for political (philosophical) reasons but also for pragmatism (cutting-edge technology, etc.). When the time came for me to choose something other than Debian or Ubuntu, I chose Fedora over openSUSE mainly for philosophical reasons. And I’ve been re-evaluating my decision ever since.

I am very happy I picked Fedora. It’s making bold decisions in the future direction of a Linux distribution, especially with the two most controversial and highly-debated steps: /usr unification and systemd. I have started using Fedora 17 alpha and find systemd a joy to use. I only care about systemctl enable/disable or systemctl start/stop as a user (or sysadmin) and it does exactly what I want it to. Much better than chkconfig, service or invoke-rc.d. The /usr unification hasn’t affected me so much so far. Package availability has also been excellent for the server use cases to which I have put Fedora 17.

Fedora seems like a good fit for me for now. But a second question still remains: which distribution should I recommend to others for home/workstation use when asked? My gut feeling is Ubuntu because they do a lot of good work for this sort of user. I’m also well-versed in it so I can provide ample support if required. But I also want to provide a different answer for users who don’t want to use Ubuntu. A very valid answer for this would be Linux Mint but it’s so similar to Ubuntu that it might not be an option in some cases. This leaves a few distributions that I would really like others to use (if only because they’ll come to me for answers most of the time).

The first distribution is openSUSE. Yes, I have some misgivings about the whole openSUSE, SUSE, and Microsoft triangle. But purely on technical merits is openSUSE good enough to replace Ubuntu as my default recommendation for others? This is a question I have asked myself and the one I’ll try to answer over the next few months. I’ve decided to be pragmatic about this particular case rather than political. I’m willing to be pragmatic if openSUSE can bring in new users to Linux like Ubuntu has done for a while. It’s a tall order but openSUSE looks like a good candidate from where I stand.

The other distribution I may recommend is Mageia. It’s on its way to the second release. These people have a very pragmatic, user-centric approach to their distribution and them being a community allays many misgivings I have about openSUSE. Technically they also appear to be sure-footed and thus deserve the support of people like me. Maybe Mageia can serve Ubuntu’s role of bring new users to Linux.

I wouldn’t recommend Fedora because of two things: (a) hardware support can mean using other repositories (such as RPMfusion); and (b) it’s too bleeding-edge to keep users on it for a while without too many issues.

Now that I have to give up my moral high ground, how does it feel? Very liberating, actually. When I use FreeBSD license instead of GPL, I consider the freedom of people over freedom of code. So why should I take such hard stances when it comes to Linux? People should matter more than code or a distribution. If Ubuntu or openSUSE are not ideal Linux ecosystem participants, they are productive and willing participants nonetheless. It may be about time I gave up on idealism and focus more on doing good for more people.

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