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UserLinux – The Leaning Linux Tower of Babel?

OS pioneer speaks out at this week's Linux Desktop Conference

In a move that some Linux users are likening to the attempt – doomed to failure, it turned out – to build a Tower of Babel, open source activist Bruce Perens pledged himself this week to the creation of a new Linux distro: UserLinux.

UserLinux would be based, said Perens, on Debian GNU/Linux, thus drawing on a pre-existing Linux project with over 1,000 developers behind it. And it would occupy the vaccuum that is going to exist in the consumer marker now that Red Hat is going to stop selling its consumer version of Linux in retail stores.

UserLinux would only depart from Debian for software that is not open source, such as 3-D drivers, said Perens. Not everyone in the community is convinced though.

"One weakness as well as strength of Linux has always been the ability to choose," commented one Linux developer. "There are so many distributions that you can choose the one that fits you best, that you like best."

In other words, some developers are suggesting that focusing on one distribution might have the advantage that this single distribution really would get boosted, but it would arguably limit choice.

Another developer, James Anthill, writing on Slashdot, refuted claims that, since there would be exceptions to its purity from an open-source perspective, "UserLinux = Debian + proprietary software, a step backwards for OSS."

"A step back from what?" Anthill retorts. "Right now most US companies running a supported Linux in the enterprise are running Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and it comes with (or with support for) all the products they need, i.e. Java, Oracle, PowerPath, etc."

"This is the same argument that Richard Stallman uses, i.e. ‘It’s better to have nothing than something.’ Life doesn't work like that, people always go for the path of least resistance," Anthill continues. "Even Debian wasn't stupid enough to not have Netscape ‘available when that proprietary software was the only real browser. Saying ‘It's not free’ doesn't solve the problem of ‘I need, now’ (and ‘need’ is relative, some people ‘need’ to be able to play proprietary games, etc.)."

In an article published today by, much was made of Perens’s credentials for his self-appointed mission.

Notwithstanding his status as "open-source coder and business-culture outsider," writes, "Perens' insider connections may be deep enough to make UserLinux work: This past year, [he] has worked as a paid Linux consultant to IBM, Novell, Borland, and NTT, the Japanese telecommunications company."

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Most Recent Comments
Joey 05/21/04 06:43:17 PM EDT

I agree with Richard. What Bruce is doing is just building another distro out of another distro. Kinda like Fedora.I also agree with buzzcut, Mandrake is a good distro that shouldn't be overlooked. But let's ask our selves a question: What is Linux supposed to be? answer: It's supposed to be a complete implementation of... Unix thats aiming for POSIX compliance. And... Slackware is one of the most Unix like Linux.

Fun 11/19/03 12:28:44 PM EST

Well, I am a Game player same as my son. I like play Game in Linux Desktop rather play in M$ Desktop. Linux Desktop without great game, it should be a problem. Of course, Great Game is not free in the world. Such as PS2 game, all not free. I am not asked UserLinux to provide free Great Game. Only want UserLinux can attract Games company to supplier Great Game for Linux Desktop that let us to choice.

Remind that I don't like Monopoly but I like "choice".

John 11/19/03 12:05:30 PM EST

I have used Mandrake for quite awhile now and for the most part I like it. I am a developer so depency hell doesn't freak me out now like it did when I first started using linux 5 years ago. Someone posted the urpmi works as well as apt-get....I will disagree. It has not worked for me on 9.0, or 9.1. I am not sure what the deal is. it never seems to conenct to the servers right. Anyhow no biggy for me, but for others (newbies) it will be a big put off. They aren't going to want to go find the source to install something, they just want it to work. I think we should all learn somthing from Microsofts way of doing things. Graphically. Sure I can always grab the source and comile it in my self..but joe newbie wants to:

1) Down load the app.
2) Open his home directory folder.
3) double click the new icno there.
4) follow the directions on the grapphical popup screen.
5) click on the start menu (k menu) and find his app.
6) Use it.

Any thing more than that and they will run. I ahve seen a lot of people run. For the most part only people we have a nack for roblem solving seem to really like linux....or tinkering with it. Maybe it should stay that way maybe not.

One think is for certain if linux is to make it then IT WILL BE AS A COMBINATION of OSS and proprietary software. period.

Games are never ever, repeat....never ever going to be free. They require riduculas sums of moeny and technology to push the limits. thus they require a means of generating the return on that money. There is nothing wrong with proprietary software. Their is something wrong with monopolostic practices. I love OSS with everthing i have. I will continue to support and contribute to it for as long as I can.

qoop 11/19/03 01:30:55 AM EST

Ultra newbie here. Just catching the Linux wave, or more like just standing on the beach looking at it/them. Besides being fascinated by it all, what I see happening, so long as the gpl provides for it, like I think it does, is all these different efforts being free to recombine and splinter repeatedly via natural selection. So long as people create new versions, and the gpl (or something like it) protects those versions from proprietary control, the eventuality of a competitive, or even dominant piece of software would appear to be inevitable.

Sea Dragon 11/15/03 12:24:26 PM EST

Well, these type users need to be take care in deeply. Have you all will consider this issue. Because of we are IT professional, so we have no problem by using Linux. We only have some troubles only. How's about these type users? If no one take care them. M$ will pay their effort to take care them and earn their money and get the advantage to monolopy in the world.

I will ask myself what can we do? Go back to our professional skill set "problem solving". How Desktop can be great to be used without trouble to users and easy to bugs fixing / kill-viruse / security /stable.

I don't pay more attention on which Desktop is favour for me because everyone have his/her favour. No one is actuallly same as others. Some like RH, some like SUSE, some like Mandrake and some like Debian....may be some like UserLinux (the topic).

Well, hope all of you have good ideas to solve this problem that all Linux Desktop must be facing to.

Sea Dragon 11/15/03 12:24:11 PM EST

I have some other points of view for Desktop :
I think, in here, all of you have some computer knowledges to handle the OS/Desktop issue. In the real world, there are too many people they are no computer knowledge, they only want to use Desktop stable / functionable / virusless / no change / no complex /easy to use. Some of them will memtion the cost and most of them not because they fear from using computer.

Richard 11/14/03 03:20:29 PM EST

Linux has a big problem. All the hackers sould focus their energy on actually getting some of the apps FINNISHED instead of making more nearly but not quite the same to suit me apps.

I use linux.

wawadave 11/12/03 08:54:20 PM EST

i dont like the look of how linux is fragmenting even more.
with microsucks cutting it down,buying it long befor it gets bad?

HoboJoe 11/12/03 06:28:47 PM EST

IMHO UserLinux will certainly contribute to the Open Source Community in some way. I doubt that anything outstandingly negative will surface in this effort.

BTW...Why am I seeing M$ advertising on this page? Guess money really does talk, doesn't it?

Mark 11/12/03 05:08:34 AM EST

I totally agree with Scott, that was why I moved from being a 5 year hardcore Redhat user to Debian (oh and numerous rpm locking problems, with a bodged workaround).

Whilst I do agree that Mandrake is easy for the desktop, I would never put it on a Serve, I've tried every install of Mandrake from 6.x and to be honest it does seem rather buggy.
you could say it's my pc or the way I'm doing it, but currently I'm running Debian Unstable on my Worstation here at work and it's been rock solid, I tried dual booting with Mandrake 9.2, that came off within 3 days.
I'm sure Mandrake works great for other people, but in my experiances with it, I would never use it again, the same goes for Redhat.

But as the saying's all about choice.

I do agree that Bruce, should put his efforts into the Current debian camp, but from what I understand there are a few conflicts with the deb developers and his views..

Richard Brown 11/12/03 02:46:51 AM EST

I say good luck to Bruce. Surely Linux is about innovation and trying out new things. Over a year ago I loaded Mandrake for the first time. I didn't dual boot I just went for it. It seems that Linux is about that pioneer spirit. And so I joined in. I don't want to criticise any distro - RH, Mandrake, SUSE and Debian. I think they are all great. I love using them. I find it fun. I am going to try Debian soon. I think the installation thing scares me (I know where's the pioneer spirit now) but if Bruce produces another Debian that is easy to install it can only be good for the community. Let's stop moaning and belittling distros and get on the path of encouragement.
Go for it Bruce.

Fred 11/12/03 02:46:14 AM EST

"I don’t know and I don’t care." - Surely this type of attitude "fragment[s|ing] the Linux market even more."

Scott 11/11/03 11:16:17 PM EST

Yea lets go with Mandrake then when they get bought out or go out of business we are in trouble again. Lets go with a French company that is fragmenting the Linux market even more. Ever ask yourself why these distributions want their own separate installers. It’s called lock in. They learned it from Microsoft. Best to stick with apt-get which is maintained and used by over a 1,000 developers who are not tied to a specific company and use distributions based on a single installation method. I will never use Mandrake for this reason. I tried it once and was soon in dependency hell using RPM’s. Do you have to pay money to gain access to their packages? Join a club? I don’t know and I don’t care. Packages written with a single distribution in mind are a no go for me.

The same installer must be universally used by all distributions if Linux is to grow rapidly. Ever notice that commercial easy to use distributions like Lindows, Xandros and Libranet use Debian. That is because they know apt-get is the best installation system and they know their customers will demand ease of use and reliability. Programmers should only have to write installers for one installation system for Linux and apt-get is already used by many distributions. Apt is also the superior way to do updates in my opinion. Installer fragmentation is one of Microsoft’s greatest allies. I bet Microsoft hopes every distro will have its own installation system. Mandrake is part of the problem as far as that goes so are Red Hat (the garbage we know as RPM) and Suse. The day I can install a program in Linux on all distributions using a single file will be the day Microsoft will tremble in fear.

capn_buzzcut 11/11/03 09:05:03 PM EST

I agree. Why is Mandrake so ignored? It's far and away the best and most complete Linux desktop available. Tired of rpm dependency hell? Hello, Mandrake's urpmi works just as well as Debian's apt-get for installing packages, and Mandrake's configuration wizards and control center are just as good as Suse's. You say you prefer Redhat because the company is more stable than Mandrake? Guess what, Redhat has just abandoned the desktop. How's that for stable? Suse? No downloadable iso's, and no real difference from Redhat (just a different logo).

Need a good Linux Desktop? Go with Mandrake. For servers, stick with Debian.

Dennis Myers 11/11/03 07:44:03 PM EST

What vacuum? A vacuum implies nothing is there. Why does everyone seem to ignore Mandrake Linux? This is the best user desktop package on the market. It has all the bells and whistles, you can use KDE or Gnome or a bunch of other window managers, and all the functionality is there. We use it for our business. There is no vacuum, just one less choice. Fine, make a new choice, but please don't ignore the best distro out there.

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