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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 Wired.com, much was made of Perens’s credentials for his self-appointed mission.

Notwithstanding his status as "open-source coder and business-culture outsider," Wired.com 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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