Are all Linux distributions created equally?

Would a Linux distribution by any other name smell as sweet? Probably.

Brian Proffitt notes something on Linux Today that won't please many in Raleigh or Redmond, but which is arguably true: Linux is Linux is Linux. There really isn't much inherent in a base Linux distribution to distinguish it from its neighbors.

I think the distributions are becoming so similar in their construction, and the differences between them so subtle, the whole notion of distribution superiority is completely moot.

Ian Murdock, founder of Debian, has been saying the same thing for years.

Lately, Microsoft and Novell have tried to suggest that Suse Linux is very different from Red Hat (in terms of interoperability with Microsoft), while Oracle has been saying the exact inverse for its Unbreakable Linux (100 percent compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux).

They're both right. It's just a question of degree.

There really are no deep technology differences between the various Linux distributions out there. Instead there are different philosophies, support models, and add-on value from the various vendors, as Proffitt suggests:

When distros first started, the differences between them were night and day. Now, it seems that the real differences boil down to the package management and one other thing I haven't mentioned: where does the distro fall on the freedom vs. proprietary software scale? How free a distro is can become one of the most important features for anyone choosing a distribution.

And that's a very big deal. As distribution vendors seek to differentiate themselves, some believe the right way to go is with a hybrid model while others--notably Red Hat--have committed ever increasing amounts of R&D to Linux...all of which will be given away as open source.

Are there differences between Linux distributions? Sure. They're just not as profound as some would have you think, from a technology perspective. The real differences come down to freedom and brand. Both matter.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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