Linux is all growed up now

The memes we clung to in days past should be let go

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A weird little meme is squiggling through the Internet this week, one which I feel obligated to squash because it's just plain wrong.

It's this notion that somehow Ubuntu is losing its popularity because it's slipped in the rankings on DistroWatch. That seems just about the silliest thing I have read in a while.

First, there's the whole notion of how the rankings on DistroWatch work. They don't count downloads or boxes: they count page hits for each distro's page on the DistroWatch site. "Only one hit per IP address per day is counted," the site explains.

[Also see: And the best Linux desktop distro of all is...]

Which means that anyone coming to DistroWatch to find out about what distro works best for them will see the rankings list and, thanks to positive feedback, most likely click on the distros that are near the top of the list--thus keeping those distros on top of the list.

It's pretty well known that this ranking system never has been indicative of true traffic numbers. One guy said it best:

"There is absolutely nothing flawed about DistroWatch page hit ranking. It represents page hits on the individual distribution pages, period. Now, if you'd said that the DistroWatch page hit ranking is a flawed way of measuring the popularity of Linux distributions, then yes, I would have agreed..."

That guy was Ladislav Bodnar, commenting on a 2006 blog entry on how distros might have been gaming the DistroWatch rankings. Bodnar, by the way, is the owner and operator of DistroWatch.

Then, there's the even bigger picture: does anyone really need to care about which distro is more popular than the others? This mindset smacks of high school homecoming elections, and frankly I think Linux has grown way past this point.

Let's look at Ubuntu, shall we? Like it or not, they have pushed out a brand-new innovative interface and made great strides in simplifying the desktop for everyone. Yesterday's revelation that the Synaptic package manager will be phased out in Ubuntu 11.10 is further evidence of that. (For the record, I'm not thrilled about it, but I understand their motivation.)

Meanwhile, Canonical is capitalizing on the KVM tech in the Linux kernel to position Ubuntu Server as a virtualization platform. Along with this, they are fully active members in the Open Virtualization Alliance, a consortium dedicated to kicking VMware's collective rear in the virtualization sector. Virtualization is just the first step towards the cloud, and Ubuntu is right there, too. I just saw a tweet list night that Canonical is working with Puppet Labs and Rackspace to build "kickass support for deploying Openstack."

And on and on.

To be clear, we're seeing innovation like this from Red Hat, Fedora, Debian, SUSE Linux, and Scientific Linux--just to name a few. Desktop, embedded, virtualization, or cloud, wherever you look, real technical solutions are being provided to meet real business challenges.

That, dear reader, is where the focus should lie; not which distro is more popular this week.

I know it will be hard. It's like watching your firstborn baby girl grow up to become a beautiful young woman with ideas and opinions of her own. You have to undo years of parenting reflex and let them make decisions on their own. You can still help, you just have to find different ways to do it.

This is where Linux is: thousands of developers and contributors have poured their skills and hearts into creating this operating system, and sometimes it's hard not to fall into the old habits from the days Linux is young. But to help Linux, we have to look towards a new future, one where the desktop may not be the primary platform, but one where Linux may yet be the most important operating system the world will ever use.

Ponder that next week, while I take a family vacation away from the world of technology, where the only silicon I feel will be the stuff squishing in-between my toes. Until July 5, be safe, be well, and peace.

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