InformationWeek staffer, Alexander Wolfe, is claiming on his blog that too many Linux distributions make for an open source mess. He draws a parallel with the mess that Unix became but fails to recall one important facet of that era: the different Unix flavours were inextricably tied to the underlying hardware by vendors eager to sell more boxes. Linux doesn’t have that problem.

He also refers to and points out correctly that there are some 359 different flavours of Linux. But again, what he omits is more instructive than what he says: most of those distros are targeted at specific niche, and typically hobbyist, markets.

Realistically there are a far smaller number of mainstream distributions. These include: Fedora/Red Hat, Linspire (formerly Lindows), Mandriva, OpenSuse/Suse Linux Enterprise, PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu and Xandros (forgive me if I’ve left one or two out, but you get the picture). If you want to able to find support for your Linux distribution, you’d be well-advised to stick to one of these.
The other important point that Wolfe neglects to mention is that Microsoft, by virtue of its actions in trying to divide and conquer the Linux threat to its Windows monopoly, is effectively consolidating the market. By conning the likes of Novell (Suse), Linspire and Xandros into signing “we won’t sue your customers for infringing our [dubious] patents” agreements, the monopolist is marginalising some distributions to the benefit of the others.

And the biggest winner so far appears to be Ubuntu, if one looks that’s latest rankings on the home page (right hand side, page down). Part of the reason for this is you can get it freely from the internet (or get it from a FreedomToaster near you) and you don’t have to install it to play around with it: just boot from the CD. There is also a huge (and growing) user community always happy to help new users if they get stuck. All you need is an internet connection.

Have you tried it yet?