Community vs. Commercial GNU/Linux Distributions: Page 3


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Much the same attitude can be found in many rank and file members of commercial distributions, even those who are paid to work on them. These days, though, the leaders of commercial distributions are sounding as though they agree with Matthew Aslett, who, using "open source" to refer to free software as well, suggests that:

Open source is a business tactic, not a business model. Open source is not a market in and of itself, nor is it a vertical segment of the market. Open source is a software development and/or distribution model that is enabled by a licensing tactic. It enables new revenue generation strategies.
In other words, those leading commercial distributions do not see what they are doing as transformative, or a revolution in customer-business relations, the way that the signers of The Clue Train Manifesto did in 1999. Rather, it has become a way to save costs or get ahead of the competition. Otherwise, commercial distributions are simply engaging in business as usual.

The same cannot be said of the average members of community distributions. So as far as they are concerned with business at all (and many aren't), they see their efforts as a way to produce better software, or as a more human way of doing business. Above everything else, they see their attitudes and behavior as an alternative. And many of them are eager to promote it as one.

Whether you support or can accept these attitudes may have a larger role in your choice of distributions than anything else because, one way or the other, they will permeate most of your interactions with the distribution.

Going community or commercial

So which is better: a community distribution, or a commercial one?

The question has no simple answer. If you are used to traditional ways of dealing with software -- or have to answer to those who are -- then working with a commercial distribution is probably easier to handle. With paid support and regular releases, they will probably be a comfortable fit.

The disadvantage of commercial distributions is that you give up some of the advantage of switching to GNU/Linux in the first place. In fact, commercial distributions are counting on you doing so; since they can't make money selling what is available for free, they depend on selling services and intangibles like reliability.

With free support, community distributions might seem more economical. However, the need to nourish a good relationship and the atmosphere of a town meeting can cost you in extra effort, and require specialized staff if you represent a business. Just as important, the informal atmosphere may be strange and frustrating to you, and hard to explain to anyone to whom you report. Or, possibly, you may find the informality refreshing and engaging.

But whatever your decision, remember that all GNU/Linux distributions are not the same. Which of these alternatives you should choose depends very much on what you are prepared to tolerate.

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Tags: open source, Linux, services, Sun Microsystems

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