All Linux Distros Suck

1. In reality, all Linux distributions suck, some just suck in ways you might not have discovered yet.

While I am not the holy master of all that is Linux, I like to think that, having deployed, administered, maintained, and supported a good number of distros (not to mention UNIX variants), in varying environments and for varying purposes and constituents, I have some clue what I’m talking about. This may well prove to be false, but I’m putting it out there for now. (oh yeah, I also co-authored a book on the topic of Linux Servers).

There is an alarmingly large, and growing, camp of Linux users who feel that the answer to any problems you’re having with any Linux distro that isn’t the one they use is to switch to the one they use. This kind of thinking leads to IRC conversations similar to this one:

<guy> I'm having trouble getting Apache and PHP 5 to compile against my system's OpenSSL libs.
<1337d00d> What distro?
<guy> SpaghettiX
<1337d00d> Oh. I use RavioliX. I just run "leet realm beam apache" and all that stuff is done for me.
<guy> Ok, so... what about SpaghettiX?
<1337d00d> I'll never get why people run SpaghettiX. It's bloated and slow, not to mention broken.
<guy> ok, thanks anyway.
<guy> Hey do you happen to know how to find the version of ZDE that's running on SpaghettiX
<1337d00d> No idea. Never used SpaghettiX because it's bloated and slow, and broke
<1337d00d> Use RavioliX. This is open source. It's all about choice!

No, really. Conversations like this happen all the time. It’s not limited to Linux distributions either, but we won’t go down that road for now.

The point is, here’s a guy (aptly called ‘guy’) trying to get some work done, and 133td00d decides to take this opportunity to try to convert the guy to his personal religion instead of just bowing out because he doesn’t know the answer.

Also, note a couple of things here: First, 133td00d says that SpaghettiX is bloated and slow, and then mentions that he’s never used it. Second, he says open source is all about choice, but is chastising ‘guy’ for not choosing RavioliX. These are both classic logic flaws often made by people who believe they’ve seen some kind of light. I’ve made a hobby of leading zealots into logical corners like this. It’s great fun.

The reality is that all Linux distributions suck. No matter which distro you choose, if you use it for enough different tasks, you’re *going* to tickle some bug in some library, or some quirk in some tool, or some idiosyncrasy, or missing package, or weird config syntax, or oddball package management… stuff. If you run into LDAP issues on one distro, and move to another one to get around that issue, you’ll inevitably run into a broken PAM module or something. If you have compilation issues on one platform because of GCC, and switch distros, you’ll have compile issues because of autoconf. If you leave one distro to get an upgraded Apache version in another, you’ll inevitably find that *that* distro has an outdated Python install.

Of course, most fanboys don’t really understand this, because they run, like, 3 towers in their basement with a dynamic dns setup, and a firewall that isolates the other two towers on their own network segments, and then brag to their buddies how that have a “production” network with a DMZ in their house. They’ve never had to do what you’d call “managing servers”. They’ve never had to automate the installation of a farm of machines that authenticate via cross-domain authentication schemes, or had to use a protocol analyzer to figure out why *one* guy in a thousand can’t reach their web site, or set up a print server that supports 10 versions *each* of Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris, to any of about 60 different printers of varying makes and models, or support teams of developers requiring 3 versions of perl, 6 versions of gcc, 4 versions of Java, 3 versions of Python, two versions of PHP, InnoDB *and* MyISAM tables in MySQL, in addition to PostgreSQL (and they’ve never had to back all this stuff up).

If you think there’s a distro that does everything under the sun flawlessly, you should not let other people know that you think that. Further, if you’ve never used a distro, but are going to bash it, don’t let people know you’ve never used the distro. Better yet, don’t bash stuff you haven’t used. Shut up and learn from people who *have* used it.

2. All operating systems suck.

Read it, learn it, know it. If you’re so focused on Linux that you never even thought about this statement, sit down for about an hour and stare out a window and ponder it. The truth is that OSes in general are not fault tolerant enough, not easy enough to use, administer, maintain, secure, and/or integrate. Operating systems are extremely difficult beasts to tame. They are, by anyone’s definition who knows about them, “hard”. If you doubt it, consider that many OS designers have graduate CS degrees (there are plenty of PhDs, even), and meanwhile operating systems, on the by and large, still suck.

3. Be a part of the solution.

Once you realize that it isn’t just a single distro, and not just a single operating system, and not just a variant or version or whatever, but that *everything* basically sucks, you might become disillusioned, or even depressed. Don’t be. It’s the golden age. It’s like the world before cars, and everyone is waiting for someone to invent a car. There are so many problems to solve, there are so many opportunities to be a hero in some form, so many possibilities. There’s so much to be done that it’s a complete waste of time to sit around bullshitting about how distro “x” does thing “y” better than “z”, so we should all be using “x”. Meanwhile, in the grand scheme of things, “y” is so infinitesimally small that in 12 months “y” will be done in some completely different way, if “y” isn’t completely obviated or swallowed up by some other process altogether.

The computing universe as we know it is only a couple of decades old. We’re all still just pioneers hacking at stuff with pickaxes (YOU had a PICKAXE!?). You don’t have to be an OS designer to make the computing world a better place, either. Most people are *not* kernel hackers, but are solving (for some definition of ‘solving’) issues, filling gaps, patching up holes, and building bridges, all in user space, using languages other than C and Assembly (though they’re nice too).

There are trails to blaze. Get off IRC and go blaze them.

  • ignacio

    Hear, hear!

  • Glyph Lefkowitz

    I believe the logical fallacy here is the appeal to ridicule, or perhaps it’s simply a straw man: 133td00d is clearly meant to be easy target. Some people, sometimes, advise others based on incomplete information. This says nothing about whether the same advice, delivered by someone who knows what they’re talking about, is valid.

    As I follow it, your argument goes roughly like this:

    1. All linux distributions have flaws.
    2. Therefore, all linux distributions are equivalent.
    3. Therefore, it is bad to advise people to decide on one distribution (or operating system) over another. Especially on IRC.

    The jump between point 1 and point 2 is unsubstantiated. Some linux distros are better than others. My preferences are not the point here; merely the fact that my preferences may be substantiated by more than a simple whim.

  • m0j0


    1. 133td00d, in his many forms, is an easy target not because I made him that way; certainly we can all recognize that this character actually *exists*, and my dialog does little if anything to embellish or alter his logic. He’s an easy target because of his own religion-like, blind-faith adherence to his distro of choice. I also don’t believe there’s a logical fallacy committed by ridiculing him.

    2. My intent was lost on you somehow, as evidenced by two things: a) your take on the flow of my “argument” is incorrect, and b) the “argument” wasn’t the point anyway. I’ll try to do a better job of communicating my intent in the future. Dare I say that you conveniently drew up that oddball flow as a tool to throw ridicule around yourself. It’s the easy way out. If you read the first 2 paragraphs and decide you’re uninterested, just move along.

    The fact of the matter is that Linux distributions *do* have flaws, and they are, *IN THAT REGARD* equivalent. At the end of the post, that all becomes irrelevant anyway. The point here was *NOT* to compare Linux distributions, it was to speak to a problem that I feel is even larger than the fact that, simply, “all linux distributions have flaws”.

    3. “Some linux distros are better than others” is a completely relative term. It has no meaning outside of some task-specific (or at least problem domain-specific) context. Better than others for doing what? I understand that you probably knew that, but I’m pointing it out for others as an extra point to consider.

  • Pingback: My distro can beat up your distro | Linux and Open Source |

  • Tshepang

    Me loves this post. Nice critique.

  • Jon

    “A thousand people in the street
    Singing songs and carrying signs
    Mostly say, hooray for our side”

    – “For What It’s Worth”, Buffalo Springfield

    To be fair I suspect we’ve all had l33td00d moments, but I think we need to get beyond that if we are going to make any real progress. I think diversity is a good thing but sometimes I wonder if all the distros don’t end up diluting effort towards progress because so much effort is put into replicating what has already been done elsewhere albeit in slightly different ways. *shrug* I have my preferences but I am always open to learning about a better way.

  • Pingback:

  • tretle

    I think you left out the start of that irc conversation didn’t you? Probably went something like this:

    I’m having trouble getting Apache and PHP 5 to compile against my system’s OpenSSL libs.
    Anyone here
    I’m having trouble getting Apache and PHP 5 to compile against my system’s OpenSSL libs.
    Could someone answer me?
    I’m having trouble getting Apache and PHP 5 to compile against my system’s OpenSSL libs.
    I’m having trouble getting Apache and PHP 5 to compile against my system’s OpenSSL libs.
    I’m having trouble getting Apache and PHP 5 to compile against my system’s OpenSSL libs.

    You get these type of people on irc, their the ones that don’t understand that no-one is answering for a reason. They either don’t know the answer or are not at their desks. Yet guy will keep flooding the channel until he gets an answer.
    If you want answers specifically for your distro then go to your distro’s irc channel.

    You say Linux sucks, you rant for an entire article and then try and get other people to be productive in the end. Kind of hypocritical don’t you think.
    I mean taking the time to write an article with the word sucks in the heading is kind of counter productive, how do you think the people that have contributed time and effort might feel :D.
    Maybe I am biased towards Linux because I have had windows completely removed for a few years now, before that I used to dual boot.
    Nah, that wouldn’t make sense, I never wrote an article declaring windows sucks because I had no use for it anymore.
    All in all I felt an elitist vibe from this article, I follow development blogs for various open source projects like gnome etc and fully appreciate what we have.

  • Xiroh

    I think that many are overlooking the central point of this article. At the end of the day, all Linux distributions STILL suck, some in certain ways, some in others. It may very well be that the area in which one’s distribution sucks is something one will never see or have occasion to use. There are still a LOT of issues to be tackled by Linux distros before they will be palatable and productive for the vast majority of society.

    The elitist attitude in the linux community on the other hand, is still going strong. The people who know, by and large, may help, but do so in a hostile and condescending manner. Simply because one has taken the time to overcome (regardless of distro) linux’s STEEP learning curve doesn’t make one somehow a “better” or “smarter” person.

    There are a lot of people out in the world who simply don’t have the time to learn a new OS before becoming productive. Many people haven’t made the switch from their current OS, be it Mac, or windows, for this very reason.

    This article (IMO) as well as my response is in no way a defense of Windows, or Mac, nor is it to specifically bash Linus distros. My point has been simply to state that the open source community has a long way to go, and a little more helpfulness and honesty regarding one’s beloved distro could make a major difference.

  • Bob

    The people who respond to any question with an admonishment to change distros make my teeth hurt. There’s a certain amount of elitism, but I’d consider it more an effect of ignorance, inexperience, and immaturity. Sure, it takes me 20 minutes to pave a box with Kickstart and a few keystrokes to register the system with our configuration management system (Puppet) but the fact that I use Puppet and Kickstart probably indicates that I’m not about to pave my entire infrastructure on the advice of someone who can’t be bothered to answer “I don’t know” to a question he doesn’t know the answer to. Someone without a repeatable build and CM system is even less likely to pave their systems.

    I’m on my fourth distro (Slackware, Red Hat, SuSE, Ubuntu) since 1995. I’ve changed before and I’ll change again, but not because of some tard on IRC. This also points out the problem with asking for help on IRC, but that’s a whole different issue.

    The fact that I have to add a third-party CM system and sort out Kickstart (Jumpstart, $provisioning_system) and ILOM/IPMI on my own is evidence enough that all OSs still have a long way to go until they’re even reasonably manageable. At least the new Windows Server incarnation should be able to run without a GUI. What progress there is comes slowly… ;)

  • Tom Cruise

    The very fact that there are so many “distros” in the Linux world tells you what you need to know. No one “distro” satisfies the day to day needs of desktop users very well. The open source programmers are unable to come up with a usable desktop OS in more than 10 years of trying. They are, however, able to come up with multiple redundant explanations for why Linux keeps sucking.

    I wish the open source crowd just gave up. Just admit that Microsoft and Apple are better at software than you guys, and move on. Spare us all this useless discussion, at least.

  • G2g591

    “Tom Cruise” , one of the main reasons why there are so many “distros” is because different people want different software preinstalled. Personally I use a distrobution which barely installed enough to install other stuff, so I have exactly what I want. It provides a very flexible desktop interface of YOUR choice.

    I just wish the people who havn’t tried a decent distrobution would stop spreading lies and uncertanty when someone writes about Linux.

  • Tom Cruise

    G2g591 says: one of the main reasons why there are so many “distros” is because different people want different software preinstalled.

    If this were true, an install-time option would have been all that is needed instead of the 927 “distros” that we see in the Linux land. People come up with new “distros” because they find the existing “distros” unsatisfactory. The thing is, the real problems with Linux (such as too much undisciplined change or too many dependency entanglements) are not solved well by any “distro” – those are not really “distro”-specific problems.

    There’s no need for “enemies” of Linux to spread lies and uncertainty. Linux certainly sucks, and truth hurts Linux plenty.

  • Jeff

    Immaturity: the quoted IRC zealot, MALE, likely under 30 and more likely under 25, “dumb and full of cum” to use a more colorful description

    Maturity: clearly being able to see the ridiculousness in the zealot mindset

    Wisdom: knowing ahead of time that writing this blog post will have no effect on the type of people it’s targeted at, that time and life are the only things that WILL affect them, and… not writing the blog post

  • Casey

    Google “322424845 in hex” and shit brix.