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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SteamOS and the death of the small Linux distros

This may seem like a little bit of a strange title and I will explain that in a in a minute.  First of all, this post is by Roberto J. Dohnert, only Roberto J. Dohnert and does not represent the opinions of the entire Black Lab Linux development team or the opinion of any investor, employee or administrator of PC OpenSystems LLC.

Valve has been causing a bit of an upheaval lately.  With SteamOS, the crows are already circling the corpses of the smaller Linux distributions and we will all get our eyes plucked out any second now.  OK, now I had to get that out of my system.  IRC and forums have been alive the last few days with folks asking whats going to happen.  Will SteamOS steam-roll the Linux distro market.  The answer of course is NO.

People who ask that question do not understand the Linux ecosystem very well.  The Linux ecosystem is built upon sharing.  Sharing concepts, code and ideas for the better of the computing industry and public.  Its not about being me 2, its not about being the first to gather 15 minutes of fame.  Its about working together.  Now, with over 500 Linux distributions in the world, how does that constitute working together.  Most of the smaller Linux distros get created because  the mainstream distros did not do what they needed to do.  Take Black Lab Linux for example, we didn't create Black Lab Linux to get rich quick.  Black Lab Linux started out as a private distribution for one company, for the rest of the world we standardized on SUSE Linux.  We distributed SUSE Linux, we liked SUSE Linux.  Then something happened, Novell took over SUSE Linux.  We released Black Lab Linux and Black Lab Enterprise Linux to the world because it became harder, predictability went out the window, quality went out the window and we were bleeding customers.  We tried Fedora, and it was difficult because Red Hat doesn't offer support, we tried PCLinuxOS and once again, support was an issue, PCLinuxOS didnt have support for enterprise applications.  So the decision was made, release our own or spend an arm and a leg on Novell Linux or Red Hat Enterprise and pass the buck onto our customers.  Red Hat Enterprise and Novell were also a problem because we couldn't predict an upgrade path if either one of those companies went out of business. Where would that leave our customers?  Red Hat and Novell also didn't have a predictable update schedule. So if a bug or vulnerability were found, we were at the corporate mercy.  If the OpenSUSE project had been back in 2006, what it is today, Black Lab Linux probably wouldn't exist.  But because it wasn't, and Fedora was too complex and buggy we decided to release our own.  So that's why Black Lab Linux was released. It was because we had a need that nobody else could fulfill.  Our success and creating the gold standard in desktop Linux systems came about because of my philosophy. If you are going to do all the work, be the best that you can be.

Now, because SteamOS is coming to fruition does not mean we are all dead.  Its a specialized platform for gaming.  I'm sure your favorite Linux distributions will be OK.  Now those that specialize on gaming may have an issue but from our standpoint we are a contemporary desktop operating system.  We run on contemporary hardware, we run on specialized high end hardware.  We are meant for work, play and everything between.  We have no aspirations to take over the living room; although some people do install XMBC, buy the BriQ and use us in that form but its not our only market.  

Forks that make sense are good in my opinion.  You have some good, you have some bad but most forks die out because the people figure out that what they want to do is sometimes just not worth the effort.  I welcome them because they can introduce new concepts, code and ideas.  That's part of the Linux ecosystem and I for one welcome Valves contributions to the Linux ecosystem as long as its done properly and (unlike some companies) they contribute back and Im sure they will.

Will the Black Lab Linux Project and PC OpenSystems support the Steam Machine aka Steam Box aka Valves gaming systems?  Of course we will.  That's a no brainer.  Some people will want a dual boot environment, some people will want the machine simply for its aesthetics.  Others will want it for the sheer power of the system but of course that's dependent on what they create.  Like the rest of you, I have to wait.

So no, I don't see it as an issue, I see it as an opportunity.  I may be right, I may be wrong but before we start carving out tombstones lets see whats going to happen first.  Follow the developments from Valve and instead of spreading fear and uncertainty; Breathe, be quiet and watch.

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