Is Ubuntu's Popularity Endangering the Linux Ecosystem?

After I have read iTWire's recent article entitled "Is Ubuntu killing other distributions?" I remembered asking myself the same question when I noticed how Ubuntu is taking over the Linux world. --Plenty of Linux related tech sites, blogs, and social networking websites are all talking about Ubuntu, but very few are giving enough attention to other Linux distributions. If you need further proof on how Ubuntu is quickly pulling away from other distros, let me give you a little illustration with the help of the very handy Google Trends:

While I agree to some extent that Ubuntu's mainstream success is good for GNU/Linux and the free and open source software in general, I'm still wondering what is going to happen in the long the run if the trend will continue in favor of Ubuntu. In effect, what if the people behind other popular Linux distributions like Fedora, Mandriva, OpenSUSE, and Mint among others will someday lose courage to go on and will just let their distros die down? Will this still be healthy for Linux? To my dear readers, I want to hear your views.

PS. To iTWire's Sam Varghese who unfairly criticizes Ladislav Bodnar and "the many people in the FOSS community" when he wrote,

The Distrowatch website ranks the popularity of distributions by using a wrong metric, the number of visits to each distribution's site. It does not measure downloads - but try telling the man who runs the site that he is wrong. Like many people in the FOSS community, he is always right.

-How about some respect for Distrowatch. Like probably most of you, part of my Linux experience is visiting Also, new-to-Linux users always find that site very valuable. And though I agree that the ranking system of Distrowatch does not perfectly measure a distro's popularity, I still refer to its top 100 list when I wanted to try other capable distributions.

*Update: Ladislav answered Sam's comment...

The DistroWatch comment was nasty. Throughout the site's history, I've always tried to downplay the importance of page hit ranking (PHR) as nothing more than a fun way to measure what's hot in the distro world, at least among those who visit DistroWatch - that's what you'd have found on the page explaining the PHR system if you'd bothered to look.

Also, when exactly did you try to tell me that I was wrong about the PHR system? The only email I've ever received from you was about a small error I made in an edition of DistroWatch Weekly, which I corrected straight away.

Ladislav Bodnar


  1. Don't worry be happy. The claims have validity but still unpredictable. If you watch Samurai X: You would know the phrase - the strong shall live and the weak shall die. Well, Ubuntu is strong in marketing and user base. That's about it.

    The other distros fate rests not in Ubuntu's hands - but in theirs. Some distros are managed by a single person manage to survive up to now. The thing is, open source is not merely a label on a software - it is a guarantee that whether a software is successful or not - others have the option to continue.

    Ultimately it is up to the people who use and develop these software to decide the fate of their distro. No matter what I do, I cannot force anybody else to use Ubuntu and stop using windows or distro x, y or z.

    To conclude, I cannot see it as something to be worried about.

    Still, on the other hand, I believe that presence is key. If Ubuntu, Fedora, Suse can make that presence, then good for the whole Linux world. Eventually people would look for an alternative that suits their taste and specifications.

    Cool Game runs on Wine:

  2. For me, Ubuntu was a gateway distro. I wasn't smart enough to install Debian when I started looking at Linux/GNU. Ubuntu helped me get into Linux. Then I distro hopped for a couple of years, and eventually settled on Opensuse. I don't think Ubuntu is harming the cause because almost everyone that is curious about Ubuntu will eventually experiment with them all and make up their minds as to wether it the best.

  3. In some ways it's easier. Distros with less attention don't have to live up to the hype that Ubuntu does.

  4. This is a good thing and I hope it happens. Efforts should be concentrated on one thing rather than be spread out. You want to build a tower not a set of flat houses that no one wants to go to.

  5. I do not think that Ubuntu's success will destroy the Linux Ecosystem. Hopefully it will get people interested and contributing to Linux.

    I think that other distributions will still continue to thrive no matter how well Ubuntu does. Ubuntu is not for everyone, but it is a good starter distro for those new to Linux.

  6. I think it is hurting the ecosystem. There are very few true developing distros out there: Slackware, Debian, Mandriva, Novell/Suse, Red Hat/Fedora, Gentoo... The rest are based on those distros, and Ubuntu is in that catagory. Ubuntu relies on the work of Debian. Without these distros that shoulder the bulk of the development in Linux, we wouldn't have the OS that we have. It is necessary for those distros to do well in order to keep the development going. So, with Ubuntu hogging up so much of the spotlight, so little is left for those distros that need the funding to keep things alive. Ubuntu's aggressive marketing is hurting the truly innovative Linux distros.

  7. Ubuntu has been around four years. Linux has been around much longer than that. It is not a commercial venture that will go belly up without support.
    Linux is a concept and it will never go out of fashion or under. It represents what people want from their computers which is control, empowerment and exploration.
    Ubuntu is good for Linux and Linux is not weakened by its success. Canonical pays developers who are freed to do what they do best and they pay attention to their community and what they want. These two things have led to Ubuntu's success more than anything else.
    It has not happened with other distros for philosophical reasons. Fedora, Mandriva and SUSE are driven by the market as their corporate structure has a vested interest in making a profit.
    Canonical has never had these pretensions. They are driven by the desire to produce a good OS simply for the sake of it and if they can make money it is even better. If they lose money, so be it. Not many companies are in a position to not care what the market dictates and to just proceed as their conscience dictates. This, of course, has much to do with the backing of of Mark Shuttleworth.
    If he decides to remove his financial support that would not kill Ubuntu as many people have bought into what he started. It would merely slow things down and reduce Ubuntu to what it really is, a community based distro. Now, with his support it is a community with money to take risks and be aggressive.

  8. I don't think it's hurting the ecosystem either. As one said above, ubuntu is more of a gateway distro than anything else. Many people start there when trying Linux and then a percentage move on to something else.

    I love Debian, but my hardware choices over the years have not. As a result, I've enjoyed both SUSE and Fedora extensively.

  9. explain to me what the "linux ecosystem" is exactly?

    explain what exactly is the "linux desktop" and I'll give you an argument because there is no such thing.

    Linux is a kernel not even immediately visible to the command line, that falls to the shell. more often than not BASH. Linux is not an operating system in the sense that more than 90% of the world population understands the term. Call it semantics but it's also the truth. Therein lies the first problem with your argument: you are effectively asking if Ubuntu - a desktop operating system - is threatening a kernel ecosystem. Last I heard Ubuntu does not contribute kernel patches and/or doesn't touch/butcher the kernel at all. If Ubuntu were to add patches to the kernel that corrupted the kernel or if Ubuntu wrote patches but did not contribute back the source code to the kernel developers, that would be different.

    As it is, Ubuntu *IS* Linux to most normal people. Geeks may think 50 distributions are worthwhile, normal users do not.

    To cut the crap, ask yourself this question: Your least technically capable friend/relative wants a new operating system. What do you recommend? Ubuntu every time.

    To make a difference, "linux" needs to get desktop market share. The majority of users out there are not geeks (sorry guys, it's true). The only user-friendly(ish) linux-based OS out there is Ubuntu.

    Enough said.

  10. I believe Adam Williamson, the community manager for Mandriva, said something similar on his blog.

  11. AnonymousJune 10, 2009

    I found this on a Google search for "distros by popularity" and thought I'd drop my two cents...

    I think Ubuntu is great. It's a fantastic way to get new users interested in Linux, and a great stepping stone on to Debian among others. I've always felt that 500 or however many distros there are is a bit excessive, and it's helpful for new users to have a clear choice. Ask what distro is good for a newbie in almost any forum, and you will get a resounding "Ubuntu!"

    But I don't see that Ubuntu is in any way detrimental to (all) other Linux distributions. It fills a niche, and fills it very well. In fact, it's crowding out competitors for that same niche, such as Fedora and Mandriva. But I notice you didn't do a comparison with Slackware, or Debian, or Gentoo, or Arch, or any of the others which serve a different purpose. (Incidentally, I suspect that typing "mint" in without specifying "Linux" was a slip of the brain -- not to mention that Mint is an Ubuntu-based distro).

    Is Ubuntu crowding out some other distributions? Sure. Is it detrimental to all other distros as a whole? No; in fact, it's helping bring Linux to more people than ever before. I'd be fine with Ubuntu as the only beginner's distro available -- PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, Mepis, Xandros, Linspire ... they all seem redundant to me. But Ubuntu will replace Slackware, Arch, Gentoo, Fedora / RHEL, etc. because all those distros fill different niches from Ubuntu.

    Whatever. *rolls eyes* We both know the post isn't talking exclusively about the Linux kernel. Nitpicking over terminology isn't clarifying the issue.

  12. AnonymousJune 10, 2009

    wow, oops, I meant to say "Ubuntu will NOT replace Slackware, ..." in the post above