Some time ago I complained about how excessive forking of Linux distributions leads to unwanted dilution of human effort (The Bitter Taste of Mandrake Juice). Then, however I was quite frustrated with the situation of Mandriva Linux. I wrote about how Open Mandriva Lx and Mageia could achieve much more if they became a single distribution, or at least if the communities worked closely together (like those of antiX and Mepis in order to create antiX MX). Exactly to my frustration, it didn’t seem like that would happen in the nearest future.
I have to admit that in my previous musings I neglected the contrary (positive) perspective. It became apparent to me only when I took more interest in various Debian-based distributions and started testing them one by one. The development team responsible for each of them put substantial effort into creating a product that will fulfill the tastes of a certain userbase. Thanks to them, me and many other people have what I prize most – choice!
As Debian is quite a modular and very repository-reliant distribution, one can literally ‘mix and match’ with significant success. Debian Stable can be turned into Testing or Unstable and various derivatives may be morphed into Debian proper (for instance, Semplice based on Debian Unstable/Sid offers quick access to Debian Sid repositories through configuration files). Not without issues, of course, but it is feasible. In the long run the starting point is not entirely relevant for the end result, but it makes the initial setup that much more convenient.
This concept can then be extrapolated further. Whatever Linux distribution we use, all of us rely on the same components – the linux kernel, desktop environment, software, etc. Distributions are mostly defined by their respective package management utilities, while the core aspects remain unchanged. That is why I can refer to the fantastic Arch Linux wiki for general guidance even when I am using Debian or OpenSUSE.
In a peculiar way the unity of Linux is expressed in following common principles and sharing ideas, not necessarily in using the very same distribution.