The systemd debate

It's time to split Linux distros in two

Desktop workloads and server workloads have different needs. Why address them in the same distribution?

The systemd debate

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For decades, Microsoft has released completely separate operating systems for desktops and servers. They certainly share plenty of code, but you cannot turn a Windows 7 system into a Windows Server 2008 RC2 system simply installing a few packages and uninstalling others. The desktop and the server are completely different, and they are treated as such across the board.

Naturally, that hasn't stopped more than a few folks from making the questionable decision to place server workloads on Windows XP systems, but by and large, there's no mistaking the two. This is not so in Linux.

[ Also from InfoWorld's Paul Venezia: You have your Windows in my Linux | Choose your side on the Linux divide | Review: RHEL 7 lands with a jolt | For the latest practical data center info and news, check out InfoWorld's Data Center newsletter. ]

You can take a Linux installation of nearly any distribution and turn it into a server, then back into a workstation by installing and uninstalling various packages. The OS core remains the same, and the stability and performance will be roughly the same, assuming you tune they system along the way. Those two workloads are very different, however, and as computing power continues to increase, the workloads are diverging even more.

Maybe it's time Linux is split in two. I suggested this possibility last week when discussing systemd (or that FreeBSD could see higher server adoption), but it's more than systemd coming into play here. It's from the bootloader all the way up. The more we see Linux distributions trying to offer chimera-like operating systems that can be a server or a desktop at a whim, the more we tend to see the dilution of both. You can run stock Debian Jessie on your laptop or on a 64-way server. Does it not make sense to concentrate all efforts on one or the other?

If we're homogenizing our distributions by saddling them all with systemd, then there's very little distinction between them other than the package manager and the various file system layouts. Regardless of the big gamble of pursuing desktop Linux as a line of business, would it not make sense for several Linux distributions to focus solely on the desktop while others focus solely on the server? Sure, Ubuntu and others offer "server" and "desktop" versions, or different options at install time, but in reality the only differences are the packages installed. On many distros today, even the kernel is the same; it's been merged.

With the release of popular gaming framework Steam on Linux, we're starting to see some traction for desktop Linux among folks interested in computer gaming and computers in general. They are at least trying Linux on the desktop more than they might have before, and they are finding some success.

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