What is a distro – anyway?

After some puzzling evidence in trying to revise a list of non-systemd init distributions, forks, clones, derivatives, and “retouches” in which FigOS didn’t seem to be easily admitted, and in our quest to come up with explicit guidelines of what is what on the list, and….. since we are not developers and/or distro publishers ourselves, we decided to get some guidance of someone who has published a complete operating system himself what he thinks.  Let’s see what he has to say about it.


What is a Distro? (by FigOSdev)

Defining a distro in a technical way is probably useful, if it can be done accurately. For non-technical people, I explain that a distro is:
“Like the’ make and model’ of a car– except that it can replace all the software on your computer.”

I simply think of it as a brand, but everyone is tired of those distros that “just change the wallpaper and icons.” Obviously, some distros are pretty superficial; most people want to know which ones are “serious distros.”

And trying to define a “serious” distro in technical terms is a lot of fun– do you go by the number of users, the popular “has its own repos” definition? by which: Devuan is not entirely a distro, while Gnuinos is?

Ive used Gnuinos, before switching to Refracta. Its lovely, and Aitor is a great person from what I can tell. But Devuan has a lot more packages, I believe. How useful would it really be to say that Gnuinos is a distro with its own repos, but Devuan isnt?

Refracta has some packages of its own: (including fig: https://distrowatch.com/weekly.php?issue=20170102#fig)

But one interesting thing that has cropped up is– where is the distro HOSTED? to me, this is a weird criteria for whether something “is a distro” or not. Refracta has hosted itself on sourceforge and ibiblio before. Ibiblio hosting used to be more common. but so what if you host from your garage? from a gopher server? (perhaps not secure, but still a distro.)


Another interesting (proposed?) disqualifier– when allytonx adds *the most current version* of a distro to the internet archive, is it less of a distro? (He archives Devuan there, too.) Fig OS is distributed as a script that puts a new .iso together, the .iso is archived for convenience. But some people (at least two I believe) like to imply that its not current because of the word “Archive.”

Frankly, that is just stupid.


Now I got my first copy of ubuntu in the post– if that was the only way to get it, would it still be a distro?

The two fallacies most at work here are “True Scotsman” (a “true distro” this, that, etc.) and “Special Pleading.”


These distros “aren’t distros” because they don’t have their own repos. But Devuan certainly is! Because special pleading.

I’m not here to argue whether Devuan is or isn’t “a distro” though. Whats a suite?

A suite is a collection of applications, that work together somehow. If there is no real integration, then “bundle” is probably a better term.

I consider a distro to be a suite. And I consider a distro derivative to be a distro, whether it is “serious” or not. Whether its worth including; that certainly depends who you ask.

I appreciate that some lists have standards for inclusion– and my standards might not be the same as yours. If I had to maintain your list, maybe I would find your standards are better for the task than my own personal standards.

What I do take issue with is when inclusion becomes arbitrary or petty. That has actually happened to me– not based on facts or truth, but on petty, arbitrary evaluation and misconceptions that were impossible to fix– in short, prejudice.

But I maintain that some people want their lists to include only certain things up to certain standards. I don’t have a problem with that– I do think its more reasonable to list those standards.

I also have some reason to believe (and I would very much like to be wrong) that without-systemd cleans their edit history, which is unnecessary and (if it were a “real wiki”– hey look, I can do no true scotsman too!) they would have a less dubious process for editing.

Why not leave the history intact? if Wikipedia can do it… I know Wikipedia sometimes cleans their history too, but only when deemed necessary for some reason (back to open standards again.)

Not to pick just on without-systemd. I never submitted Fig OS to without-systemd, though I thought about doing so many times. I didn’t because:

* I can do more work on it first

* If its worth submitting, I can probably find someone else to submit it– perhaps it should have at least one fan before listing it? (my own standard)

* They probably wont consider it, meh (well, I called it.)


Fig OS didn’t start as a “distro” and I don’t know if I would call it one now.

In fact, I’m not sure how much we need distros these days. (s***devuan says can truncate there; here is the rest of that statement…) I think we can do better than “a distro” at this point.

But we still want to know the names.

And actually, I would like a more comprehensive list than without-systemd. Ive gotten censored before, and I DON’T feel like without-systemd is being terribly unfair here.

The (unpublished? please correct if its published) criteria they used to disqualify Fig OS was certainly applied to other distros– even if their criteria is a little peculiar and unevenly applied, it is an imperfect world.

I would still like a larger list of devuan-based distros. I was absolutely relying on their list to keep track, and now I know they’re removing quite a lot of things from their list, not just mine. Which means if I want to know everyone that is making Devuan into a thing of their own (whatever you want to call it) I may not find out about it there.

I am glad Fungal is maintaining a broader list, and I encourage him to continue doing so.

I also note that Distrowatch has a fun loophole for being considered a distro:


“If all this sounds depressing, there is some good news for those developers who absolutely and desperately want to have their distribution listed on DistroWatch today. All you need to do is to buy an advertising banner and your distro will be listed straight away.” https://distrowatch.com/dwres.php?resource=submit


Boom! –its a distro if you pay them to say it is.

That is a broader definition than I would personally be willing to guarantee in writing. Am I crying foul? No. I imagine its one of those things that could be a problem, even if its not one yet.

I still don’t think Distrowatch is important enough to set the entire definition of the word “distro” for everyone. But if they will include something and without-systemd will not, that is interesting to me.

Its a collection of software.

It is usually bootable.

If you didn’t include a bootloader, would it still be a distro? That is the problem, I guess– what about this? What about this or this?

And it doesn’t bother me that much. But there are times when it would be convenient if we were closer to agreeing on what it is.

I don’t think we are; I think everyone pretends that their own criteria is a real convention, when it only is on average. the details are… really pretty arbitrary, in my opinion. we could at least agree to admit that. But if we don’t agree, I guess we don’t agree. All the more reason to include your criteria for inclusion, because its ultimately your reason for removing information that someone tried to share.

That is a good thing for wikis to have. “Serious” wikis, that is.


8. (computing) A set of bundled software components; distro.


1. (Internet, software, countable) A set of software components, often open source, that have been packaged into a larger product or component for distribution to end-users.



Obviously, these definitions aren’t always the ones we need.


* license: creative commons cc0 1.0 (public domain)
* http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

3 thoughts on “What is a distro – anyway?

  1. a quick note, i think the comparison about gnuinos and devuan is at best, outdated. i did read recently that aitor is trying amprolla.

    the gnuinos comparison has come up elsewhere, which is why i mentioned it– also i seem to recall (correctly or not) gnuinos having its own repos, which may or may not (along with its early status as a live devuan deriv) affected its inclusion.

    such trivia is important sometimes– though i also think its common for insiders in a community to treat it as a sort of currency, like “well you really know whats going on if you have your hands on all these extra details.” i dont know what sort of fallacy that is, its only a problem when it goes too far. familiarity is definitely good, but its not always an indicator of a realistic perspective (being steeped in culture can be a good thing or a bad thing at times) or of knowing whats important. and i think its a common spiel across many distros: “oh! yeah, we all know that bdfl has a mole on his left shoulder blade, didnt you know?” crap, i shouldve read ALL those irc logs :/


  2. Pretty reasonable but if I don’t like you I can manufacture a controversy for PClinuxOS about what you did. Isn’t always the case that back doors to good arguments are the vague terms that remain unexplained?
    You: It is based on PClinuxOS
    D.A.: No it is not, it is using this and that pkg from another distro, let’s say KittenLinux.
    Then the forum’s admin pops in
    GL: I find what DA says “very reasonable”, how dare you call this PCLinuxOS?

    And the controversy has been built!


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