January 13, 2005

Site review: Distrowatch.com

Author: Tina Gasperson

Distrowatch is one of the best resources for people who want to choose a Linux distro they'd find suitable. The site also raises awareness for smaller distributions. It has a large database with just about every Linux distribution currently available, along with useful information about each one that will help Linux searchers find the best one for them.The most interesting feature of the site is the news -- and how convenient, it's right there on the home page. It features headlines from around the Internet spotlighting the most recently released Linux flavors, Linux reviews, and "traffic" newsletters, like the link to the latest Ubuntu Traffic.

There's also a good reviews section at Distrowatch, though the last entry, a review of Kanotix, was posted before last Halloween. The reviews are thorough, well-written, and entertaining enough to prompt a complete reading. I especially enjoyed the review of Xandros entitled, "Can a Geek Love Xandros?" In it, Robert Storey installs and then proceeds to dismantle all the cushy GUI stuff so he can run Linux the manly way: with CLI. His conclusion? "There is a running joke that you can install Xandros on a Windows user's hard drive, and he or she won't even notice," Storey writes. "That, of course, is an exaggeration -- surely our hypothetical Windows user would wonder what ever happened to Solitaire."

A box on the home page shows a list of the top-rated Linux distributions according to the number of hits each one receives at the site. The list is configurable for different time periods. It's interesting to see how each kind of Linux moves up and down in popularity over time.

The ranking list also shows whether the distribution is on an up, down, or flat trend. Remember, all this information is specific to Distrowatch.com, so I don't really know if, for instance, Vine Linux is really the 23rd most popular distribution everywhere just by looking at these statistics. It could be that Distrowatch.com is bringing awareness of these less well-known flavors of Linux to the masses, because each entry is linked to its own information page which shows where to download the distribution, related Web sites, and where to get your questions answered.

Ladislav Bodnar runs Distrowatch and publishes its weekly newsletter of the same name. Distrowatch Weekly includes announcements regarding new distributions, dead distributions, and featured distributions.
Bodnar admits that he probably doesn't have every distribution listed in his database. In fact, he points out that he purposely doesn't include floppy-based, embedded, or Windows partition-based distros. However, he currently has 370 different flavors of Linux and 9 different kinds of BSD listed in the Distrowatch.com database. Bodnar writes, "The number of distributions in this site's database is quite impressive -- until you realize that the majority of them are nothing but modified versions of Red Hat/Fedora or Debian."

On a statistics page, Distrowatch tracks how "free" each distribution is, what kind of package manager it uses, and where each distribution is made. The search page lets you look for information based on a Google-powered search, or by distribution list or category. You can also look up pages from the old site, including one that lists defunct distributions.

The site, created in 2001, is available not only in English but also Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Dutch, Czech, and Vietnamese. Bodnar says he gets millions of hits each month and he charges for advertising accordingly,

Distro developers can get their projects listed on Distrowatch by sending an email to Bodnar, although he searches out new versions on his own and has put several dozen of them on a waiting list. If you're an application developer and you've got a package you'd like listed on the site's package tracking page, you can either wait for the annual update in June, or pay $150 to have Bodnar include it immediately. According to the latest information on the site, Bodnar has no plans to track any new packages in 2005, and he's deleting one package: sawfish.

Next time you're looking for a fresh copy of WOMP! Linux, head over to Distrowatch.com and download the latest build. And could you burn me a copy of Puppy Linux while you're there?


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