Death of a Distro: Linux Has It’s Own Afterlife!

In a previous blog post, I tried to answer the question of why there are so very many Linux distributions (“distros” for short). Click there and read that one first, then come on back here and finish this post. It’ll help make sense of what I’m about to say.

The years have seen some small and some big Linux distros come and go. Some great notables among the honored “dead” Linux distros are Lindows, Mandrake, Libranet, and SimplyMepis. Lesser known but more recently popular ones include some recent “deaths,” such as SolusOS, Fuduntu, and Bodhi.

Dead, perhaps, but neither gone completely nor forgotten. Mepis/SimplyMepis is about to release Mepis 12. It’s already available for download as a beta, but because it is based on Debian Stable, I seriously doubt that it is of beta quality. The demise of Mepis has not been officially announced, but the resignation of its main developer has been. That usually spells the end of a distro, but not always. The same can be said about Bodhi, which also is losing it’s main developer. Is bonny Bodhi doomed? Is Mepis kaput? Perhaps not. A lot depends on the community around a Linux distro.

I think that the difference between a truly dead distro and one that survives, either through an “heir” or a “reincarnation,” is it’s community. And I think I can prove it with examples.

Mandrake lives! It has been reincarnated, mixed with the best of some other Linux flavors borrowed from both Debian and it’s former incarnation in a new(er) distro called PCLinuxOS. Because Mandrake had a loyal, competent, and enthusiastic following which included a very capable Linux wizard named “Texstar.” PCLinuxOS is “the heir of Mandrake,” so even though officially “dead,” magnificent Mandrake lives on through it’s heir.

Sometimes a distro’s community falls back to a living “ancestor” of their experiment, as was the case for Lindows and Libranet. Both built from mighty and immortal Debian Linux, the developers went back to their “parent” distro and brought lessons learned and triumphs earned back with them to Debian. There’s no “heir” nor apparent successor to these old commercial distros, but all Linux users – especially those of us who use Debian-based Linux – have directly benefited. Yes, Virginia, there is an afterlife for Linux distros.

I never used Fuduntu nor Cloverleaf. All I know is that the former was developed “just for fun” and very few people ever took it seriously. Yet it had a successor of sorts, also deceased. But Linux is fun for these cyber-explorers, and their accomplishments are probably not wasted. I would bet that bits of these two “minor” distros live on in other forms.

There are probably twelve zillion Ubuntu-based distros that fit a different category, never having ever actually lived at all. These were attempts to grow a distro “from cuttings of a bigger plant” (Ubuntu) that didn’t take root. It probably happens a lot. Usually these are “one-man distros” that have a poor chance of living longer than a few months anyway, because they’re not actually developed, only “borrowed” and re-branded. I call them “distrolets.” Not true distros.

Bodhi may only be changing hands, and not in any danger of imminent demise. Like Mepis, no one has announced the end of development, only the departure of one key person, the principle founder / lead developer. But unlike Mepis, Bodhi hasn’t been around long enough to gain a large and loyal following that includes several “Linux gurus” in it’s following. I hope I’m wrong about that and I wish them well, of course. But it seems that no one has stepped up to take the reigns of the Ubuntu-based Bodhi Linux project. Mepis, on the other hand, has an “heir apparent,” and several competent community members who continue to maintain and develop the project.

The next release of this one-time top-of-the-charts magnificent Debian-based distro may be the last one, but Mepis has a bright future by any consideration because of it’s very well established community. The successor and “rightful heir” of SimplyMepis is MX. Named according to it’s heritage (Mepis/AntiX) and featuring the Xfce desktop, some of its users have already demonstrated delightful success in modifying it with great results, from a KDE desktop to some of Mepis’ special tools and graphics. Old as my computer is, it ran the full SimplyMepis KDE version 8.0 with no more trouble than it had with WindowsXP when it was brand new.

My old relic couldn’t run the newest version, but it has only gotten more beautiful since I was able to run it on this machine. Still as beautiful in it’s MX version with the Xfce desktop and funny name. Because of it’s well-established and tech-savvy community (excluding this technophobe and some other new folks) and it’s Debian-Stable base, the heir of Mepis is poised to enjoy a long and fruitful life. It doesn’t appear on Distrowatch yet, at least under it’s new name, but I predict a steady rise in it’s use, particularly among those with older computers that want a rock-stable OS without the unexpected drama that many users of other Xfce distros experience.

In whatever form it takes and by whatever name it is known, long live Mepis!

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