Monday, August 21, 2006

Happy Birthday, Codefix

Today is sort of a birthday for Codefix: I first registered the codefix.net domain on August 22, 2003-- eight days after the Great North American Blackout; however, wondering how people lived without electricity and meeting my Brooklyn neighbors weren't the only things going on back then. Work as a Linux consultant was just starting to become steady, but incorporation was more than a year away and I was still moonlighting as a photographer.Later that year, Red Hat made waves by announcing that they would discontinue support for their (free as in beer) non-enterprise Linux distributions. Fortunately Open Source projects are particularly well suited for stepping in when another has dropped the torch; in this case, there were even a couple new contenders: Fedora and Gentoo. Fedora was Red Hat's consolation prize to the Open Source community and early versions were not impressive; Gentoo, on the other hand, seemed like a genuine revolution in the Linux world.
Gentoo's appeal stemmed partly from its ability to attract an eclectic user base consisting of kernel-tweaking ├╝ber geeks and herd-loving newbies both; the most laudable elements of the Gentoo experience were well written, clear documentation, actively helpful user forums, and Portage.

Portage is what pushed Gentoo from laudable to revolutionary. Inspired by BSD Ports, Portage is a system for managing software packages much like Debian's apt/dpkg or Red Hat's rpm. The aim of Portage was to be as comprehensive and easy to use as other systems, but to have the power and flexibility of compiling from source code; in fact, compiling from source is exactly what Portage does.

Unfortunately, Open Source developers are all too often better at writing code than leading free software projects, and over time Gentoo has alienated many members of the community and seems determined to become an obscure curiosity rather than the Linux meta-distribution as it was intended.
These days there's another new kid on the block: Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu is also well documented and has active user forums, but it isn't revolutionary; quite the opposite, Ubuntu is a direct descendent of Debian, one of the oldest Linux distributions with a reputation for security and stability. Ubuntu packages are a bit more cutting edge, but Ubuntu 6.06 (aka Dapper Drake) is backed by by an extended life cycle, meaning that Canonical has promised to keep bug fixes and security patches flowing to Dapper for five years. Where Codefix Linux deployments were once dominated by Gentoo and Red Hat, one now sees Debian and Ubuntu; nonetheless, there is consistency here, as Mason Cooley once put it, "I change my opinions often, but not my way of thinking."