Dedoimedo interviews: DistroWatch

Updated: January 21, 2017

Time, now it's time, to bring you another interview. If you get the song reference, you get mega bonus points. Anyhow, Dedoimedo has this new thing, and it's the spotlight corner with the open-source community. We started with the MX Linux team, we had a chat with KDE folks, and now we will be interviewing a titan. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present, DistroWatch!

Arguably, most likely definitely, DistroWatch is the most important open-source portal out there, the powerhouse of information, fact and opinion about anything UNIX and Linux. I am quite honored that my email request for a written interview was positively answered. Today, we will be hosting Jesse Smith, the man behind DistroWatch Weekly and Other Cool Things Besides. Let us begin, but I would first like to delight you to another badly worded poster in Latin.

DistroWatch interview teaser

Hi Jesse. You probably need no introduction, but for the fun and sake of it, can you please tell us a little more about yourself.

Jesse Smith (JS): Hello, I'm Jesse Smith and I hail from eastern Canada. I grew up on a little hobby farm and I have a long-standing love for all things tractor- and computer-related. I suppose in a lot of ways I'm the stereotypical nerd in that I am a big fan of science fiction, Dungeons and Dragons, chess, programming, history and card tricks.

DM: D & D = Dedoimedo and DistroWatch, in this case.

While I was in elementary school I stumbled upon BASIC and taught myself a little coding. When I expressed an interest in developing software as a hobby someone told me there were good jobs to be had in programming and a light went on in my head. I was thrilled at the idea of getting to write code and work with computers and get paid for doing it. I enrolled in a college course for programming/system administration/database management after high school and that is where I learned about UNIX (specifically Solaris). I struggled with the sysadmin course and wanted to practise my UNIX skills at home in my spare time and so asked around if there was a free (or very inexpensive) version of UNIX. One of my classmates pointed me toward Linux and it sparked in me a love of open source operating systems. My first Linux distribution was Pygmy Linux, a slimmed down, command-line only version of Slackware.

Jesse Smith

Your truly, Jesse Smith.

For about 16 years now I've been running and exploring Linux and FreeBSD systems. I am currently self-employed as a general purpose computer guy where I get to do things like rescue lost files, create websites and set up private e-mail accounts - all using open source software. And I work on DistroWatch, writing articles and working on the site's code.

I had been a DistroWatch reader since about 2003 and started submitting my own reviews in 2009. A few years ago Ladislav invited me to start keeping the site up to date while he was away on vacation and my role slowly grew from there. Now I contribute articles, help keep the database up to date and work on coding new features for the website.

How did DistroWatch come to be?

JS: I was not around for the beginning of DistroWatch, but as I understand it Ladislav Bodnar started out tracking features and key package versions of a handful of Linux distributions in a spreadsheet. He started publishing this information on-line and the concept gradually grew. More data was added, more distributions were tracked and the website expanded from there. Over time, DistroWatch started tracking new releases and publishing a summary of events in a weekly newsletter. New features and data points have gradually been added over the past 15 years.

If you look at DistroWatch, it is an indisputable corner stone of Linux and the open-source world. That's everyone's view - within the limits of quantum uncertainty. However, what do you personally think is the mission and purpose of DistroWatch?

JS: One of the strengths of the open source community, in my opinion, is its diversity and its lack of central management. People are free to take their projects in whatever direction they like. However, the other side of the coin is the diversity can look a lot like chaos from the perspective of an outsider or newcomer to the community. Every project publishes their information differently, organizes their pages in different ways and uses different forms of package management.

I think our primary mission is to gather up as much information, in its many formats, as possible and present it to our readers in a consistent, organized fashion. It can be hard to find out what versions of packages distributions use, what init system they run, which architectures their software supports. We try to find that information, put it into a set format and (as much as possible) make it searchable so our readers can find the data they need.

I personally also like to think of DistroWatch as a source of news and distribution information that tries to (perhaps not always successfully) present facts with a minimal amount of hype. We try, as much as possible, to present technical facts about the projects in our database without using marketing terms. When we write news stories about new features or security exploits, we try to present the facts with as little hype, or scare tactics, as possible. We are only human and some subjective opinion is bound to leak into our work, but we try to avoid writing articles that rant against a particular technology or that blow a security exploit out of proportion or that blindly praise a particular distribution. I express my opinions in reviews, but I try to make a clear distinction between what is my opinion and what is fact.

Where do you see DistroWatch in 2020?

JS: I hope we are still doing what we are doing now, but perhaps with some more features and more refined search options. I'd also like to get more people contributing to the website, particularly writing reviews. Over the next three years I hope to gradually make it easier for readers to share their experiences and information. Right now we have people e-mailing us to share links, information or suggestions. I think it would be nice to set aside more space on DistroWatch where people can rate distributions, share trivia about projects and share links with each other.

Are there any plans you could share as to what you guys might be doing in the next year or two?

JS: When I transitioned from just writing articles to working on DistroWatch's database and code about a year or so ago, two things I wanted to tackle were automating some of the work and making our resources easier for people to find. We had lots of information that we had put together, but it was not always easy to locate. I have been slowly trying to streamline my work and make it easier for our readers to find things. That is why I set up the Article Search page and revamped our FAQ page, put together our Hardware Compatibility page, tried to make the website more mobile-friendly, etc. We have a lot of data (we have tracked around 8,000 releases and written over 1,000 articles) and one of the challenges is making all of that accessible to people. I plan to continue working on making our data easier to find.

Some of the items on my immediate to-do list include: Improving the mobile website using feedback from our readers. Making it possible to search for distributions that offer a Web UI out of the box. Make it possible for people to rate and possibly write a mini-review of distributions. Improve our Search page to make it easier for people to find distributions with specific features like UEFI support. I am also hoping to attract a few semi-regular writers to provide more diversity in our reviews. Joshua Allen Holm, and a few others, have contributed articles this past year and I am hoping more people will join us and share their experiences.

What is the most important thing you learned writing for DistroWatch?

JS: On the technical side of things, I think it is probably the little ways in which Linux distributions (and the BSDs) differ from each other. There are a surprisingly large number of little things which set each Linux distribution apart. There is a lot which sets the BSDs apart from each other too. The open source landscape is a very diverse ecosystem. Sometimes I encounter people asking why there are so many Linux distributions when they are all just GNU/Linux at their core. On paper that is true, but there is such a kaleidoscope of file system layouts, desktop environments, package managers, configuration tweaks, build flags and shells that it is very rare I encounter two distributions that truly feel the same after a few days of use. I like that, I like the variety.

On a more social level, writing for DistroWatch has driven home the lesson that one cannot please all the people all the time. Early on I noticed that when I wrote about mainstream projects people asked that I focus more on obscure distributions. When I focused on lesser known projects people would message me to request I focus on the more mainstream distributions as they are more useful for newcomers. To some people, my reviews were too verbose, to others too brief. Over time I have learned to try to incorporate feedback and listen to our readers, but to also accept that not everyone will like what I do. I guess I have learned to appreciate the nice e-mails with constructive feedback more and worry about the angry, threatening e-mails less.

What is your distro testing methodology? What features do you find particularly important? Is there a killer thing that makes or breaks a distro?

JS: When I review a distribution I will try it out in a VirtualBox environment first. That will give me a chance to see if the system installer does anything unexpected (like wipe the hard drive) and get a general feel for the operating system. Then I will basically go through the same process again with a physical computer, keeping an eye in performance differences and quirks that might appear in one environment but not the other.

After that I usually install updates, adjust the desktop theme to my liking and then start using the default applications at random to see what works and what does not. I'll try to enable a printer, maybe adjust the firewall rules, make little changes to see how easy or difficult it is to find and change settings. Then I'll explore using the distribution to accomplish things (edit photos, write a document and play music). Basically, I try to get a feel for what benefits or draw backs I will experience over the long term. I make notes throughout the week and then write my review from those notes at the end of the trial.

The big thing, for me, which makes or breaks a distribution is whether it runs in my test environments. No matter how amazing an operating system's features are, they do not help the user if the system will not boot. Probably the second most important characteristic is whether the prompts and documentation do what they say they will. If a prompt tells me to "Click here to install codecs" and clicking the button doesn't install any codecs, then I find that very frustrating.  On the other hand, one thing that makes me very happy is when the operating system seems to understand what I am trying to do and makes the task easier. For example, if I search for an application in Unity's dash that is not installed the system will show me programs in the software repositories which match my search and give me the option of a one-click install. Little touches like that make my experience smoother and saves me the step of opening the software manager.

I would not say there is any one feature I find particularly important, apart from the operating system booting. What I really look at is the overall feel. Does this operating system distract me with a lot of pop-ups or leave me to work? Is the desktop organized in a way which requires me to move the mouse more or less doing daily tasks? Do I need to check manually for updates or will the system notify me? Are error messages clear or vague? Ultimately, what is important to me is whether (over the course of the week) I feel a distribution makes my work more or less pleasant than normal. If I don't notice the operating system, don't need to think about whether I've installed updates this week and can find what I am looking for easily, then I'm a happy guy. If I spend a lot of time looking for things, dealing with cryptic errors and wrestling to install the software I need then I'm less thrilled with the overall experience.

Do you think Linux is ready for mass consumption?

JS: Yes, I definitely do. Putting aside mobile (where Android is doing well) and servers (where Linux has been doing well for years) I think desktop Linux is probably a better experience for the masses than some of the entrenched players in the market. I think the main reason Linux has a relatively small desktop market share is consumers almost always continue to run their devices with whatever operating system was installed for them. Android users usually don't install CyanogenMod, for example, they stick with the build of Android their phone shipped with.

Almost all of Linux's 2% or so desktop market share comes from people who replaced their default operating system with Linux. I strongly suspect if Linux were installed by default on most of the laptops sold in Best Buy, Future Shop or Walmart that people would use it and be happy with desktop Linux.

I have installed Linux on the computers of a handful of friends and family members and it tends to just keep running. I get fewer support calls for Linux than I did from the same people when they ran Windows. These are people who are mostly checking e-mail, writing letters and browsing the web. They aren't, for the most part, gamers or working with specific business software. Their computing needs are fairly generic, but they generally have better experiences with Linux than with their previous operating system.

If you had a magic wand, how would you change Linux, if at all?

JS: On the whole I think the Linux community does well on its own. Over the past decade and a half I feel like there has been a lot of progress and things generally feel to me to be getting better. On the technical side of things I am pretty happy with Linux. That said, if I had a magic wand that only worked on stuff related the Linux community, I would like to encourage a few things.

In particular, I would like to see distribution developers distro-hop more. I think people have a tendency to get entrenched in their own distribution's community and way of doing things. Since I regularly try different operating systems and I browse the forums and mailing lists, I often run into people who say things like, "It's too bad there isn't a tool to do ___" or "Nobody else is doing ___" or "We are the only distro doing ___" Quite often the tool they want does exist, or another distro has solved the problem they are working on. People in the Linux community often comment on duplication of effort and not-invented-here situations and I suspect a lot of that NIH grows out of developers focusing on their own projects and not taking the time to explore what other distributions are doing and how other projects are solving the same issues.

Probably the only other major thing I would like to see change is how quickly mainstream distributions adopt new technology. When exciting new packages come along (like PulseAudio, GRUB2, KDE4 and systemd) many distributions tend to drop the old technology and replace it with the new version before the new package is ready for public use. In the long term, I think these new technologies usually carry benefits worth having, but I think distributions should be more cautious about adopting them. As it is, when these technologies first come out, I tend to get calls asking why sound no longer works on Linux or why the new version of a distro no longer boots on a computer where it used to work. In my opinion, Linux development tends to be revolutionary in nature while the BSDs are more evolutionary. I'd like to see more Linux distributions follow the slow-and-steady approach and introduce new technology as an optional add-on until it has had time to mature.

I will give credit where it is due though. I feel both Ubuntu and Fedora have been pleasantly cautious about introducing the public to Wayland and Mir. Both display technologies are being introduced gradually and as options while X is there as a backup. I'd like to see all new, potentially disruptive technologies adopted with the same caution.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

JS: I was introduced to Star Wars first (around the age of five or six), and I loved the space battles, the concept of the Force and lightsabers. But while Star Wars was my first love, I think I have to go with Star Trek. I love the optimism of Star Trek, particularly in the original and The Next Generation series. I like the idea that humans have the capacity to grow, not only in our technology, but also our wisdom. Star Wars may be more entertaining, but I find Star Trek (especially early Star Trek) inspiring. I also like the variety of solutions to problems in Star Trek. As fun as the Star Wars movies are to watch, the ultimate solutions to conflicts always seem to boil down to three things: blow up something, cut off someone's limbs or throw someone down a bottomless pit. In Star Trek a solution might involve anything from yelling illogical statements at a computer to finding a loophole in a treaty to time travelling to collect a pair of whales. I like the diversity in Star Trek's problem solving.

I knew you would say Star Trek, so which one is it: Kirk or Picard?

JS: You had me pegged. Is there any answer to this question that is not going to end in me getting hate mail in my inbox? While Kirk and Picard were both starship Captains, I feel they had different roles to play, different job descriptions. Kirk was exploring out beyond the edge of mapped space, he was an adventurer, often far enough away from the Federation that he could not check in or get orders on a given situation. Kirk was bold, often charming and (when need arose) a warrior. I admire his strength and independence. Picard, on the other hand, seemed to be more of a big-picture thinker. His role struck me as being about maintaining the Federation more so than expanding its borders. Picard was a world-class diplomat, scholar and perhaps more focused on the long-term ethical consequences of his decisions.

While both characters are strong and capable, I try to emulate Picard more in my own actions. I admire his constant quest for knowledge in all things relating to music, history, archaeology and philosophy. I respect Picard's cool head in difficult diplomatic situations, his ethics and his patience.

Kirk meme

Note: Image courtesy,

DM: I knew you would say Picard, too. Booya. As Dr. Evil in Austin Powers says: We're not so different, you and I.

What does your typical day look like?

JS: Most mornings I get up and have breakfast with my partner. When she goes off to work, I walk into my home office and start checking e-mail, looking through feedback, answering support queries and reading automated status reports from servers. Then I check open source news sites and RSS feeds to see what is happening in the open source community. My afternoons are often spent writing, proofreading or experimenting with a new application or distribution. To keep myself in the real world, I'll take breaks to go for walks or do yoga. In the late afternoon my creativity kicks in and, if I have any projects on the go, I'll do some coding then. In the evening I like to have dinner with my partner, talk about the news of the day and unwind. I like to cap off my evenings by reading a book before I fall asleep.

DM: I do yoga, too. Are we brothers from another mother?

Do you cooperate with other open-source/Linux projects or entities?

JS: Personally, I do, a little. While I have contributed in (very) small ways to a variety of Linux distributions, PC-BSD and FreeBSD directly, my habit of moving from one operating system to another keeps me from really settling into one downstream project. You may see my name or handle attached to bug reports or patches, but it's usually more of a "drive by" contribution than a concentrated effort.

Typically, when I get involved with projects it is something more upstream. I have a bad habit of finding small utilities, daemons or games I find intriguing right around the same time the original developer is planing to leave. As a result, I have ended up adopting about a dozen abandoned open source projects. Generally, these projects are mostly mature, but need to be kept up to date, require bug fixes or need some small features. I rarely create anything from scratch, but I have spent years maintaining projects other people started and left. I then find myself cooperating with downstream packagers and organizing contributions from other developers and translators.

Working with a variety of mostly-mature projects is a good learning experience, because not only do I need to get accustomed to a new code base, but in working with downstream projects like Debian, FreeBSD and Fedora I get more insight into their development processes and some behind-the-scenes technical aspects that set each one apart.

DistroWatch does many things well. But where do you guys struggle?

JS: Thank you. I think there are a few areas where we could be doing better. In the background, one of my big challenges is trying to automate things. When I joined the team a lot of work was done by hand and, when you consider we try to keep tabs on about 1,000 operating systems and over 200 packages, that is a lot of data to collect and organize manually. Doing it manually might sound crazy, until one looks at the data being collected. There are lots of different package managers and each distribution names their packages differently, for example. Almost every distribution organizes the files on their installation media differently too and that makes it very tricky to automate any data collection. Fedora, for example, if I remember correctly, is almost unique in the way they put their ext4 file system inside a Squashfs archive in the ISO file, so any data we want to get is three layers deep.

At any rate, I have been slowly building a collection of scripts that go through ISO files and extract most of the data we want (packages, features, file sizes). Building this collection of scripts takes time, but ultimately it saves me hours of combing through the ISO files for each release and writing out the information I want.

On a similar note, I have been trying to reach out to distribution maintainers to ask if they will publish some of the information we look for in easier to find places. Just little things, like telling us where their signing keys are or asking them to publish checksum information in the same directory as the ISO files.

That's behind the scenes. On the surface, I think we need to make it easier for people to find the information we have and to submit new information to us. We have some good resources that could be easier to access or use. And some people would prefer to have an on-line submission form or direct access to edit DistroWatch data in a wiki style and I want to explore those possibilities more. I'd also like to get more writers on board so we get more diverse opinions represented in our weekly newsletter. We don't have a big budget, but for quality reviews we are willing to pay people a little for their efforts and I hope that will freshen DistroWatch Weekly's content.

Do you think the limitless plethora of Linux distributions is a good thing, or is the fragmentation preventing us from reaching the critical level of quality that the Linux desktop needs?

JS: I do think the large number of Linux distributions is, overall, a good thing. While the fragmentation of the GNU/Linux ecosystem does make it a little more challenging for developers and spreads out the work a bit, I think the freedom to explore new ideas and try new approaches is one of open source's greatest strengths. The reason a lot of organizations adopt Linux is because it can be tailored to fit their needs and they are not forced to use a one-size-fits-all solution.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I think in some ways the fragmentation of Linux is good for quality, or at least the quality of experience the end user has. For example, if you are running Windows and you don't like Windows 10, your choices are to stick with an older version (and disable the sneaky automatic upgrade process) or use Windows 10 anyway and deal with its problems. There is no path that lets you keep up to date with the new technologies you want and side-step the ones you do not. With Linux, if you decided you didn't like Ubuntu swapping out the GNOME desktop for Unity, then you could simply install a different desktop environment. Alternatively, a person could install another, similar distribution which ran GNOME. Linux users who did not like the transition to systemd can continue to run Linux because several projects either ship a different init system by default or provide alternatives in their repositories. Linux's fragmented ecosystem means users have a way to side-step desktops, package managers and init software they do not want while picking a distribution offering the specific combination of software they do want.

I also think fragmentation keeps Linux distributions more honest. If someone gets the idea to slip spyware or telemetry tracking software into one Linux distribution, the community can migrate off that platform to another distribution fairly easily. There is a lot of friendly competition among distributions and this makes it easy for people to avoid developers or organizations who are behaving in a manner the users do not like. I believe that freedom of choice and ease of migration are worth the duplication of effort and compatibility problems that get introduced by having so many distributions.

How does a distro go from the wait list to the coveted table?

To go from the DistroWatch waiting list to having a spot in our database and getting full coverage basically requires three things: A project on the waiting list usually needs to wait for about a year. A lot of small projects only ever have one or two releases and the year long wait means we are not putting in the effort to cover projects that will quickly disappear.

Another thing we look for is some level of infrastructure. A project is more likely to get listed if it has clear documentation stating what the project is, how it works and why it exists. Projects with forums, mailing lists and an issue tracker are more likely to get picked up. I also prefer covering projects that make it easy to find downloads, checksums and release notes.

The third thing is the project should have an attractive feature people want. We let our readers vote on which items on our waiting list should be looked into. We also keep track of which projects are being searched for on our site. If we notice thousands of people are searching for information on CoolNewOS and it is getting voted up on the waiting list, I'm going to give the project a closer look. On the flip side, if a project gets zero votes and no one is searching for it, then chances are the distribution does not have features our readers are interested in and it stays near the bottom of the waiting list.

Waiting list

Hard work, documentation and unique features all help get a distro off the waiting list - in a good way.

On the other hand there are some things which will prevent a project from getting imported from the waiting list. I try to avoid adding distributions which are basically advertising platforms or propaganda. Some musicians, religious organizations or businesses will take an existing distribution, slap their logo on it and call it MyBandOS or Last Days Ubuntu. If a project does not bring any new technology to the table and is just being used to promote a specific artist, government or business then I am not going to list it. Also, if I go to a project's forum or Twitter feed and I see a bunch of posts that say, "Click here to upvote us on DistroWatch" I'm less likely to take the project seriously. Distributions should focus on their own users and technical merits, not on trying to game our evaluation system.

What is your favorite distro? Why?

JS: I touched on this briefly in a recent DistroWatch Weekly, but I'm not sure I have a favourite distribution. Over the years, I have tried almost all of them and used several on a regular basis. I have found that what works for me today does not always work well for my situation tomorrow. And distros which are not production ready today might be surprisingly solid tomorrow. Technology changes and I try to use whatever works best for me at the time, so I rarely have a specific favourite.

Generally, what I end up using the most at home is whatever I am also using for work at the time in an effort to keep my environments consistent. When I worked in offices that ran Red Hat Enterprise Linux, I ran Red Hat Linux (or Fedora) at home. When I was working on web servers running Ubuntu through work, I was mostly running Ubuntu (or a close relative like Kubuntu) at home. At the moment, the DistroWatch server is running Debian, my Raspberry Pi 2 is running a slightly customized Raspbian and my phone is running Ubuntu Touch. They all have Debian's tools and organization at their core. To keep things consistent, I am running Linux Mint Debian Edition on my home computers when I'm not reviewing other distributions. I like that Mint's Debian Edition combines the stability of Debian with the conveniences of Linux Mint.

Do you use non-Linux operating systems?

JS: I do, mostly FreeBSD. Apart from my Raspberry Pi at home and the DistroWatch server, all of the servers I maintain for work currently run FreeBSD. I like the stability, the slow evolution of features and the way the core of the operating system is kept separate from the third-party programs. I think FreeBSD is a well designed operating system and I like how open the port maintainers are about working with outsiders like me who occasional send in patches.

In your opinion, which operating system provides the most complete desktop experience?

I might be the wrong person to ask since I'm going to customize the experience a lot, regardless of what I start with. The desktop distribution I have had the best experience with as far as introducing it to new Linux users is probably Linux Mint's Cinnamon edition. I can pretty much install it, hand the computer over to the user and let them start exploring the operating system. All the media codecs are there, there is a good deal of functionality and not much clutter in the application menu. I have had pretty good results with Ubuntu too, but I find Unity does not always play well with some video cards and people take a while to get used to the concept of scopes.

For people who are running lower-end equipment that might get bogged down with Cinnamon or Unity, I have had very good responses from people running Linux Lite and Peppermint OS. Those are lighter desktops, but the features people seem to want are still there.

What will the Linux desktop look like in 2025?

JS: I honestly have very little idea. I thought for a while KDE was going to lead the charge in everything on the desktop being a widget, but that idea does not seem to have caught on as much as I'd thought it would back in 2008. Right now the concept of a HUD seems to be catching on in some circles and I'd like to see more desktops, besides Unity, adopt it. I think the bigger name desktops (GNOME, Plasma, Unity) will continue toward working well with touch screens and across a wide range of screen sizes.

I don't know if it will happen or not, but I'd like to see a move away from minimal icon design. Phones and some desktops seem to be pushing minimal icons that just have a few dots or a circle or an arrow. I'd like to see a return to more detailed icons. I prefer to see the word "Settings" rather than three horizontal lines/dots. We have high resolution screens and beautiful colour rendering, I'd like to see these features used to produce clearer icons and higher contrast user interface widgets.

Sometime in the next eight years I think we are going to reach a point where it is common for personal devices (smart phones, tablets and whatever comes next in that market) to either sync seamlessly with desktop computers, or the phone will become the desktop. A few years ago Canonical was playing with the idea of an operating system that is a phone while it is in your pocket and a full featured desktop system when it is sitting on your desk. My Ubuntu phone has more CPU cores and almost as much memory as my laptop. With a Bluetooth keyboard and a wireless connection to the monitor on my desk, the phone I have now could probably serve almost all of my computing requirements. I think by 2025 my desktop workstation and my mobile phone could be the same device with a desktop environment that adjusts to the size of the screen being used to display information.

How can the community better support DistroWatch? Do you have a message for the distro project managers and developers regarding their work, their approach?

JS: Right now people are generally very good to us. People send us tips and links, which is always appreciated. People tend to correct us when we make a mistake or have out of date information in our database. Please, gentle readers, keep sending us those e-mails, it keeps our information up to date. Donations from happy readers are always welcome. I mentioned this earlier, but I'd like to get a few new writers sending us reviews or tutorials, so if anyone reading this would like to send me samples of their writing, please do. We have a list of ways people can lend a hand on our Contributing page.

As for developers and project managers, there are two things we can always use. One is we love it when projects have a low-traffic announcement mailing list or RSS feed we can follow. That means we can keep up to date with developments and the project managers do not need to keep e-mailing us every time they push out a release. Publishing a manifest package list file file along with ISO files and checksums is welcome too as it saves us a few steps.

One last thing: To companies who make Linux-oriented hardware (Linux tablets, Ubuntu phones, ARM-powered notebooks), I'd love to review more of these and shine a spotlight on Linux-powered devices. Right now I usually need to reach out to projects making these things and ask them for a device to test (or buy one and that can get expensive). Most projects I have contacted were happy to work with us, but it would be great if I didn't need to find these projects, talk with a few PR people and hunt down the appropriate contact information of an employee who can send me a prototype. It would be great if more device makers reached out to us.

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

JS: African or European? This may seem esoteric, but CPython has an optimization branch called Unladen Swallow and the project's benchmarks show it is only slightly faster than unoptimized CPython. So I guess Unladen Swallow's velocity is around the same speed as regular CPython.

DM: Like mindblown.

Anything else?

JS: Yes, to all the people reading this, please get involved in the open source community in some fashion. There is a saying that democracy works best when educated voters take an active role in politics. I believe the same is true of open source software, the more people get actively involved the better. You don't need to be a coder, you can design icons, create new wallpapers, document something tricky you learned how to do, or consider donating to your favourite project. The community needs testers and bug reporters as much as it needs new features.

Whenever someone publishes a new project they have started and asks for feedback, someone in the forum/mailing list/Reddit thread will ask why the person bothered, why create yet another distribution, text editor or configuration tool? I say: do it because you can, because it's educational, because creating things is fun! Do it because making something and sharing it with the world is more interesting than trivializing other people's hobbies on the Internet. The open source community benefits when we participate, even in small ways, so please get involved. As we say in Canada, pick up a stick and get in the game! It's more fun to play than to sit on the sidelines.

Closing words

I don't there's much for me to add. Jesse provided a very detailed drilldown into what DistroWatch is, what it does, and most importantly, how you can help, whether you're a reader or a distro developer. Getting involved may be intimidating, but it also has its rewards. And there's potential for blooming tech writers to spread their wings, too.

Anyhow, I'd like to thank Jesse, introspect on our uncanny pseudo-genetic similarity, and go back to plotting and hatching additional stories, reviews and interviews. To wit, if you have any ideas or recommendations, or if you crave some spotlight yourself, feel free to contact me. WARP 9, engage.


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