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Which Open Source Linux Distributions Would Presidential Hopefuls Run?

If people running for president used Linux or another open source operating system, which distribution would it be? That's a key question that the rest of the press—distracted by issues of questionable relevance such as "policy platforms" and whether it's appropriate to add an exclamation point to one's Christian name—has been ignoring. But the ignorance ends here: Read on for this sometime-journalist's take on presidential elections and Linux distributions.

Christopher Tozzi

August 17, 2015

4 Min Read
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump

If people running for president used Linux or another open source operating system, which distribution would it be? That’s a key question that the rest of the press—distracted by issues of questionable relevance such as “policy platforms” and whether it’s appropriate to add an exclamation point to one’s Christian name—has been ignoring. But the ignorance ends here: Read on for this sometime-journalist’s take on presidential elections and Linux distributions.

If this sounds like a familiar topic to those of you who have been reading my drivel for years (is anyone, other than my dear editor, unfortunate enough to have actually done that?), it’s because I wrote a similar post during the last presidential election cycle. Some kind readers took that article more seriously than I intended, so I’ll take a moment to point out that I don’t actually believe that open source software and political campaigns have anything meaningful to do with one another. I am just trying to amuse myself at the start of a new week.

But you can make of this what you will. You’re the reader, after all.

Linux Distributions of Choice: Republicans

Today, I’ll cover just the Republicans. And I won’t even discuss all of them, since the candidates hoping for the Republican party’s nomination are too numerous to cover fully here in one post. But for starters:

If Jeb (Jeb!?) Bush ran Linux, it would be Debian. It’s a relatively boring distribution designed for serious, grown-up hackers—the kind who see it as their mission to be the adults in the pack and clean up the messes that less-experienced open source fans create. Of course, this also makes Debian relatively unexciting, and its user base remains perennially small as a result.

Scott Walker, for his part, would be a Damn Small Linux (DSL) user. Requiring merely 50MB of disk space and 16MB of RAM to run, DSL can breathe new life into 20-year-old 486 computers—which is exactly what a cost-cutting guru like Walker would want. Of course, the user experience you get from DSL is damn primitive; the platform barely runs a browser. But at least you won’t be wasting money on new computer hardware when the stuff you bought in 1993 can still serve you perfectly well.

How about Chris Christie? He’d obviously be clinging to Relax-and-Recover Linux, which bills itself as a “setup-and-forget Linux bare metal disaster recovery solution.” “Setup-and-forget” has basically been Christie’s political strategy ever since that unfortunate incident on the George Washington Bridge stymied his political momentum. Disaster recovery may or may not bring back everything for Christie in the end, but at least he might succeed in recovering a confidential email or two that accidentally disappeared when his computer crashed.

As for Carly Fiorina, she’d no doubt be using software developed for “The Machine” operating system from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), the company she led from 1999 to 2005. The Machine actually may run several different operating systems, which may or may not be based on Linux—details remain unclear—and its development began well after Fiorina’s tenure at HP came to a conclusion. Still, her roots as a successful executive in the IT world form an important part of her profile today, meaning that her ties to HP have hardly been severed fully.

Last but not least—and you knew this was coming—there’s Donald Trump. He’d most likely pay a team of elite hackers millions of dollars to custom-build an operating system just for him—even though he could obtain a perfectly good, ready-made operating system for free—to show off how much money he has to waste. He’d then brag about it being the best operating system ever made, though it would of course not be compliant with POSIX or anything else, because that would mean catering to the establishment. The platform would also be totally undocumented, since, if Trump explained how his operating system actually worked, he’d risk giving away all his secrets to the Islamic State—obviously.

Alternatively, if Trump had to go with a Linux platform already out there, Ubuntu seems like the most obvious choice. Like Trump, the Ubuntu developers have taken a we-do-what-we-want approach to building open source software by implementing their own, sometimes proprietary applications and interfaces. Free-software purists hate Ubuntu for that, but plenty of ordinary people like it a lot. Of course, whether playing purely by your own rules—in the realms of either software or politics—is sustainable in the long run remains to be seen.

Stay Tuned

If you’re wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned the Democratic candidates, worry not. I am not leaving them out of today’s writing because I like them any more or less than the Republicans. (Personally, I think the peculiar American practice of having only two viable political parties—which virtually no other functioning democracy does—is ridiculous, and I am suspicious of all of these candidates as a result.)

On the contrary, there’s plenty to say about the Linux distributions the Democrats might use, too. And I will, in a future post. Stay tuned.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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