March 24, 2019

Does Linux Need More Central Direction and Less Creativity?

Here we go again...

  • September 17, 2010
  • By Bruce Byfield
Once again, the seemingly silly question of "Does free software offer too many choices?" pops up. What's the point? Why even ask? Bruce Byfield answers thoughtfully.

Bruce Byfield

Does free software offer too many choices?

In the last dozen years, the question has been revived more often than the Daleks on Doctor Who. If the community could only agree to standardize on applications, deadlines, and options, the argument goes, then world domination would be within reach.

The latest version of this argument is Graham Morrison's article, "The trouble with Linux: There's too much choice." Morrison writes that the amount of choice is "often overwhelming, needlessly complicated and an easy excuse for change. Choice goes hand-in-hand with redundancy and duplicated effort."

Morrison goes on to suggest that, on the one hand, if the community doesn't make a decision to standardize, then it will lose the choice because others -- presumably, businesses and distros -- will make the choice for them. On the other hand, by giving up a little unnecessary choice, "we'll have gained a whole lot more choice where it's important: the freedom to run secure, safe and supported software on whatever platform we choose."

Essentially, Morrison says nothing new. Perhaps he does not need to, because, superficially, this argument makes sense. If you are a developer new to free software, you may be unaware of the open standards or the hooks into kernel space that provide an underlying unity.

Similarly, if you are an executive trying to make strategic decisions, you may be overwhelmed by the number of distributions and wonder how you can possibly support them all. In the same way, faced with choices where Windows offer none, a casual user may suffer option anxiety, and become paralyzed by indecision. So why not make everyone more comfortable and simplify everything?

The only trouble is, this criticism fails...

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