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I keep hearing the fragmentation scare, over and over. I keep
hoping that the clue meter will read above zero for a few minutes
and the whole issue will quietly die a deserved death. It's one of
those basic fears concerning Linux that has come about because a
lot of people associate fragmentation with the death of Unix.
Here, in order to simplify things, I'm grouping things like
Solaris (from Sun) with HP-UX
(from Hewlett Packard), AIX (from
IBM) and other competing Unices
with names and owners too numerous to list into one group product
First, I'd like to address the so-called death of Unix.
Since the combined Unices power a good portion of the web and the
infrastructure of many Fortune 500 companies, it's hardly "dead".
Sure, sales are a bit flatter than those of proprietary commodity
desktop operating systems such as Windows NT, but who's to say that
it's a dead platform just because the particular market segment it
occupies is different?
Semi-tractor-trailer rigs should be classified as "dead" for the
same reason. Their market growth is flatter than those for sport
utility vehicles (SUVs). Maybe we should stop transporting all of
the bulk items that are conveyed via semi-tractor-trailer rigs and
move them to hoards of people using SUVs. Heck, the training for
operators of those big trucks is extremely expensive anyway.
Imagine the cost savings when we replace those individuals with
untrained legions of droids driving SUVs.
In case you believe this fear, uncertainty and doubt about the
semi trucks being dead, try stepping out in front of the next one
you see driving along the road. Some Unix fanatics and I will be
glad to watch and take a vote over just exactly what "dead"
The reason people want to make this comparison with Unix centers
around the fact that Linux is similar to Unix. Since Linux operates
like Unix from a design and interface point of view, people want to
compare it in all other aspects as well. But Linux is not Unix in a
very fundamental sense.
The traditional Unices each had different companies that were
responsible for their creation and growth. The source code used to
create these products was proprietary and the property of their
respective owners. This created many different variants and extreme
competition among rivals. The differences resulted in life being
difficult for software developers who had to make different
versions of their product for each platform. This was tricky and
Microsoft promised to
simplify this problem by creating only one code base for it's
Windows NT product. NT was to supplant these traditional Unices and
run on their respective hardware platforms.
Ignoring the fact that competing interfaces and standards are a
good thing for progress, this fragmentation was a bad thing from
the viewpoint of the software developer and therefore it was a bad
thing for Unix. Now people are addressing this same crowd, and
predicting a similar fate for Unix's new evolved cousin, Linux.
These people are overlooking something rather important: The source
code for Linux is open and in a place where everyone can see
Although it could happen that the code base actually "fork" or
diverge into different products, even if this did happen, everyone
would be able to see exactly what had changed about the application
interfaces. Everyone would be free to mix those same pieces of code
right back into the opposing code base. It is ignorance of the
licensing scheme of the Linux kernel that is the real problem.
What people want is the reassurance that there will be a single
point of control for Linux. That's the way it is for legacy systems
like Windows NT. It's the idea that a lot of people are used to
with products that originate from a corporate realm.
My advice to these people is simple -- stop trying to impose
restrictive control methods that squelch true competition and
evolution upon something as dynamic as the free software
development model used by Linux.
Windows NT's strength as a unified proprietary product from a
corporate entity is also it's Achilles heel. Look how many
different hardware platforms are available for Unix and Linux and
compare that to exactly one for Windows NT. Look at the slow
development time for Windows NT, er Cairo, er Windows 2000. Look at
the cost factors which continue to rise.
Ask if the promise of lower cost and a single API have actually
been delivered in the face of Windows 2000's new pricing scheme and
the fragmentation of the APIs provided by WinCE, Windows 2000
personal, Windows 2000 professional and 64 bit Windows.
Microsoft has not proven that they had a good idea "unifying"
their code base in this proprietary manner. What they have proven
is that they are just as bad or worse than the previous model. At
least previously companies had choice in the hardware area.
Linux is doing just fine today and the fragmentation that is the
big fear still has yet to rear it's ugly head. As Eric Raymond
recently pointed out, traditional Unices are actually starting to
I'm sick of fears being based upon no evidence what-so-ever.
It's pathetic. When will this kind of mindless parroting of
baseless ideas stop? I can understand the fear, it's based upon
Unix -- but I cannot understand why people haven't noticed the
major difference between Linux and Unix -- the development model.
The difference is huge and the fears unfounded.
There is a paradox here and I'm sure it confuses the
Linux is already fragmented -- there is no central point of
control, other than the final say of Linus Torvalds. But at the
same time it's not fragmented -- programs work because the API is
open and no one can produce code bases with hidden source code.
It's not allowed by the licensing scheme.
Take your pick, but please don't spread panic about it
happening. Either it has already happened and it's all just fine
that way or it's not ever going to happen so it's no big deal. Take
your pick. Stop riding the fence and shouting about things that
I know I'm wasting my breath here, but people continue to parrot
this fear and it's getting old. I've decided it's time to try
another attack -- give people some real
Scary "fragmentation" predictions by Paul Ferris for the
The automotive design market will fragment into various
segments and brands. Several different brand names will emerge and
interchangeability of parts will become a pipe dream. Each
different brand will require it's own mechanical specialist to work
on it. Somehow, despite this enormous setback, people will still be
able to find and use quality cars and easily find places to service
Christianity will fragment into two groups: Protestants
and Catholics. Although some of them might get into pissing matches
over which one is better at times, the religion will continue to be
practiced by a huge portion of the world.
The human race will fragment into two genders, male and
female. The two genders will tend to do a lot of things differently
and poke fun at each other often. A lot of interesting
interoperability will be achieved in spite of it all.
The United States government will fragment into warring
factions. Some people will call themselves "Democrats", others
"Republicans", still others "Independents" and "Libertarians".
Oddly enough, it will still function.
Maybe Bill Gates and Microsoft can clean all this up with some
homogeneous proprietary software when it happens. All those
different people could learn to salute the Microsoft flag and just
listen to good ole' Uncle Bill.
The day will fragment into two vastly different
experiences. Part of it will be dark, and the other part light. The
sun will rise in the East, and set in the West.
I'm willing to bet that a lot of my predictions here will come
And, I'm hoping now that the fragmentation issue is very, very
Rant mode equals zero.
Have a nice day.
Contribute your fragmentation worry or prediction below, I'm quite
sure that I was too busy ranting to get them all....
Paul Ferris is a husband, father and the site
developer for Linux Today. His computer expertise spans over 13
years of Unix, VMS, and various PC operating systems. An avid Free
Software fan, he has helped support Linux since 1995. His pastimes
include Linux, science fiction, metaphysics, spirituality and
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