359 ChoicesJul 20, 2007, 22:30 (61 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
By Brian Proffitt
For quite a few pundits out there, the fact that there are so many Linux distributions is a bit troubling to them. I am not sure why this argument keeps coming up, but it goes something like this: there are X Linux distros out there, which is too many to choose from for users, and creates a strain on developer resources.
Taking the second argument first, it would seem on the surface that working on all these separate Linux distributions detracts from the advancement of Linux as a whole operating system. And that would be true, except for the fact that nearly all of Linux software is under some form of open source license, usually the GPL. To spell it out in very straightforward terms: if, for example, someone invents something really cool over in Pardus Linux, then chances are it will be picked up and eventually utilized in other Linuxes.
Anyone who takes the time to really look at this different variations of Linux, instead of writing article trolling for hits, will see that the differences are very small. Recently, I just installed Fedora 7 on my laptop, where Ubuntu once resided. Save for the color scheme (brown vs. blue) and a few changed tools, the interfaces and tool functionality were the same.
Then there's the problem of choice. I would agree that the average curious user of Linux could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of distros listed over on Distrowatch. But let's get a grip on reality. Most of the time, such end-users are going to look at the top five distros mentioned there (or on similar sites); not at the 359 total currently listed.
I would also strongly dispute the notion that IT managers would be daunted by these many distros. No offense, but any IT manager worth their salt is not just going to visit Distrowatch to find their first Linux distribution deployment. They're going to research other sources, talk to peers, and very likely contact the larger commercially oriented distribution companies. So again, tossing out the Big! Scary! 359! Distros! number is really just that--a scare tactic.
Yes, there are a lot of distributions out there. Because developers have the freedom to create them and users have the freedom to choose amongst them. It's all about choice. Curiously, choice isn't raised as a problem when it comes to other things that people use or consume. It only seems to be a problem with distributions of Linux.
I wonder why no one ever suggests having only one choice of applesauce on the grocery store shelves. Or antibiotics in the pharmacy. Choice isn't a problem there--so why does it always seem to be a problem for Linux?
For all those pundits who have or are planning to raise up this inane issue, here's a list of 359 things off the top of my head of things we consume or use that we have to make a choice about. Try applying the single-choice only argument to any of these few things from our daily lives. Perhaps you will finally realize your argument isn't worth a hill of
...and thank goodness for that, because readers can always move on to another opinion. Another example where choice is very good.
Are we done now?
[Note: For those readers who may have gained a glimpse into the psyche of the author in this free-associative list, I humbly apologize. -BKP]