Linux — Fragmented or Unified?

On the site of the Linux Foundation there was an article of Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, about the question whether Linux as an operating system and as a community is fragmented or unified. Several people reacted and posed additional dilemmas on the topic. Are different distro’s really competing for being best? Does this unnecessary consume resources? Should Linux strive for being the dominant way computers run? Following you can read my posted reaction…

Differentiation serves best, Linux does!

When I started using Linux one of the first things I read was the article The Cathedral and the Bazaar. That story is all about the discussion here whether Linux is unified or fragmented, being good or not so.

The other issue that I read between the lines is that one day Linux may be bigger than both the other big operating systems. For many years I used both, Mac up to System 8.5 and Windows until a year ago when I switched definitely to Fedora.

Starting with the second subject I think the question is if Linux wants to outnumber or want to outclass the other mainstream OSses. To outnumber others comes with controlling the hardware business, huge advertising budgets and lots of law suits. Nearly every week the press is proving this. To be ‘the one and only’ you have to declare what is wrong and what not. In my opinion this is not what should be in a free world, but because it’s a free world these things happen.

To outclass the other ones, Linux has to work on its own cause. Building systems that serve peoples needs for a good, easy to use, stable, customable and yes, differentiated platform that runs their computers (and not only the newest). With only one year of experience but coming from the outside I’d like to say that Linux does. In a wonderful way.

Installing whatever distro is very easy and if you like (or dare) challenging complex. Selecting the needed applications for everyday use was never that simple: just select Add Software and there you are. When things go wrong many websites, blogs and forums are there to help you. Thanks to the 24/7 Internet your problems are solved just over a nights sleep. What else could you want? Several hardware companies are beginning to support our cause. I bought an Acer eMachine with Ubuntu pre installed, even with a ‘Ubuntu certified’ sticker on the front next to the AMD one. More and faster hardware at lower price compared to the pre installed windows box that looks the same on the outside. Even the main manufacturers trust the qualities of our beloved system. That pulls!

Of course putting a game CD in the tray and play is far from easy. For me I still need these windows to get remote access to my boss’ servers and work at home. Believe me, with the power of all you bright Linux users and programmers these things are only a matter of time. Giving enough eyeballs, all problems are superficial. I can use WINE, take documents from work on a flash disk and work on the fly. I teach my children that Linux offers some remarkable games — and a countdown timer to not let get things out of hand…

IMHO to outclass is the better option and it already shows. For free, because Linux works that way.

Then the point of the fragmented Linux world, the Bazaar approach. Recently I visited La Boqueria, one of the most famous marketplaces in Barcelona Spain. Every vendor sells his own products in different qualities at different prices. Browsing all the food everybody finds what he likes to eat or to present to his guests. Different tastes, different budgets but all just want to have a fine meal. Fragmentation makes the world a better place because there is something to choose. Fragmentation also makes it possible to serve different needs at the same time, because there is always someone with the same itch but with better skills. Maybe free choice is difficult for some and sticking to the big names seems to be the easiest way. Just buy that fancy all-in-one flatscreen and you’re done. This works until you want some other taste. The App is banned from the store and MacDo doesn’t serve red wine.

Finally I want to go back to the way Linux outclasses the others already. Our favourite OS is maybe suffering a bit from a tech and nerd image. But at least there are always nerds to help you out! Asking around and taking my own parents as an example finding your way on the two other large platforms isn’t easy at all. The plug-and-play printer doesn’t respond and files are lost somewhere on the hard disk. The great difference is that there is no one to help them out. This is not only for the 70 year old but sadly common for most end users.

My conclusion is that the fragmented world of Linux does a wonderful and united thing: providing a superb operating system and tools and a serving community basically for free. Just another unified Linux distro will not wipe out the somewhat confusing noise of the bazaar. I think more can be done to promote and support Linux to new users. Invite them, make them curious, give away some LiveCD’s to friends and ask them about it. Realize that some distro’s are more suitable for your parents or school teachers than others.

And keep up the good work.


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