Linux and Fragmentation

I recently came across a very well written article in Linux User & Developer called “Is Linux Becoming Too Fragmented?”.

I started to read it with a little skepticism, because I have seen the Linux wars happening on the internet (Fedora is better than Ubuntu, KDE vs. Gnome, etc) and I wondered what this would be about.

The article is written in the first person.  Jay Kruizenga makes it feel like he’s talking to you.

Anyway, the first line is as follows: “Is Linux becoming fragmented, turning into its own worst enemy?”.

Very good question, and I have some of my own thoughts on it.

Linux is powerful because of its choice.  You can choose something you build yourself from the ground up (Slackware, etc) or something that has everything you need to get on the internet and start working (Fedora, Ubuntu, Mandriva etc, etc).  You can pick a distro that has all of the proprietary formats included (Mandriva [I think], Suse, etc) or a distro that only uses free software (GoBuntu, etc).  Or you can compromise with a distro that provides all the free formats and whatnot with access to the proprietary formats (Ubuntu and its iterations).

I also like being able to choose my desktop environment.  Now, Windows users are used to just two choices: Windows Classic style or Windows XP style (I’m only talking about XP; I have never used Vista and I don’t plan to).  Within those choices you have more customizability of Classic (with color choices, etc) than you do with XP style (you have three color themes; blue, silver and olive).  Now, with Linux, you have to first choose a desktop environment (KDE, GNOME, Enlightenment, Fluxbox, XFCE, etc).  Then you choose if you want the fancy-dancy features of Compiz.  After this, you can customize further by going to KDE-look or Gnome-look to pick different wallpapers, themes, and everything else you could ever want to make your OS look exactly how you want it.  It’s rather fun, actually.

Now, you have to pick your programs.  Usually, when you install a distro, the programs are included.  Usually, you will have a document editing suite, a image-editing program, IM program, IRC program, utilities to connect to the internet, some games, an audio player, and one or more web browsers.  In comparison, Windows comes with a very basic document editor, Windows Media Player, Windows Messenger, IE and just a few other programs that offer only very basic functionality to the operating system.  Usually you have to add programs (Office, Pidgin, Firefox, etc) to create basic functionality.  Some of these programs are free, others cost a lot of money.

So, is there too much choice?  Are over 550 distros too many?  I’d definitely answer a resounding no.  That’s what Linux is all about.  Pick what you want, pick how you want it to look, pick what you need to do with it, and you will have a perfect operating system for you. 

I’m of the same opinion that Kruizenga holds: “It matters not what distribution you choose, you’re of the same Linux camp and we’ll support you through peace and struggle.”  That is what Linux users need to do.  If we allow in-fighting (KDE vs. Gnome, etc), then Windows and Mac users will only see a fragmented community that has turmoil and strife.  Choice is the ruler.  Choice is what we espouse on.  Choice is the reason we came to Linux in the first place.  Maybe we came to Linux initially because we were sick of paying to upgrade our computer every couple years; maybe we had something old that needed an OS so grandparents or parents or sisters or brothers or kids could just check email, read news, and not have to worry about virii and worms; maybe we were told about it by a family member and decided to give it a whirl; maybe we were sick of not actually owning our operating system; maybe we wanted to tinker under the hood and change things; and maybe we were just sick of dealing with quirks of an unstable Windows or Mac system.  Whatever reason we came to the community, we need to remember this last bit from this article:

What can you do to show a sense of esprit de corps?  If you’re an able developer, lend a helping hand to your favourite project(s).  If you’re a user, support the developers therough both moral and financial support.  We’re in this together.  And whatever you decide to do, please don’t criticise the choice of any one of our number – allow freedom of choice to reign.  Put an end to the animosity felt over past strifes.  Choose this day to proudly take the banner of Linux and proclaim freedom.  Remain friendly with all.  Support their every decision.  Even if you’re in the complete disagreement.  Just be thankful that they’ve chosen Linux.

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References:

“Is Linux Becoming Too Fragmented?” Jay Kruizenga; Linux User and Developer, pp. 47-50
Wikipedia article; Linux distribution: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux_distribution
Wikipedia article: List of Ubuntu-based distributions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Ubuntu-based_distributions
Distribution Information: http://distrowatch.org