posted by Christian Paratschek on Thu 23rd Sep 2004 05:59 UTC
IconAfter reading Adam Scheinberg's original article "The Paradox of Choice" and Kevin Russo's response, I want to add my personal comments to this discussion. I will quote Adam and Russo several times and pick up their arguments.

The first point I want to talk about, and my main point is: software choices, standards and the difference between them. Adam writes: "the same community that argues for choice seems to stand behind consolidation and standards." He argues that standards are also some kind of "removal of choice". I think, Adam's argument is flawed here. Let my explain with the popular "car analogy": cars adhere to certain standards, like having four wheels. While this is a removal of choice in itself, it is not bad at all. Four wheels are a standard, and every car maker who wants to produce a normal car has to follow this standard. Nobody complains about this fact, nobody writes petitions for 7-wheeled cars. So, where it is a matter of choice, if I buy a Mercedes or a Honda, it is a matter of standards that both of those have four wheels, three pedals, one engine and the same number of lights in the front and the back. The same goes for software standards: For example, I am really looking forward to KOffice 1.4 who will use's document formats (and the new OASIS standard file format respectively).

I don't see anything bad here, in fact, this move will increase my choices because now, I can only use to produce its files, then I will be able to bitch about how bloated it is and use KOffice on an older computer (Hint: I will probably not do this, I really like Another example: noone blames HTML to be responsible for the (sometimes) bad shape of the web. Internet Explorer is the black sheep because it does not render modern HTML well enough and has introduced proprietary extensions and other crap, using its monopolistic position to force contenders out of business. The problem here is also not the standard - HTML. If there would only be Firefox, Opera and Konqueror, we still would have choice between several software packages, all reading one standard file format.

Another quote from Adam's article: "I don't wanna flip-flop between Kontact and Evolution, Gaim and Kopete, ... Applications are merely an aside to productivity, the key is a comfortable, cohesive system." I think he hit the nail on the head with this one: and once again, standards are the key. An example: I can switch between Evolution and Mozilla Mail/Thunderbird whenever I want. As they both use the mbox-format to store their mails, I can choose between them freely (O.K., it takes about 15 minutes to move the mails, as there are some differences in the naming scheme, but that's not the story of this article...). If one of these applications does not fit my needs, I can replace it with the other easily. That's a very important thing in the software world: redundancy. I am not dependent on one or the other. The same goes for web browsers (aside from the fact that I have to ask myself how good Opera, Firefox or Konqueror interpret old, non-standard, IE-HTML. But just imagine for a second that they wouldn't have to do this...).

Why do we need choice then? The answer is simple: Biology! Let me quote Kevin here: "If you want to use a Microsoft operating system your choices are Windows XP Home or Windows XP Professional." Kevin goes on and arguments that this is good from a usability viewpoint. But what has this simplification brought us really? Just look at the Internet for a second. What has the Windows-monopoly and the Internet Explorer-monopoly done to the web? Right, it made the net a contaminated area. Nowadays, it is downright impossible to keep a Windows XP-machine running online without a firewall and antivirus software. After an average of 17 minutes, it is infected. The Linux and Mac-powered computers are immune to this epidemic. Biology has told us this lesson over and over again but noone wanted to listen. Monopolies ALWAYS have weaknesses. I firmly believe that the web would look no different if 95% of the world-wide computers would run Linux. Yes, we had this debate already, and I know that Linux has a better security model and all this. However, I am absolutely sure that It would just not be enough. It is good to have three really good rendering engines: Gecko, KHTML and Opera's. They all read HTML and interpret it really fine. And if, by some magic, 80% of the web population would use Firefox tomorrow and there were security holes popping up and spyware and all that for Gecko-based browsers, we could switch to Opera and KHTML and happily go on surfing the net. Now that's what I call redundant. Same goes for 2.0 and KOffice 1.4. The problem, if there will ever be one, will not be the OASIS file format, no, it will be or KOffice. And it will be a good thing if we can switch from one to the other without any problems.

Table of contents
  1. "Paradox of Choice, Part III, Page 1/2"
  2. "Paradox of Choice, Part III, Page 1/2"
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