posted by Christian Paratschek on Thu 23rd Sep 2004 05:59 UTC

"Paradox of Choice, Part III, Page 1/2"
And what to do about the kernel? Any distribution has the kernel, so a flaw in it affects everyone using Linux. Well, that's why we need BSD, MAC OS and Windows. The key to a healthy internet is diversity. That's what biology teaches us. And diversity does not necessarily mean chaos. How many different kinds of fish do exist? Well, who cares? Most of them swim and eat plankton. That's our standards. Plankton is an MP3 (O.K., I AM getting tired right now...) If one kind of fish flourishes and grows to an immense population, be sure, something will find its weak points and start eating away on them. But the ecosystem is not destroyed because the other fish continue eating all the plankton, thereby flourishing themselves because of the food overflow. The system controls itself. Perfectly.

That's why I believe that Kevin is fundamentally wrong when he writes: "By having one standards system, developers would have more time to work on new ideas to further along the migration of Linux." It would work in the beginning. Maybe. But the defects of a monopoly would haunt us soon enough. Having 50% of the Linux desktops on Gnome and 50% on KDE makes both platforms less interesting for trojans and viruses. Niche players can survive for a long time. Just like Linux is a niche player on todays desktops. And who cares anyway? Linux desktops do not need to look the same everywhere. Sell some KDE here, some Gnome there, some OpenOffice.org here, some KOffice there, Mozilla here, Konqueror there. Users will be happy as long as their systems play their music-files, open their curriculum vitae correctly, display websites fine and have a nice email/pim-application. Highly integrated. Modular. As long as the plankton gets eaten, i don't care what fish does it. As long as I can ride an animal to get faster from A to B, I don't care if it's a horse or a camel.

There is, however a difference between having choices and making decisions. The Linux distributors have to make these decisions: Fedora includes Evolution as their standard mail client, Mandrake uses Kontact. Ideally, it should make no difference for the user. Both mail-clients should use the same format to store their mails. Just like four wheels on each car. Just like OpenOffice.org's file-formats for KOffice. It definitely is a tough thing for the distributors. What would we say, if RedHat ditched KDE from Fedora tomorrow? Or Mandrake removed Gnome? The outcry would be enormous! On the other hand, it would be good for the distributors because they could concentrate on the core of their distribution. Fedora, for example, IS a Gnome-centered distribution. Why do they even ship KDE? The answer is simple: they fear to lose costumers and they fear the outcry of the community and the bad press they would receive. I'd say: move it to Fedora Extras today, no one sane in their mind uses Fedora with KDE (O.K., flame away, this one will hit me hard...). Same goes for Mandrake and Gnome.

Now, what would change if both companies would really do that? Well, Gnome and KDE users would lose choice and flexibility, because they each would lose one distribution to use. But really, I don't think that this would be so bad. You like Gnome? Use Fedora. You want KDE? Use Mandrake. Can't decide between those two? Try Debian. Or one of the other distributions, there are plenty out there. What would we get? Smaller downloads, probably better applications, because the Fedora Team could concentrate on perfecting the Gnome Desktop while the Mandrake Folks would have more time to shake the bugs out of their KDE-centric distro. The key to all this: again standards. Ideally, it should be as easy for all applications as it is for Rhythmbox, iTunes and Juk. Just feed them your mp3s and they are happy. Same goes for browsers. Hopefully soon for a lot of other applications.

So, in the end, I am all for choice. Choice between desktops like Gnome and KDE will give Linux an important advantage if it ever grows so big that it becomes attractive for malware. An advantage that Windows never had: it will be redundant, thus far more resistant to attacks. 85% Linux-users worldwide and a heap of Linux-viruses will not be a problem for a KDE user. He will use BSD as the core and KDE as the desktop and happily go on computing. 95% Gnome users and the corresponding Gnome-virus-pest will not be a problem for Linux. Users will use KDE until Gnome shrinks to a healthy size. And when KDE gets too big in in the process, Gnome (or any other desktop) will help out, take KDE market share, thus making KDE less interesting for malware writers. The choice we have today in Linux software can be the key to a healthy software ecosystem in the future.

About the Author
Christian Paratschek is 28 years old, lives in Vienna and will really soon be finished with his studies. Really soon. Only a few DAYS left!


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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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