posted by Jed Reynolds on Thu 30th Sep 2004 18:54 UTC
IconIn Russo's A Response to the Paradox of Choice, I interpret this paragraph to be the crux of his essay:

It is now time for Linux to rise, unify, and eliminate choice [in] a positive way. The LSB2 project is a great start to unification of Linux. It is impossible to eliminate all choice. What the leaders must do is make their choices based on what is good for the Linux community in the long term. The truth is, if you eliminate some choices and dictate others so that Linux can be more united, Linux can only grow and prosper.

I believe this argument is mistaken, and the lines of the discussion ignore the nature of Free/Open Source Software. First, consider that there is no mechanism to tangibly remove choice from the Internet. Second, if the success of Linux depends on its narrow comparison to other systems, that is at best a short term point of view.

Russo proposes that eliminating choice strengthens the chances for success. Consider that by dictating some standards, you've neither eliminated choice nor dictated to the Linux developer community. The cummunity is not subordinant to the voice of authority. Rather, members of the community subscribe to the LSB guidelines when they wish to forge compatibility. The LSB has no control over the free will of the developers in the Linux community, nor could it. Such control is not possible. To juxtapose the image of corporate control over an ecosystem is nonsense.

I think the anxiety about Linux standardization is due to the anxiety caused by the battle for desktops and servers...the battle for market ranking. What is truly lost if Linux doesn't take over the world next year? In two, three, ten or fifty years? Nothing is lost, nor is anyone's contribution to Linux in vain.

To think that Linux is in a race with any other opperating system is mistaken. However, people marketing Linux solutions are in a race...but in the context of their market, only. As long as their teams contribute to the body of Open Source software, their magnitude of their company's success only matters to their stakeholders. Corporate sponsorship is vibrant part of open source and the Linux community, but corporate success is not the measurement of the success of Linux. User adoption is a measurement of the success of Linux.

The Linux community is not to be likened to a commercial entity, such analogies are inapplicable. The magnitude of choice in the Linux community is an expression of the absence of dictitorial corporate control over what developers may develop on. We are reminded of the concept of scratching an itch: Open Source starts as the scratching stick crafted by one and rubbed smooth as it is adopted by many. A corporate product in contrast is smoothed by marketing and intended to scratch an itch that statistics says should be there. While it can be improved, it improves only as long as the corporation feeds life into it. Most commercial applications and opperatings systems have surprisingly short term lifespans, often dictated by the life of the company.

The phenomenon of Open Source is an expression of community desire for software, not a corporate desire for profit. Software companies sprout and wilt like the grass in my yard, and so do the wares they provide that cannot grow in the medium of the community. Open source software projects become part of their community because the community can maintain them...or if you will...grow them.

The character of the FOSS community is likened in my mind more to agriculture than to manufacturing. The myriad of FOSS software available reflects all the hybridized and heirloomed varieties of software people have a taste for growing. These varieties are not in competition, they are merely selection. The corporate consumer, rather, has been exposed to the single taste of the supersized burger combo software. If the user is confused by the selection, their choice is really quite simple. However, if you want to introduce confused users to new tastes, focus not on reducing selection but providing a better introduction to learning about the selection. Consider Knoppix.

Table of contents
  1. "Eliminating Choice, Page 1/2"
  2. "Eliminating Choice, Page 2/2"
e p (0)    52 Comment(s)

Technology White Papers

See More