Linked by Perry Helion on Fri 15th Mar 2013 18:20 UTC
Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu Ubuntu has come under a decent amount of flack over the past few months, particularly over their decision to use the 'Dash Search' to return results from Amazon by default in their most recent release.
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RE[3]: That's life
by hhas on Sun 17th Mar 2013 14:28 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: That's life"
Member since:

Improved according to whom? Part of the benefit of the Linux ecosystem is the ability to do things differently. I, for one, would hate to lose the choice.

Urghh. It's simple math. You don't get anything for nothing in this world, and Linux developers (amongst other things) are a finite resource. You can either pool those resources into developing a small number of well focused DEs each of which caters to a specific market, or you can spread those resources thinly over a large number of mostly overlapping DEs all trying to cannibalize existing Linux user base (another finite resource) from each other.

This is not to say branching or forking DE projects is a bad thing: it's can be an extremely powerful tool as it allows forks to experiment freely with new ideas. But if it isn't offset by a similar frequency of merges taking the most successful ideas from each branch and folding them back together into a strong and coherent whole, eventually development and support resources are spread so thinly that everyone is resource-starved, and none strong or vigorous enough to face the real competition - Microsoft, Apple, Google, et al - never mind make a dent in them.


To be blunt, any idiot can create a piece of software - it's no big achievement. The really hard part is building a large enough initial market for that product that growth becomes self-sustaining, enabling it to become a popular success. More users for a particular distro makes it more worthwhile for application developers to support that distro, it makes it more worthwhile for writers to produce documentation and training materials for that distro, it makes it easier for business users to find IT personnel to support that distro, and so on. (See: "network effect", particularly as it applies to software and software markets.)

To illustrate the critical importance of building market share above everything else: I've created some really good software over the years, but all that hard work has ultimately been wasted because the project never grew big and strong enough to hold its ground in an unforgiving, ever-changing world. So the first external challenge that did appear just uprooted it and blew it away. So what exactly have I achieved through this, other than upsetting a few thousand committed users by having to pull the plug on the thing right when they were achieving their own goals through it? The best code in the world isn't worth squat once it's dead in the water.


For 99.99% of people in the world, software is merely a means to a much greater end, never an end in itself. The true value of a piece of software is in how much it empowers users to achieve their own life's goals, not in how much it fluffs the egos of a handful of self-indulgent fanboys who've nothing better to do than tinker with "vanity press" projects and proudly proclaim the year of the Linux desktop right around the corner.

Look, I've nothing against hobbyist OSes myself, and if that's your thing then more power to you. But please then don't ever fool yourself that you and your pet indulgence are ever going to do anything that changes or improves the world for everyone else, because you're not.

Companies like Red Hat and Canonical understand this: that the purpose of software is to work for a living, not remain a special pampered flower with an audience of one. Which is why their true contribution to the FOSS and Linux worlds should not be measured in how many lines of code they contribute to other people's projects, it's how much market share they tear away from the powerful grasp of Microsoft and Apple and Google, who would otherwise forever stitch up the whole show to their own benefit.


Reply Parent Score: 5

RE[4]: That's life
by Alfman on Sun 17th Mar 2013 18:04 in reply to "RE[3]: That's life"
Alfman Member since:

You have some valid points, however it's a question of balance.

Very few of us in the linux end of things want a monoculture. Competition is good not just because we have more choices, but because it allows us more freedom to try out different approaches that wouldn't get the chance to evolve otherwise. Another benefit is that isolated projects can incorporate ideas from each other. Also, having a few entities in charge is bad because it results in "feature governance", where those at the top dictate how the system must be for everyone else. This is an equally negative trait whether we're talking about Open Source or not (apple, ms, etc).

I'm not saying the world needs hundreds of distros (which there are), but at the same time it's great to have several popular ones that are actively competing. Most of us do recognize the need for this balance, hopefully you do too.

You brought up dilution of developer efforts, that can be true. Things like drivers shouldn't need to be rewritten by several distros. But there's only so much value in grouping developers under the same organization due to diminishing returns. A team of 100 is going to be somewhat less than 10X productive as a team of 10. A team of 1000 is going to be far less than 10X as productive as a team of 100. A team of 10000 might not be any more productive than a team of 1000. There are so many open source developers that we are already well beyond the point of diminishing returns, the existence of indy distros isn't detracting from the main distros and in fact the main distros may very well take inspiration from the indy ones.

Again, it's a question of balance. I think having so many distros can be a problem for different reasons though, too many choices does confuse new users. But IMHO having some choice in distros is still much better than what we have from commercial offerings (consider how many people would opt for a win8 minus metro distro if they had the choice).

Edited 2013-03-17 18:05 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[5]: That's life
by hhas on Sun 17th Mar 2013 21:26 in reply to "RE[4]: That's life"
hhas Member since:

Very few of us in the linux end of things want a monoculture.

I made no suggestion it should be. My point was you could cover pretty much all areas of the Linux user base with just four DEs. That is not a monoculture, nor does it rule out the creation of purely experimental DEs for long-term research purposes, but let's not confuse those with production DEs. Neither does it eliminate vigorous competition within each of those DEs as they are free to fork in order to experiment with new ideas or modified designs. However, once those developments which have proven themselves independently and sufficiently matured to allow general adoption, they should be folded back into the main branch, a process that should be rigorously meritocratic, unhindered by individual politics or egos (a serious hindrance in the current Linux ecosystem). So I think that covers your concerns there.

You brought up dilution of developer efforts, that can be true. Things like drivers shouldn't need to be rewritten by several distros.

So drivers should be commoditized, in your opinion. You readily recognize that drivers are merely a means to an end, but then turn around and treat DEs as a special case - an end in itself. Whereas 99% users recognize that DEs are merely one more means to an end too.

This is a classic problem in the Linux world: kernel fans see the kernel as the end in itself; DE fans see the DE as the end in itself; application fans see the application as the end in itself. Whereas >99% of users understand that all of these layers are merely means to the one end that truly does matter: the ability to achieve useful work (recreational or professional).

Everything below that that is unimportant in itself: either it facilitates their goal - in which case it isn't even noticed - or it frustrates it, in which case it will be noticed for all the wrong reasons. The kernel, the shell, the applications are all reduced to commodities, at which point it becomes a question of which has the most users: because that in turn dictates which attract the most training resources, the most user support, the most transferable skills, the biggest network effect. Hence Window's near-monopoly of the desktop market, and the current rise of Android to much the same position in mobile - not because they're the best or the most ideologically pure in themselves, but because they have successfully grown the largest, most active ecosystems around themselves.

Oh, and it's not just the end users who benefit either: the application developers benefit because they only have to target one or two platforms, so can devote more of their resources to improving their own products instead. Look at the range and quality of applications available for Linux and compare to Mac or Windows, and tell me that the plethora of DEs and distros is doing them any favors. Remember: Means to an end. Means to an end.

There are so many open source developers that we are already well beyond the point of diminishing returns

I think you greatly overestimate the number of OSS developers who do the vast majority of the work on major projects (i.e. core contributors), versus the number of OSS developers who are merely users of those products. This is not to say the latter do not provide useful contribution in the form of isolated bug reports/patches or user-to-user support, but that is still not the same as building core infrastructure in the first place. And, don't forget, the more projects exist, the thinner those folks' contributions will also be spread.

You are quite right that 1000 core developers in a project will not achieve 10 times the work of 100 core developers. However, the real problem here is that the Linux world has quite forgotten the philosophy of the original Unix creators: to create many small, independent, focused components that can be freely combined to form larger systems. Hence the vast, sprawling monolithic designs of DEs and desktop applications which prevent them from effectively employing more than a fraction of OSS developers even if they want to.

MS and Apple can afford to brute-force giant monolithic solutions that are "good enough" within a reasonable timescale, because they have the commercial resources to build and sell such products. The Linux world, from looking at everything from drivers to X to DEs to Open Office, clearly cannot afford the same indulgence. The only way Linux will ever get ahead as a widespread user-facing system, rather than a boutique techie-only platform - is if they stop trying to play the game by MS/Apple/Google rules, which means lots of small, agile components that are fast and cheap to create and support and play really well together (IOW, the embodiment of Unix Philosophy).

But let's face it: as it stands the Linux community cannot even marshal their existing resources into one or two focused goals, such as winnowing down their plethora of DEs to a more application developer-, distributor- and user-friendly headcount. So what are the chances of them ever evolving any of those behemoths into an adaptable, devolved, cooperative architecture that enables users and groups to tackle individual problems of particular interest to them without forcing them to wade through bureaucracy or reinvent wheels just to get to the starting point?


So, apologies for length (I'm out of time for further editing), but as a relative outsider I think these points bear making as there are certain parts of the Linux mentality which are something of a monoculture themselves.

Reply Parent Score: 2