Linux – Too Many Choices? By Josh Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

Linux – Too Many Choices? By Josh Blagden



 One of the problems which dilutes Linux development, as well as adoption, is the sheer number of distributions. There are hundreds of different Linux distributions. The base distriubtions are Gentoo, Slackware, Debian, Red Hat, and Arch, and all of them have their own variants, with different desktop environments – another issue!



Desktop Environments

There are at least ten different desktop environments. The more popular desktop environments are Unity, Gnome, XFCE, and KDE. Most desktop distributions, with the exception of Arch, come with a desktop environment. For example, Ubuntu comes with Unity, Fedora comes with Gnome, and Mint comes with Cinnamon. Though, you can always install additional desktop environments. The trouble with the different desktop environments is that unlike skins, they don’t just change the look – they also change the amount of functionality supplied by the GUI or even the OS. For example, Gnome can use the two extra buttons on some mice for going backwards and forwards in a web browser.



 Another issue is that there’s often more than one program for the same task. For example, for office suites, you have LibreOffice and Caligra, while for image editing you have GIMP and Krita. This might not sound like a problem, but it can be a huge problem in a corporate environment, or even in a home because it makes troubleshooting much more difficult. For example, in a place that only uses Windows, and you need to help people with an office suite and an image editor, you’ll be dealing with Microsoft Office, and Adobe Photoshop – just two programs! But with FOSS, you may have to answer nitty-gritty questions about how to do something in a particular program, like how to change exposure in a photo or how to copy a number from a cell with a formula in a spreadsheet.


Focusing Issues

When you have hundreds of distributions, ten or twenty different desktop environments, and a number of different programs for the same task, it’s can be difficult to get a lot of quality on Linux, and it’s also hard to get users. The largest OS, Windows, as well as the second-largest OS, OS X, have one thing in common – focus. Windows only has one or two desktop environments (Aero and Windows 2000) and OS X only has one. Windows and Mac OS X both have standard programs everyone uses, like Microsoft Office, Adobe Premiere, iWork, and Final Cut – many of which are available on Mac OS X and Windows. With the different distributions, desktop environments, and programs, quality is certainly a problem. For example, every time I boot up my Ubuntu Gnome machine, it gives me an error about Tracker, which often can only be fixed via the command line instead of being remedied by updates. As I mentioned earlier, the issue of having more than one application for the same job can make troubleshooting much more difficult (especially over the phone) which makes it difficult both for someone to help you with a program, as well as finding a tech support person who can troubleshoot the program you’re having an issue with. Without standardization and a concentration of effort (as opposed to duplication), Linux won’t get very far. Without standardization, Linux will always be a niche operating system for tinkerers and server administrators.




Linux would probably be more polished and successful if there was a lot more focus. But it’s also true that the diversity of distributions, desktop environments, and programs are a strength of Linux – it has something for everyone. Also, the fact that Linux is open-source is great for a number of reasons: it gets patched quickly, it’s secure, software can be maintained as long as there’s a willing developer, it works on pretty much any hardware, and device manufacturers are more likely to make Linux drivers than OS X drivers since Linux is legal to install on any hardware, while OS X is not. In the end, whether or not the number of choices is a problem, is more of a viewpoint question.

© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015