Friday, May 4, 2012

Too much of freedom = Chaos

Q: Why FOSS on Linux desktop did not get traction the way it should?
A: It started up with a Utopia - freedom of choice.

Windows powers around 90% of the desktops worldwide. It doesn't offer much choice. And the little choice it offers is limited to a few application software. For more than 15 years we have just two GUI for Windows - Luna (Pre-Vista) and Aero (Post-Vista). Ask average Windows users about the desktop environment they use. 99% of time you will get a shock response - they have no idea. Or at best the answer will be "Windows". They have just one word "Windows" for the OS, for the desktop environment and everything else. What does it mean?
  • people are not so fond of software, they just want to get their job done using some software (often reluctantly), crying "choice" aloud just frightens them
  • they don't worry about the source code and the RMS freedom associated with it
99% of normal people don't know how to program and don't give a damn about source codes and freedom of choice. They skip any reference to "source code" and "EULA". Free software is ok, but saying "you can have a look at source code" is definitely not an effective point. Very often freedom of choice becomes a costly affair if you consider the time invested to get your way through these choices before settling at one.

That's precisely why after so much trumpeting of the advantages of FOSS it's struggling to register in the mindshare of the masses. The often said "Resistance to change" is not the only reason holding the opensource platforms back. It's the lack of standards, simplicity, coherence and good applications, plus the ever growing chaos in terms of fragmentation and multiplicity in every possible form.

You need to clean the clutter by dumping 90% of the stuff that make up for freedom of choice. Then you need a benevolent dictator who can apply an adamant standard and QC system to really push FOSS on the Linux desktop forward, but then it won't be FOSS anymore.

2 comments:

tomas said...

That sounds about right to me. Maybe people shouldn't be trying to make linux mainstream. The beauty and power of linux is primarily for developers, I think. If you go making linux the power of desktop systems, you better be ready to support the necessarily ignorant users, and I'm not sure that's in the power of FOSS, or that it should be there. (And I say necessarily ignorant, because these people are too busy doing their work in the world to be bothered with mastering software.)

Anonymous said...

With respect, I don't believe the issue is "freedom" (of choice, or anything else) as such. Freedom is good, even with the occasional chaos that comes with it. Distros are used by those to whom they appeal; if they don't appeal they wither and die.

IMHO the real issue is for whom are Linux distros produced, and why?

FOSS true believers say that they want to provide choice for the masses, so they can stop using evil M$. This simply isn't true. Linux distros, even popular ones like PCLOS, are produced for ... let us be kind ... hobbyists and "fans", who enjoy dithering with software and don't really understand how someone else (most people) wouldn't.

Every distro I've ever seen touts their "friendly and helpful" forums as sources of help. And well they might, since most documentation is bad, if it even exists at all. I've written a small amount of documentation in my day, and it's a difficult, time-consuming and thankless task. Keeping it current is even harder. Most Linux distro teams can't really be bothered.

But go to a "friendly and helpful" Linux forum without having done your homework, so to speak, and see what happens. One must demonstrate one's worthiness to use Distro Whichever (PCLOS is NOT an exception here) by having met whatever standard of knowledge is considered appropriate, _and_ fit in with whatever geek social norms are prevalent.

Now, it is certainly not unreasonable to expect someone to have a base of knowledge about computers before asking for help. This is as true in the M$ world as in *nix. But, without idealizing M$, there are many more choices, just because of its size. The chances of finding someone who wants to help, rather than prove their own competence and superiority, is much better. From the user end, M$ software isn't really any better than *nix, but the "user experience" usually is ... unless one is living the Geek Life.

Consider the BSDs for a moment. They're more niche (sometimes MUCH more) than Linux, but they are pretty unapologetic about being for the knowledgeable and committed -- dilettantes and consumers need not apply. "Maybe you should use Ubuntu" can be a minor (?) insult on BSD forums. Do your homework or go home. Their forums seem to be more helpful once you've done your homework, though just as geeky.

IMHO, "Linux for the desktop" folks want it both ways ... choice and technical excellence (which require knowledge) AND E-Z entry and "user friendliness" for the masses. I like that idea too, but in the absence of a large user base, it simply requires more (unpaid!) work by "user friendly" people than Linux has available. There's a reason that the BSDs don't even try.

Just my USD 0.02, and worth every cent you paid for it. For the record, I've used PCLOS/LXDE on my desktop for years now, though I don't show my face on the forum.

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