Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Unwitting Linux Saboteurs

by Dietrich Schmitz

I spend time in my Google Plus private Linux Advocates community sharing ideas and trends with colleagues.

Occasionally, we hit on nuggets of gold and when you least expect it, someone comments and really helps put things into perspective.

Last evening, a dear colleague and friend +Shane Keene was sharing his thoughts about Distro-hopping.  We've jokingly coined the term 'Distroholics' for the uncontrollable tendency to not be satisfied with settling down and using one Distro.

It's easy to understand.  It can turn into a real hobby and is admittedly 'fun' to switch Distros and experiment.  And that's a good thing for those who enjoy doing it.

As for +Shane Keene and myself, and a few others in the LA community, we've reached the point where Distro-hopping has lost its luster.  Shane writes in his post:

"I've long since quit my evil distro hopping ways and settled permanently on Arch as the only one that is exactly what I want it to be, but I have discovered another bad habit of mine: I'm a three-timing, DE/WM slut who is constantly bouncing between Awesome WM, Openbox and KDE. But these days, instead of constantly uninstalling/reinstalling/reconfiguring my environment I just keep all three installed full time and use KDM to manage them."
And, that kicked off a series of comments, which is how we 'chew the fat', so to speak.

But, what I didn't expect was such a insightful exchange from +Aaron Seigo.  Don't misunderstand, Aaron is a regular participant in these exchanges--he's quite 'The Thinker', naturally and we all appreciate when he participates--it's just that I didn't expect his off-topic thought to be relevant, but it actually aligns with a series of posts of mine.  So, really, we are in complete agreement.

It's a good read and here's what he wrote as regards Linux Server and Desktop markets in response to participant +Tim Sparrow's comment - "Maybe if we had only 1 or 2 big names in 2008 around the Vista fiasco time" (emphasis added: mine):

"Looking at the server side, I'm not sure this is true. Despite the wide range of options there, including new comers and deaths in the family, server side Linux took off nicely.
Aside from the demographic differences of the target audiences, there are some striking differences between the two markets: 
* there is a general emphasis on stable transition among server side tools
* there is far less 'fork cause i feel like it' behaviour
* there are far fewer significant differences between using distro X for a web server (e.g.)and distro Y than there is between even the same distros on the desktop
I don't think it is the number of distributions; in theory, more distribution channels should mean more opportunities for marketing and a variety of vertically attuned support offerings. 
I think it comes down to the lack of continuity and an emphasis on infighting rather than gathering market. 
This is a deeply embedded cultural norm in Free software on the desktop. GNOME's early days were soaked in this thinking and it just never really stopped. Now we have a further splintering of the desktops with dangerously little thought to the strategic implications and large %s of the Free software desktop using population putting their support behind things that are new despite having untenable futures and being technically deficient relative to the more mature offerings. 
Desktop Linux's own worst enemy has been the desktop Linux community. 
With one or two environments and a focus on application development (a critical matter) rather than getting all excited about which panel looks better on the left side of the screen (which does not gain more market share, people), even with 10x the number of distributions, we would be much further along. Much further. 
Instead, we engaged in a years long battle of mutual tearing down for no benefit, and it continues today. 
With regret, I consider the various new desktop environments, those who enthusiastically support them and all the distributions and environments drifting towards distro/environment specific applications to be unintentional traitors to the goal of spreading Free software on the desktop. 
Short sighted behaviour is sabotaging things, not the number of distros."

Thank you to all the commentators and especially Aaron.  I hope the readership will reflect long and hard on the above.

-- Dietrich

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