Originally Published: Sunday, 19 March 2000 Author: Tom Dominico, Jr.
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Standardization vs. Freedom of Choice

Lately it seems that there have been many calls for standardization in Linux. A prime example of this is in the area of desktops. Linux offers its users a vast assortment of window managers and desktop environments, while most other operating systems do not offer a choice.

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Lately it seems that there have been many calls for standardization in Linux. A prime example of this is in the area of desktops. Linux offers its users a vast assortment of window managers and desktop environments, while most other operating systems do not offer a choice. The argument has been made that the Linux way of doing things is too confusing and inconsistent, especially for users coming from other operating systems. Advocates of a standard Linux desktop feel that it would solve these perceived problems. I disagree.

Anointing one particular desktop/window manager combination as "the" Linux desktop places all others at a disadvantage, which is a disservice to the end user. Users should be able to easily test drive a number of window managers and desktop environments and choose the one that suits them. Taking that choice away is the height of arrogance, and negates everything that Linux stands for. Instead, it should be easy for users to make that choice, both during installation and after.

Personal choice is at the heart of Linux, and of the Open Source movement. Linux is about freedom; not only the freedom to have a stable, open source operating system, but to make a plethora of choices as to how you want your system configured. Standardization takes away those choices, and results in poorer quality software. With no real competition, and suffering from a lack of fresh ideas, chances are that such software will eventually become stagnant.

Competition between different software packages ultimately benefits the end user. For instance, I see a lot of great developments coming from both the Gnome and KDE camps. I'm sure that competing for users has played some role in these developments, forcing the developers to innovate and attempt to stay a step ahead of the other team. Who benefits from this? We do. Take away that competition, and you stifle innovation.

I can't help but draw a comparison from this situation to the recent Microsoft anti-trust trial. While Microsoft claimed that the trial was about the "freedom to innovate," the truth was that Microsoft had stifled innovation with their monopolistic practices, trampling a number of excellent software packages under its feet. The principles of capitalism apply to software development, just as they do to any "marketplace." Competition leads to a higher quality product, as we all remember from Economics 101. Sadly, we seem to forgotten this when it comes to software. Would you rather have decisions imposed upon you, as you will with Windows and such, or would you like to be deemed intelligent enough to make your own choices? I'll take the latter any day.

The only real complaint that I have about multiple desktop environments is that it can be a bit cumbersome to change all of your various themes - gtk, KDE, etc. I wouldn't mind seeing some sort of unified theme configurator. If such a tool exists, I've yet to see it. Or better yet, maybe I'll just write one myself! After all, thanks to the open source movement, I've got tons of great development tools and source code at my disposal. That's just YARTLL - Yet Another Reason To Love Linux.

Next week, I'll address similar complaints about Linux "fragmentation," and explore how it might be a blessing in disguise. In the meantime, I urge you to fight for innovation and freedom of choice in the software you use, not standardization and stagnation

Tom Dominico (tomd@linux.com) is a programmer, database administrator, and recent Linux convert. Cursed with insomnia, he spends his sleepless nights chatting on IRC, tweaking his Linux workstation, and reading everything he can get his hands on.





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