failing like never before


The Linux Choice

Newcomers to Linux are often baffled by the wealth and diversity of choices offered to them when they begin installing Linux for the very first time.

It begins when they first select a Linux distribution, or what some people call a "flavor" (I personally find "flavor" to be an irritating term). Debian, Slackware, Ubuntu, Suse, Fedora, Gentoo, PCLinux... The list of Linux distributions is nearly endless, how is a person to chose whats best for themselves? But choosing a distribution is only the beginning, what about the bootloader? Lilo or GRUB? And as for the filesystems, should I use Ext3 or ReiserFS (or perhaps even JFS or XFS), and how should I partition my hard drives and mount them? Should I use KDE or Gnome, or perhaps one of the less renowned desktop environments, like Enlightenment (version 16 or 17?), Fluxbox, Icewm, or XFCE? BASH, or KSH? AppArmor or SELinux?

So many choices! When I install Windows, all I have to do is stick the CD in and click "next" a few times. No wonder Linux possesses such a minute market share! It appears that the lack of unity within the Linux community is the reason that Linux still remains unpopular; open source programmers spend their time coding slightly different programs to accomplish the same task, each one believing that their way is the best. But wouldn't it be better, more efficient, to eliminate all these unnecessary, redundant projects and consolidate the efforts of the Linux community into generating a single program for each task, thus creating a single, standard Linux distribution? Wouldn't it be better, in short, to make Linux more like Windows or Mac?

People that have dipped their toes into the vast ocean that is Linux, often reach that conclusion. They don't understand why everything has to be so difficult, why they have to spend so much time researching and configuring programs and settings. They want something that "just works" without any fussing about; they want someone else to make all the hard choices for them. But the reason that many people turned to Linux in the first place is because they were dissatisfied with the choices that Apple and Microsoft were making for them and finally decided to find freedom from closed-source operating systems, finding solace in Linux (or BSD or some other open source OS).

Of course, freedom is never free and we must accept that with the freedom to do as we wish, we must shoulder the responsibilities of actually making our thoughts a reality. (That is to say, the cost of having a computer operating system modeled to your every wishes, is the time invested into building and configuring the OS.)

At the end of his essay, In the Beginning Was the Command Line, Neal Stephenson describes a program that allows people to create their own universes by defining universal constants. Everyone wants to create their own universes, their own life, and so they start using the program but find that its too hard to use, so engineers pre-configure the program for users so that all they have to do is hit the start button. Of course people eventually start complaining how the pre-configured program is buggy and imperfect (software is never perfect), and eventually the engineers respond.

What would the engineer say, after you had explained your problem, and enumerated all of the dissatisfactions in your life? He would probably tell you that life is a very hard and complicated thing; that no interface can change that; that anyone who believes otherwise is a sucker; and that if you don't like having choices made for you, you should start making your own.

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  1. There has been some slight confusion I think, as to my meanings behind this article. So I would like to clarify, and state that “I LIKE LINUX AND I LIKE HAVING CHOICES!.” I am sorry if my poor writing skills have angered you or caused any undue damages etc. etc…

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