Open Source... Too Many Choices?

august 14, 2006

Ok, before I get flamed or anything: Choice is good. But, there comes a point when too many choices causes confusion! I have been messing around with Linux and BSD for the last few weeks. There are a lot of choices. And I am not even talking about different distributions of Linux, I am talking about kernels and windows managers and repositories and a whole slew of other cruft. For a geek like me, all this choice is a bit fun. There's always something new to play with or to learn or to install. But, I am wondering, what does the average "Which Windows am I running? I don't know..." consumer would think if they were to "try" Linux. Would they choose from a user-friendly distro like Ubuntu, SimplyMEPIS, Mandriva or SUSE? Or a commerical version like Linspire or Xandros? What would a corporation want to use? Would a corporation plop down the money for Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Enterprise Linux? Or go with a Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone without the cost of support, like CentOS? Or go with a cutting edge and potentially unstable distro like Fedora Core? Do people choose from Gnome, KDE, xcfe, fluxbox or enlightenment? Will the distro they choose support the hardware that they have? A more stable, but older distro like CentOS needs a lot of work to get some newer wifi cards working. Something like SimplyMEPIS boots and detects most hardware without a problem, but can a consumer depend on SimplyMEPIS to be around after a while? Is it better to go to the local Fry's and pick up a copy of Xandros Desktop Home? Or the local CompUSA for a copy of Linspire? And the thing that I have seen while playing with all these distros: It is a lot of the same thing, but with a little bit of customization and tweaking. Are the different distro "houses" just duplicating each others efforts? An example of this would be Kubuntu and SimplyMEPIS. Both use Ubuntu repositories for their software. Kubuntu is Ubuntu with KDE instead of Gnome. SimplyMEPIS? It is Ubuntu with KDE and a bunch of MEPIS customizations and software. Would it not be better if the two joined together and focused their efforts on making a rock solid, easy to install, and easy to configure KDE-based distribution instead? Another example: Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS, White Box Enterprise Linux, and Scientific Linux. They are all binary compatible. The latter three are rebuilds of RHEL from SRPMs. WBEL and CentOS are exactly the same. Scientific Linux has some added software, but the base is still RHEL. Wouldn't it be nice if the latter three got together and worked together to focus they efforts and reduce the duplicate efforts? Or wouldn't it be nice if Red Hat would just release the binary version of RHEL to the public with the express stipulation that it will not support those who are using it without a support contract? I wonder if this is what is keeping Linux from taking off with consumers. Instead of "can I run this in Windows XP?" A consumer would ask, "Can I run this with Fedora Core 5 with the 2.6.17 kernel? Will it also work with my CentOS running the 2.6.9 kernel? Oh, and my daughter is running Ubuntu on her notebook, I don't know what configuration that is, but will this software work on that too?" In the large business/IT world, I think there is a lot less confussion. I work for Yahoo! and we are a FreeBSD house and starting to use Red Hat Enterprise Linux. We are a bunch of Unix geeks at heart, so this stuff doesn't phase us. But, what about the small to mid-sized businesses? Do they just go with the "easy" to install and configure Windows Server 2003? Or try to find some Unix geek to setup Red Hat Enterprise Linux for them? Oh the choices...