Regarding so-called fragmentation in Linux

There are some people who operate under the delusion that if Linux developers could just all work on one project, Linux would dominate the desktop/laptop/netbook computing sphere. Windows and Mac OS X wouldn’t stand a chance.

I disagree. Here are the reasons why:

  1. One of the appeals of Linux and its related projects is open source and the ability to fork and make changes. Telling Linux developers “You can’t work on what you want. You have to do things this way” would be like telling people at a vegan conference that they’d be a lot more successful in winning supporters if they just ate meat. Okay. That isn’t the best example. After all, plenty of Linux developers and users also use proprietary software (very few are of the Richard Stallman I-use-only-Free-software persuasion). Nevertheless, the open source nature of Linux and related projects is a major part of the appeal for both Linux developers and users. Forcing the community into a closed development model (no forking allowed, no individual projects allowed) would essentially force out the community.
  2. Herding cats isn’t easy. Let me ask you a question. If you wanted to get the best recipe, which do you think would be a better way to get it—getting 100 chefs to all work on one recipe together or having the 100 chefs all work on their own individual recipes while simultaneously sharing with each other what’s worked and what hasn’t? For the gains in talent you get by everyone having to agree on working in only one direction, you lose a lot of efficiency through disagreements, in-fighting, and ego bruising, let alone bureaucracy and management structures. 1000 people working together do not make a project that is 1000 times better than one person working alone.
  3. Along those lines, Linux developers already are working together. Do you really think Ubuntu does everything from scratch? Quite the opposite. Ubuntu does almost nothing from scratch. Don’t believe me? Right-click the Network Manager applet in Ubuntu and then select About. Guess what it says: Copyright Red Hat. Copyright Novell. Firefox is from Mozilla. The beauty of open source is that you don’t have to start from scratch. You share. Want a file manager? Great. You don’t have to create your own. Just use an existing one. No weird licensing hassles. Able to program and want to add functionality to an existing open source application? Add it in. You don’t have to write it from scratch, and the original developers can benefit from your improvement (the added functionality).
  4. Choices aren’t confusing if they’re informed choices. Should there be only one restaurant? One burger? And one cheese to put on it? Should there be only one type of car? Only one color yarn? Choices are paralyzing only if they are meaningless choices. If you have information that actually helps you make an informed decision, having choices is a good thing. The solution to “too much choice” isn’t getting rid of options. The solution is making the options clearer. For more details, read Making sense of an abundance of choice.
  5. Not all distros have the same aims. Even if it were theoretically (and it is not, for all the aforementioned reasons) possible for Linux projects to consolidate into one distro project to win “the desktop” (shortcut for not the server or embedded), not all distros have that aim. Most distros have no concern about winning the Linux desktop. Many are personal projects or are targeted specifically at advanced Linux users and not the mythical “Jane [or Joe] Sixpack.”
  6. Most importantly, meritocracy is a myth. Even if a Linux distro or several Linux distros were to exist that had perfect hardware detection and compatibility ran all commercial software (neither of these is possible without cooperation from third-party vendors, but let’s just say the ridiculous were true), if it’s not preinstalled and marketed correctly, forget it. Only a tiny minority of computer uses download, install, and configure their own operating systems. Most people don’t even know what an operating system is. They just use whatever their computer came with. For more details on this, read Linux-for-the-masses narratives.

So should all the distro developers band together on one ultimate distro? No. It would be in direct conflict with open source principles, it wouldn’t be more productive than what’s currently in place, and it wouldn’t make a difference against Windows and Mac, anyway—and that’s not something everyone wants anyway.


Making sense of an abundance of choice

When I was a child, I chose among thousands of movies, thousands of musicians, thousands of comic books to find the ones I liked and wanted to spend money on. At no point was I ever confused about what I wanted to consume. When I became an adult, I was confronted with a simple choice between two things, and I was baffled. PPO? HMO? What’s the difference? What do I want? How do I know what I want?

When it comes to choice, it doesn’t really matter how many choices you have. It matters more what information you have on those choices and how you can break them down. I have no idea how many universities and post-secondary schools there are in the world. I’m going to guess there are thousands, if not tens of thousands. Certainly there are at least hundreds. Sure, I felt a little overwhelmed when I had to decide what colleges (that’s what we Americans call post-secondary school) to apply to. But I never felt paralyzed by that choice. I loved that choice. I loved investigating my options.

So what’s the difference between choosing an HMO or PPO and choosing a college? Why did one (a choice between two things) get me confused and frustrated and another (a choice among hundreds if not thousands of things) get me overwhelmed a little but mainly excited?

I’d attribute the difference to several factors:

  • With HMO and PPO, I had choices with very little comprehensible information. No brochure had easy-to-understand explanations of what the differences were between the two and what the pros and cons were. With colleges, I had lots of brochures explaining what’s good about each college, and many colleges has reputations as well beyond the brochures.
  • Despite theoretically having the choice of thousands of colleges, I could eliminate whole groups at once. I knew I was going to study within the US, so all international schools were out. In fact, I knew I wanted to study close to home, so that knocked out even most US schools. I also had an idea of the caliber of school I wanted and just by reputation alone I could eliminate even more schools. The abbreviations HMO and PPO are completely meaningless to me, though, and when I first started working, I knew nothing about them or their reputations. They might as well have been fjbalbga and pfnirqbjkb.
  • The search for a college is part of the American dream narrative. If you want upward mobility or stability, it’s expected you spend some time searching and researching. The HMO and PPO choice is a form someone in Human Resources shoves in your face and expects you to make a choice about either immediately or within the next day. I have never heard any HR person say, “The HMO and PPO choice is something you want to do a lot of research on. Make sure you take about nine months to really look into each. Then come back to me, and I’ll counsel you a bit on your choice.”

We see this over and over again with choices in everyday life. Whether you’re choosing a restaurant to eat at or choosing an airline to fly on, you have to make sense of the choices you’re given. In some situations, society encourages you to take your time researching options (buying a car, for example). In other situations, society encourages you to just make a choice immediately (cart or basket for the grocery store).

One of the main criticisms of consumer Linux (Linux for desktops, laptops, and netbooks; as opposed to Linux for servers or embedded Linux) is the abundance of choice. Too many distros. The choices are confusing. How would new users even know what version of Linux to start with?

And, unfortunately, like the HMO and PPO choice for me, Linux suffers from all of the following problems when it comes to choice:

  • A lack of centralized information to distinguish one distro from another
  • A lack of easily apparent (to newcomers, anyway) groupings of distros so that large groups of distros can be easily eliminated as possibilities
  • A culture of choice in operating systems (since Windows and Mac don’t offer much choice, people aren’t used to spending time researching what operating system to use)

Unfortunately, a lot of people who have problems with the choices in Linux distros decide to cure the headache by cutting off the head. They want all the choices taken away. Have only one Linux distro. Unify Linux. Not only is this solution completely antithetical to the philosophies of Linux (which tend to involve freedom and choice), but it’s also completely unnecessary. If you’re overwhelmed by how many restaurants there are to eat at, you don’t suggest all the restaurants close down and combine into one restaurant. What do you do instead? You read restaurant reviews, get recommendations from friends, and try some out.

And that is the solution. When I first started looking into Linux, I had no idea what to start with. I went to and that was no help. I went to DistroWatch and that was no help. All I got were lists of different versions of Linux, long lists. Nothing pointed me in a direction.

It wasn’t around when I first started looking into Linux, but the Linux Distro Chooser quiz is a good start to helping new users get less confused about the choices. Ultimately, though, we’ve just got to get people moving more to preinstallation. Most people don’t care or even know what operating system is on their cell phones or DVRs. And, frankly, most people don’t care what operating system is on their computers, as long as the computer does what they want it to do.

This current culture of find a distro, download it, burn it, boot from it, repartition your drive, install the Linux distro is so power user. It is not average user. It is not the future. Linux will get nowhere in the consumer space if everyone has to download and install and configure her own operating system. People generally don’t buy cars without the engine hooked up, and they also generally don’t buy computers without the operating system preinstalled.

Let’s start with the power users, though. Have them take the Linux Distro Chooser quiz. Or just give them a distro to start with (Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, Fedora) and let them run from there. But let’s also realize that this is not a choice most people want to make. They will use… whatever comes with the computer.

Life relationships

Can you help whom you’re attracted to?

Kind of an odd question for a married person to ask, I know. But I do have single friends.

My gut tells me “No.” It says “You can’t help whom you’re attracted to. Attraction is chemical. It’s coincidence or fate or something magical. It’s not like going to a store and picking something off the shelf or sifting through products online based on reviews.”

I’m not so sure if it’s quite that simple, though. I know quite a number of couples (both fictional and real) who were not attracted to one another at first but who developed an attraction later (for a fictional example, watch When Harry Met Sally…). I’ve also heard of some arranged marriages in which love (actual romantic attraction, not some kind of duty or obligation) developed over time.

And what do we mean when we say “Oh, just give him a chance” or “Wait till you get to know her better” to friends?

I think one of the reasons people tend to be skeptical of the idea of love at first sight is the knowledge most of us have that you develop love as you get to know someone. And it isn’t just getting to know facts about them. It’s the experiences you share together—the memories of the good times and bad times, the things you’ve taught each other, and the things you’ve fought about.

Surely we can’t just be successfully romantically involved with just anybody, but there is a little bit of choice or willpower involved. Just ask any het woman who has said something like “Oh, I used to go out with jerks because I thought they were exciting, and then I realized they were just jerks, and the drama wasn’t worth it.” If attraction were immutable, you would have to say “I’m attracted to jerks, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Even simple physical attraction can change over time, as your tastes change or as you get to know a person better. There are times when you initially see someone attractive (because of a confident presence or good bone structure) and get to know her or him and later consider that person ugly… yes, even physically. And vice versa: there are people who don’t have the best facial structure, but their smile and warm personality come through in their faces and seem to be the most physically attractive people you know.

Whether it comes naturally at first or develops over time, I think everyone wants to feel attractive to her or his mate.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Choice pressure

Whether it’s a mate, a name change, clothes to wear, software to use, or food to eat, I’ve read and heard a lot of people refer to choices in life as more or less equal. As Charlotte York proclaims in Sex and the City, “I choose my choice. I choose my choice!”

Do we choose our choices, though? The way people talk about choices, I guess they all live in a world where the choices are three or four doors that all look the same and are all equidistant from the chooser. I rarely see choices that way. The way I see choices, I’m living in a world where one choice has neon lights around it and is right next to me with a moving walkway that has millions of people going into it. All those people, as they pass me on the moving walkway say, “What’s wrong with you? Step on!” The other doors are far away, and some are even hidden unless you get close to them. Some doors are smaller and others larger.

If I choose the door with the neon lights and moving walkway that everyone else is telling me to choose, is that really my choice? Or am I doing it because it’s the easy choice, the popular choice? And if I choose an obscure door I have to seek out, is that really my choice? Or am I doing it because it’s out of the way, and I want to feel different, because I want to resist the pressure to pick the easy and popular choice?

Choices aren’t made in a vacuum. We can try to be individuals. We can try to make informed choices. In the end, we also need to recognize that there are pressures to make certain choices. If you make those choices, really put yourself through some self-examination. Are you making that choice because it’s the right choice, or the easy choice? And if you make a different choice, also ask yourself if you’re making that choice to resist the easy choice or not.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Individual Choice

People should be responsible for their own actions—no one should be able to use the excuse, “Well, I was brought up in this environment,” or “It’s just not easy enough for me to do that.” The flip side of being responsible for individual actions (or inaction) is recognizing how much individual “choices” are not so individual. They’re still choices based on who you, as an individual, are, but you may not be in a vacuum.

Whenever I think of people using the excuse “It’s my choice,” White male/Asian female couples and women wanting to be skinny also come to mind. Most White male/Asian female couples, when approached, will not use an explanation for their coupledom, “Oh, we just buy into stereotypes of the submissive Asian female and the masculine White male.” They’re more likely to say, “We’re really in love.” Maybe they are really in love. They cannot discount, though, that they are part of a huge sociological trend. Statistically, WM/AF couples outnumber WF/AM couples about 2.5 to 1. The real question is not whether the WM/AF couples are genuinely in love or not. Only the couple themselves would know the authenticity and mutuality of their attraction to one another. Why aren’t there more WF/AM couples, though? What makes an Asian female attractive to a White male? What makes a White male attractive to an Asian female? There have to be cultural forces at play.

A similar phenomenon occurs when I hear my female friends complain about their weight. A typical exchange might go as follows.

Female Friend: I think I’m going to go on a diet.
Me: Why?
FF: I don’t know. I just want to lose weight.
M: You don’t need to lose weight. You’re fine the way you are.
FF: Well, I don’t need to lose weight, but it’d be nice. I just want to be a little skinnier.
M: Is it because other people have told you you need to lose weight?
FF: No. It’s something I just want to do for myself, just to be more confident.

I’ve had many of these conversations with friends. I don’t doubt that people have not told the woman she has to lose weight (not to her face, anyway). I don’t doubt that she feels the diet is for herself. It may even, temporarily, make her feel more confident. There is a subtle delusion in this belief, though. Why lose weight, though, to feel better about yourself? Why not jump out a window? Why not write a book? Why not eat some dessert? Why not listen to music? Why not sleep? Even though, according to this woman, no one said to her face that she needs to lose weight, she has that cultural value ingrained in her that skinniness breeds confidence. If you are skinnier, you will feel better about yourself. The message to paint, think, or help someone in order to feel better is not as strong as the message to lose weight in order to feel better. “It’s something I just want to do for myself” assumes a cultural vacuum. No one has influenced me. I decided to do this with no input from others.

Likewise, the WM/AF couple feels a genuine attraction toward one another, but they tend to believe it is not because of Asian fetish or notions of Whites being more masculine or romantic. The couple is above being influenced by such notions, cultural ideas, and stereotypes. They love each other as individuals. It just so happens that many of these individuals are White men coupled with Asian women.

My own crime of rationalizing individual choices in a supposed cultural vacuum comes in the form of my adoption of Christianity. I can rationalize that Christianity is unique and makes the most sense to me as a religion. I can say I’ve seen the power of prayer. I can say Jesus has touched my life. All of these things are true. I cannot discount, however, that children most likely adopt the religion of their parents. My parents were Christian, so am I. I can’t discount that there is a higher percentage of devout Asian-American Christians than there are devout White Christians (I don’t know if the same is true for African-American or Latino Christians). I can’t discount that, in an experiential way, I’ve been immersed in only Christianity and no other religion (though, I’ve studied other religions in the abstract). There are cultural factors that influence my decisions… all of my decisions: whether to like a certain food or not, what movies appeal to my intellect and feelings, where I like to live, the qualities I’m attracted to in my wife.

Many times when we study individuals and their motivations for beliefs, practices, or sayings, we look to their biographies: where they grew up, what their education was like, what kind of family they were raised in. I didn’t understand Malcolm X until I read his biography. All of his choices are still his own as an individual, but it isn’t difficult to imagine how different he would be had he been a Christian, first-generation Chinese-American raised in New England by two college professors during the 1980s and 1990s.

The fact of the matter is, even with our own individual decisions and choices, who we are as individuals is partly (if not mostly) made up of cultural forces and norms. Right now an American woman may feel better about herself, more confident, if she loses weight. Maybe in a century or two, she may feel better about herself by gaining weight.

Further reading