Too many choices? Or not enough information?

I’ve often heard it said that in Linux there is too much choice. There are hundreds of distros (or different Linux versions), and any new user will feel overwhelmed and not know what to choose.

I agree with the second part—yes, new users will feel overwhelmed and not know what to do. I was one of those new users back in 2004. I also felt overwhelmed. But the logical conclusion isn’t necessarily that there are too many choices and thus the choice number should be reduced.

When I first started working, I had some confusing choices to make. HMO? PPO? Flexible spending or not? Direct deposit? This retirement plan? That one? Huh? What? Am I upset that they offered me both an HMO and a PPO plan? I was confused by the choices, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want the choice. I was confused because they gave me these thick booklets that are hard to understand instead of just a simple low-down on these are the pros and cons of an HMO plan, and these are the pros and cons of a PPO plan.

Likewise, if I had to pick a restaurant to eat at by wandering the streets of the city, I would be overwhelmed by the options. There are hundreds if not thousands of restaurants in the city I live in. Luckily, I have information about those choices. I can read Yelp reviews about those restaurants and talk to friends about recommendations. If those reviews didn’t exist, would the logical conclusion be that there should be only one restaurant serving only one type of food? No. Of course not. The logical conclusion would be that there is a need for some reviews to be written.

My wife recently got into horseback riding, and she was overwhelmed by all the options. Where do I take lessons? What equipment do I need? Are there good brands and bad brands of clothes to get? What’s the best place to shop for horse-related paraphernalia? So did she just give up and say “No, this is too confusing. Why can’t there just be one horse ranch with one type of horse and one shop to buy horse supplies at?” On the contrary, she loved being overwhelmed by the choices. She loved doing the research to find out just what to get and where to go. She knew there would be research involved, and she embraced it.

And yet many people insist there should be only one Linux distro with one desktop environment. Apart from the impracticality of forcing efforts into one project when the license encourages forking (and the license is a big part of the appeal for many Linux developers and users), in no other realm of life do people want to minimize choice. I’ve never heard anyone say “Dell, HP, Sony, Acer, Apple… there are too many choices! Why can’t there be just one computer manufacturer?” Instead, they read reviews and go to stores to try out various computers before making a purchase.

They do research.

If you feel Linux has too many choices, perhaps you should just get some more information instead of trying to eliminate choices and make one Linux distribution. I’ll help you out a little. There are literally hundreds of Linux distros, but only the top ten at DistroWatch are worth having a look at for any new user confused about which Linux distro to try. There are even online quizzes you can take to give you a hint as to which new-user-oriented distro may be a good first one for you to try.

If life is giving you too many choices, don’t get frustrated and confused. Get educated.

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