Does Linux Come in Too Many Flavors?

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 07, 2010

According to TechRadar, the trouble with Linux is there is too much choice. This kind of assertion, of course, immediately draws fire from those who support the ever-forking, constantly inventive world of open source development. Indeed, some scathing reactions to the Tech Radar piece have already appeared. Caitlyn Martin, for example, asks in response: Are you intimidated by breakfast cereal? Still, while there are some problems with the assertions in the TechRadar post, there are some good points made too.

TechRadar reports:

“The problem is choice – one of the most touted and noble reasons for using Linux in the first place. For general use, there's too much of it. It's often overwhelming, needlessly complicated and an easy excuse for change. Choice goes hand-in-hand with redundancy and duplicated effort. “

This isn’t the first time that Linux has been criticized for appearing so many flavors that development effort becomes redundant. The argument doesn’t stand on its own, though. One has to include the fact that the many faces of Linux—all the choices—have constantly taken it in the direction of new opportunities. In fact, it’s highly questionable whether Linux even needs any sort of dominance on the desktop at this point to continue to foster meaningful innovation.

Still, the charge that the many Linux distros and all of the distributed development for Linux fragment resources that might be powerful if aggregated together has some limited amount of merit. For example, compared to how Microsoft and Apple market their operating systems, Linux has very fragmented marketing behind it. Joe Brockmeier made this point and other good ones in this OStatic post.  As he wrote:

“If you took the marketing budgets of all the Linux vendors combined, and then doubled that figure, and then added a zero, you might start approaching what Microsoft spends on marketing Windows. Maybe.  The ad councils for various industries have the right idea -- it's a good idea to pool your money to grow the market when you're jointly competing with another industry.”

The important distinction to make here is that fragmented marketing and branding resources represent a totally different issue from widely distributed development. Linux could indeed benefit from unified efforts to market it and champion it. Organizations like the Linux Foundation are working hard on these types of efforts to create a united front. But the problem with Linux isn’t that it comes in so many flavors. That remains one of its greatest strengths.