Home > IT > too much choice can sometimes be a bad thing

too much choice can sometimes be a bad thing

If you talk to techies, perhaps 9 out of ten will tell you that Linux is a much better operating system than Windows; they will usually mention how it’s more secure than Windows, how it’s based on the venerable Unix line of operating systems which were designed with multi-tasking in mind from the very start, some might mention how in Linux you can do everything from the command line (although few mere mortals will be sold on this point).

Anyway, in recent years Linux has generated enough buzz for IT lay people to begin to take a more active interest in it, which means that more and more ordinary users are being tempted to try Linux. And it’s usually at this stage that they run into their first obstacle; when we say Windows it’s plain and clear that what we mean is usually the latest incarnation of MS Windows, currently it’s Windows 7, yes a couple of years ago after the not-too-successful release of Vista, people made distinctions between XP (good) and Vista (bad), but still in the Windows World our choice is always very limited, you can choose between an older version and the latest version and that’s about it. Not so with Linux, the first fact of life a potential Linux user has to come to grips with in the Linux world is that Linux is essentially a blanket term for a large number of operating systems, the so called distros (distributions). Two most prominent families in this plethora of Linuxes are Red Hat and Debian, they differ in how they handle the installation and removal of software, which in practical terms means that software writers have to package their products differently for Debian and RH based distros. But there are also other distros that aren’t based on either of the two major branches.

Well, on the one hand, such abundance of choice is a good thing, theoretically depending on what you want to do on your computer, you can choose a Linux distro that best suits your purposes and of course since Linux is open source, an aspiring techie may tell you that if you want real Linux hard core, you must get the source code, make changes there to really customize the system for your needs and then get it compiled for your specific hardware configuration. I suspect, however, that few of the people who praise Linux for its ability to be compiled from the freely available source code, have actually gone through the processes. Well anyway, whether it’s a purely theoretical notion, obviously some people find that it’s good to know it’s there. And it may come in handy, I’ve heard at least one story about a company that re-compiled their server Linux from  altered source code because it lacked some feature they desperately needed and it helped in that situation.

But, about about people like us, i.e. mere mortals, who primarily use computers for things other than compiling operating systems from source code. You know,  things like surfing the net, watching movies, or listening to music. The abundance of choice in the Linux world can be quite intimidating to the uninitiated. I suspect there must be quite a few people out there who’ve been toying with the idea of switching to Linux for some time and who’ve plowed through dozens of articles comparing various distros only to be left undecided about which one is best for them.  After all it’s not like each distro tries to target a specific audience, essentially they all offer the same basic set of features. Ok, if you have an old PC that you want to use as a router in your home network then it’s probably going to be easier to choose a distro, but if you just want a replacement for Windows… well then probably any one of the main stream distros will do just fine.

Now, it occurred to me recently that all this infinity of options one is confounded by when it comes to switching to Linux may in fact be one of the things holding Linux back from being adopted by larger numbers of people. In general it’s good when to have options about what sort of operating system you want to have on your computer, but it seems like there is a threshold number of options beyond which the majority of people simply stop caring about the whole thing. In Windows the key word is compatibility; first and foremost whatever hardware you have, these days this even includes macs, you can be rest assured that Windows will run on it. And second it’s software compatibility, if you find some software on the net and it says it’s windows compatible you just download and install it, but with Linux, you first have to make sure it comes in the right packaging, then if it has a GUI you have to check it will run under the Windows manager you have on your system and so on and so forth, of course there’s always the option of getting the source code and re-compiling it for your version of Linux but that’s a bit too much bother for most of us.

Well, to sum it up,  some advice, if you’re thinking of switching to something other than Windows, and other than mac, and all you want is a decent desktop system, I would suggest you go with Ubuntu, it’s the distro I had the least problems with, and that you can get up and running even if you’re neither a programmer nor a system administrator. They say Mandriva is pretty good too, back when it was called Mandrake I checked it out and it was ok, although I had a win modem which I was never able to configure to work under it. Shame. Otherwise it was  a decent distro.

Categories: IT
  1. March 10, 2010 at 1:09 am

    Hi, Very interesting article you have there. I actually run a couple of blogs on this topic, and since I have found some of your articles very informative I definatelty think that my members would enjoy reading them. With that said I would like to place a link to some of your articles on my blogs since they are more detailed than the information posted on my blogs. Thanks for your help!

  2. March 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

    I teach my girlfriend that linux system Operating system is much superior to Windows xp but yet probably none of these people have yet converted!

  1. February 25, 2010 at 2:35 pm

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