Linux - The absurdity of choice

In the world of personal computers, what is a computer used for? I would argue that its purpose is to 'get shit done', whether it be watching BitChute videos or compiling the Linux kernel. Whatever the case, it ought to just work. It ought to be stable, polished and intuitive, however in the world of Linux-based operating systems, finding one that meets all three requirements is somewhere between impossible and improbable. Such an animal simply doesn't exist, at least this is what my experience has led me to believe.

I've been through a bunch of Linux distros over the years including Red Hat, Mandrake, SUSE, Mint, Debian, Manjaro, Artix, and probably a few more i forgot about, and in every case there were bugs, big and small, that never should have been present in a "stable" release. Now to be fair, i haven't messed with some of these distros in roughly two decades, but i have recently used both Linux Mint and Manjaro Linux for more than a year each. OK, we can argue that Manjaro, which is based on Arch, which is a cutting edge OS, shouldn't necessarily be considered when stability is crucial. Grant so. But either are any of the others and i have some thoughts on why that is.

Choice!

Linux is all about choice we are told. Not only are there a truck load of Linux-based distributions to choose from, which is far more than confusing enough for users wanting to make the switch, but then they have to choose a 'desktop environment'. And as the new user learns more, assuming they make it that far before giving up, the number of choices only increases. A rolling or point release? Which file system? Which package manager? Which package repository? Flatpak or Snaps? Which theme? Which window manager? GTK or Qt apps? Which terminal emulator? PulseAudio or PipeWire? Systemd or a traditional init system? Open source or proprietary drivers? Which kernel? And on and on and on and on.

The problems with all these choices are obvious and many. Software often has to be configured or modified to work on each system the developer wants to market to. Now you find a bug in the software and the developer can't reproduce it, so he/she asks which Linux distro you're running and whether you compiled it from source or downloaded it from some repository and, if so, whether it was the Qt or GTK version, or whether you installed the Flatpak or Snap package, etc.. You can see what a nightmare all these choices can create for software developers and end users alike and this is only the beginning of the 'choices' problem.

Stand-alone packages like Flatpak packages are an attempt to combat the non-uniformity and dependency issues that all these crazy choices naturally lead to, but this seems like a band-aid approach in my opinion. For example, you have multiple pieces of software that all use a library for which a serious vulnerability is found. Now, instead of pushing a single shared library out at the OS level, each software developer has to update their package which may or may not happen in a timely manner, or at all. Then there's the efficiency thing that's kicked out the window because every Flatpak/Snap/etc. package which uses the same library has included in it... the same library. If portability is a priority, stand-alone packages may be great, but for the average desktop/laptop user it can be a colossal waste of storage space.

Don't get me wrong, i am pro-choice, however i am also anti-stupidity and anti-inefficiency and thus i find it patently stupid and inefficient that all these choices exist. The waste in infrastructure alone to support all the software repositories for all the distributions must be overwhelming. And in my opinion, from my perspective, it is all these choices that are partly responsible for exactly none of the mainstream Linux distributions being stable or coherent. I think it's absolutely dumb and counter-intuitive that, even though the user selects a "global" window theme, a window designed with Qt looks and acts different than one designed with GTK, or that your mouse cursor theme is obeyed by one window and ignored by another, or that the KDE desktop may be more buggy in one distro than another, etc. Users expect uniformity, so when they run into these kinds of problems, to them it's a bug when, in fact, it's the almighty god of 'choice' rearing it's ugly head exactly as intended by the plethora of developers who ignore what many end users actually want and need.

Why in the world do we need multiple window managers? Why do developers need multiple widget tool-kits? Why in the hell does nearly every mainstream distribution need its own software repository... with allot of the same software as in the next software repository and so on?

Sure, Linux-based OS's are all about choice. Unlike Windows or Mac or whatever, it is very easy, even for a new user, to configure a system that is unlike any other, and therefore harder to troubleshoot when something explodes. On the other hand these choices come at a potentially huge cost. If one uses 'x' distro with 'y' desktop environment, they're essentially railroaded into whatever software repository is provided by that distro which means software they may want or need isn't easily available to them. Uniformity is lost and bugs abound.

Why people choose Linux

Why in the world would the average PC user want to use a Linux-based operating system in the face of all these problems (and *many* more which i haven't mentioned)? I'm not in a position to answer the question from any viewpoint other than my own and that of people with similar values. We value privacy. For users like myself, the thought of using proprietary software made by massive corporations who have zero concern for the inherent rights of human beings, especially with regard to privacy, is completely intolerable. Furthermore, i like some of the choices one realizes with Linux-based OS's. I want to be able choose a desktop theme. I want to not have to worry too much about whether my software contains malware, plus it's extremely convenient to be able to find what i want in a central location.

Choice is fine, but dammit to hell man, in moderation! Sacrificing stability for excess choice is a shortsighted mistake in my opinion and this is one of my greatest gripes with the Linux desktops where an out of hand number of choices has led to a fracturing of the Linux community which, in turn, causes nothing but headaches for many end users, the vast majority of which would probably happily sacrifice many of the trivial choices they are forced to deal with.

So, you're the Windows user who *was* considering a Linux OS right up until you read my rant. My advice is to not throw in the towel. If you care at all about your privacy and software ethics, you have no choice but to abandon Windows. If stability is more important to you, i would suggest trying Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop. Mint, based on Debian and Ubuntu, is pretty stable and user friendly. If you're wanting something a little more cutting edge with newer software on the other hand, i might suggest Manjaro Linux. Manjaro, based on Arch, is a rolling release which means, in theory, you can just keep updating it without ever having to reinstall it. Personally i prefer the KDE/Plasma desktop, but the choice is yours :)

Also see my accompanying article, A personal perspective: From Windows to Linux to Windows to Linux to....

One thought on “Linux - The absurdity of choice”

  1. Hi,
    I habe been an happy Manjaro Xfce user for a few years now. The integrated Timeshift software should reassure everybody concerned with fears when upgrading the system.

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