[nSLUG] Article on why monoculture gets picked

Ben Armstrong synrg at sanctuary.nslug.ns.ca
Thu Apr 26 08:07:01 ADT 2007


On Wed, 25 Apr 2007 07:46:32 -0300
"D G Teed" <donald.teed at gmail.com> wrote:
> Awhile ago I wrote about the virtues of having fewer distros
> and more developers per distro.

Why not both?  Debian has ~1000 developers.  Debian also has a growing
contingency of CDDs (Custom Debian Distributions).  The term is
somewhat of a misnomer, a point which Andreas Tille (Debian-med project
leader) has often lamented, as to the uninitiated it gives the
impression that a CDD is a fork of Debian.  In fact, a CDD is "a subset
of Debian that is configured to support a particular target group
out-of-the-box".

There is no "one size fits all" solution in computing, as much as that
would make choices for the ignorant easier.  I believe in diversity.  I
believe there is enough talent in the community to support a broad
range of users and their needs, and that the "fragmentation" that some
people fret over is only a threat to people with limited imaginations,
afraid to buy into anything that is not the product of a monoculture.
In fact, what we have in Debian is hundreds of individuals, each with
a package or two, or several, or an entire subproject aimed at solving
problems that matter to them.  And that's what makes it all work!  They
do what they do *because* there is room for diversity.  Take away the
diversity and everything falls apart.

> "Why don't they pool their effort and produce one really good solution?",
> rather than celebrating diversity for diversity's sake alone.

Oh, really?  You don't think people are pooling their efforts to produce
"one really good solution?"  You're not looking hard enough.  I'm not
offering Debian as the be-all and end-all of operating systems, but it's
an excellent example of collaboration on a massive scale to produce a
solution that simultaneously pools the resources of a large group of
developers *and* preserves within it the diversity that is such a core
value of the FOSS world that to replace it with a monoculture such would
utterly kill it (if that were even possible).

> I think that anyone who has looked for an XML editor like XMetal, or HTML
> editor
> like Dreamweaver, or evaluated content management solutions would see the
> picture that diversity does not make these things strong.

Is diversity the enemy, here, or lack of interest amongst developers?
Personally, I hate such software and find myself in the company of many
other developers who feel the same way.  People who think CMSes and XML
editors are good, nay even necessary things to have deserve whatever
they end up with.

> As a counter example, consider apache or bind.  Who needs a different open
> source web server or different DNS server?  These work very well, and just
> about everyone using open source OSes uses them.  Linux distros may not
> have to become that narrow in choice, but I question whether we need 129
> distros
> based on Debian, 63 based on Fedora, 28 based on Slackware, etc.
> (numbers from distrowatch.com).

I question that too.  But are CTOs (sorry, I mean *smart* CTOs -- if you're
not a smart CTO, I haven't any sympathy for you) truly confused and put off
by that?  Do they shop for distributions at distrowatch.com?  Come on, I'm
sure any CTO worth his salt looking is going to read a few Linux news sources
targeted at suits and quickly find only a handful of suitable front runners
and ignore the rest.

> That's a lot of developer talent that might make the mothership
> stronger if it were redirected.

Is it really?  I seriously doubt it.  Most of those distros are single-person
ventures or very small teams of people fervently working on their own
projects because they see some value in it.  And if they see value in it,
and so do their users, what of it?  Why should we lose sleep over it?  Would
you kill off all the little specialty shops on Gottingen street, too, and
replace them with big-box stores instead?

> It also harms the image of Linux
> in general that these hundreds of choices exist, as CTO types
> get the impression that the bar is too low for being able to
> create a Linux distribution, and that equates with questions on trust
> and reliability, stability of the project, etc.

I couldn't disagree more strongly.  Honestly, I don't really care about
the "image of Linux" so much as using my spare time to build quality
software that matters to me.  In Debian, I feel I am best positioned to
carry this personal vision forward, and I find myself in the company of
many other developers who value both teamwork *and* diversity.  And do
you know what?  Plenty of people use Debian and Ubuntu, its most popular
derivative.  Yes, even CTO types somehow manage to find us and use our
software, in spite of all the confusion that these hundreds of choices
present.

Ben
--
 ,-.  nSLUG    http://www.nslug.ns.ca   synrg at sanctuary.nslug.ns.ca
 \`'  Debian   http://www.debian.org    synrg at debian.org
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