The Price of Popularity

To begin with, the operating system (OS) landscape circa half a century ago was tremendously dynamic. Initially, Unix dominated almost the entire market. Later, Microsoft’s and IBM’s Desktop Operating System (DOS) appeared, to be later superseded by MS-DOS with a simple graphical user interface (GUI) and finally Windows. At this point, a revolution happened. Windows became so popular that it gradually consumed around 90% of the consumer market, surpassing even MacOS X. Part of this extraordinary achievement was due to an improved MS-DOS-like GUI, featuring extensible menus in the form of boxes (hence, Windows, I believe). The average Joe was overjoyed (pun unintended) – finally, personal computers made easy!

Today, things are not much different. Windows still dominates the PC market segment. though many of us think that the current Windows (God forbid, how awful it is!) prevails only because it once became popular, Indeed, that is one of the reasons. In fact, the other was also mentioned – ease of use. I think it’s perfectly fine if one needs a computer only for really basic operations – browsing, writing e-mails, gaming, etc. Then, truly, Windows shines. Unfortunately, it’s terrible for everything else, because a lot had to be sacrificed in favor of user-friendliness:

  • Configuration options hidden behind GUIs, which are often quite hard to find
  • Configuration files in inaccessible formats to prevent accidental damage or tampering with
  • Multitude of helper scripts and programs to make the user’s life easier
  • Highly intrusive system management tools
  • Many others

As a result, the things one can do with a Windows installation are very limited and part of the limitation is enforced by copyright regulations (distribution of modifications to system components is against the User Agreement). To me that is simply horrendous!

Currently, Linux is trapped in a vicious circle. It cannot become truly popular, because still not enough software and hardware developers are committed to it, and those will not devote their precious time to development for Linux, because it’s not popular enough in many instances. Clearly, in order to break from this vicious circle, one has to do something. What I am afraid of is that those forced changes will bring Linux closer to proprietary operating systems, such as Windows and MacOS X and eventually strip it off its uniqueness.

Certain changes have already been implemented and surely for the worse: clunky, bloated (but so user-friendly!) GNOME desktop, overly intrusive systemd (will elaborate on that in the next entry), multitude of GUIs, etc.

For now the opposition is still there and many project groups are doing their best to provide alternatives to so-called mainstream products (GNOME and KDE, for instance). How long will this work, however…?


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