Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Minimalist's Assertions

The other day, Linux Today had a news item linking to this site. Yet another blog link of someone shouting at the ether that somehow made the news. Maybe I'm just jealous I don't make the news; that's good though, that means I'm still undiscovered and real. I'm not sure this particular piece should have because the points given are so hackneyed it's not even annoying anymore. It did make me think about the overall philosophy though. Why do the supporters of the minimal distros keep beating the same drum over and over?

The points this guys presents:

1. A slower release cycle.
2. Speed.
3. Stability.
4. Minimalist install.
I'll skip his last point about the brown color scheme because that's too much of a personal opinion thing.

I think his points are valid from a narrow point of view of a technology enthusiast, but my argument is that for the everyday user or even the lazy technologist like myself, these aren't all that important. We want an easy-to-use box that gets out of the way to let us do more important things, like waste time on Gmail.

These are obviously important to the community because, as I said, these points get reiterated every so often, but why? I have to wonder if it is because the new users coming into Linux are not interested in the "hardcore" distros and the people who love them are feeling threatened. Ubuntu, SUSE, PCLinuxOS, and others are all expanding the Linux audience and I am extremely excited about this. I think that the nerd market already knows about Linux and has been using it, so these new users will more and more become, by a large percentage, casual or non-tech people. And this means that Slackware and the like will continue to be pushed to the fringes, which always brings up the problem of irrelevancy over the horizon and exodus of developers/users. Yes, these casual people could eventually desire to learn more and try something like Slack, but let's be honest in the fact that this probably will not happen. Ease of use is number one for a lot of people and I think that's truly the divide between Slack and Ubuntu (and others that fall in each category).

To give a personal anecdote, I've been using Linux for many years now, have a graduate degree in computer science, and generally am patient enough with misbehaving technology to root out the problem and fix it. Twice now I've gotten the gumption to install Arch because I'll be in control. I'll make the decisions. It'll be MY computer. I'll "learn Linux" instead of "learn Ubuntu." But what happens is I get tired of messing with the OS instead of messing with whatever I'm trying to accomplish. I will admit my second go at Arch was much quicker and seemed to have a little more automagical configuration than I remembered from the first install. There is a fine line that Arch (Slack, etc.) take a small step over in pushing things onto the user that should happen automagically because it just doesn't matter. Setting up hardware is the best example I can give here: I don't care how my sound card is configured, just do it so I don't have to figure out that I have to unmute some channel in the command-line alsamixer.

But that's the beauty of Linux distros, there's something for everyone.

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