There can be only one!
The quote is from Highlander (as if any geek worth their weight in latinum wouldn't know that). The sentiment – at least in terms of open source – stems from a question that has been on my mind this week. Naturally, I wanted to share.
What if there were only one Linux distribution; and what if that distribution had only one user interface? And, to make matters more complicated for some – what if that distribution were Ubuntu with Unity?
Would you still opt to use Linux? Or would you run screaming to OSX, or Windows (we leave BSD out of the picture, if only to make a point)?
I ask this question mostly because of all the vitriol I read, on a daily basis, pointed toward Ubuntu and its recent choices. I ask the question as a long-time user of Linux (and not as a user of Ubuntu). I ask... simply because I wonder if there are truly fans and aficionados of Linux, of a specific distribution, or if many of those self-same users just hate the alternatives that much.
Linux users are a funny, fickle breed (yes, I count myself in this group); they don't like someone else telling them how to do what they want to do. They don't like their software locked down. And, a great many of them simply don't like to pay for the software they use.
So, if Linux existed in one, and only one, form – would you still use it? If Ubuntu Unity were the only open source interface available, would you run from the Linux desktop?
Me? Personally I wouldn't budge. Even if the only Linux distribution available was, say, openSUSE with KDE – I would continue using Linux. Because for me, even being locked into one Linux distribution, with one user interface, Linux still offers more freedom and usability than that of either OS X or Windows. Linux, in general, fits my style and meets my needs. Linux. Not Ubuntu, or Fedora, or Mint, or Bohdi, or SUSE … Linux (and yes, I speak in a very general sense – I know “Linux” is actually the kernel and not the whole).
If the the recent actions of Canonical make you cringe at using Ubuntu and Unity – compare them to the business practices of Microsoft or Apple. No matter where you turn, you'll find shady business practices. Does that make it right? Not at all.
Now don't think I'm hear to defend Canonical or grandstand for Ubuntu. My point is this: I could, at random, pick a Linux distribution, install it on my PC, and do everything I need to do. Honestly, I could do the same thing with Windows or OS X – but I choose not to. Linux, as a whole, works and works well. Each of the distributions and desktop interfaces have pros and cons – but in the end, they all do a great job of allowing the user to do their jobs.
I used to be a distro hopper. I'd play around with one distribution and move on to the next. I've used nearly every distribution I've come across and, after many years of deciding, settled on Ubuntu. I do happen to enjoy Unity – it fits my style and makes life easy for me. But I could just as easily work with Enlightenment, KDE, Cinnamon, Mate, Classic GNOME, Fluxbox … you get the point.
For many (including myself), Linux has always been about choice and freedom (or Freedom of Choice if you're a Devo fan). But when push comes to shove, any Linux distribution will do. And I think it is fairly safe to say that the vast majority of Linux users wouldn't jump ship to Windows or OS X if they woke up to find their distro was replaced with something else and all that desktop choice was taken away.
It would still be Linux – even as you cried out, “I want it all and I want it now!”
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.