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It's Your Choice

Whenever a revolutionary new practice comes along there are always skeptics who predict its inevitable downfall, pointing out all the obstacles the new model must overcome before it can be called a success. There are also the ideologues who insist that it is only the purest implementation of the new model that can possibly succeed. And then there are the rest of us who are just plugging away, testing, innovating, and using the new technology model for those applications where the new model works better than the old one.

The primary benefit of this new technology model can be seen in the birth of the PC. When IBM published the specs to its PC in 1981, why did the world adopt the PC computing model with such enthusiasm? It was not that the IBM PC was a better mousetrap. The original 8086-based PCs shipped with 64K (yes, K) bytes of main memory. They had an upper memory limit of 640K. No one could imagine that a single user would need more that 640K on their individual machine. A tape cassette recorder was available for data back-up.

What drove the PC revolution was that it provided its users with control over their computing platform. They could buy their first PC from IBM, their second from Compaq, and their third from HP. They could buy memory or hard drives from one of a hundred suppliers, and they could get an almost infinite range of peripheral equipment for almost any purpose or application.

This new model introduced a huge number of inconsistencies, incompatibilities, and confusion, between technologies, products, and suppliers. But as the world now knows, consumers love choice. Consumers will put up with a measure of confusion and inconsistency in order to have choice -- choice and control.

Notice also that the PC hardware business did not fragment. Specifications have generally remained open, and there is strong pressure to conform to standards to preserve interoperability. No one has a sufficiently better mousetrap with which to entice users and then hold them hostage by going proprietary. Instead innovations -- better mousetraps -- accrue to the community at large.

The Linux OS gives consumers choice over the technology that comes with their computers at the operating system level. Does it require a whole new level of responsibility and an expertise on the part of the user? Certainly.

Will that user prefer to go back to the old model of being forced to trust his proprietary binary-only OS supplier once he has experienced the choice and freedom of the new model? Not likely.

Critics will continue to look for, and occasionally find, serious problems with Linux technology. But consumers love choice, and the huge Internet-based open-source software development marketplace is going to figure out ways to solve all of them.

next up previous contents
Next: Diligence, Patience, and Humility Up: Giving It Away Previous: The Great Unix Flaw

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Last updated: 1999-08-06