[clug] Choices and Linux

Ian darkstarsword at gmail.com
Sat Mar 31 15:03:05 GMT 2007

Hi All,

I was just thinking about a story that was on Catalyst the other night
(it was a repeat), about how too many choices can be bad for us. They
did an experiment where 24 jars of jam were put out for people to try
& buy, then repeated the experiment with only 6 jars and found that
while fewer people approached the table, there were about 10x as many
sales. Their explanation was that when people are faced with too many
choices, they are less likely to make any choice at all.

The entire story is available here:

Anyway, it occurred to me that this principal may be part of the
reason that Linux hasn't taken off as much as we might expect given
the average quality of a Linux system. Ignoring the people who don't
care about their OS and are "happy" with whatever the store they are
in at the time recommends they use, it strikes me that the initial
choice is fairly easy (Windows, Mac, Linux or
Other-not-so-well-suited-to-desktop-use). Choosing Windows or Mac is
usually the final choice that they will make (Well, Windows leads them
to home basic, home premium......, but that's still only out of 6). On
the other hand, the initial choice of Linux leads to another choice
with literally hundreds of options choosing a distro, and would
discourage a lot of people from choosing Linux.

Most of those people that do still decide to stick with Linux need a
way to narrow down that choice to 7 or less straight away, and there
are plenty of resources that recommend just a few (Ubuntu, Mandriva,
Fedora, SuSE, Knoppix, and so on). Of those, I notice that Ubuntu is
the most popular distro, and also the one user friendly desktop distro
that has decided to restrict the end users choice in terms of what
other software they install (unless of course they choose to add the
universe repository), so instead of having to make a decision as to
what software package to use for every new task that someone wants to
do, they have only one or two options.

Personally, I like choice, at least in areas I'm familiar with, but
this story was certainly an eye-opener for me.

On a slightly different point:
"Narration: More than 7 and our brains have to work much harder –
grouping the options, making a sequence of decisions. "
Now, why does that remind me of how a compiler deals with a program
that uses more temporary variables than there are CPU registers...?

On the day *I* go to work for Microsoft, faint oinking sounds will be
heard from far overhead, the moon will not merely turn blue but
develop polkadots, and hell will freeze over so solid the brimstone
will go superconductive.
     -- Erik Raymond, 2005
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