11 June 2010

Why GNU/Linux is Unmatched – and Unmatchable

Users of free software are nothing if not passionate. Most of them care deeply about the code they use, and will happily plunge into the flamewars that flare up regularly across the Web. The core focus of those arguments is well established by now: against Mac fans, it's about the virtues of true openness and freedom; against Windows fans (do they still exist?) it's about those, as well as security, speed, stability, etc. But there's another aspect that rarely gets discussed, and yet it represents one of GNU/Linux's greatest strengths: the breadth of hardware platforms supported.

On The H Open.


Jeremy Benett said...

Glyn - Good to see you highlighting a key benefit of GNU/Linux.

Another factor driving this is the rise of heterogenous multi-core systems-on-chip. IDMs are now mandating the GNU tool chain if a processor core is to be considered.

It's not because GCC is considered the best compiler. It's because the software teams cannot learn a new tool chain for each of the 10-20 different cores.

In the embedded space, there is no compiler to match GCC for range of supported targets.

Glyn Moody said...

@Jeremy: that's an interesting point - thanks.

guy said...

I don't heckle people to switch to linux and FOSS --- people don't like to be preached at and told that their computer is rubbish because they use Windows or whatever, and once they are peeved about that they become less receptive to the idea of an alternative. But I always tell people that *I* use linux on every computer I own or manage for others (family etc.), at least away from work. And frequently people look at me like I'm weird (I don't look *that* weird!) and ask why. They may have already heard of linux, but usually the only thing they know is that it's free (beer) and free stuff can't be any good, can it?

So is it better they ask? I tell them, yes, in some respects, though it isn't a panacea. Often the usual reasons (security, freedom) don't convince --- people often simply don't know enough about computers for those arguments to make sense. So why then? The best answer I can give is that I feel like I get linux from my friends --- like-minded people who create it out of pure enthusiasm --- and for all its faults or inconveniences I feel better about that than to pay a company like MS or Apple for the privilege to use *their* software and the mediocre experience that goes with it (licensing, malware, lock-in etc. etc.).

Glyn Moody said...

@guy: yes, the "friends" angle is a nice one.

Crosbie Fitch said...

Let's get this right. Linux is free as in free speech, not as in free beer.

Of course people are free to work out of enthusiasm alone if they want to, but that doesn't mean they HAVE to. There's nothing in the GPL that prohibits people being paid for their intellectual work, nor is there any tacit suggestion by the FSF that coding for money is somehow dirty.

In a free market, whether in intellectual work or copies, there is no prohibition against producing your own. Consequently your friends might make copies for you, and give them to you for nothing, but that doesn't mean they should spend months coding the features you want for nothing.

It's important to understand the difference between $0 for a copy that costs next to nothing to make, and $0 for a day's hard work coding. Just because the copies cost nothing to make, that doesn't mean the code does.

The GPL is ethically-good not because copies of the published software tend to be free of charge, but because the public's liberty otherwise suspended by copyright has been restored (along with its incentive to keep source code secret).

guy said...

@Crosby: Whoa, steady on there, I fully understand the difference.

I never said that I tell people I use linux because it is free in either sense of the word. I said that people were often only familiar with the free beer side of the issue, and sometimes took that as an argument against the quality of linux (the bogus 'you get what you pay for' assumption). My 'friends/enthusiasm' reason is my counter argument to this quality issue, because, whatever you might think about the way software gets written most of it *is* created simply out of enthusiasm. That's all.

Crosbie Fitch said...

I wasn't getting at you Guy, just pre-emptively countering a perception liable to be made by the casual reader that free software is SUPPOSED to be free as in beer, and SUPPOSED to be produced only out of enthusiasm.

Consider it an adjunct to your comment - not a denigration.