Plumbing supplies, Apple, Linux and Windows

Living in another country has been a learning experience. Coming from the U.S. I had been spoiled with choices. My house in Seattle had different faucets in almost every bathroom and in the kitchen. The fixtures were even from different venders, some very good venders. The kitchen faucet broke once, it was from a vendor that had a lifetime warrant. And they honored it, after I called the support number, told them the problem and the part number. They sent me the replacement part, twice! The first kit they sent was for a newer version of the same faucet, not the older version I had. (Some of you know where this is going, I’ll bet.)

In Ireland I was struck by the ‘primitive’ nature of the plumbing fixtures. But when I was trying to fix a faucet in the bathroom recently, the primitive part was an easy fix, and every DIY (Do It Yourself) store in town had the part. And it fit, and was cheap. This was not a small part, bits and bobs of brass, washers and seals. Fairly complete piece, but the broken piece just screwed out and back in with the new. Even the old handle worked.

Now some of you who skipped ahead saw this coming. Linux, Apple, and Windows have been selling to the U.S. market. A market where everyone expects choice, and products all try to differentiate them selves to provide value. And this has lead to hundreds of different Desktops (GUI) in Linux Distros. The Linux advocates call this freedom to choose. but a vast majority of the population just want things to work. Like the plumbing, choice is good, when you have a support infrastructure and lifetime warrantees from the vendor. But if the plumbing is available at the corner hardware store and can be replaced by anyone, why can’t Linux’s parts do the same? Any Geek could I’m sure, but if we talk about Ma and Paw user, not a prayer.

Looking at Windows, it takes a different tack. It puts every part into the kit, to fit every possible plumbing issue. And that’s a lot of parts. Apple on the other hand, builds the parts and puts in only the parts it makes into the kit. Clean and simple. It’s no wonder that OS-X is so much more stable. No second hand, third party parts in the plumbing. But then you can’t get the plumbing parts from anyone but them. Heck, you can barely find the whole system for sale here in Cork, and they have a factory in town!

This is not a new concept, everyone knows the story of interchangeable parts. I always like the flintlock part. Instead of custom flintlocks with custom parts the parts were all the same. Not as pretty, maybe not as good, but faster to make and easier to fix when broken. And yes, even custom parts do break, even it they are better made. But replacing is not so simple. Interchangeable parts made weapon (read product) production easy.

Operating systems have become this way. Windows trying to fit everything, and locking the customer into their custom parts. Linux providing so may parts, it’s hard to choose, and then some of them don’t fit without rebuilding the house (kernel). And trying to use Windows parts in Linux (read drivers) don’t fit either.

Now everyone will state the obvious Standards (there is even a plumbing supplier called Standard, but do you have one?) but then that’s the nice thing about standards, there are so many to choose from.

The point I’ve been trying to reach is Linux will have to start standardizing it’s plumbing parts. These Distro ‘choices’ are going to have to be dropped to save Linux. The FUD about Linux fragmenting isn’t FUD, Linux IS fragmented! It will never be a desktop replacement until it becomes as common and familiar as DIY faucets. Microsoft will have to drop all the legacy plumbing parts in the Longhorn release (or fail). Apple will have to open DIY shops (and stores) everywhere. And I have to get this bit of a drip from the faucet stopped, and clean up the floor.