I've been sifting through all of comments left for last week's article "Would You Like An OS With Your PC? No Thanks". I fully expected people to dissent -- both from me and each other -- but I've got enough here to chew on for quite some time. Here's my first round of chewing.
A good many of the comments revolved around how the act of unbundling would probably do more harm than good, because of the sheer tech support nightmare and hassle it would cause -- both for PC makers and users. One anonymous commenter opined: "[T]he vast majority of people just can't handle having to install their own OS and roughly a quarter of all computer buyers don't have any business owning a computer. ... [G]ive 'em Windows preloaded--it's a lot easier on us techs and a better customer experience anyway."
Another commenter, "mjc", likewise said: "The consumer does NOT want to make this choice [which OS to use]. They want a computer that will work when they take it out of the box - heck, most people don't even want to hassle with plugging in the cords! For the average consumer the idea of multiple OSs is a mute point. At the time you begin talking about restore disks or image disks, their eyes begin to gloss over."
The potential hassle is nothing to sneeze at, I agree. But let's step back for a second. There was a time when people didn't believe there was a market for such a thing as a personal computer at all. I doubt anyone could have looked forward from 1977 to the present day and anticipated the PC being as ubiquitous as a TV (and in many cases eclipsing some of its functions and prestige!). What looks like a hassle to one person will be an opportunity to someone else.
I agree that too many choices are as bad as too few. That said, if we think of choices automatically as burdens -- either on the end user or the one providing the choices -- then we are essentially back where we started. And if those choices are presented in a refined way, they're going to be that much more appealing than just dumping a flat catalog of options in someone's lap. I'm positive it's not that difficult to provide people with the options in question without confusing them, and in a way that makes the positive and negative consequences of each choice plain.
Linux was created to provide people with a way to create viable alternatives to existing software, and this seems like a good way to help that happen. That is, if people want that to happen ... and I'll explore the implications of that particular canard in the next post.