random memes }

Linux distributions as airliners

Progress in technology is marked by plateaus and jumps. We find this pattern in everything from beer to airliners.

In the year 1958 the Boeing 707 airliner defined the form for commercial passenger aircraft. Every widely used airliner since follows the same general form. In the decades between, every aspect of modern airliners are improved in design. Engines are vastly improved. Avionics are vastly improved. Materials and structure are much improved. Details in aerodynamics are refined, but the overall design is much like a 707.

The prior maxima in airliners is the Douglas DC-3 from 1935. The Douglas DC-3 was a jump from what came before, and remains in service to this day. Only twenty-odd years between the DC-3 and 707. In the twenty-odd years between the DC-3 and 707, the jump in design is large. In the sixty-odd years between the 707 and the present, we see a plateau of only incremental improvements.

In the 1980s, microprocessors made possible small personal-use computers. (This was my departure from Physics into software, on the premise that small personal computers, and then-radical notions in user-interface design could transform society.) Took a decade for the promise of Smalltalk-80 to translate into mass-market desktops with graphical user interface. Microsoft Windows owned (and earned) this time, and is the 707 of the desktop to this day.

Since the 1990s, we see only incremental improvement in the desktop. (Yes, this means for young folk entering the workforce, the current desktop metaphor has existed for their entire lives.) Radical became normal and conventional and ... boring.

(Also, when forced to use Microsoft Windows, am unbelievably annoyed when 1990s faults are active in present day.)

The desktop metaphor seems to have hit a plateau, maybe decades back. (This is so weird from my perspective.) Maybe innovation is not longer to be expected.

Which leads to present Linux. Voted for Linux early on. In the 1990s, the Linux desktop lagged behind innovations in Windows. Past the 1990s, Microsoft lost the clue. In retrospect, nothing convincing happened in the desktop space. By 2010, the rise of smartphones was large, but ... the present is fragmented and unconvincing.

Choosing a new Linux desktop. In the early 2000s, bought the Redhat desktop until it broke (they went enterprise). After, Ubuntu was (and is) pretty cool. But their desktop efforts were ... murky.

Of late, ran Centos for/at work. Not bad, but clearly Redhat/IBM has their own agenda. Not a good long-term bet.

About to load Debian as the primary Linux distribution on my second (primary) desktop. Have we reached that 707 moment, when innovations on a plateau are not meaningful?