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Why A Million Linux Music Players Is A Good Thing

sweet shop

All sweets. All different flavours.

It’s a predictable, if understandable reaction. So, when writing an article on QupZilla’s latest release earlier today, I was prepared to hear it.

Each time I cover the latest update to a Twitter client, minor web-browser release, desktop environment, or music app there’s a consistent response from a minority of readers: “Why are there so many apps on Linux that do the same thing? Developers should work together to make existing ones better!”

On paper this argument makes sense. For example, the breadth of music players available for Linux can seem intimidating to the novice, but frustrating to the power user. If all of the multiple developers behind the myriad of music players worked together we’d have a more featured, polished and performant app, right?

“Why are there so many apps on Linux that do the same thing?”

In reality things don’t quite work that way. Web browser A might be written in a toolkit that the developer of Web Browser B doesn’t know; the goal of music player A is to focus on music management while music player B, C and D want to emulate various iterations of WinAmp or iTunes circa 2006.

To put it another way: a developer making their own app is not a developer subtracted from the effort of a competing one.

Overstated

The abundance of choice is also overstated at times. Take QupZilla for example. Is it really a shining example of ‘one too many’ web browsers? Or does it serve a niche? Chrome/ium and Firefox aside, the only “real” Qt-competitors that are in active development are Rekonq and… Nope, that’s all I can think of!

Even adding in other toolkits (which, for Qt users, may not be as preferable as using a natively integrated browser) you’re only adding a couple more choices – Midori, Web (formerly ‘Epiphany’) and Opera being three. Text-only browser like Lynx fulfil entirely different purposes and different audiences.

Another example: Corebird is a GTK-based single-column twitter app focused on integrating tightly with the GNOME desktop. Polly, also GTK, goes about things differently, offering power-user features, an entirely different layout, and support for other popular desktop environments.

‘It’s digital Darwinism in action. And it’s beautiful.’

Confusing matters is the graveyard of applications no longer under active development. They breathed, they were, they died. Developers lose interest; APIs become deprecated; the effort in updating to support newer toolkit releases require too much effort. Other applications and developers often learn from the successes, failures and – thanks to the nature of open-source – the code of these. It’s digital Darwinism in action.

So yes. We may have a proliferation of apps with largely similar ideas on Linux, but few share entirely similar goals. Small differences that seem trivial to some, but make the difference to others. “One size” doesn’t fit all. We all have our own preferences on what makes a good music player or web browser, and what doesn’t. And so do developers.

Diversity of development efforts isn’t detrimental, it doesn’t stall or hold back development on other applications. It gives us choice.

And at the end of the day that’s all that matters. 

Image Credit: aglimpseoflondon