Why 'fragmentation' isn’t a problem for Android or Linux

Why is it that what's viewed as healthy competition in one arena is so frequently labeled a "fragmentation problem" in other areas these days?

Why is it that what's viewed as healthy competition in one arena is so frequently labeled a "fragmentation problem" in other areas these days?

When you go to the store to buy a bottle of laundry detergent, is it a problem that there are choices? How about when you buy a new camera or a new car? Is choice a problem in these areas, or does it make it more likely that you can get what you want?

I find it hard to believe that market choice can ever be a bad thing, and most manufacturers apparently agree. Many brands, in fact, offer several different products in the same category, targeting distinct market segments. Yet in both the mobile arena and on the desktop, choice has recently been called a fragmentation problem for Android and Linux.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, of course, decried the "problem" with Android in a post-earnings conference call on Monday, claiming that an "integrated" (read: one-size-fits-all) approach is better for users and developers. My colleague Robert Strohmeyer, meanwhile, blamed fragmentation in part for what he views as Linux's failure on the desktop.

Is fragmentation really a problem? No way. Here's why.

Consumers Like It

"Fragmentation," as I suggest above, is simply a derogatory term for "choice," something not only valued but expected in most product categories. It's a well-known fact that one-size-fits-all rarely fits anyone well; multiple competing choices, by contrast, offer consumers a way to get something that's as close to what they want as possible.

Of course, specific choices don't tend to survive if nobody wants them -- that, too, is part of a competitive marketplace. If there isn't demand for them, individual choices will disappear.

Now, Android phones are not as different as Jobs made out -- most of the differences, rather, are fairly superficial. But why would it ever be a problem that there are numerous Android phones available? There's clearly a small segment of consumers who like Apple's restrictive "walled garden" approach, but I can't imagine any kind of majority will ever prefer the iPhone's one-size-fits-all model in the mobile world any more than they have the Mac on the desktop.

It's a similar situation when it comes to Linux. Yes, there are many competing distributions, but again, that can only be a good thing for users because it means they can get what they want. I'll agree it might be something of a marketing and branding challenge for Linux, but it's certainly not a problem for users.

Developers Like It

Lest anyone repeat Jobs' shaky argument that diversity is bad for developers, let me just point out that there's considerable proof out there that mobile developers, in particular, prefer Android.

In fact, TweetDeck -- which Jobs tried to use to bolster his argument by noting the myriad different versions of Android it had to take into consideration when creating its app for the platform -- has since protested Jobs' statements.

"Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android?" TweetDeck CEO Iain Dodsworth tweeted in response to Jobs' claims. "Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't."

Then, too, there's the recent survey of developers by Appcelerator and IDC that found an overwhelming preference for Android over iPhone.

It's also important to note again that competing Android handsets aren't fundamentally different; their differences lie mostly on the surface. The fundamental operating system is still much the same, so development isn't the "daunting challenge" Jobs tries to make it out to be.

In the Linux arena, meanwhile, it may be fair to say that the diversity of distributions -- while not a problem for consumers -- could be an issue when it comes to developing software and drivers compatible with those distributions. In this case, however, any potential problem is alleviated by the fact that there are a very few clear favorites among consumers, meaning that developers really need only target those leading distributions -- Ubuntu, most notably -- to satisfy the majority of Linux users.

By order of the laws of supply and demand, market choices will only persist where consumers want them. That being the case, they are simply a reflection of what the market wants. "Fragmentation" is choice, and choice is what users want. In a healthy, competitive market, that's not any kind of problem.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags unixLinuxsoftwarenon-Windowsoperating systems

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?