The Paradox (fallacy) of Choice.



The more options, the more indecision. That is in short what the paradox of choice formulated by psychologist Barry Schwartz says in the book of the same name 2004 year.

According to him, a greater variety of options does not usually cause happiness, but rather the opposite. Instead of a feeling of liberation, it paralyzes us: many possibilities to choose from, it reduces one to a state of crippling indecision. And, even if the paralysis is overcome, one feels less satisfaction than in a similar situation where there were fewer options.

Schwartz dismantles the idea that greater choice is beneficial, coming to the grim conclusion that causing remorse and anticipation of remorse in the user, forcing him to assess the costs of missed opportunities (decisions are painful when you think about what has been forced to resign) and causing an escalation of expectations that leads to a sense of guilt when they are not met (if one chooses a less than perfect alternative, with so many options available, the person responsible is one, who has made the wrong decision).

The psychologist goes so far as to blame the excess of options for the increase in depression in the developed world.

Obviously the problem of consumption is discussed here. But of course we can use this paradox to apply to the eternal problem of fragmentation in linux. Only it is not usually treated as a paradox but as fallacy. The fallacy is trying to justify oversupply with reasons ranging from the goodness of having freedom of choice to "because I can make my own distro and share it."

As I have been researching, one of the first articles that talks about the paradox of choice dates from September 2004 (a month before Ubuntu was born, but some time after Schwartz's book was released). But it was in 2008 that the fallacy of choice was born, with this message on RedHat mailing lists written by Alan Jackson

> Linux is about choice.

If I could only have one thing this year, it would be to eliminate that meme from the collective consciousness. It is a disease. It strangles the mind and ensures you can never change anything ever because someone somewhere has OCD'd their environment exactly how they like it and how dare you change it on them you're so mean and next time I have friends over for Buffy night you 're not invited mom he's sitting on my side again.

As a consumer, yes, you have lots of choices in which Linux you use. This does not mean Linux is in any sense _about_ choice, any more than because there are so many kinds of cars you can buy that cars are about choice.

The complaints up-thread about juju and pulse are entirely valid, but the solution is not to try to deliver two things at once. If you try to deliver both at once you have to also deliver a way of switching between the two. Now you have three moving parts instead of one, which means the failure rate has gone up by a factor of _six_ (three parts, and three interactions). We have essentially already posited that we have insufficient developer effort to have 100% -complete features at ship time, so asking them to take on six times the failure rate when they're already overburdened is just madness. Alternatively, we could say that we're integrating features too rapidly, but you do that at the expense of goal 1, to be the showcase for the latest and greatest in free software.

Software is hard. The way to fix it is to fix it, not sweep it under the rug.

There is a legitimate discussion to be had about where and how we draw the line for feature inclusion, about how we increase and formalize our testing efforts, and about how we develop and deploy spike solutions for corner-case problems like the one device class that juju happens to do worse than the old stack. But the chain of logic from "Linux is about choice" to "ship everything and let the user chose how they want their sound to not work" starts with fallacy and ends with disaster.

- ajax

According to the blog post ohjeezlinux, the context of the message was when they released Fedora 8, the first release to include pulse audio, while in Fedora 7 the Juju Fireware stack was incorporated.

They both had their problems and there were those who proposed a checkbox to choose your audio system or your firewire stack. But the problem that arises is that a checkbox multiplied the work by 3 (each part, a different job), and potential bugs by 6 (3 parts and 3 interactions). 5 years passed from this ………

I also thought about blaming the lack of a default option, but that is something that in recent years has become difficult to sustain. There was an article in the linux haters blog about the lack of a default option SO IT WORKS for linux on the desktop, which Linux did on the servers (LAMP) and that is why Linux was successful on the servers.

But nowadays Ubuntu has become that default option for linux on the desktop. Do you want to develop something for Linux? Do it first for Ubuntu (Steam, baby). New drivers for linux? Try them on Ubuntu, etc, etc, etc. Steve Jobs Never I would have needed to read Schwartz's book to do what he did, but we might ask (and you can comment) What would Richard Stallman think about this paradox?

However an article in mybroadband gives a different point of view. There are just too many options for those trying Linux for the first timeBut for users with special needs and specific goals, having more than one option really benefits them.

On the other hand, since there are few machines that come with Linux pre-installed, it is expected that users make the decision which distro to install (and it gets more challenging when installing a paid distro is not considered).

Come on, the choice is only good for those who like and love itMay we enjoy the fact that there is no authority that says that distro should stay and that distro go, otherwise we would be inside another worse fallacy: that of the false dilemma, where you can only choose between a few options (Windows, OSX, GNU / LInux), discarding other alternatives (BSD, Haiku, OpenSolaris, etc) …………… ONE MOMENT !!! I just justified the oversupply. Forget this last paragraph.

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  1.   León said

    I think Linux is getting a bit closer to what happened with Android and iOS applications: the offer is such that many are not downloaded by anyone. There will come a point where there will be a lot of distros that those who programmed it will use and that's it (if they use it). Freedom is fine, but sometimes it leads to points that no one cares about.

    1.    Ares said

      I answer to you but it really is something that is incurred in other comments, the same article and everywhere this topic is touched.

      It always falls into the false dichotomy of "Freedom vs. things that work."

      Freedom has nothing to do with or has caused anything. Many options and all CRAP is something that can happen with or without "Freedom". The cause of the problem is that there has been a lack of Talent to do something that works well and there has been plenty of Selfishness so that instead of collaborating to finish "a work" each one wants to set up their store apart and be "the one who gets the glory ».

      Rather "Freedom" could have been the solution, since an incomplete project, with flaws or whatever, could have been completed and improved together.

  2.   cookie said

    Very good article. I had also thought that the options in Linux in some cases are too many, which sometimes leads us to distrohopping due to the indecision of a header distro, it happened to me.
    It is good that there are options, but not too many.

    1.    Charlie-Brown said

      "It's good that there are options, but not too much" ... Really? I think it's like saying that there is "too much freedom", then then one would have to ask oneself and who decides how many options are enough? Under what criteria? ...

      1.    cookie said

        I did not explain myself well, I was referring to options to choose a distro, not to life in general. I say that when there are many distros to choose from, it takes some work to decide on one that seems "perfect" for you.
        Obviously deciding that so many options are too many or not is very subjective, that's why there are so many distros, for example.
        In the end we end up the same, everyone should be able to do what they want, as long as it does not negatively affect others.

  3.   vicky said

    I've always seen open source and linux in general as the natural world and the survival of the fittest. Only projects that have the most active developers, the largest community, that can adapt, and / or that offer something different will survive.

    1.    Charlie-Brown said

      By using the analogy with the natural world, the proliferation of distros is understood as the existence of so many orders, sub-orders, families and species among living beings; The paradox of natural selection does not imply the final survival of a single species because it is the most suitable, but rather the adaptation of each one to its specific niche, as it happens continuously with the distros: there will be as many as individuals with needs and tastes specific require them, I think this is the beauty of free software, its similarity to a living organism.

      1.    vicky said

        Very interesting 😀

      2.    RafaGCG said

        Damn !, I think it is the simplest and most accurate explanation of what really happens that I have read.

      3.    Wire said

        + 1!

  4.   Miguel said

    I don't know if the term "excess supply" can be applied, because knowledge is not necessarily governed by market rules.

    1.    diazepan said

      We are talking about software. It does not seem correct to me to qualify it only as knowledge.

      1.    Miguel said

        Yes, it is true, it was just a small thought while reading the article. By the way I really liked the article, greetings.

  5.   dwarf said

    And ... we already have a new topic to discuss in µkernel xD

    Outside of that, it bothers me to talk about the subject here because it is so deep that I would end up doing another article in this comment xD

    1.    eliotime3000 said

      Yes, already so many ambiguities that my Chromium consume more memory in vain.

  6.   Miguel said

    The same of the oversupply could be applied to the information that is on the Internet, but no one in their right mind would ask for less information,

    It is the user's duty to filter the relevant information, nobody forces someone to try all the available distros.

    1.    woqer said

      Yes, but the issue of the oversupply was resolved by google. Thanks to google, people filter the oversupply of information. And I do not say more for not entering into the discussion of what google teaches and stops teaching ... in the end we tend to like what google shows us more than what other search engines show us. And out of sheer vagrancy, we learned the news through what our friends posted on facebook / twitter.
      Still I agree with what Alan Jackson said. When I started on linux (I've been 7 years now) I had audio problems and I went COMPLETELY CRAZY among the sea of ​​concepts of alsa, pulseaudio, gstreamer, proprietary codecs (mp3, divx ...) and you know what else. In the end the solution was to reformat the computer because of the amount of shit that I installed trying to solve the problem without being very clear how to configure everything.

      1.    Ares said

        There may be a thousand and one options, the problem is that there is at least ONE that works and that is the problem, which is intended to cover a lot without first having covered a little.

        1.    kik1n said

          Very good article and totally agree @Ares.
          They see that a system does not work as they want, and they launch a fork of it, but with other errors, and so on.

          It would be better to unify distros or dedicate to debugging.

        2.    vicky said

          But it is not so easy. There is more than one way to do things, if people have irreconcilable opinions that will be done. Choosing which course to take is very difficult.

          1.    Ares said

            It is true that there are many ways of doing things, the detail is that they end up in many ways that fully work and this is the detail in which the bar seems to be.

  7.   msx said


    For all of them there is Mac, if they can afford it -not only its commercial price but the stocks to which users are subjected- or Windows, for those who do not have so much money and must settle for something mediocre.

    Mac and Windows are expensive, canned and PRIVATIVE and are still preferred.

    Conclusion: let me fuck with these jerk explanations made by jerks for jerks who need to justify their jerks so as not to show how jerks they are.

    adj.-com. Alelado, lacking reason.
    noun Moron. A person who acts or speaks with little intelligence.

    1.    Thorzan said

      msx, I advise you to take a little more fiber. And then you tell us how it goes.

    2.    cat said

      With your aggressive comment you are only lowering yourself to a similar or lower level than the people you criticize.

      1.    eliotime3000 said

        I think msx is part of the now obsolete FSF. Hence his expression so stallmanesque.

    3.    Charlie-Brown said

      No wonder the fanboys are all so happy ... good old Steve thought for them and decided what they need and how they should use it, ah! and for those who are a little smarter, his friend Bill offers several Windows options so that they can select the most beautiful one, but without getting too complicated, lest it cause a brain herniation.

      Nothing msx, that the future of the human race is screwed, has more and more in common with the gregarious animals that walk in packs and repeat behavior patterns as the only sign of "intelligence" ...

    4.    pandev92 said


      First fallacy, we started badly, nobody is inferior for not wanting to waste time testing everything before choosing, it is much more pathetic to spend 365 days a year testing and changing distros, totally lowering your productivity.

      Conclusion: let me fuck with these jerk explanations made by jerks for jerks who need to justify their jerks so as not to show how jerks they are.

      Before calling someone an idiot, apply the story, take a linden and take a deep breath before writing, and don't forget to think about it 4 times.

      1.    Ares said

        Yes, it is absurd to live testing to see what phosphorus works in a wet pack, but the problem is another.
        The ice cream parlor is full of ice cream flavors and nobody spends a lifetime choosing which one, or the menu at the restaurant, or the car dealer. And fewer are going to freak out about it unless you're a little crazy or msx's hypothesis is true.

        The problem with Linux is not the excess of supply, on the contrary the problem is the Absence of supply since nowadays no distro (*) is a real option compared to OSX or Windows; for this reason, one lives constantly dissatisfied, migrating or trying "which", forgiving faults, becoming blind to deficiencies, taking a deep breath and being patient ... until one fine day there are people who "mature", get tired and "sell" to OSX or Windows; that they are attractive options not because they are "a canned option" but because they are OPTIONS, real.
        Nor is the problem the fear of "oversupply"; the problem is the fear of being in an eternal search and continuing on a perhaps endless road, or arriving at a self-deception and "staying with what there is" "the last bus"; all caused by a lack of real options.

        Even the problem is worse, because the serious thing is that really all the distros (*) are almost "the same thing" with few clear differences (above all they are philosophical, or rather capricious), diffuse advantages and sometimes of pure smoke, perhaps with something better than another but inexplicably makes up for it with something worse.
        In an ice cream parlor you can easily identify which is chocolate and which is strawberry, which is ice cream and which tropical fruit flavor, there are obviously (and really) several different identifiable options from the moment of the offer. And if you choose what you want, you will be satisfied, or even if you choose randomly blindly, you will also be satisfied because the ice cream you chose "was ice cream" and it fulfilled that task; You will not see that it happens that of all the flavors only the coconut flavor was "really ice cream ... although it is still missing". So even choosing at random you get to the end of the path of a search.

        With distros it is the same as with couples, you can only meet them once you dedicate the time and you get the disappointment; it's just that the neighborhood of Linux distros is a bad neighborhood and it will take you a lifetime to find a "marriage material" because there probably isn't even one (and people who get this kind of "neighborhood" even get scared and that kind of thing to relationships).

        (*) I say distro, but it is also applicable to certain applications, etc.

    5.    cookie said

      Relax, dude, nobody has told you something to come and insult just like that, calling anyone who does not want to break their head thinking about something that they simply do not care too much about as an idiot, which they could use in other more important things.
      There are people who have life, with their problems and everything, outside of the computer, you know?

      1.    pandev92 said

        + 1000 ^ 1000

      2.    eliotime3000 said


    6.    eliotime3000 said

      Are you a member of the Free Software Foundation (that one with the GNU witnesses)?

      1.    pandev92 said

        the gnu xDD witnesses ..., they just need to come knocking on your door, all dressed in a red polo shirt ahahaah

        1.    eliotime3000 said

          For now, that happens more in the United States and they are saying that their only savior is San Ignucio, and that he will wipe all proprietary software that exists in this world off the face of the earth.

          1.    eliotime3000 said


          2.    Ares said

            Perhaps it is only there because the world is very small and with the Panda Witnesses and the Tux Taliban there has been no room for anyone else.
            Or is it that you have not been knocked on the door by those people who promise to save the world from the evil Microsoft / IE Closed Software monopoly and save the World / Internet with the adored intervention of the Messiah Tux, Linus Torvalds / Open Panda dressed in An orange robe or a tux? And be careful if you use Windows / OSX / Chrome / Opera because the "openmind" inquisitors of Tux / etc will burn you, and don't even think about saying that they are better.

            Please, the only ones who have morals to speak and despise in that way are the Windows people; but EVERYTHING that surrounds Linux, Open Source, Free Software, etc is tainted with its well-earned history full of religious fanaticism Taliban indoctrinating evangelist.

            He who is free from sins, let him throw the first stone ... And only the people of Windows could throw stones ... therefore it would rain stones.

    7.    vicky said

      Not everyone likes computers or has the time to go around trying all the distros available and for having

  8.   n3storm said

    I think it is a mistake to mix the acquisition of consumer goods or services with the choice of software tools. This without entering the ethical or community part. I can be comfortable in one user community and not in another. Does this also have to be analyzed by a psychologist?

    Programming languages ​​are also fragmented and "no one goes around giving cu ** to the subject all the fucking" Excuse the expression but since 1999 I have been listening to the same thing and it has not mattered for millions of people to use it.

    Free software is not subject to the capitalist laws of consumption and there is a lack of perspective in time to explain what is happening right now. In 100 or 200 years we will be able to have an idea of ​​what it means, much more objective than the one we have now, each one pulling his own.

    The fragmentation thing is usually a cheap excuse from the company that does not want to make its products cross-platform or from the same microsoft.

    1.    eliotime3000 said

      Of course, free software is not subject to capitalism, since free software treats software as something abstract and not as if it were something concrete (I don't understand why to put a price on a license to something that you can't really touch, and above, poor quality). In addition, it is not because of the quality of the tool, but about how to know how to use it.

  9.   Ares said

    I think that to maintain consistency with what is stated throughout the article, this paragraph:

    Otherwise we would be inside another worse fallacy: that of the false dilemma, where you can only choose between a few options (Windows, OSX, GNU / LInux), discarding other alternatives (BSD, Haiku, OpenSolaris, etc.)

    Should have said

    Otherwise, we would be inside another worse fallacy: that of the false dilemma, where you can only choose between a few options (Windows, OSX, Ubuntu), discarding other alternatives (other Linux distros, BSD, Haiku, OpenSolaris, etc.)

    Since above it was defended that Linux compatibility should try to be towards Ubuntu (... and the rest as it falls).

  10.   bxo said

    I believe in the Gnu / Linux world of choosing an option, then realizing that it is wrong and being anxious does not quite fit.
    In other words, it would make sense, for example, when buying a car and then realizing that it uses a lot of fuel, even though it is more beautiful than other options, it is not profitable, and if you sell it to buy the other you will lose money and a lot of time. But if you try a linux distro and it does not convince you, you can change it for another without too many headaches and the best thing even if you did not stay with the first distro you will have seen its virtues and defects, apart from learning change in exchange, in case one day better fit your needs or someone who asks you for advice

    1.    cookie said

      But what if I'm someone very busy and I can't afford to be testing distros, how do I do it?

      1.    eliotime3000 said

        Look for sites that recommend distros or people who have tried all the known distros and so you won't have to sacrifice your skin so you don't have to waste time trying one and the other distro.

        1.    pandev92 said

          All those sites usually only recommend ubuntu….

          1.    eliotime3000 said

            Well, I would recommend Mint so that the windowsers are not lost and that they do not get so much ball between Ubuntu and Debian.

  11.   eliotime3000 said

    In GNU / Linux, there are distros for every type of person for whom it has been built. In the case of common people, obviously the most popular is Ubuntu, since it is focused on 100% visual management and not at the console level (and I have tried it). Happily, there are improved versions of Ubuntu like Mint that really work well both on a console and a graphical level.

    As for my journey through this world of GNU / Linux, I must say that my 1st distro with which I started was with Mandrake 9, which was good but the processing of its packages was a total disgusting. The next was Debian, which I am so far and with which I have felt much more comfortable than with Ubuntu.

    Now I am testing other distros such as Slackware and CentOS (my paranoia goes) so as not to be pigeonholed into a single distro, also it gives me a better vision about the GNU / Linux universe out there.

  12.   ignacio said

    Perhaps it would be necessary to wonder what would happen if there was only one option and the possibility to choose was private to the user.
    In my opinion, as a user, I like to try new and different things that change the experience of interacting with the system. I do not think that more options overwhelm new users with indecision, since they generally enter the Linux world from the most popular distros and the most used environments such as KDE, Gnome, Xfce, among others.

  13.   Blitzkrieg said

    So many functions and none works -.-

    1.    Blitzkrieg said

      Sorry so many options and none have a decent video player or image editor

      1.    vicky said

        No decent video players ?? VLC and mplayer disagree.
        And complain a lot but the vast majority do not make donations or report bugs or anything.

  14.   eliotime3000 said

    VLC is great as a video player, but the one who beats Gimp is Krita for its uncanny resemblance to Photoshop.

    1.    BishopWolf said

      Well I accept that Krita is better than Gimp, but not because it is similar to P $ but because of its better handling of colors (CMKY, 16 bits per color, etc.), something that Gimp is already implementing and as soon as it is ready it will overcome again to Krita, I say if they finish adopting the GEGL and the GTK + 3 (the wait seems endless).

      1.    eliotime3000 said

        Krita is good because it has been designed for graphic design specifically. Now, what it would be missing is that GIMP improves its tools so that they are easy to use and that it can support printing.

  15.   JL said

    In my case, I can talk about something concrete. ´I have, because of my laptop, a significant reduction in the distributions that I can use, and I really miss it. My laptop is panoramic but with a graphics card of those with Optimus technology. The fact is that only the distributions of the Debian family recognize me a reasonable panoramic format (the rest only in 1900 × 1080; that is unusable; with xrandr more modes can be generated, but that always ends up giving problems). So in the end I miss being able to use and test more distributions. Above all since I have verified that Debian 7 does not start me anymore, and I only have Ubuntu and derivatives left.

    So I do miss greater range of choice of distributions.

    1.    n3storm said

      Hi JL,

      I have an Asus N73 with Optimus technology and it works great with Debian 7.
      I install Bumblebee from the Debian repositories and use Arandr for dual display (I haven't had to change resolutions or use xrandr or anything) 1600x900.
      I use the XFCE desktop and in addition to programming web and python, I use the entire design suite quite thoroughly: Gimp, Inkscape, Scribus and Blender.

      Tell us a little more about your problem and maybe we can help you in the forums.

  16.   WIDTH said

    I would like to read a comment or just a topic in which people politely disagree without falling into the clichés, insults, comparisons and prejudices of the moment, it would be wonderful to be able to read a comment without incurring the insult directed towards another user due to their little language appropriate, full of off-topic that divert us from the topic, etc, etc
    Anyway, before answering, think, reflect and then expose

    1.    n3storm said

      Hi @ANXO,

      The only inappropriate language I have used, apologizing, which does not absolve me of my guilt. What comments in this thread are insulting or prejudiced? What prejudices do you mean?

      The question is very simple, since Red Hat pushed Linux publicly, and later IBM and other serious companies and organizations began to support Linux (we are talking about more than 15 years ago), pro-Microsoft companies and publications have used the argument that the wide range of options is a mistake for the user and the company, again and again (in addition to others) as a topic.

      We are committed humans and this type of action bothers us. Some users, who have been members of communities such as Gimp-es, Gnome-Hispano, Hispalinux, Gleduc-ar, and also participate in the business world based on free software and contribute to various projects, have been riddled with this question for years and we are a little fed up on a personal level, because free software and Linux is built by people and we have feelings.

      Large corporations are just model smiley faces and nothing seems to affect them. Although behind them they have exploited workers thinking that they live in an ideal world because they have a pool table in the break room of the offices.

      Do not take away the ability to get angry at the fallacies and lies spilled, because that would be turning the community into something neutral and aseptic.

      Would you ask Linus Torvalds not to show Nvidia the finger? (Not wanting to compare myself to Linus except that we are both human)

      1.    Miguel said

        Very good comment

      2.    Ares said

        Would you ask Linus Torvalds not to show Nvidia the finger? (Not wanting to compare myself to Linus except that we are both human).

        In the Linux religion there are special double standards / morals depending on the case, one for the divinities and one for the rest.

        1.    n3storm said

          Hi @Ares, can you give an example of when double standards have been used?

          If I have found something in the community, it is that the one who stands out is on his own merits, doing good for all. Is this bad? However, the entire community is always valued, from the one who participates little to who participates a lot.

  17.   ferchmetal said

    excellent article, quite interesting.

  18.   mss-devel said

    The argumentation is a bit poor, and ignores many things. Independent software developments have had a great impact in various areas, from education to entertainment. Anyone has the right to make their own distro. Free software has given an exclusive level of customization to users, this being why it is so appreciated by various industries. And not all distros are useful for all users. What about distributions like Scientific Linux? Also, that author has a slightly outdated view. The world economy is changing a lot; new markets appear, new services, new forms of communication. I strongly disagree on "oversupply" when globalization is leaving the current supply outdated and insufficient.