While I tried to gather information about software installation and Linux I also discussed this topic with several people. One argument I found rather strange was based on the statement that there is no Linux OS – but that every distribution is its own operating system. This is something I cannot agree with.
The argument was aimed at the general idea of an “installer” of any kind. If there is no common operating system there can hardly be a common installer. But this argument is dull.
First of all the scientific term “Operating System” is not clearly defined. Depending on the book you look into, and therefore depending on the author you ask you get different (scientific) definitions for the term “Operating System”. The range goes from the pure kernel itself up to fully running platforms with a set of normal daily use applications. If you ever joined a “GNU/Linux” vs “Linux” discussion you was probably faced with the same problem.
Second, and this is less theoretical but more practical reason, if you call every distribution an operating system the applications shouldn’t be portable at all. And yet, this is not true. There are several distributions out there which are LSB compliant – you can even share LSB packages on them. Also, the compatibility is most often there – even though only up to a certain degree. And there are several binary installers around which are working on almost every distribution. Think of the VirtualBox binary, or the GoogleEarth binary, or the Skype binary. They all work on various distributions. This is in strong contrast to the statement that they would be different operating systems.
Besides, if you really try to take that point of view you can also drop the entire idea of providing a realistic alternative to Windows with any Linux distribution, or even a nice and slick operating system at all:
You would have to include every piece of software into your distribution. Since there are so many distributions around, this would lead into a battle with work repeated several times. Application developers would be dragged into that battle and would most likely give up at some point. At the same time the Windows/MacOS world would look even more attractive for each developer because there would not be such a battle. You know the rest, I already showed all the huge disadvantages of such a situation.
The worst thing now is that this statement is from a very important person of one of the big distributions out there. When I faced the one with my arguments (no niche software/only mainstream software, not attracting to normal users, etc.) I just got the answer that this is not his problem.
It really feels uncomfortable to see the danger that such a person with such a point of view also has such a power and might stand in the way of Linux becoming any more usable, widespread and also powerful.