Torvalds on Desktops

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"... a lot of users that don't even necessarily want to use computer at all. A lot of desktops are used for basically work. People like using computers because it makes their work easier, but at the same time they are not really interested in the computer itself," Linus Torvalds.

As in other software systems, in LIMS things start with a need. When a need arises, either for new functionality or for the system itself, two approaches dominate: the functional and the ideal. For example, when assessing whether to purchase a clothes dryer a functional thinker asks, 'what is the difference between air drying clothes and simply purchasing a dryer'? The ideal thinker says that what worked for Jane will work for Janet and the decision to buy the clothes dryer should be well-settled because Jane bought one last year. Indeed, a lot of our commercial thinking has followed this model ever since the advertising age began. Both thinkers recognize the gap in the present system and both agree upon automation as the pathway forward. They differ in that the ideal thinkers believe that functionality that appears to have worked some place else should work for us. Functional thinkers need to be convinced of this and they are somewhat predisposed to disagree.

Ideal thinkers are impressed with case studies and brochures, testimonials and the like. The functional thinker sits unconvinced. Case studies will not run laboratories; nor will a brochure or a client testimonial solve real world problems that arise in business.

In biology we find these same two perspectives. There are two main ways of looking at organisms: one aspect looks at the genotype and the other the phenotype. For the genotype we look at the genes and for phenotypes we look at the observable characteristics of the organism. For software there are similarly two types of individuals -- those that understand how it works internally (genotype) and those that are familiar with it primarily by observing or being told about its characteristics (phenotype). If and only if one has complete and unfettered access to the source code (the 'genes' of the software) can a) certain strange behaviors be explained and b) certain desirable features be introduced.

It is for this fundamental reason that there exists such a distance between the two software approaches -- one that starts development, inquiry, analysis, and implementation from the functional perspective versus another that begins from the ideal perspective. DIY LIMS clearly starts from the functional, and this is in line with other functional types of initiatives like free and open source software etc. The ideal perspective works, undeniably, until one runs into situations driven by the aforementioned functional drives -- that is, you start to experience problems with the software that you simply cannot understand or you find that you want to alter or add certain behaviors only to find you cannot because the software code (its genetic code) is proprietary.

Functional thinkers have run into these types of problems before and have developed an entire ecosystem of tools to avoid it. These include the Linux operating system, software toolkits like compilers, databases, windowing systems, etc., all built around functional style thinking. Linux has experienced so much success in the device marketplaces (but not on the desktop) due to a happy marriage between the two types of thinking. The ideal consumers want things that solve problems that can simply be acquired; these high-quality systems are best built after years of collaborative work and sharing amongst scores of functional types.

For DIY LIMS to work there needs to be a happy equilibrium between the functional and ideal perspectives. If the solutions that it presents are as simple to adopt and use as a clothes dryer then such a state is possible to achieve. The secret, like Linux, is to build a platform that is openly shared but can be built upon. This will satisfy both the ideal and functional needs of the business.

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Citation: Torvalds on Desktops. (2014). Retrieved Sat Jun 23 10:14:48 2018, from;iid=readMore;go=1390955457