Doc Searls pointed me at The myth of the fall, by Eric Raymond, and a companion piece by Tim O'Reilly. As I recently read, when you see something that is "wrong"... what you really learn is that there is a world view in which the opinions you encounter are consistent. It appears that both Eric and Tim share a consistent world view, that of former Unix enthusiasts.
I come from a different perspective, in which the "myth" that they disagree with is far more true. I grew up with various microcomputers, then CP/M, and finally MS-DOS and Windows. The "golden age" for me was one of the dual floppy computer system, and eventually, hard drives. The things were slow, crashed a lot, but the beauty of them was that you always had a fresh copy of your OS and Toolkit on hand, and a quick, sure way to make more. This provided safety in abundance, which we have now lost in almost all cases.
When you can reboot and restore your computer to functionality without cost, when USERS can do it, reliably and without cost, you have amazing freedom. You can try almost anything you like, and if it works, add it to your toolbox over time. This freedom, and the ease with which 8", then 5 1/4", and finally 3.5" floppy diskettes were copied lead to an amazing boom in software, and the birth of the shareware movement, which Stallman et al were able to push towards "Free Software", with the appropriate Beer/Freedom quotes, etc. over time.
Bill Gates wasn't able to solve DLL hell. Nobody did... and now we've got systems that we can't reliably back up or restore (unless we virtualize the whole danmed thing, which is impractical for most users). Nobody is crazy enough to just try things anymore... you might "break"the computer, and end up spending days, hundreds of dollars just to have it "fixed" (and not as trustworthy, ever again).
Things used to be better... and they've definitely gone down hill. From a purely functional perspective, I see 2 ways out, either going to booting from, and running code from USB sticks (one for OS, one for Data), or building an OS that knows not to trust programs with the whole system state (AKA capability based security)
Either one of those choices is so radical, it's unlikely to take off and become mainstream, although there are some powerful incentives to try. Imagine being able to just play, and not risk hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of frustration at each and every turn. Imagine actually owning your computer, and using it as your tool again... the way you used to... but 1000x faster, with 1000,000 times the disk space.
The future we wanted is almost here... except for the damned fragile egg nature of our current OSs... even Linux.
Lets reset our course, and get the future we want.