When one has multiple programs serving the same purpose (for instance SMTP servers such as sendmail, exim and postfix; or print servers such as lprng and cups), it is usual to wrap these using alternatives. Alternatives provides a clean way to have many types of software serving the same purpose installed at the same time and have the commands such as
lpr point to the wanted versions.
However, when there are multiple variants that each serve the needs of some user and thus must be available simultaneously by users, the alternatives system simply isn't enough since it is system-wide. This has been reality on supercomputers and clusters for eons, and a solution has been developed: environment modules.