[UFO Chicago] what draws you here?

Ian Bicking ianb@colorstudy.com
29 Jan 2002 00:10:36 -0600

On Mon, 2002-01-28 at 23:12, Larry Garfield wrote:
> Ian Bicking wrote:
> > apt-get!  No, really, I've never reinstalled Debian, or had the
> > slightest desire to do so, except when I replaced the main HD.  I have
> > 1253 packages installed, and it still works fine -- admittedly there's
> > probably a lot of junk I don't need, but that's not really the point.  I
> > don't have to practice self-control when installing software.  I can't
> > do that in Windows.  Those source tarballs are what make repackaging
> > possible.  Sure, maybe 75% of Windows programs can be installed without
> > effecting system stability.  Just like maybe 75% of the programs I want
> > on Linux are packaged in Debian (more, actually).  But they don't tell
> > you which Windows programs are going to slowly eat your system alive.
> True, but by the same token you can find an awful lot of crap for Linux
> systems, too.  It generally won't kill your system, quickly or slowly,
> because the fundamental architecture is unquestionably more resilient
> and more stable.  The problem is that the cost of that increased
> reliability is you have to know a lot more about what you're doing than
> you do with Windows.  

No, it's not that Linux is harder because of the packaging system. 
Quite the contrary.  This is something that Windows has simply not done,
apparently because Windows OS programmers are dense -- I think it's one
of the biggest flaws of Windows, and they seem to be doing little about
it beyond band-aid fixes.  There's certainly nothing stopping them,
except maybe that a good packaging system keeps its integrity with a
good permission system, which does have some (not a whole lot) of
ease-of-use issues.  There's issues with the way Linux is about it, but
filesystem integrity could be maintained without all the problems, and
by having the packaging programs be suid.

Oh, maybe I'm talking myself out of it.

> I'm not convinced that is inherent in the
> software.  I DO, however, believe that it is the "fault" of the FS/OS
> attitude.  There is a very strong "by geeks, for geeks" streak in the
> Unix-oid community at large (including the GNU folks, the Open Source
> people, the hard-core old=school Unix people, etc.), which I think hurts
> Linux and Free Software in the world at large far more than any
> Microsoft ad campaign could hope to accomplish.

Well, it must be remembered that the most important aspect of the
continued existence and success of Linux is the happiness of those
geeks.  Not to be elitist about it, but having a larger grandmotherly
population using Linux doesn't actually do anything to help Linux,
because they don't program or do other activities for the community.

The community's strength is in helping those who help the community.  I
can't blame someone who gets a little short with someone who *demands*
support on something they didn't buy -- and I see that all the time. 
Maybe those people are just confused people coming from a proprietary
land where demanding gets them something.  

The fact is, the FS/OSS community is incredibly more helpful than
proprietary communities (in my experience, and to the extent that
proprietary communities even exist).  To protect that community there
has to be a little aggression towards those who would take without
giving; otherwise it will be all freeloaders, and no one will get any
help.  This kind of decay does happen fairly frequently: the mailing
list or web forum that's all newbies with no one who actually knows
anything to answer their questions.  Sure, sometimes elitism is too
strong, and sometimes things are needlessly arcane.  But with something
that is supported by volunteers -- and all the good things in Linux are
-- you can't ask for things people don't enjoy giving.  That only will
make less people give anything at all.

There can be a steep curve for those who want to become part of a FS/OSS
community, but generally can't contribute in the beginning.  Bringing
those people in is important, and hard, and sometimes the process is
flawed.  But it's not that bad.  And I don't think converting the hoards
of VB programmers to Linux would buy us much -- there is some advantage
to creating a situation where the best programmers are self-selected.