[UFO Chicago] what draws you here?

Larry Garfield lgarfiel@students.depaul.edu
Tue, 29 Jan 2002 02:07:08 -0600

Ian Bicking wrote:

> > 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 didn't even get into packaging systems. :-)  It's not as much that
Windows programmers are dense as the Win9x InstallShield (~ package
manager) is simply missing an uninstall component.  The Win2k version
fixes that bug, and actually does uninstall MOST (not all) applications
decently.  It's still not as clean an uninstall as RPMS or dpkg provide,
by a long shot, but at least it's worth mentioning in the same breath.  

DLL Hell is another matter entirely, which is handled on GNU/Linux
systems by recompiling everything against everything else and
aggressively upgrading every component (by the developer), and isn't
handled at all by Windows. :-)  (Slight oversimplification, but only

Of course, we could spin this discussion off onto the "Why do we need
multiple package systems, isn't that rather stupid" thread, but we won't
go there. :-)

> > 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.

And right there in that paragraph is precisely the crux of the point I
am making.  "... population using Linux doesn't actually do anything to
help Linux."  Why should they?  Why should people be expected to help a
program?  Isn't the whole point of technology, both hardware and
software, to help people?  Is someone who doesn't code and doesn't
engage in active advocacy "not worthy" of using a GNU/Linux system? 
Whether money is exchanging hands or not, imposing a two-way
relationship with a tool on a person is precisely what turns people off
of computer technology in the first place.  

"I just want it to work" is the commonly cited mantra of the user. 
While I agree that users have to expect a steeper learning curve for a
general purpose device than for a toaster, it is not acceptable to
expect them to devote any more time than is required to accomplish their
selected tasks to "helping the system."  Why should they?  It's a tool! 
Are they expected to "help" their hardware tool box?  Do they feel
compelled to contribute back to the screwdriver community?  Of course
not, but we still take the time to show people how ot use screwdrivers.  

I agree that there is a much better community around FS/OS software than
most (though not all) proprietary systems.  (Some of the Palm-related
groups I'm in put most FS/OS groups to shame in terms of being
novice-friendly.)  Remember, though, what you don't have in the FS/OS
community: Official Technical Support.  If Photoshop isn't working,
there is a canonical source of information you can contact, called
Adobe, Inc.  If postfix isn't working, and the manual is lacking (as it
almost always is), then the only canonical source of information you
have is the author's email address, an author who generally has better
things to do with his life than answer every novice question, like
improving the program.  And people often feel uncomfortable contacting
an individual or non-corporate development group (e.g., KDE Group). 
That's where community lists/sites/chat rooms come into play; they
become the surrogate 800-number.  And I've seen surrogate 800-numbers
like that put official support lines to shame, many times.  But I've
also seem people get even bitchier than most official tech support
departments. :-)

Should the community/communities then actively view their 800-number
role as something to be taken seriously to help people who can't go
elsewhere, or should the "physician, heal thyself" attitude be
considered the price of using technologically superior software?  

Not everyone is a physician, able to heal themselves.

Larry Garfield

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-- "If at first you don't succeed, skydiving isn't for you." :-)