Ahh, contacts…

Re my laptop (which as yet remains nameless — we don’t have a naming scheme for ‘puters at my house) and Linux flavors… I’ll be starting with SuSE and KDE, thanks to a contact at Novell who will provide some eval CDs of the latest-and-greatest stuff (9.3 Pro, 2.6.11 kernel, KDE 3.4), and we’ll just see how that works, we will.

Re: The Linux thread I inadvertently kicked off — it’s obvious that many of you don’t want Linux to ever be consumer software. The automobile analogy is a good one. I can go buy ANY automobile, select the vehicle based on the features I want (SUV? commuter vehicle? Touring Sedan? Leather fixation? Sun roof?), and never ONCE have to worry about things like “do my turn signals comply with safety standards” or “will I be able to drive at night with these headlights?” Some of you seem to think that the only way to get variety in your automotive choices is to build the car yourself.

Well, fine. Do that. But it’s not a consumer vehicle. It’s a hobby-car.

Standardization is GOOD, people. So is variety, but WITHIN REASON. Hackers will always have their hobby operating systems, and because of the nature of Open Source, Linux will always give rise to hobby OSes. But for consumers, the OS is irrelevant. They want standardization, within a certain sensible range of values, for everything. The Open Source community is not good at providing this, which means that Linux for consumers will almost certainly come from a corporate manufacturer.

I’m not knocking Open Source — it’s a powerful market force, and it CAN be a force for good. Just how MUCH good, and how much that good is mitigated by inadvertent blunders that do HARM remains to be seen.


29 thoughts on “Ahh, contacts…”

  1. Well said Howard.

    Me, I want an OS/system with good defaults and than complete and total possibility for customization.

  2. In my experience, all the “consumer oriented” Linux distros have about equivalent support for hardware. The differences are mostly in areas where the Linux kernel is still bleeding edge, which for the most part means wifi cards and winmodems. Even there they are all catching up with each other. So you are correct, and that is already happening – standardization is more the norm than the exception.

    What I like about using Linux is that I can either go to the dealer and buy a nice, shiny car (with a hood I can open and a full set of tools in the trunk), or go to the iron mines and start chipping rocks that eventually will be smelted and formed into a car. Noone is forcing me into either approach – nor forcing anyone else into one either. That is choice – choosing whether to use a pick or a mallet when going to the mines is also a choice, but not a very appealing one.

    As an aside, the reason I recommended a Slackware based distribution and doing a kernel compile yourself was that I thought the system was a PII 200MHz. On a machine like that, my experience is you can easily double the performance by doing that extra bit of legwork. On a PIII 600Mhz, I would consider doing it myself (in fact, I recently did), but I wouldn’t go recommending it to others. No need, you have plenty of horsepower for SuSE or Mandrake.

    1. the reason I recommended […] was that I thought the system was a PII 200MHz

      Same here for using Debian to minimize cruft in the system. You can of course just select “Desktop Environment” in the install, and it takes care of KDE/Gnome and the other usual suspects you’d find in a RH/Suse style distro, you just don’t *have* to go with that if you don’t want to.

    2. Yes and no. I’ve found the “live cd” distros are much more aggressively pushing hardware autodetection because they haven’t got the ability to fall back to letting the user configure things during the installation. There _is_ no installation, it has to autodetect stuff every boot. It has to get it right, and it has to do it fast, and there can’t be any tweaking and tuning pass afterwards…

      That said, a certain amount of customization does come with cars. You can upgrade your radio aftermarket, get the windows tinted… The trick is not having to be a car mechanic yourself to get this done.


  3. I think that a lot of the problem is the fact that simply it’s easier for a lot of people to go and do their own method, rather than figuring out how the system works.

    What this also leads to is that people who do fiddle with drift towards certain distros, *cough*Gentoo*cough* causing them to improve, and then someone will fork that distro, because they can do it ‘better’, or have philosophical reasons. Some work out over time such as Mandrake. (Debian forks, RH forks, Gentoo fork, etc, etc, etc)

    The other big problem IS Red Hat. Prior to some of the fiddling with RH 8, and RHEL, more or less EVERYTHING supported Red Hat, likely Debian* as well, plus maybe a few other major distros. It was as good at servers as any other, passable as a desktop, However, with RHEL and eliminating RH, it really has left a big void that says ‘standard’ in the Linux community.

    *Debian has caused a similar problem, by not releasing quickly, so people don’t rewrite things specifically for it.

    Another problem is that distros are becoming more focused on what they want. You have tons of special purpose distros that do one things or a small number of things, but do them well. However, if you try to do something that isn’t on that list, It becomes VERY difficult for most people.

    I personally use Gentoo, now. (Having used Red Hat, prior to that since 1997) I fiddle. I’ve gotten sick of some parts of RPM, and really like portage. Portage has 98-99% of all the things I’d like. I know that I’m contributing to the split of distros by using it. I know it’s not for everyone. (For some reason, I can’t really understand due to my history (I grew up with DOS), people are afraid of the command line, or editing text files, which you need to do in Gentoo).

    Hope you don’t mind my commentary, and feel free to comment/question it.

    A P3-600 is plenty fast to run KDE, and similar. I do it on a p2-266/233 w/128MB(Swapped a sodimm to 160MB last night actually)

    1. I started playing with Gentoo yesterday after seeing a post in the other thread. So far I’ve spent about five hours setting it up, not including the sleep I got while the core packages were downloading and installing. It kind of reminds me of when I used to have to do my own BSD builds, but this is more user friendly.

      I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for a first system, but I’m familiar enough with Linux in general to want to tweak it as much as possible. I can’t imagine your average user would want the hassle, and I can’t blame them.

      What I’ve seen of Portage so far has been really impressive and don’t care about the distro split. I had four RPM sources I used for Fedora. And I don’t mind compiling everything myself.

  4. This is an outgrowth of the “freedom to the user uber alles!” ethos of the Linux world. They view the proliferation of distributions as a feature, not a bug, and believe that more choies are always better. The downside, as you note, is that if you’ve got that much choice, actually making a choice is harder.

    This is one reason why I prefer Mac OS X to Linux for user desktops for all but the most knowledgeable users: you get all the benefits of a Unix-based system in a package that anyone can effectively install and manage. The cost is dropping into the range of even the cheapest Dell systems, and you get a lot more bang for your buck.

    1. You know, that’s the same reason micropayments haven’t taken off. Nobody wants to be asked about whether or not to spend a penny when they spend $5 for lunch without thinking about it.

      Sure, it SEEMS attractive to have all those choices, but the end result is that very few people actually choose any of them.

      –Howard “and now… MICROPAYMENTS DERAIL THE THREAD” Tayler

  5. I made a resolution to start running Linux by the time Penguicon came around, and due to hardware issues that resolution is a failure. But I’ll be bringing my newest system to Penguicon to get Ubuntu installed on it. I just want a free of charge (or at least very close to zero) operating system, and if I’m jumping on the Penguicon bandwagon by doing so, then so much the better. Unlike a techie hacker I want a box that tells me what to do. It would also be nice for it to be more stable and reliable than Windows. But I just want to work on my documents. Not work on the operating system itself — ever.

    1. You can certainly do that with Linux. I’m still running RedHat 5.2 (on the same system I got in 1998) on my desktop at home and don’t upgrade unless there’s a dire need (such as a security hole in a service that would allow someone in) or there’s a feature I just can’t live without (which, to tell you the truth, I don’t think has ever come up). I have, however, installed new programs (from source, I never liked the RPM system) and rarely have had problems doing so (yes, even Apache 2.0.53 compiled, although it took a few hours).

    2. Can someone kindly explain to me why people are touting Ubuntu as the “Debian with good hardware compatibility”?

      In my experience, Ubuntu’s hardware compatibility was balls. Whereas I haven’t had any compatibility issues with Mepis.

      Then again, I’ve said that Mepis is the “Cranky Ex-Windows user distro of choice” which is perhaps why I like it so much.

      Another thing I don’t get is the people who reccomend Slackware or Gentoo Linux to newbies. Are they so masochistic that they’ve become blinded to how annoying those are to set up? Or just sadistic in that they think dumping new users in the deep end like that is amusing? Or are they just completely clueless? Some people honestly seem to think Linux is “easy”, I think people who say that with a straight face are either smoking too many drugs or a few beers short of a six pack.

      1. I personally found that Debian was like being tortured slowly by thousands of razor blades dipped in vinegar.

        I try NOT to recommend Slackware to utter newbies, simply because it’s not the easiest in the world to do.

        My ‘Newbie’ recommendation, frankly, is Linspire. (sometimes Knoppix) Yes, it’s a Debian distribution, but it takes approximately 13 minutes to load, and asks maybe two questions during the process – and you end up with a functional system for the average home user.

        Once they’ve exhausted the enjoyment out of that, then I’ll recommend SuSE, Mandrake, or one of the others. I’ve stopped recommending RedHat or Fedora – for obvious reasons.

        Slackware, to me, is about the closest to a ‘perfect’ distribution. Yes, it’s balls-to-the-wall ugly in some regards, but that’s because of the configurability. I use it for my desktop machine(s), and I also use it to run my servers. I’ve had zip in the way of issues with the servers due to software problems (hardware problems is another story) – the only software issues I’ve had on a desktop basis is hardware support. However, that exists in all of the distributions.

        Personally, I like ‘/etc/rc.d/*’ for the startup scripts. adding ‘init.d’ to that is just silly.


  6. Too many choices hurt one drink maker I read about in Forbes — Sobe, perhaps? No, wait. Snapple. Yeah, they realized folks would sit deliberating over their 100 or so flavors for minutes, then go, “Aw, hell, I’ll just have a Coke.” So they had to reduce their options drastically.

    Featurism — similar issue. Let’s make a TV with a hundred zillion options, and a remote control the size of an encyclopedia. THAT’S what consumers want.

  7. As a chemist, my naming schemes are easy, heh

    Big/heavy/loud: actinide series (workstation = plutonium (shiny grayish color case and it also tends to overheat :/ ))

    Small/portable/everywhere (i.e. laptops): hydrogen, helium, orbital

    Central home server: nucleus


    The gf’s ibook is Jotunheim, but that’s because it’s large and white.
    Said girl is also into norse mythology.

    1. Re: As a chemist, my naming schemes are easy, heh

      My computers are named after Animaniacs characters. I try to have the name match some characteristic of the computer (the firewall is named ralph, after the security guard, for example), but that’s getting hard to keep up with as I add machines.

  8. Personally I prefer Slackware Linux. It’s closer to the old style Sys-V flavor that Sun Solaris 2.x had than anything else. All the config files and executables are in the same place.

    It’s nice that Ford had a better idea, but deciding to move crap around just because you think it looks better over there doesn’t work with OS’s. This is programming, not Fen Shwea

  9. I guess that’s a difference in perception then – for the large part, in the analogy I brought up I consider all the “core features” (blinkers, headlights, etc) to be part of the kernel.

    The kernel is the OS – the rest is a [i]distribution of packages that run on it[/i]. Since this kind of thing is my bread and butter, the line between the two is clear to me, and I forget how others just view the entire thing as “the OS”, as incorrect as that may be.

    Now, it’s true – some of the distro packages are what make the system usable easily – things like USB device autodetection, etc, but in the automotive analogy I’d view that as asking “Now, can this XYZ tow my yacht? If not, what do I need to get as an optional to allow that?” 🙂

  10. Re: Clarifications on the prior entry.

    “Best” don’t enter into it. Consumers don’t buy “best.” They buy into a mixture of “best marketed,” “easiest,” and “off-the-shelf-iest.”

    Engineers make this mistake all the time, and THAT’s why the Open Source community will not be the group from which emerges the Mainstream Consumer Linux. The Open Source community believes in the “if we build it they will come” adage, which only works in Costner movies.


    1. Re: Clarifications on the prior entry.

      The software side is just following what the hardware side did 20 years ago. A commodity platform has emerged and the details are still being worked out.

      The PC took over ten years to properly standardize, from the 1981 launch through the not-really-compatibles like Tandy through the Compaq Deskpro grabbing away the market leadership from IBM, through the defeat of the micro-channel PS/2 and the rise of the PCI bus. Anybody remember the funky screws Compaq had to prevent anybody from field-servicing it, or the strange BIOS partition on the hard drive it wouldn’t boot without? That wasn’t all that long ago, but they did stop doing it.

      These things tend to work themselves out, because the people who aren’t producing what other people want are on the receiving end of cluebats until they either get it right or are rendered irrelevant…

    2. Re: Clarifications on the prior entry.

      Saying “the open source community won’t be the group from which emerges the mainstream consumer linux” is a bit like saying that Intel wasn’t the company that produced the dominant PC.

      Technically correct, but totally missing the point.

      Also, you’re talking about a commodity platform, constructed from interchangeable parts that are available from multiple sources. Red Hat, Novell, and Debian are white box manufacturers who assemble and configure those parts, just like Dell, Compaq, and Gateway on the hardware side. Expecting there to be One True Supplier you must go with either for the assembly or for a given part really does miss the point of commoditization…

  11. Security through Obfuscation is worthless in Open Source, unless you’re doing the obfuscation in your own compile. I should think this would be obvious even to Red Hat.

  12. Re my laptop (which as yet remains nameless — we don’t have a naming scheme for ‘puters at my house)….

    Oh, Howard, you have to developt a naming scheme if you have, say, more than three machines! Ours is humorous, mythical beasts from legend and/or fiction in general. Thus snark, golux, billywig, minx, grelber…

  13. I named one computer “Falcon”, after Han Solo’s ship, because I sometimes had to hit it to make it work. Loose video card or something.

    My next machine I named “Bandit”, as in “One-armed Bandit”, because I kept putting money into it without getting anything out. That name carried over to my current machine for the same reason. Things keep breaking.

    I think I’ll either name my next machine “Dell” or else maybe “I Suck at Building Computers.”

  14. Sounds like a great opportunity….

    You’ve put your finger on two of the things I like about having a naming convention for one’s machines:

    1) It helps one think of new names as needed;
    2) It allows one to encode information about the use, nature, age, etc. of a machine subtly in the name. Your name for your Firewall seems to be an example of this (though I can’t be sure, because I know so little about anime.

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