Curing GUI Phobias

Since some time I’m a happy openSUSE camper, yet often frequenting the main Fedora IRC channel. Truth be told, It was tough to decide between those two distributions as both are extremely solid and bug-free. My third choice would fall to one of the Ubuntu spins (Xubuntu or Lubuntu most likely). Eventually,  I realized I’m less and less inclined to put in that extra time to set up Arch Linux or Gentoo per self-indulgence. I know I would be able to, but why should I? I’m familiar enough with Linux to roll any distribution. It seems my impressions go hand in hand with those of Roger from Dedoimedo (http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/why-not-arch-linux.html). I’m sure he too would be able to install Arch Linux on any PC of his choosing, though again why should he?

Many modern Linux distributions are solid, finished products. You can install them on anything from a bootable USB or DVD and just get things done. That’s precisely the point. It took years, buckets of sweat and units of blood to reach that state. However, now we’re here! More so, we’ve beaten Windows, because it’s still as much of a pain to install as it used to be a decade ago. Therefore, instead of repeating the rite of passage (read: installing Gentoo or Linux From Scratch on a laptop), we should move forward. There is this wrongly placed elitism in some of us in the Linux and Unix communities (mea maxima culpa!) that if you don’t run a hardcore distribution on your shoddy PC, you’re not nerdy enough. So far from truth this be! Nerdy stuff can be done on virtually any of the mainstream distributions. You can set up servers running Ubuntu Server (duh!). You can build datacentre grade boxes with openSUSE Leap. File server on Raspberry Pi? Yup. And so on. No need to spend hours hacking the Linux kernel to squeeze out that extra 0.000000001% performance gain, thinking that alone makes us Computer Wizards. The important thing about mainstream distributions to bear in mind is that someone poured hours of their free time to assemble together the Linux kernel, utilities, a desktop environment, repositories, etc. All of this so that we wouldn’t have to do it ourselves. Isn’t that golden? Truly, we should build on that rather than shun it.

I understand this stands in stark contrast to my former preachings. I, like many others, have escaped from Windows because it was overburdened with black-box utilities and hidden system services. It was a pain to fix without bricking it entirely. However, it’s actually nice to have a pretty GUI and helper tools to simplify system maintenance. The main difference is that Linux-based operating systems are highly malleable, well-documented and can be adjusted to our liking. I realized that’s probably the main reasons I switched.

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2 thoughts on “Curing GUI Phobias

  1. i dont think theres any wisdom in the “move forward” to binary distributions until deterministic builds are are thing. and i use binary distributions– im not a gentoo guy. further, the number of architectures/compile targets seems to be increasing, which means more compiling will be happening, even if the kernel is a binary.

    your post seems to be premised on the idea that “linux is a product” and that we have enough people to maintain distributions. but where do package compilers come from? without people compiling things (including the kernel) they would miss out on experience that puts them in a position to assist distro maintainers.

    rather than tell them “this is good enough, just use this” id rather tell them “learn how to build automated distros–” in other words, ive never loved the idea of binary distros as much as things like sourcemage. not sourcemage per se, but definitely something more like it. is there really an advantage to fewer people compiling? would it make gnu/linux look better or something if everyone just downloaded their packages and shut up about compiling?

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  2. By “moving forward” I meant not spending the time on building one’s operating system from scratch by compiling everything or close to everything. We have build servers (“farms”) for that and in fact if all users build and tweak software themselves, that introduces a lot of noise (What is a software bug and what an unhandled misconfiguration? How do different library features come into play?).

    The number of architectures, at least how I see it, increases in the ARM sector. We’re going through a similar boom we had several years back with game consoles – everyone wants to make their own processor. Broadcom with its Raspberry Pi is on top right now, but ASUS and Qualcomm seem to be closing in. True, that creates an extra requirement for effective cross-compilation tools.

    Linux is a “product” in the sense that it’s an operating system (as in, GNU + Linux) with a set of programs and an accessible user interface that allows us to interact with our computer and get work done or enjoy life. People outside the open-source community often perceive it that way and that’s why they go straight for Ubuntu most of the time. That being said, we don’t have enough people to reliably cover all distribution and desktop environment projects. That’s why we still get so many bugs and that’s why I’m against aggressive project forking.

    Spending time with Gentoo and/or Arch Linux for self-teaching purposes is completely worth it. It gives a person the base necessary to understand Unix-like operating systems. However, we don’t need people to compile software unless for troubleshooting and local testing. Nowadays we have dedicated servers for that, precisely so that we can focus on more important duties like writing the software :).

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