GNU/Linux and Its Users

I decided to devote this entry to a reflection I made recently, while participating in discussions in the Facebook Linux group. I realized, as many have before me, that there is a strong correlation between the maturity and complexity of an operating system and the savviness of its users. The BSDs and more demanding GNU/Linux distributions like CRUX, Arch and Gentoo attract experienced computer users, while Ubuntu and its derivatives entice beginners mostly. As few express the need to learn the Unix Way, beginner-oriented operating systems (this includes Windows and MacOS X, of course) are far more popular. Consequently, they garner stronger commercial support from hardware and software companies as they constitute a market for new products.

The truth is, we have all been beginners once. More so, unless we’re old enough to remember the ancestral iterations of the original UNIX operating system (I’m not!), we’ve been MacOS X or Windows users way before switching to a modern Unix-like operating system. Alas, as such we have been tainted with a closed-source mindset, encouraging us to take no responsibility for our computers and solve system-level problems with mundane trial-and-error hackery. Not only is such a mindset counter-productive, but also hampers technological progress. Computers are becoming increasingly crucial in our everyday lives and a certain degree of computer-literacy and awareness is simply mandatory. Open-source technologies encourage a switch to a more modern mindset, entailing information sharing, discussions and learning various computer skills in general. The sooner we accustom ourselves with this mindset, the faster we can move on.

The current problem in the GNU/Linux community (much less in non-Linux Unix communities) is that the entry barrier is being continuously lowered as to yield a speedier influx of users. Unfortunately, many of these users are complete beginners not only in terms of Unices, but also in terms of using computers in general. With them the closed-source mentality is carried over and we, the more experienced users, have to deal with it. Some [experienced users] provide help, while others are annoyed with the constant nagging. Within us lies the responsibility to educate newbies and encourage them to embrace the open-source mindset (explained above). However, they don’t want to. They want the instant gratification they received when using Windows or MacOS X, because someone convinced them that GNU/Linux can be a drop-in replacement for their former commercial OS. They want tutorial-grade, easy-to-follow answers to unclear, badly formulated questions. Better yet, they want them now, served on a silver platter. We all love helping newbies, but we shouldn’t encourage them to remain lazy. Otherwise, we’ll eventually share the fate of Windows or MacOS X as just this other mainstream platform. I cannot speak for everyone, though I would personally prefer GNU/Linux to continue its evolution as a tech-aware platform of the future.

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On Devuan and Debian

As you probably know, I’m all heart and soul into FreeBSD. I simply love it and cannot accept anything (apart from other BSDs) that would remind me of true Unix. However, I’m also quite naive and in my naivety I again decided to look for Unix in GNU/Linux. I pondered over Gentoo, Arch Linux and CRUX, though for various reasons I realized that neither of them is a distribution I could just quickly install and get on with my life (Python coding, hardware tinkering, etc.). Then, I remembered there is Devuan, which I’ve already used some time ago and was quite satisfied with it.

One could say Devuan was founded by Debian developers who went rogue. That’s the common misconception, unfortunately. The truth is a lot less dramatic. There was a disagreement on the default init system in Debian “Jessie” and a lot of experienced Debian developers decided to exert their right to fork. “Jessie” was the first Debian version to use systemd as the init and supervisor suite. I believe it was far too early as an init system requires years to mature. Roughly half of Debian developers shared such opinion. Devuan, like former Stable “Wheezy”, uses sysVinit and tries to adhere to the Unix ideology by utilizing basic Debian utilities for system tasks. As the notion of Taco Bell Programming states, almost everything can be done with just those basic tools.

Much has been said about systemd already. Despite its presumably obvious merits, it is still buggy and the bugs tend to be quite severe. More so, it doesn’t really solve any problems other than the ones it creates. I wouldn’t want to run something as dangerous on my mission critical machines. As simple as that. It has nothing to do with trust and everything to do with perceived software stability.

Devuan, being a spiritual successor of “Wheezy”, free from the Debian reign may now grow in extremely interesting directions. As sysVinit allows the use of additional supervisors, I think a lot can be done with such flexibility (s6 anyone?). Also, it might be prime time to clean up the GNU mess of numerous overlapping tools and remove the ones that are outdated, vulnerable or lack upstream maintenance.