Friday, October 14, 2005

The GNU/Linux User Show #19 - Problems with Ubuntu

"I think/hope that once people make the leap and start using GNU/Linux that over time they will want to expand their choices and freedoms and will move away from the more closed distros into the more mainstream and powerful ones. But the first step is getting them into any distro of GNU/Linux.

If it takes Kubuntu - then that’s OK. My requirements are just a little higher than Kubuntu can deliver.

Oh, and I was pissed off when I recorded that bit as well. A little righteous indignation goes a long way :)"

More and more I have learned to distrust anyone who makes a formal living at "journalism", including the "tech journalists" just as much as those who are "into" politics. Maybe the constant pressure to get SOMETHING out by press time forces them to lose touch with reality, not to mention the fact that many people who choose journalism as a profession aren't that tech savvy to begin with.

I haven't yet tried Ubuntu, and was glad to hear of your troubles (poor wording there): glad that hearing of your troubles saved me my own bad experience (that's better). Having been through Suse, Red Hat, Knoppix, Lindows and even Slacklware at one time or another, I finally settled on Debian about two years ago and haven't tried anything else since. I have been tempted by all the recent Ubuntu talk though. Most tempting of all were the assurances I've heard that it is Debian based and that you could mix and match it's repositories with the regular Debian ones. (You know, if this were really true, then you should be able to take a straight Debian system and by ADDING the Ubuntu repositories and doing any upgrade, make it into an Ubuntu release without doing a fresh install. I haven't heard anyone say that this actually works though... backing up your experience).

Mark Shuttleworth (who spoke on 2005-7-14) at the most recent Debian conference (I think you can view the mpegs from seems like a nice guy and it can't hurt to have someone who is filthy rich willing to dedicate so much of his personal resources to the promotion of Open Source. On the other hand I can't help but sense that the existence of full-time salaried positions to work on something that looks a lot like Debian may be hurting the cause in the short term.

Thinking back now I remember all the "noise" for lack of a better term that was being made over getting the next official release of Debian (Sarge) out the door. I had already been using Woody on a couple of systems flawlessly, and was running Sarge, still beta (the installer) and as the "testing" release on my laptop, mostly without problems. The last thing in the world I wanted to do with these working systems was do a fresh install. One thing Linux systems lack in a big way is a method to install a totally new operating system (or even a new version) without wiping out the /home directories. I learned that the hard way a while back. So I'm always careful these days to copy /home, /etc, and a few other things off to a safe external drive whenever I do a new version of the OS. What a pain in the ass though. At what point is it safe to wipe out those "special" backups? With each new install I usually think of new ways to arrange the old files. Am I sure I have everything from the old archive? Hmmm. It's not just a Linux issue, my old Windows buddies go through the same thing. In fact they have it worse, since Windows often claims to do thing automatically for them, they are even more likely to find themselves screwed than us relatively knowledgeable Linux users are.

Which brings us to the point of some of these new distributions, Ubuntu, Linspire, Suse, that attempt to mimic the ease of use that Windows PRETENDS to have. Linux is ALREADY better than Windows in so many ways, and yet we all have friends that refuse to venture into an experimental install. Do they still call you for Windows advice like they do me? I've stopped badgering them to try Linux, I've stopped making fun of their girly-man operating system. I just tell them these days: "sorry, can't help you, I've forgotten everything I knew about Windows. Haven't booted it in months." While the truth is I haven't forgotten it all, the actual time span is now years, two to be safe, since I've booted a Windows machine. I think it's still installed on an old dust collector around here somewhere, waiting to be reformatted or consigned to the dumpster.

I give Linspire and Suse credit though, they are both great places to start for the "dumb user" who wants to use Linux and have someone to contact when things go wrong. Is support for these systems great? No, probably not, but then again when is the last time a Windows user you know actually got helped by Microsoft? If that were the case they wouldn't be calling you now would they?

My experience with Linspire (then Lindows) was exactly the same as yours with Ubuntu. I BAUGHT a copy, thinking it would be the perfect thing to give or sell to my poor Windows using friends. I just needed to use it a while first so that I could help them if they got stuck. Only *I* got stuck, and spent a lot of time trying to get unstuck, mostly without success. Things may have changed, but at the time Lindows told you that you could use their package management system or Apt-get (that I was used to) interchangeably. I did that for a while, but more and more it seemed that only Apt-get worked, and if I requested some new package from their list (which didn't seem to be available from apt-get for some reason) I would have problems. Then apt-get stopped working too. Like you, I spent a week, or more, trying to get my system working again without a re-install. By the time I gave up on it I was so frustrated that I went straight back to Debian and haven't used anything else since.

Basically, these so called end-user friendly systems (including Windows) have to limit how flexible they can be in order to remain supportable by some average-joe who answers the phone at their support center. Can you imagine being that support center person and being told that the user you are trying to help has renamed half his directories, moved things around and installed half a dozen things you've never heard of? You'd probably tell them "Have you tried re-installing Windows?" which is about all that Microsoft support is good for.

The problem that Debian will have over the years is "too many chiefs and not enough indians". Shuttleworth says they want to be big supporters of Debian by contributing back into the base, and I'm sure that is his intent, but IBM, Suse, and a lot of other folks will be contributing to that base too, and SOMEBODY is going to have to spend a lot of time merging it all together and somehow making a living at the same time. In the end, I think that Shuttleworth, and a few others with money to spend would do better to simply PAY people to do Debian work so that they could leave their day-jobs behind or not have to somehow mesh their day-job with whatever their Debian contribution was. Like the Apple OS (which I'm using at the moment) great things can be done when a money-making company takes the Open Source work built up over years and runs with it, but in the long run, if those improvements don't find their way back into a consistent, and Open product, the cycle ends there and it becomes a pretty much walled garden that only those who can, or are willing to pay can participate in, and only then, with continuing permission from the license holders.

Hopefully in the long run, companies like Apple, and even the brain-dead Microsoft will learn that owning the franchise need not require owning the building in which the product is sold. Apple SEEMS to be getting it in that their profit these days is based on the Itunes name and on downloadable content, and not the fact that their OS is based on Unix. The shift in emphasis over the next few years to how we are connected, and what we are connected to and away from our OS or what kind of PC we are running will (I hope) make the OS wars a thing of the past.

No comments:

Post a Comment