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Hello everybody out there using minix
April 11, 2011 5:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.

With these words, an unknown hacker named Linus Torvalds released Linux into the world, 20 years ago this year.

PS. ... It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(.

Today Linux is the most portable kernel in the world, running on everything from phones to TVs to routers. And of course when coupled with the GNU set of tools and utilities forms an operating system of unrivaled power and freedom.
posted by DU (237 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
And so did the butterfly's wings flap.
posted by tommasz at 5:16 AM on April 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


I love the first comment in the thread:

Nobody will believe you about non-portability ;-), and I for one would
like to port it to my Amiga


And Linus's response:

Simply, I'd say that porting is impossible.

Adorable!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:25 AM on April 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Seeing as my job wouldn't exist without Mr. Torvalds' little project and I'd know a hell of a lot less about programming and operating systems if I didn't have cheap access to *nix systems, I owe him greatly.
posted by octothorpe at 5:32 AM on April 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


All these anniversaries are mixing up in my brain. It turns out I've been using Linux since right after Kurt Cobain killed himself.
posted by ftrain at 5:39 AM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


In college, one of my fellow seniors' projects was setting up a network in his house (this was back when having more than one computer in your house, let alone ethernet cabling, was weird). He used Linux.

A few years later, when I wanted my then-girlfriend (on a Mac) and I (Windows95) to be able to share our 56k modem, I went to the local computer shop. The guy there said "You can do that, but you'll need Windows NT." Which cost $1000.

Remembering that student, I instead got a boatload of 1.44MB floppies and downloaded slackware. I don't think I ever got that running, but RedHat 4.x(?) worked fine and I've been Free ever since.
posted by DU at 5:39 AM on April 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I owe him greatly.

So say we all.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:39 AM on April 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


Butterfly's wings indeed. Twenty years on, open source software isn't just a movement and a philosophy, it's also a mainstay of modern computing, and while Torvalds isn't single-handedly responsible for that, he deserves a lot of credit.
posted by a small part of the world at 5:40 AM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was reading some writeups on Linux Weekly News a day or two ago, on one of the developer conferences for Linux. They were talking about (among many other things) the problems they have with writeback storage -- virtual memory, basically, where they overcommit RAM totals and then swap excess out to long-term storage. The current kernels apparently have fairly pathologic behavior under severe memory pressure.

And dear God, the solutions they're talking about are getting just insanely complex, to the point that I don't really even feel confident trying to describe them accurately. (one, for instance, involves trying to measure the bandwidth of block I/O devices, and then throttling processes that generate dirty pages too fast... the trouble there being that I/O speed is a very hard thing to characterize in a static way.) They are way, way out there on the ragged edge for what operating systems can even do; it strikes me that Linux is becoming as much a research lab as a free alternative to what everyone else has already done. They're building cathedrals now, not just a bunch of mud huts anymore. If I were Microsoft, looking at how ambitious they're getting just in their virtual memory regime, I'd be getting very worried indeed.

From my perspective, the free software stack is most impaired at the moment by the bizarre directions that the GUI teams are going in. GNOME 3, in particular, is a fucking disaster. They've disabled a huge amount of basic usability and configurability, to the point that it's become an active impediment for use by anyone who understands computers. I'd argue that it's not even better for the non-technical, because there's no path for them to ever become technical. Instead of figuring out ways to abstract complex behaviors and model them in ways that non-computer-people can intuitively understand and take advantage of, GNOME 3 is basically a giant set of horse blinders that pretends all that nasty complexity doesn't even exist. It seems to actively try to prevent you from using your computer in powerful ways. I can't imagine a poorer set of design choices for a Unix-based OS.

KDE, in the meantime, committed what's possibly Sin One in working computer systems; a total rewrite for 4. It still hasn't fully reached feature parity with 3, and it's been a nightmare of instability to get there. Further, because they didn't feel they were getting enough testers, they explicitly decided to ship 4.0, which wasn't even alpha quality, to try to trick people into using it more and submitting bug reports. They look all indignant when you say this, "We said it wasn't ready yet!", but that was in very small print. If you examine their stated reasoning for calling it 4.0 on the various mailing lists, it was explicitly to drive more users to the rewritten system before it was even vaguely ready.

So on the one hand, you have GNOME, which seems designed to cripple power users, and to make sure that no more of that nasty breed will ever, ever develop, and KDE, which has gotten so far up its own asshole that it's actively taking advantage of users to further their own project. Nevermind that many of these users are the people writing the REST of the software stack, and need a stable desktop they can trust to get that work done.... no, the KDE team's time is much more important, and their desire for new testers trumps everyone else's need for a usable machine.

So, confronted with these two very unappealing options, Canonical (the team that makes Ubuntu) has struck off in a new direction, trying to write a new interface they're calling Unity. But apparently it's not going especially well, and it's looking like the next version, at least, is going to be shipping regular old GNOME Classic.

It's frustrating to see such amazing work being done at the lowest levels, with such absolute idiocy and boneheadedness at the levels most people actually interact with directly.

There's something to be said for paid software.
posted by Malor at 5:46 AM on April 11, 2011 [39 favorites]


a mainstay of modern computing

I'm so used to rpm -Uvh and apt-get install that I'm periodically startled to realize that some people actually go to a store and buy a box full of software and that furthermore that's it. They can't upgrade it for free or modify it and it's unlikely to do exactly what they want but they will treat it like damage and work/think around it and then pay for all of it again next year.
posted by DU at 5:47 AM on April 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


About 17-18 years ago I was sitting next to a friendly 30-something geek on a plane. We got to talking & I explained I was in high school and had an already extensive interest in computers and programming and he just went nuts. He spent the entire flight excitedly espousing the virtues of this newfangled Linux thing and how I needed to jump on the wave.

Good call, random airplane geek, and thanks for the tip.
posted by empyrean at 5:47 AM on April 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's frustrating to see such amazing work being done at the lowest levels, with such absolute idiocy and boneheadedness at the levels most people actually interact with directly.

I've been using linux for a decade and I don't think I've ever touched the GUI. I still don't understand why people want to make it a desktop OS, when it kind of sucks at it, and probably always will. Linux is for servers.
posted by empath at 5:52 AM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The current kernels apparently have fairly pathologic behavior under severe memory pressure.

Oh, and don't I know it. The software I'm working on at my job right now runs on Linux, and the behaviour when you run out of memory is just bizarre. What seems to happen is that Linux (or the version we're using, at least) doesn't tell you it's out of memory - it just accepts all the memory requests even if there's none to give out, hoping that some memory will be freed before the newly-allocated stuff is used for anything.

And if it isn't, well, at that point the kernel seemingly starts terminating random processes until there's some memory available. Which is not very helpful, and means that our approach to memory management basically comes down to "never, ever let it get near the occupancy limit".

We're still using Linux because it's the best option for our product in terms of performance and maintainability, but it doesn't half have some weird stuff going on.
posted by ZsigE at 5:55 AM on April 11, 2011


I'd argue that it's not even better for the non-technical, because there's no path for them to ever become technical.

I agree about GUIs being terrible (in general, not just on Linux) but this isn't quite right. You can always open a command line. I switched my mail to notmuch (running inside Emacs, natch) and I couldn't be happier. I'm teaching my kid how to program (in Python and Scheme) but deliberately not showing him an IDE.

There's something to be said for paid software.

I don't pay much attention to the proprietary software world, but I don't understand this last line. Windows and OSX have exactly the same problems you describe: dumbed-down GUIs, only this time without a powerful, well-exercised set of tools underneath it (OSX has the Unix tools but they aren't as well-used as the ones on a "real" Unix). (Much of) Windows in particular has been rewritten from scratch at least 3 times and probably more. "Horse blinders" is exactly what Apple promises and delivers.
posted by DU at 5:56 AM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seeing as my job wouldn't exist without Mr. Torvalds' little project and I'd know a hell of a lot less about programming and operating systems if I didn't have cheap access to *nix systems, I owe him greatly.

Yeah, as a guy who works on Linux development full time, I owe him tons as well.
posted by atbash at 5:56 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seeing as my job wouldn't exist without Mr. Torvalds' little project and I'd know a hell of a lot less about programming and operating systems if I didn't have cheap access to *nix systems, I owe him greatly.

Yeah, as a guy who works on Linux development full time, I owe him tons as well.


Likewise. Funny to think that something this guy did all those years ago would become my bread and butter. Mmmmm butter.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 6:07 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Windows and OSX have exactly the same problems you describe: dumbed-down GUIs, only this time without a powerful, well-exercised set of tools underneath it (OSX has the Unix tools but they aren't as well-used as the ones on a "real" Unix).

I don't think you've actually used a Mac. It's full-bore, no-kidding BSD-flavored Unix Workstation, with a nice user environment running on top. The User Environment has built-in UI scripting, with hooks accessible in the old warhorses like perl and python and Mac-specific languages like Applescript and F-Script. It also has keyboard control of the environment thru stuff like Quicksilver, and yes, you can get do stuff from a bash shell. It's UI Done Right, and it's easy enough where Grandma can send email and print recipes from the internet with a 5 minute orientation from a patient grandkid, and learn to do more with it at her own pace. Apple's always been very, very good at that.

Apple/NeXT aside, Unix apps have always been very frustrating from a user's point of view, and Linux is no exception. There's something about the way it works that encourages feature-completeness at the expense of usability, UI development mostly just disorganized furniture rearranging, and when they do decide to pay attention to Fung Shui, they dumb it down way too much.

Jolicloud and WebOS look very promising, tho...
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:13 AM on April 11, 2011 [19 favorites]


I don't pay much attention to the proprietary software world, but I don't understand this last line. Windows and OSX have exactly the same problems you describe

Windows and OSX have the applications. As the mobile market is currently underlining in thick red pen, that's the whole ball-game. Linux doesn't have Photoshop. It doesn't haven't InDesign or Quark. It doesn't have Word or Excel. It doesn't have Lightroom or Aperture, iTunes or iPhoto, Final Cut or Avid, Cubase or Reason.

(To be fair, it has some cargo-cult imitations of some of these, but that's almost worse than having them. As are the command-line "but I use raw TeX" or "I write postscript by hand, it's easy" hoots).

If your life doesn't include any of the tasks that involve these apps, more power to you. But if it does, then Linux is far from "unrivalled" in its "power". In fact, it's close to powerless.

Horse blinders are great if you want to ride somewhere in a hurry without dealing with pointless distractions.
posted by bonaldi at 6:15 AM on April 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


(OSX has the Unix tools but they aren't as well-used as the ones on a "real" Unix).

What?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:15 AM on April 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I, too, owe my living to Linux, yet at the same time, I never really understood Linux's popularity. Once the BSD lawsuit was settled, I assumed that everyone would immediately drop Linux and switch to FreeBSD, since it was obvious (to me) that it had a much superior design, and at the time significantly better performance.

Nowadays, much of my work involves high-speed networking, and I'm struck by how much of an engineering effort all the 10Gbps vendors have put into bypassing the Linux kernel. To me, this is an obvious code smell that something is inherently wrong with Linux that needs to be fixed, but instead people continue to duct tape their kludgy fixes to what is already a bloated mess.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:15 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The User Environment has built-in UI scripting, with hooks accessible in the old warhorses like perl and python and Mac-specific languages like Applescript and F-Script

<ObTroll> But the bastards ditched HyperCard, so we can never forgive them.
posted by atbash at 6:16 AM on April 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


To me, this is an obvious code smell that something is inherently wrong with Linux that needs to be fixed, but instead people continue to duct tape their kludgy fixes to what is already a bloated mess.

Code smell or the software equivalent of a Willy's Jeep?
posted by geoff. at 6:22 AM on April 11, 2011


Nowadays, much of my work involves high-speed networking, and I'm struck by how much of an engineering effort all the 10Gbps vendors have put into bypassing the Linux kernel. To me, this is an obvious code smell that something is inherently wrong with Linux that needs to be fixed, but instead people continue to duct tape their kludgy fixes to what is already a bloated mess.

This is actually healthier than it seems - basically they're playing a short-term returns gain and the Linux networking guys are more willing to play for long term in some respects. In the short term, you can sometimes make things quicker by running a whole TCP stack on your card (It's called "TOE", for "TCP Offload Everything"). For any particular wire speed, running it on the CPU catches up fairly quickly, but by that time the super-high-performance vendors have moved on to a faster wire speed. There are some downsides, though. Not least, they generally have a worse TCP stack than the kernel in many ways - security is always a concern, and usually they're lagging pretty far behind in terms of new TCP feature compliance. But if you're running in an environment that can mitigate those things, it may still be worth it. Anyway, this is sort of a longer-term market equilibrium that's really not that weird.
posted by atbash at 6:23 AM on April 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


empath: still don't understand why people want to make it a desktop OS, when it kind of sucks at it, and probably always will. Linux is for servers.

Linux was always intended, first and foremost, as a desktop. That was the stated goal; Linus wanted a good Unix workstation on his desk.

I've often thought that "The Accidental Server" would make a wonderful title for a book on the development of early Linux. It was never really intended that way, but the early kernels were extremely robust. Even 0.9X, about when I started, was excellent. If you wrote a good solid network daemon, that box would stay up freaking forever, no matter how hard you beat on it.

Windows NT 3.51, which was its main competition in the desktop space, was just awful as a server. It was risky as hell to expose an NT machine directly to the Net, and good freaking luck doing anything high-volume with it. Blue Screen R Us. NT 4 was even worse; that redesign was mostly to speed up graphics and print by pulling the drivers into kernel space, which impaired overall stability quite noticeably. (In 3.51, if the graphic driver crashed, the system stayed up, albeit with a black screen. In 4, it was reboot time.)

So, what with everyone using Linux as a server, well, people started redesigning the kernel to do that better. One of the biggest problems with those early kernels was the Big Kernel Lock. On a multiprocessor machine, whenever one of the CPUs needed to run kernel code, it would try to grab that lock. If it got it, it would proceed into the kernel, running whatever needed running. Any other CPUs on that machine would be unaffected while running user code, but if they tried to enter kernel space, they'd be locked out until the first CPU was done.

Well, as you can imagine, this really, really put a crimp on Linux's ability to scale well; if you threw it on a quad processor box, for most server workloads it would barely be faster than a single CPU, because servers spend a lot of time in kernel space, talking to the network card(s). Because only one CPU could run kernel code at a time, you'd see only a small throughput improvement, no matter how many cores you put in the box.

A very, very great deal of the engineering effort in Linux has been slowly implementing finer-grained locking, allowing CPUs to only lock each other out of very small sections of code and for very short periods of time, and developing new techniques to do that locking quickly with minimal performance impact. In fact, it was just a couple of months ago that the Big Kernel Lock was finally excised from Linux, after 12+ years of ongoing effort.

If Linux had really been intended as a server from the beginning, they wouldn't have done a BKL. It was a server by accident. It's market forces that first pushed it there, out of necessity (because the alternatives were either insanely expensive or didn't work), and then improved it to the point that newer users can think that's what it was originally meant for.

So, it's really pretty sad seeing the weird directions that GNOME and KDE have gone. They were really good, once upon a time. They hadn't reached feature parity with Windows or Mac OS, but they were genuinely good, and getting better. But then chuckleheads took over management at those projects, I guess, and have seriously messed up both. I'd still like to see Linus get his full-featured Unix workstation that's better than the alternatives, but that doesn't look likely anytime soon. With current management of the GUIs, the Year of the Linux Desktop is receding rapidly.

But the Year of Linux In Everything Else? That's been since about 2000. You almost certainly use Linux every day, whether you know it or not.
posted by Malor at 6:24 AM on April 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


I installed Slackware on my old 486 via stiffy disk in 1997 and haven't looked back.
posted by PenDevil at 6:28 AM on April 11, 2011


ZSigE: And if it isn't, well, at that point the kernel seemingly starts terminating random processes until there's some memory available. Which is not very helpful, and means that our approach to memory management basically comes down to "never, ever let it get near the occupancy limit".

That's called 'memory overcommit' and the 'OOM process killer'. Most applications never use the amount of memory they say they'll use, so by default, Linux lies with a straight face about memory allocations.

There's some info on how to tune this behavior here. That whole article is good, and explores how memory commits work, and talks about how to write your apps to better allocate what you need. But I linked to Page 2, which has a section Tweak Kernel's Overcommit Behavior. What you're probably interested in there is Mode 2, which should much more precisely do what you want without killing random stuff.
posted by Malor at 6:32 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I built an router in college out of linux, to share the internet connection with others in my apartment. This old 386 I built the router on had a harddrive controller completely crap out on it about a year later. Couldn't log into the box because there were no home directories, and when I got around to hooking a monitor up to it, nothing but IO errors on the console. But it kept routing packets. I ran it for a few more weeks as a perfectly functional router until I had scrounged up parts to build a replacement. The ability of Linux to lose the harddrive the whole OS was installed on and not really care always impressed me. I too owe my professional career to Linux.
posted by jrishel at 6:33 AM on April 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've always wanted to try using Linux but I'm afraid I don't know anything about coding or anything like that.
posted by Fizz at 6:34 AM on April 11, 2011


You don't need to know anything about coding, Fizz -- though you will end up learning at least a little in the process.

As someone who switched from OS X to Debian only about a year ago -- and who is decidedly an end user, not a power user or even a remotely competent programmer -- I'm a little baffled by the dismissals of Linux as a desktop environment. GNOME and KDE both have problems, but (i) there are dozens of other window managers and desktop environments, and (ii) as was pointed out above, you can open up a terminal whenever you like. GNOME 2.3x works just fine for me, and I mainly do TeX authoring and word processing in addition to the usual email, web browsing, etc. -- and I enjoy doing all those things in GNOME, which is endlessly reconfigurable, more so than in OS X. Sure, the Linux graphics stack is long in the tooth, and I'm as unhappy about the new GNOME as anyone else, but those are all problems that can in principle be overcome, precisely because open source software is, well, open. It's a far better set of annoyances to have than, say, hope that Apple will give me the chance 18 months down the line to pay for the privilege of upgrading certain features, and breaking others.
posted by a small part of the world at 6:35 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Today Linux is the most portable kernel in the world, running on everything from phones to TVs to routers.

I don't know if it has taken the 'most ported' title from NetBSD yet, but surely the NetBSD kernel remains the most portable. (For reference: Linux architectures; NetBSD platforms).

I've always wanted to try using Linux but I'm afraid I don't know anything about coding or anything like that.

Buy an Android phone or an Android 3 (aka Honeycomb) tablet. There's your reasonably-usable Linux.
posted by jedicus at 6:39 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


In defense of gnome 3, I've been using gnome-shell for quite some time now, and it gets in my way slightly less than compiz or metacity did before it. But then, I'm mostly running an email client, an irc client, a web browser, and 200 gnome-terminal windows with vim (or other tools) in them.

I really do think this whole thing is overblown. I may be biased though; I have lunch with the guys doing this work pretty often, and work with them to some degree.
posted by atbash at 6:39 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


18 or 19 years ago, I was trying to decide whether to buy a CDROM drive so I could try out the Windows NT beta or download Linux at 2400 bps and rawrite it to ~20 1.44mb floppies.

Except for a brief stint at Microsoft right after college, my entire career has depended on Linux in one way or another.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:40 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


(OSX has the Unix tools but they aren't as well-used as the ones on a "real" Unix).

What?


Normal mac users don't open up a terminal and start grepping and writing bash scripts. In fact, I'd guess that 99% of mac users will never even open the terminal for anything other than diagnostic purposes. There's nothing wrong with this.

That said, it's also worth pointing out that most people assume the BSD toolset included in OS X is roughly equivalent to the standard set of GNU tools. It's not -- there are a few tools and options in GNU that are not in BSD. I've gotta say that I definitely prefer the GNU tools to what ships with OS X.
posted by schmod at 6:40 AM on April 11, 2011


I'm periodically startled to realize that some people actually go to a store and buy a box full of software and that furthermore that's it. They can't upgrade it for free or modify it and it's unlikely to do exactly what they want but they will treat it like damage and work/think around it and then pay for all of it again next year.

First, lots of proprietary software provides free updates, sometimes even feature updates. Second, lots of proprietary software allows modification with things like plug-ins, scripting, and writing entirely new programs that make use of the libraries that come with the program. Not all proprietary software is a frozen, untouchable black box.
posted by jedicus at 6:42 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've gotta say that I definitely prefer the GNU tools to what ships with OS X.

Lots of GNU tools ship with OS X. Just poking around with --version on my system I see GNU make, bash, emacs, automake, and autoconf. It's got the FreeBSD version of sed, though.
posted by jedicus at 6:45 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots of GNU tools ship with OS X. Just poking around with --version on my system I see GNU make, bash, emacs, automake, and autoconf. It's got the FreeBSD version of sed, though.

Definitely the worst bit of that equation is the terminal itself. It drives me up the wall every time I have to use it. Good thing that isn't often.
posted by atbash at 6:47 AM on April 11, 2011


Seeing as my job wouldn't exist without Mr. Torvalds' little project

Odds are it would have been done on one of the BSDs or perhaps HERD would have caught fire.

For the majority of "Linux Users" the Linux kernel is just a way to get Apache/PostgreSQL/some other tool to run - hence the push by some for GNU/Linux as the "proper" name.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:48 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Normal mac users don't open up a terminal and start grepping and writing bash scripts.

OSX is just as capable of doing any of those things as Linux or FreeBSD. That most people don't need to ever type "#!/bin/sh" means that it is a good desktop operating system.

It's not -- there are a few tools and options in GNU that are not in BSD.

And there are many things missing in a standard install of FreeBSD and Linux that are missing from most installs of those OSes. Fortunately, they all have package management where you can type a few lines and then they're magically downloaded and installed.

Look, I'm really not in some cult of superiority of a computer kernel, but I just don't understand that, these three things: OSX, FreeBSD, and especially Linux, people have more brand loyaly as cigarette smokers -- and they are about as indistinguishable from eachother as different species of great apes.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:49 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Definitely the worst bit of that equation is the terminal itself. It drives me up the wall every time I have to use it. Good thing that isn't often.

I'm curious what people dislike about the Mac OS X terminal application. I use it daily (I work as a PHP developer by day, solve crimes by night) and I've never felt like it "needed" anything. It's got tabbed windows and a customizable appearance.

Is there something out there in shell-land that's just super awesome that I'm missing out on?
posted by device55 at 6:53 AM on April 11, 2011


Windows NT 3.51, which was its main competition in the desktop space, was just awful as a server.

I believe in TIME magazine Microsoft was telling the world how "NT would be a better UNIX than UNIX" and I remember being told how HP/UX was going to be dead in under 5 years because of HP making a Microsoft commitment.

NT was $12,995 for "unlimited" connections. UNIX vendors/Netware vendors didn't care. Then NT was $250 for "unlimited" connections, later $995. And thusly file sharing was cheaper on NT than Netware. With no NFS clients for DOS/Windows that were inexpensive - UNIX didn't stand a chance.

Didn't matter much if the end product sucked, it was cheaper than Netware.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:54 AM on April 11, 2011


Netware

And then Microsoft ripped off Netware's user management, totally killing it off.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:58 AM on April 11, 2011


Apple/NeXT aside, Unix apps have always been very frustrating from a user's point of view

Then I guess you've never tried to use Access for storing lots of records. Or Excel.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:58 AM on April 11, 2011


device55: I'm curious what people dislike about the Mac OS X terminal application.

Well, it's okay for routine use, but its emulation isn't all that strong, so connecting to other machines can result in some occasional strangeness. And it captures some keystrokes it shouldn't, interpreting them locally instead of passing them through.

It's good enough for light duty, but if I need to get serious work done on a Mac, I'll usually install something like Konsole from one of the various ports systems.
posted by Malor at 6:59 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Microsoft ripped off Netware's user management, totally killing it off.

$250/$995 for filesharing for all our users VS $4995/$9995 didn't help things.

At least Novell had the cash to buy Unix. VS buying the rights to UNIX, figuring out that end users were willing to accept a re-warmed CP/M and then selling the UNIX rights off to some Operation outta Santa Cruz who charged $295 for TCP/IP, $495 for a compiler, $295 for the Computer Graphic Interface (CGI), .....
posted by rough ashlar at 7:02 AM on April 11, 2011


Yeah, Malor is right. The OSX terminal app really hasn't had the corner cases beaten out of it. Mind, the Gnome terminal had similar problems for a while, it's just that they seem to have actually bothered to fix them.
posted by pharm at 7:03 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's something about the way it works that encourages feature-completeness at the expense of usability,

Exactly my point. And that's a feature.

When the task you are designing a tool for is as simple as a nail, then a tool as simple as a hammer is warranted. When the task is more complicated, it may be that tool needs to be too. You can't just say "well, don't DO that task" or "here's how you can use a hammer to drive a screw".

It isn't enough to just make hard things easy. You also have to make impossible things possible.
posted by DU at 7:04 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Then I guess you've never tried to use Access for storing lots of records. Or Excel.

I guess you've never used Filemaker Pro or Ragtime.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:06 AM on April 11, 2011


Wow. Wearing my open is inevitable shirt to work today.
posted by humanfont at 7:08 AM on April 11, 2011


I still don't understand why people want to make it a desktop OS, when it kind of sucks at it, and probably always will.

It really really doesn't. When I try to use a non-Linux UNIX (Solaris comes to mind) I'm always frustrated by the lack of GNU tools (100 character path limits and no -z option in tar? Really, Solaris?) and many other things.

But contrariwise when I try to use a GUI-oriented OS I feel like I'm trying to compute through a drinking straw. I have 10 fingers, why is my entire interaction being funneled through a single one of them? And for crying out loud if your utility isn't scriptable via the command line, it has no utility. "Automation" that requires a human sitting there and clicking on things is worthless.

Linux is a wonderful balance of these two worlds. Power and scriptability with some sugar on top for them that want it (or for tasks that actually do require it, like viewing images). And because of the enormous repository of software, every user can pick exactly where each task falls on that continuum. Prefer to click on emails? Try thunderbird. Prefer to use a keyboard? Maybe pine or mutt. Etc.
posted by DU at 7:12 AM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I notice DU cleverly avoided choosing between calling the OS "Linux" and calling it "GNU/Linux" by referring specifically to the kernel and to the toolset separately. Nicely done. :)
posted by edheil at 7:12 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let me just say, I work designing microchips (ASICs) and, I don't know when, but Linux became the development platform for all the design tools I use, many years ago.
posted by newdaddy at 7:16 AM on April 11, 2011


OSX has the Unix tools but they aren't as well-used as the ones on a "real" Unix.

I am a big fan of OS X, but I agree that it is way behind other UNIXes with regard to tools. For instance, the latest OS X (10.6.7) still ships with GNU grep 2.5.1, which is ancient and buggy:

510 ~$ echo Dog | grep -io dog | wc -l
0


I've been bitten by old bugs in bash and cksum as well, stuff that was fixed years ago in every Linux and BSD distribution.

Also, building UNIX software (i.e. ./configure; make; make install) is a real crapshoot. Dunno if this is Apple's fault or the package maintainer's, though. (I suspect it comes down to OS X having various quirks and the maintainers not bothering to test things on a Mac.)
posted by ryanrs at 7:18 AM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Let's not forget that Linux had the advantage of some very good timing. This is ancient history now, but there was a lawsuit where AT&T sued a commercial BSD vendor, plus the BSD guys at Berkeley, and this had the effect of discouraging hackers from doing any work on the free BSD variants that were starting to appear at the same time.

The lawsuit turned out to be nothing more than an expensive distraction for everyone involved, but it provided a window that gave Linux valuable time to become something useable.
posted by daveje at 7:20 AM on April 11, 2011


Also, building UNIX software (i.e. ./configure; make; make install) is a real crapshoot. Dunno if this is Apple's fault or the package maintainer's, though. (I suspect it comes down to OS X having various quirks and the maintainers not bothering to test things on a Mac.)

More likely the latter. Most bog-standard Unix development is done on Linux these days, so we're now in the world where "everything's Linux". Not so long ago, it was "everything's Sun OS 4.x".
posted by daveje at 7:22 AM on April 11, 2011


Some of Terminal.app hate probably originates from the early days of OS X, when the terminal was complete crap. During the 10.0 - 10.1 timeframe, it was so slow, the text rendering couldn't keep up with fast typing. It was ok by 10.4 (maybe 10.3?).
posted by ryanrs at 7:23 AM on April 11, 2011


I'm always frustrated by the lack of GNU tools (100 character path limits and no -z option in tar? Really, Solaris?

The 100 character path limit is dumb, but the lack of a -z option in tar is "the UNIX way." tar is a program for handling tar files. A gz or bz2 file is not a tar file. Ergo, you should be piping tar with gzip or bzip2 or whatever rather than relying on a bit of syntactic sugar in the tar program.

(And I just noticed that OS X uses BSD tar.)
posted by jedicus at 7:25 AM on April 11, 2011


Now that I think about it, the cksum bug might have been in Solaris, not Mac OS X. Had to do with hashing the file size for files larger than 4GB.
posted by ryanrs at 7:26 AM on April 11, 2011


I guess you've never used Filemaker Pro or Ragtime.

Why would someone once you have PostgreSQL?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:30 AM on April 11, 2011


There's nothing wrong with a little syntactic sugar, as long as it doesn't remove anything. "j" is way way easier to type than "| bzip2". You can still do it the "correct" way on the rare occasions that you might need to, while getting a nice shortcut 99.9% of the time you use the program.

Purity is a stupid goal to strive for if you don't gain anything from the purity, and lose nothing by being slightly impure.
posted by Malor at 7:32 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another thing that annoyed me about OS X is that Apple copied the BSD man pages wholesale, without noting the places where OS X behavior differed. For example, on OS X, the man page for malloc used to say that malloc(N) returned a page-aligned address for N >= getpagesize(). But this wasn't true on OS X.
posted by ryanrs at 7:33 AM on April 11, 2011


The 100 character path limit is dumb, but the lack of a -z option in tar is "the UNIX way." tar is a program for handling tar files.

OK, fair enough. But the 100 character path...come on.
posted by DU at 7:41 AM on April 11, 2011


Another thing that annoyed me about OS X is that Apple copied the BSD man pages wholesale,

They are not the only ones to have done that. At least with the Linux forks that did such you could submit a change to the man page.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:41 AM on April 11, 2011


So, it's really pretty sad seeing the weird directions that GNOME and KDE have gone. They were really good, once upon a time. They hadn't reached feature parity with Windows or Mac OS, but they were genuinely good, and getting better.

I'll agree that GNOME is shit (and GTK is an unholy abomination), and the KDE team fucked the 4.x releases up at first, but give 4.6 a shot. Running it on openSUSE 11.4, it's fast, pretty, and I haven't encountered the obnoxious bugs that plagued earlier released. I think they've finally gotten it right this time.
posted by cmonkey at 7:43 AM on April 11, 2011


Speaking of things... Don't forget everyone's most loved/hated linux-based Debian distro.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:44 AM on April 11, 2011


I suspect the 100 character path limit is a limitation of the tar file format (of which there are several). The evolution and extension of the tar file format has been a fairly ugly affair, as I recall.
posted by ryanrs at 7:49 AM on April 11, 2011


I didn't start using Linux until after 1.0 was out, so I have a couple of years until I've been using it for 20. But, I still have a lot of the same memories installing Slackware after downloading disk sets (huh, do I really *need* the stuff in AP? Maybe just get the D, development I think, and compile some stuff myself.) And then switching over to a pretty early Debian (1.3, bo, I think) and spending 4 or 5 hours installing the base system because it was some slowish 486 box with only a bare minimum of memory.

I was reminded of that since I just did an install of Debian 6.0.1a inside a virtual machine and it took about 20 minutes from initial boot to a finished login prompt. Mad times we live in.

And regards to if not Linux, BSD? I'm not sure it would have happened as quickly or as completely. As much as BSD developers have griped about Linux, my guess is that BSD is more popular than it would have been otherwise. I could have seen a world where NT was able to get a much larger foothold in the late 90s and early 2000s if the world was "limited" to the free BSDs and similar OSes.

Linux has always been a very good Workstation OS, which is slightly different than desktop. There's been a lot of work on making the desktop stuff work better, by improving interactive responsiveness if you're not using it as a dedicated server. And for a lot of people (like me), having no environment like GNOME or KDE is a big win. I use a tiling window manager dwm and use GNOME and KDE as just backend frameworks for other software to use and talk to each other.

So: Yay Linux! (Even if you're not perfect yet.)
posted by skynxnex at 7:51 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to apologize to approximately everyone I spoke to in the couple of years that I though that Gentoo was a good idea.
posted by scruss at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2011 [16 favorites]


Happy anniversary to Linux then. I remember the first time I installed slackware in 2001. It wasn't easy and a lot of stuff didn't work. But it felt like home to me in a way that nothing had since AmigaDOS. And then I started using Debian and wow! Package management is such a killer feature even for a desktop. Now I use it every day on my servers, my desk top, my phone.

Cheers OS community.
posted by aychedee at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the greatest thing about Linux in 2011 is I'm not completely sure how many devices I have at home that are running it. Only one, I think, in my television. But my cable company-provided DVR box might be too. And what about... oh crap, it's everywhere!
posted by mikeh at 8:07 AM on April 11, 2011


But it felt like home to me in a way...

Oh man, this is exactly right. I was used to the Sparcs we had at school and got dumped into Windows at work after college. When I first booted up a PC and saw that X cursor on the stippled background I was like "a real workstation!"
posted by DU at 8:08 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Normal mac users don't open up a terminal and start grepping and writing bash scripts.

Nor do normal Linux users, nowadays - I've set up quite a few Ubuntu installs for folk who are happily using their computers without even knowing what a terminal is.

This is the great thing about both Linux and OS X - if you want to tinker and write scripts and such, you can. If you don't, you don't have to.
posted by jack_mo at 8:09 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


when they do decide to pay attention to Fung Shui

perhaps HERD would have caught fire.

Hey, who's been swapping the universe's u's and e's?

(Do you know what feng shui means in Chinese? It means superstitious bullshit is still superstitious bullshit.)

And really, HURD? I suppose if Linux didn't take off HURD might have gotten more development attention, but as it is HURD is still unusable.

Anyway, I didn't start using Linux until around when Redhat 4 was just getting released. It's been a long and winding road since then, but thank you Linus.

And does anybody else remember the epic Tanenbaum-Torvalds debate on Usenet back in the day? Good times, good times.
posted by kmz at 8:11 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand why people want to make it a desktop OS, when it kind of sucks at it, and probably always will.

I do end up using Windows at home since I mostly use my laptop for gaming and watching video but having a linux desktop is so much better as a developer workstation at work than Windows. My office is starting to roll out some Mac Minis as workstations but it's been very slow and there's been a lot of issues getting some applications to work (xchat, xemacs, a few others) and some complaints about X window support and some NFS issues. I plan on holding onto my Ubuntu (Xubuntu actually) as long as possible.
posted by octothorpe at 8:20 AM on April 11, 2011


Slackware 3 kernel version 1.0.13 (so I'm not at my own linux-user 20 year anniversary quite yet.) But happy birth year Linux and warmest regards to Linus and to all the others who contributed (including RMS, grumpily or no.)

> And does anybody else remember the epic Tanenbaum-Torvalds debate on Usenet

I can just hear Prof. Tannenbaum gazing out at the world where Linux is the dominant *nix-like OS and muttering "Yeah, but I was right!"
posted by jfuller at 8:21 AM on April 11, 2011


NERDS!







awesome
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 8:36 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


but as it is HURD is still unusable.

And it was unuseable for years before Linux "became".

OpenStep didn't really move 'till the Apple buyout of NeXT - so a GPL tied project can go from not much to quite a lot when held up as an alternative. LibreOffice is moving fast these days.

Odds are someone has a masters/PhD paper on why hUrd didn't go anywhere.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:37 AM on April 11, 2011


My office is starting to roll out some Mac Minis as workstations but it's been very slow and there's been a lot of issues getting some applications to work (xchat, xemacs, a few others) and some complaints about X window support and some NFS issues.

WTF?
posted by DU at 8:39 AM on April 11, 2011


And regards to if not Linux, BSD? I'm not sure it would have happened as quickly or as completely. As much as BSD developers have griped about Linux, my guess is that BSD is more popular than it would have been otherwise. I could have seen a world where NT was able to get a much larger foothold in the late 90s and early 2000s if the world was "limited" to the free BSDs and similar OSes.

In 1998 FreeBSD was really much better from the user perspective to run. Sane package management, it was easy to reconfigure options and recompile the kernel and everything was much better documented. Getting, say printing, to work in Redhat or Slackware was always a mystical procedure download new package X (oh but which version number?), battle with library dependencies for a while, attempt to glean information from cryptic man files or readme's, and pray.

Linux didn't get to be usable by the masses until big companies like HP invested in things like the printing infrastructure. Personally, I think Linux is what it is today because the big companies decided the relatively libertarian development philosophy around linux was much more exploitable.

No one wants to have an ideological argument with some arch-neckbeard from Berkeley who's not politically naive in order to get your patch into the kernel.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:40 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


GNOME 3, in particular, is a fucking disaster.

Man, you could not be more wrong about that. That UI is the best thing that's happened to Gnome in ever. If you need a legacy interface, the control, alt and F-keys are right there, go nuts.

It took me almost five years of filing bugs and begging Gnome people to get Control-T disabled as the default move-to-trash key. If you have a terminal open? C-T opens a new tab. Firefox? Opens a new tab. Clicked on the desktop, instead of a window? C-T silently moves whatever file or folder happens to be randomly selected on the desktop into the trash. Poof, it just disappears.

I've answered so many terrified calls from users for that bullshit. SO MANY. And spent so much time arguing that this isn't a sane default behavior at all, that you can't change it in any way that survives a reboot, with people who'd argue that this was a correct, sane behavior by ginning up an argument involving some imaginary "average users" they didn't give a fuck about anyway.

A big move and a clean break from a past full of that sort of legacy UI bullshit, and the concomitant legacy developer behavioral bullshit, is precisely what Gnome and desktop linux needed.

I've got quibbles about it too, but nobody gets to say "where's my font config dialog" and "I'm a power user" in the same sentence. The new Gnome UI is goddamn great.
posted by mhoye at 8:41 AM on April 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


I really wish I understood pretty much anything in this thread. I'm smart, geeky, spend tons of time on computers, and totally ignorant of Linux. I think I need a support group.
posted by nevercalm at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2011


Linux didn't get to be usable by the masses until big companies like HP invested in things like the printing infrastructure.

Except RedHat was violating the 4 clause BSD license by using the BSD lp system and not placing the advertising notice. lpr-ng wasn't funded by HP. CUPS was FAR later.

Getting, say printing, to work in Redhat or Slackware was always a mystical procedure download new package

Then you were doing it wrong. Up until CUPS it was all variations of lpr. I don't think anyone had ported the AIX printing system.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2011


For the majority of "Linux Users" the Linux kernel is just a way to get Apache/PostgreSQL/some other tool to run - hence the push by some for GNU/Linux as the "proper" name.
--rough ashlar

The majority of Linux users are probably running servers. But there are also a lot of Linux users like me: I'm typing this on my home Linux machine now, and I've never used Apache/PostgreSQL on my machine, and have no intention to.

I've always wanted to try using Linux but I'm afraid I don't know anything about coding or anything like that.--Fizz

You don't need to know anything about coding, Fizz -- though you will end up learning at least a little in the process.
--small part of the world

Unfortunately, you do need to know a few basic terminal commands. Thanks to the Gnome/KDE/Cannonical folks, Linux is going in the direction of being able to be operated entirely from a user-friendly GUI like a Mac, and if all you do is Firefox/word processing, you can get away with this. But there is still a basic culture problem. Linux users are just assumed to be smart in the low-level terminal command line level. Want to run seti@home on Ubuntu or install 64 bit Flash? You have to go to command line. Something strange happen to your machine, and you ask for help online? Chances are the advice will involve lots of cryptic command lines. If you complain they will reply "But aren't you a Linux user? You should be able to figure this out."

As a technical guy, I have no problem with this. But I'd never set up a system like this for my Mom (not unless she lived closer so I could go fix her system when required).

Like I said, it's heading in the right direction pretty quickly. But if you are not comfortable on the command line, I wouldn't recommend Linux.
posted by eye of newt at 8:47 AM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I switched to Linux last year, after having an update destroy my iPod and deciding I was through with updates designed to force planned obsolescence upon me. It's been good, not perfect, but solid enough for my general needs.

My only complaint has been that, as a non- power-user, it can be a fucking hassle to figure out how to do some things, which has more to do with Linux culture rather than the OS itself. ("Hey, here's a guide for beginners! Awesome! Wait, you just introduced me to a new command, don't throw 23 characters at me showing how the command links to 12 other commands I've seen and 11 others I haven't yet, like I'm supposed to know what the fuck that means. Can I just see the basic command first? DAMMIT.")

But otherwise, super fast, reliable, and does the basic stuff I need. I'm good with it.
posted by yeloson at 8:49 AM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Except RedHat was violating the 4 clause BSD license by using the BSD lp system and not placing the advertising notice.

When was this? Care to site a reference to a specific package that was in violation?

(I'm not saying it did or didn't happen, but I'm unaware of it, and that's strange. It certainly wouldn't have happened on purpose.)
posted by atbash at 8:51 AM on April 11, 2011


But if you are not comfortable on the command line, I wouldn't recommend Linux.

Perhaps so, but as you point out there are distros that cater to GUI-centric users, and Ubuntu is, I think, a good example of an environment in which you can learn terminal commands through baby steps.
posted by a small part of the world at 8:51 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm typing this on my home Linux machine now

And you are using something that isn't the Linux kernel to do that typing. Yes, everything you are doing passes THROUGH that kernel - but you as the end user are not interacting directly with that kernel.

You might be hardcore and using NetCat (not Linux) to connect to a web server. Odds are you are using something like FireFox (again, not the linux kernel). That graphic interface - again, not Linux - its the X Window System. (Unless its that new graphic thing that is ment to replace X)

The Debian people have their 'now with a different kernel' project - so if you opted for the FreeBSD kernel Debian thing - is that "still Linux"? Would the tools you use that you are associating with Linux magically not be there and not useable?

The only people I've seen who can claim that they DEPEND on Linux for their job are the embedded controller or the people who write code for faster trades on Wall Street. Most of the rest? You can replace the Linux kernel with something else and it would not change what they do,
posted by rough ashlar at 8:56 AM on April 11, 2011


Then you were doing it wrong. Up until CUPS it was all variations of lpr. I don't think anyone had ported the AIX printing system.

Almost certainly, but it was difficult to get any info on how to do it right with the right version of the libraries in redhat or slackware. I was working with a bunch of high school students trying to make ancient (by 1998 standards) and eclectic cast-off hardware useable.

Maybe printing isn't the best example but I always felt that troubleshooting basic problems circa 1998/9 was much saner in FreeBSD than the linux's. and 'make world' was awesome.

It's surprising to me that I'm using everyone's favorite debian derivative today instead of FreeBSD and I forget at which point userland stuff started working better in linux, but I think it was in large part due to investments by big companies in getting things to work. (plus the increasing homogeneity of PC hardware which was, of course, driven by microsoft)
posted by ennui.bz at 8:56 AM on April 11, 2011


Ah.. The memories..

Started Linux when we were downloading binary code and rawwriting it to a floppy, booting the floppy directly into a shell. Very basic stuff, and I had fun. Spent 20+ years with Intel, finishing the run as a Software Evaluation Engineer working on a Linux-based set top box that never saw the light of day.

Installed and ran nearly every distro available, but these days pretty much settled on Ubuntu (10.04). Mostly KDE, until the release of 4.x at which point I reverted back to Gnome (2.3) and haven't looked back.
posted by jgaiser at 9:00 AM on April 11, 2011


When was this? Care to site a reference to a specific package that was in violation? (I'm not saying it did or didn't happen, but I'm unaware of it, and that's strange. It certainly wouldn't have happened on purpose.)

RedHat 5. Either 5.1 or 5.2 boxed sets. I believe that was cited, along with Microsoft's blowing off of the "advertising clause" as reasons why the people's republic of B said '3 clause - cuz we havn't bothered enforcing the 4 clause so that advertising part is demonstrated as not important.'

2.0.36 of the Linux kernel had a header file in the network stack that said 'We took this file from FreeBSD and now its GPL'. The BSD licence stated, to be in compliance, you had to keep the ORIGINAL notice intact. That was not done.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:02 AM on April 11, 2011


but it was difficult to get any info on how to do it right with the right version of the libraries in redhat

It was never done well in any kind of "graphical" interface 'till CUPS. I'd swear there was an hayden or OReilly book on lp. Might have even been the documentation that shipped with 4.2 BSD.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:09 AM on April 11, 2011


The idea that Linux is meant to be a desktop workstation sortof explains why so much software apparently written for an inherently multi-user OS seems to so often assume that you're going to be installing in /usr or /usr/local.
posted by weston at 9:10 AM on April 11, 2011


I remember when I first used Linux, convinced by my freshman dorm roommate to install it. I had a 16MHz 386sx with 2MB of RAM, and a 130MB HD. Sure, Slackware took 27 hours to compile, but then when we chmod'd something we SQUEE'd.

This was in 1994, when DEC Alphas and B&W Xtubes ruled our campus network during the day, which was in turn ruled by gweepers and MUDders at night.
posted by hanoixan at 9:10 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I actually tried installing Yggdrasil back in the 1993 time frame from a CD my little company bought and paid for. It didn't go well. And I had managed to get OS2 Warp to install (but not run all that well) so it wasn't like I was a newbie. Tried again with Red Hat around 1995 or so and it was shocking how much easier it was to install and run (funny how better hardware support can make that happen). Later I went with SuSE and ran that until my old motherboard just outright died. I run the server version of Ubuntu now. Installation was a piece of cake and pretty much on par with any other modern OS.
posted by tommasz at 9:28 AM on April 11, 2011


I really wish I understood pretty much anything in this thread. I'm smart, geeky, spend tons of time on computers, and totally ignorant of Linux. I think I need a support group.

Anyone you know who runs Linux, including anyone in this thread, would be more than happy to help you install it. If you have an old machine that might be best, otherwise a dual boot or even a live CD.

Although I had a dual boot back in the day and never used it because I could also bounce over to my safety net: Windows95. I only kicked that habit but quitting cold turkey. Still, just to see what it's like you don't have to commit to anything.
posted by DU at 9:33 AM on April 11, 2011


The real story of Linux is the community. Linux was the first free OS that nerds could run easily for themselves, not just in the university computer lab but back in their dorm rooms. Previous open source projects like BSD and GNU were very institutional things, tied to the computer lab and the expensive Sun or Sequent or SGI or DEC hardware bought with research grants. A 19 year old kid could just load up 15 floppies with Slackware and pop it on the 386 he'd bought to play games with, and it worked. This accessibility enabled a whole new form of open source community and ultimately resulted in the whole Cathedral vs. Bazaar debate. BSD tried to get there but was a mess with NetBSD vs. FreeBSD vs. OpenBSD. By the time a hacker could get ahold of BSD like they could Linux, Linux had already won the mindshare.

Vaguely related to this post: Ken Thompson & Dennis Ritchie introduce Unix. A charming Bell labs marketing video from what looks like the early 70s.
posted by Nelson at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


This November will mark ten years since I finished my first Slackware installation. I installed Linux because getting caught using Linux at my high school dormitory was an offense on par with getting caught smoking.

What happened: a few years before I there, someone in the boys dorm decided to go for a full blown Linux distro installation. What happens when you check all of those boxes, hoping to play with all of the cool toys distros came with in those days, is that you install a DHCP server. That server then screamed, "I AM THE INTERNET COME TO ME," and it must have caused enough network headaches to get a rule punishing users on non-Windows operating systems added to the rulebook. The IT staff at that time wasn't the best. Ban it, problem solved.

When we saw this rule, there was a spate of Linux installations in the boys dorm. We had an us against them mentality, and Linux was yet another way to break a rule. It was hard at first, because I had to manually load the soundcard driver on every reboot because I didn't investigate how to have it autoload, but there was one big payoff…

One of the Linux power users was perusing IRC and found something interesting. So he took a copy of that interesting thing, walked over to some pour souls unlocked dorm room, and unleashed it on the school network. Nimbda tore through the school network, even causing some of the instructors who were trying to give up using paper to cancel classes for a few days. So I get to stay in my dorm and play with Linux some more? Bonus.

Not all of us stuck with using Linux, but I did see the occaisional influence of all of those installs on my friends years after graduating. I would visit friends at other college campuses and see their ex-girlfriends still using Gaim (now Pidgin) on Windows to chat with other people. It would also cause amusing moments, such as when I was mashing mplayer commands into bash to watch TV shows with my new girlfriend, and she asked me, "How do you make it come up like that?" and I answered with gusto, "It's magic, baby."

I did get caught smoking, but I never got caught using Linux.
posted by chinesefood at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


My first experience of Linux came when I worked at an ISP in '96. I bought a Red Hat 5.1 boxed set, and brought it in to show a couple coworkers who were much more technical than I was at the time.

"You bought Red Hat?"

"What's wrong with Red Hat?"

"Nothing, they're just... they're kind of the Microsoft of the linux world..."

So my first experience of open source was geek snottiness rather than warm community, and it wasn't until RH 8, I think, that everything installed smoothly for me and actually gave me a working environment in which to start learning it through normal use rather than setting some arbitrary and pointless geek goal of running my own mini-Arpanet in my house.

Now I have my own Linux server running on my home network as my goto server environment. Windows is for playing Battlefield 3 when it comes out. OS X is my workaday laptop. And CentOS is where the real work gets done.
posted by fatbird at 9:44 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the time a hacker could get ahold of BSD like they could Linux, Linux had already won the mindshare.

The first CD-ROM (and general net-wide) distribution was FreeBSD 1.0, released in December of 1993
The first Slackware release, version 1.00, was first distributed on July 16, 1993
386BSD, sometimes called "Jolix",[1] was a free Unix-like operating system based on BSD, first released in 1992.

The port began in 1989 and the first, incomplete traces of the port can be found in 4.3BSD Net/2 of 1991. It was first released in March 1992 (version 0.0) and in a much more usable version on July 14, 1992 (version 0.1). The porting process with code was extensively documented in an 18-part series written by Lynne Jolitz and William Jolitz in Dr. Dobbs Journal beginning in January 1991.

Given these dates - I'm not understanding how your claim is supportable. Because BOTH were options via the Internet and CD ROM about the same time.

Not to mention how most commentary about the 2 version of UNIX tie the mindshare back to the AT&T Lawsuit.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:45 AM on April 11, 2011


"Horse blinders" is exactly what Apple promises and delivers.

I have had no problems doing CLI work at home or on the road with my MBP, and then bringing it to our lab's Linux boxes. These "horse blinders" only exist for people who do not use Macs, I think.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:47 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


If 386BSD had been available when I started on Linux, Linux would probably never have happened. (It was, it just was incompete and somehow the Minux community would have had to had cross-polination with the people doing the BSD port)
posted by rough ashlar at 9:50 AM on April 11, 2011


I hear 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 is the year of Linux on the desktop.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:59 AM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I had been an exclusive Mac user since my first computer, which ran System 7. Shortly after purchasing it, my family fell on some hard times, so I had no choice but to cling to that little LC till it was over a decade old.

When I finally got an iMac, my excitement for the hardware was tempered by the weird "what was old is new again" vibe of OS 9. I always loved digging deep into a system to learn everything I could, but it kind of felt like everything here had been mapped out long ago.

OS X finally dropped and it blew. My. Mind. Everything about it was so pretty, so easy, so... sensible. I knew it was huge, radical shift, but only vaguely understood how much of it had to do with the underpinnings. It didn't take long, though, before I got to digging and exploring this whole new world.

The command line went from intimidating and foreign to what seemed like the most natural way to interface with a machine, "windows" and "icons" were mere abstraction. I got actual thrills out of being able to do practically anything I wanted on my home computer through a little green text box at work.

Gradually, I learned that "ssh" wasn't a Mac thing, that "Terminal," "Web sharing," and "File sharing" were also an abstraction (they were really bash, apache, and afp), and that I didn't need to spend $1500 on a Mac to use them.

Now, the nerd fantasy movie version of this story ends with me kicking my corporate overlords to the curb, putting my Macs on ebay, growing a neck beard, and cranking out kernel modules in emacs while a chiptune rendition of "Free at last" plays.

However, that's not quite the case. I tried to use Linux on the desktop, but it always lacked the polish of OS X, as well as a few particular applications.

I did, though, pull a PC off the junk-pile at work, load it up with Debian, offsource everything server-y from an aging Mac mini, and acquire a whole lot of knowledge that would become crucial to my eventual career.

I share my come-to-Linux story here because while "most Mac users" may not care about what's under the hood, I decided I would; and I came out with incredible respect for *nix-like operating systems, GNU tools, shiny coatings that make them invisible, and kernels (Linux or not) that allow you to do amazing things with them on junk-pile PC's.

It amazes me how the whole *nix crowd gets so fragmented and sectarian over the values of the kernel+OS+utilities=*nix equation.

Let us not fight about which kernel, which filesystem, which editor, which distro, or god forbid about what to call it. Let us say Happy Birthday to one major player on our one big team.

And, all together, point and laugh at the Windows users.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 10:00 AM on April 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


It would also cause amusing moments, such as when I was mashing mplayer commands into bash to watch TV shows with my new girlfriend, and she asked me, "How do you make it come up like that?"

My preferred method of watching videos is also mplayer via bash, and it drives my wife crazy. I keep telling her tab-completion is way more awesome than point-and-click for me, but she just doesn't understand.

Speaking of old distributions, doesn't anybody remember the old CD set that had several different flavors to allow you to try them out? I had a set that had Slackware, RedHat, and several others. What was that called?
posted by kmz at 10:07 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of old distributions, doesn't anybody remember the old CD set that had several different flavors to allow you to try them out?

So, this would normally be a self-link, but I understand that on Metafilter they're not cool, which I totally understand. Or is that for front page posts only? Whatever: if you're using a Mac and you'd like ALL THE LINUXES, here's how you do it.

That's right, all the linuxes.

Specifically a way to get a variety of them running in a single headless virtual machine on your OS of choice. You start with an Ubuntu .ISO and VirtualBox.

Install Ubuntu on a suitably capacious VM, make sure sshd is running and starts by default, pause it, close and quit VirtualBox. Then do two things; first, set yourself up with this script:

#!/bin/sh
VBoxManage startvm Prime --type headless
VBoxManage setextradata Prime "VBoxInternal/Devices/e1000/0/LUN#0/Config/guestssh/Protocol" TCP
VBoxManage setextradata Prime "VBoxInternal/Devices/e1000/0/LUN#0/Config/guestssh/GuestPort" 22
VBoxManage setextradata Prime "VBoxInternal/Devices/e1000/0/LUN#0/Config/guestssh/HostPort" 2222
VBoxManage setextradata Prime "VBoxInternal/Devices/e1000/0/LUN#0/Config/guesthttp/Protocol" TCP
VBoxManage setextradata Prime "VBoxInternal/Devices/e1000/0/LUN#0/Config/guesthttp/HostPort" 8080
VBoxManage setextradata Prime "VBoxInternal/Devices/e1000/0/LUN#0/Config/guesthttp/GuestPort" 80


(My VM's name is "Prime" in this example, to clarify. Yours may not be.)

Then read this article by Ted Dziuba about running several versions of Linux, simultaneously and non-virtualized, on the same machine. It's pretty cool, and that should eventually set you up with all the linuxes, should you happen to want all the linuxes.

From that you can "ssh -X localhost -p 2222" for Ubuntu and schroot between the whatever other linuxes you desire. You can even fire up kdm or gdm if you're feeling particularly ambitious, just to try them out, running in parallel with OSX's window manager, on the same hardware, on the same screen.

Cool, eh?
posted by mhoye at 10:12 AM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, this would normally be a self-link, but I understand that on Metafilter they're not cool, which I totally understand. Or is that for front page posts only?

It is. Self-linking is OK (and in some cases awesome) in comments if it's on topic.
posted by weston at 10:17 AM on April 11, 2011


It took me almost five years of filing bugs and begging Gnome people to get Control-T disabled as the default move-to-trash key.

I wonder if this has anything to do with Firefox trashing bookmarks when you right click on them and then hit either control-T or just "t." So annoying!

I also remember installing linux on a 386SX in about 1993. We delighted in making the fonts incredibly small to fit more text on our CRTs. Once every few years I will burn a linux boot CD and try it out again, but for my day-to-day stuff regretfully I need to run Microsoft's OS.
posted by exogenous at 10:33 AM on April 11, 2011


Ken Thompson & Dennis Ritchie introduce Unix.

And rms cracks a joke in the background!

My preferred method of watching videos is also mplayer via bash, and it drives my wife crazy.

Hell yes, although I use vlc now. But how are you driving your wife crazy with it? Is this on your TV or is she sitting next to you at the computer or what?
posted by DU at 10:45 AM on April 11, 2011


In the mid '90s there was a service which would send you Linux install CDs by mail. $4.99 for shipping, handling, and materials, and worth every penny - like many others here, I owe my career to early Linux experience. Messing around with compiling your own kernel was a lot less scary with a 2-hour reinstall process off of a CD than a 7-hour one off of floppies (several of which would inevitably be bad and need to be rewritten).
posted by yomimono at 10:49 AM on April 11, 2011


Is this on your TV or is she sitting next to you at the computer or what?

We catch up on TV shows on my laptop once in a while.

And I finally figured out that CD set after much Googling: Infomagic! Which then just leads me on a nostalgia trip to sunsite.unc.edu, which reminds me of wuarchive.wustl.edu, and before that it'd be back to Gopher and wiretap.spies.com.
posted by kmz at 11:00 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm fairly new to linux, having come across Ubuntu when lifehacker declared 8.04 the best thing since sliced bread while it was still in beta. I've been using it since, and the truly wonderful thing for me is that Ubuntu gave me a fairly gentle learning curve up to a point where I'm now comfortable taking just about any old box, sticking an appropriate linux distro on it, and making it do something interesting.

That I can do that for no money at all, and build something that I can cheerfully find a genuinely appreciated use for either at home, or via donating it to family or friends is just heavenly. That it came after 10 years on the "apple updates fuck your old apps but the new versions of the apps need the new os, and the new os won't work with your old hardware so you have buy a new machine" merrygoround and then a further ten years in the "your windows machine is infected with the latest Bulgarian malware, there is nothing we can do except reinstall the system" pit of despond just makes it all the sweeter.

The sugar for me.. Discovering, and I mean really discovering and learning to the core of my being, that when people work together as a community to make something better, it gets better. Eg. When Ubuntu releases a version too early, and it's buggy, there's hundreds of people working on pinning the bugs down within a day or two, there's workarounds several days later, and they're generally fixed within a month. Because I, and a whole lot of other people with funny names from all around the world, made it so.

I don't think I could have half as much fun helping to build a cathedral in the middle of a bazaar, but sometimes I feel like I'm doing both..
posted by Ahab at 11:08 AM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Man, if anyone organizes a Mefi Linux meetup in the Bay, I'd be really down to check that out. (or, if anyone feels like handholding a newbie, memail me.)
posted by yeloson at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2011


Hey, Mr. Anthropomorphism, thanks! Yet again when in the blue, I get agitated to want to say something, and somebody goes and says it better than I could. Yay Unix team! Go Linux! Thanks, Linus! Go MacOS X and NetBSD! (solaris can sit in a corner though, IMO)
posted by dylanjames at 11:31 AM on April 11, 2011


I will be perpetually grateful someone else went in and named it "Linux" instead of "Freax".
posted by NoraReed at 11:35 AM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't want to start a holy war here, but what is the deal with you Linux fanatics? I've been sitting here at my freelance gig in front of a Linux box (a Core i7 with 4 gigs of RAM) for about 20 minutes now while it attempts to copy a 17 Meg file from one folder on the hard drive to another folder. 20 minutes. At home, on my old Celeron running Vista, which by all standards should be a lot slower than this Linux box, the same operation would take about 2 seconds. If that.

In addition, during this file transfer, Firefox will not work. And everything else has ground to a halt. Even Lynx is straining to keep up as I type this.

I won't bore you with the laundry list of other problems that I've encountered while working on various Linux boxen, but suffice it to say there have been many, not the least of which is I've never seen a Linux box that has run faster than its Wintel counterpart, despite Linux' faster chip architecture. My old Celeron M with but a gig of ram runs faster than this quad-core machine at times. From a productivity standpoint, I don't get how people can claim that the Linux is a superior OS.

Linux addicts, flame me if you'd like, but I'd rather hear some intelligent reasons why anyone would choose to use Linux over other faster, cheaper, more stable systems.

(sorry, had to do it)
posted by daniel_charms at 11:52 AM on April 11, 2011


If only somebody had done the same for GIMP...
posted by kmz at 11:53 AM on April 11, 2011


daniel_charms: You need to hit the Turbo button.
posted by kmz at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've been sitting here at my freelance gig in front of a Linux box (a Core i7 with 4 gigs of RAM) for about 20 minutes now while it attempts to copy a 17 Meg file from one folder on the hard drive to another folder. 20 minutes. At home, on my old Celeron running Vista, which by all standards should be a lot slower than this Linux box, the same operation would take about 2 seconds. If that.

Perhaps you'd be happier with FreeBSD where a move of a directory (mv name1 name2) is 'bout as fast as you hit enter.

Perhaps the problem is you actual folders and not directories?
posted by rough ashlar at 12:05 PM on April 11, 2011


Malor: It's frustrating to see such amazing work being done at the lowest levels, with such absolute idiocy and boneheadedness at the levels most people actually interact with directly.

There's something to be said for paid software.


Yes -- there are bad things to be said for paid, commercial software. If we were talking about paid software, there wouldn't even be community pressure to make good decisions. It'd be determined by fiat from on-high by businessmen and managers according to strategy and what they think customers want. Which gets us stuff like iPods being difficult to use with transfer systems that aren't iTunes, Apple making the next version of OSX purposely more iOS-like, all the problems with Windows Vista, and so on. At least with GNOME and KDE, people can fork old versions and resume from there.

empath: I still don't understand why people want to make it a desktop OS, when it kind of sucks at it, and probably always will.

I have installed Ubuntu Linux on two computer systems now for friends who are the most basic level of computer users. They love it. I'd be using it myself if I didn't need to run some programs on Windows. Thus I refute you.

Ahab: The sugar for me.. Discovering, and I mean really discovering and learning to the core of my being, that when people work together as a community to make something better, it gets better.

Linux is the light of the world, the best counter example to the folks who say competition is the way to do anything. It took operating system design off the high Smart People Shelf and handed it to the masses. Of course most of the masses still don't care about it, but those who do, can.

In the mid '90s there was a service which would send you Linux install CDs by mail. $4.99 for shipping, handling, and materials, and worth every penny - like many others here, I owe my career to early Linux experience.

Until recently, Canonical would do this for free.

mhoye:
Self links are okay in discussion threads so long as they are relevant.
posted by JHarris at 12:06 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never seen a 17MB copy take anything close to 20 minutes on any operating system. Something is wrong with your hardware, I'm guessing.
posted by DU at 12:10 PM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


It'd be determined by fiat from on-high by businessmen and managers according to strategy and what they think customers want.

You know, people making software according to what they think I want has worked, so so much better for me than people making software according to which zealot wins the fight in a bug tracker. Light of the world? Sheesh.
posted by bonaldi at 12:13 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Linux is the light of the world, the best counter example to the folks who say competition is the way to do anything.

Linux doesn't compete with windows and osx?
posted by empath at 12:17 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know, people making software according to what they think I want has worked, so so much better for me than people making software according to which zealot wins the fight in a bug tracker. Light of the world? Sheesh.

Thankfully, that's not how most open source software is made, either.
posted by atbash at 12:17 PM on April 11, 2011


I'd rather hear some intelligent reasons why anyone would choose to use Linux over other faster, cheaper, more stable systems.

But Linux on one my notebooks is faster and cheaper and stable over Windows or a hackintosh version of Mac OS X. So that's reason enough.

Experience with different hardware and operating systems varies wildly and what you describe is not typical.
posted by juiceCake at 12:22 PM on April 11, 2011


Linux doesn't compete with windows and osx?

In some ways I guess, but it's always felt to me like Linux were operating on a different plane. Red Hat, Mandrake, Canonical, they compete with Microsoft and Apple, but Linux is a thing that transcends all of them.
posted by JHarris at 12:24 PM on April 11, 2011


(Or whatever Mandrake is called now. Mandriva isn't it? Man they fell off the radar so quickly.)
posted by JHarris at 12:24 PM on April 11, 2011


but Linux is a thing that transcends all of them.

Yes, and Linux is also a soap and toothpaste

laundry detergents and laundry bleaches for home use[; all purpose cleaning preparations for home use; general purpose scouring powders; skin soap for personal use; perfume; essential oils for personal use; preparations for personal hygiene and cosmetic purposes, namely, hair shampoo, skin toners, shower gel, skin lotions; hair tonic and toothpaste]
posted by rough ashlar at 12:34 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


What surprises me about Linux is just how many people out there are willing to code for free. I really wonder who these people are. I write code for 8 hours a day, and that's really all I want to do. I have hobbies, and none of them involves spending more time digging through documentation and staring at a screen.

But, you know, thanks!

And for those of you who need a reason why Linux is better in practice and not just for political / ideological / nerd reasons, my go-to answer is installing and updating software.

In modern linux systems, you select software from a menu (much like an app store, only everything is free) and one button installs it. There's no license to agree to, three or four "next" buttons to click through, or anything like that.

Even better, when it's time to install security and feature updates, a single command simultaneously updates every single piece of software installed on your entire system. And 95% of the time (basically in all instances other than kernel updates) you do not have to restart.

Why OS X, a UNIX in some sense or another, requires a 15 minute download and install followed by a reset every week or two is beyond me. And that's just for Apple software, to update most other software you have to go to the vendor's website, download a .dmg, mount the virtual disk, run the installer or drag the app into the Applicaitons folder, unmount the disk, and eventually delete the .dmg. If you're used to doing things the Linux way, this all feels unbelievably primitive.

OS X is for Adobe products and Windows is for Office and games and consultant-ware. For just about everything else, Linux is king.
posted by keratacon at 12:37 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I tried to get Linux running on some fairly modern PC hardware in the mid-late 90s. Soon found out that whether it worked or not was a matter of chance, and that chance always went against me. Also found out that all of the Linux experts I knew were red-hot on their own particular hardware combo, but not so useful with anything else.

Today... don't use anything else, except when I have to. I don't rightly understand the UI wars, as it and Mac and Windows all seem just about as usable as each other, not that it matters when everything lives at the end of a browser anyway.

Annoyances: FOSS devs can be awkward buggers, and there's no talking sense or compromise to some of them. There's a marked reluctance to leave well enough alone, and some remarkable baroque constructions where you just want a light switch.

Pleasures: It's free. Nobody is trying to sell me anything. If I install VLC it doesn't try to move me to a music store, push its DRM'd content or do anything other than what I wanted it to do. I don't have to worry about how to remove seventy seven pre-installed bits of crapware, I don't have to register, become a Genuine User, or battle with some monstrous lump of bloatware that Wants My Wallet.

Also, it works, it's fast, it's reliable and it's now good enough I can lock it down and give it to my completely a-technical relatives and walk away.

Good enough. Let's move on.
posted by Devonian at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never seen a 17MB copy take anything close to 20 minutes on any operating system. Something is wrong with your hardware, I'm guessing.

Obviously, it's because it's a Mac.

posted by daniel_charms at 12:41 PM on April 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why OS X, a UNIX in some sense or another, requires a 15 minute download and install followed by a reset every week or two is beyond me

Never got around to plugging memory leaks? malloc leaks got solved back in the mid 1980's during the great OS wars.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:42 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously, it's because it's a Mac.

Ha, I was just about to comment wondering if your comment was meant to be taken seriously. I immediately assumed it was a joke/parody of some sort.
posted by kmz at 12:43 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I immediately assumed it was a joke/parody of some sort.

I was guessing some horrid GUI combined with not understanding the difference between a hard drive and a USB 1.0 memory stick/a failing hard drive where its auto-correcting and remapping sectors.

Cuz ppl writing horrid GUI tools is common.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:48 PM on April 11, 2011


Too true. Though as people were taking his comment seriously my first instinct was something like a misbehaving NFS mount. God, NFS. It's useful but when it blows up it blows up real good.
posted by kmz at 12:51 PM on April 11, 2011


I hear 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 is the year of Linux on the desktop.

It's been the year of Linux on the desktop since at least Ubuntu 9. People use OSes for lots of reasons other than plain useability: specific software, available hardware, device compatibility, knowledge, familiarity, inertia, and all the wide range of human preferences. Also, Microsoft helped preserve some of Windows' userbase when they finally started getting their act together with XP (although they then lost some of that with Vista).

But those factors are not what people generally think of when they ask if Linux is ready for the desktop. The primary image is of a mass exodus of people migrating towards the One True Way, when really it ends up looking exactly what we have now: people find out about it, people try it out, some people like what they see and don't switch back. Not a flood, it's more like osmosis. It's hard to say for sure but Linux probably has comparable install numbers to OSX, if not higher; there are no stupid computer tricks being pulled to restrict it to running on only one kind of hardware.

I've said here for some time to anyone who'd listen (and I should probably stop), in the form of Ubuntu, it's ready. Not as a server, as an everyday desktop. For some purposes (not getting infected by malware from accidentally visiting The Wrong Website) it's much better than Windows. If you don't want to use it that's fine, but it's there if you want it, and it is every inch as capable as an OS as Windows or OSX.
posted by JHarris at 1:01 PM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Obviously, it's because it's a Mac.

That is great. Obscurity does not last long on the Interwebs.
posted by juiceCake at 1:02 PM on April 11, 2011


It's been the year of Linux on the desktop since at least Ubuntu 9. .... I've said here for some time to anyone who'd listen (and I should probably stop), in the form of Ubuntu, it's ready.

Don't worry, the goal is to break things by switching the graphics from the X Window System to the new thing. It'll be like changing the sound subsystem - but like a technocolor yawn.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:06 PM on April 11, 2011


I'd rather hear some intelligent reasons why anyone would choose to use Linux over other faster, cheaper, more stable systems.

Well, for me, it's in no small part because my experience has been very different than the one you're describing. The PC I used at my first internet job ran faster with Linux on it than it did with Win 95. Ubuntu performs *much* better on my Dad's machine than the Windows XP Home install was performing when he asked me to help with his virus fears and dog-slow-never-ending-disk-grinding frustration fest.

This doesn't make your experience invalid, nor does it mean Linux gets everything right or that it's always the right choice. Personally, I usually choose OS X and sometimes I choose Windows for various tasks. YMMV. But I'd say the experience you're describing with Linux is probably out of the ordinary.
posted by weston at 1:10 PM on April 11, 2011


My Unix/Linux story:

In the early '90's I was working as an electronics tech at a place that made CCD cameras (before everything had a CCD camera in it and CCDs cost $10k) when the PTB wheeled a Sun box into my test area. I was pretty heavy into DOS and BBSing at the time having "upgraded" from C/PM.

I was supposed to learn how to test cameras with the Sun. I was shown how to start it, log in, run the test software and shut it down.

I started playing with the "at" command for some reason, following instructions out of the man pages. I gave up after a while after I couldn't get it to work. I shut the machine down and went home.

The next day, when I started the machine up and I logged in, I had mail!

On a machine without a modem or network connection, the friggin' OS had left me mail, telling my why my "at" commands had failed.

That blew my mind.

It wasn't until '96 or so that I got a copy of Linux and had a machine capable of running it (in 91-94 time frame, I couldn't afford a '386; I was running DOS on a '286 "Bullet" board)

The first time I saw Linux come up on that '486, I was giddy with joy. No fluffy white clouds or happy computer faces, but text, scrolling up the screen, telling me what the computer was doing!

Awesome.

Nowadays, all my computers run Linux. Ubuntu on the laptop and HTPC and Fedora on my desktop where I do photo editing, graphics (gimp, inkscape & geeqee), make audio mixes (audacity and xmms), edit video (cinelerra & kino) and do web development, LAMP-Stack, baybee!

And yes, I sometimes play movies with mplayer by typing commands in an Eterm (E16 over Gnome).


Life is good. Thank you Mr. Torvalds!
posted by mmrtnt at 1:11 PM on April 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I got access to a Xenix multiuser box (this was a 386 version of SysV Unix that was half SCO and half Microsoft). It officially ran our accounting system, but what it really ran was hunt the wumpus, rogue, and nethack. After that job withered away, I found myself working at an interactive shop, and trying to piece together a web server- back then, you had to decide whether to run the CERN or NCSA codebase; apache ("a patchy server") came into my consciousness a few years later.

A buddy of mine showed up with a stack of 75 floppies, and we were grooving along with Slackware. The install failed somewhere between floppy 43 and 44 every time- took us a good week to get it installed. When we finally got it going (split our connection with the internet cafe next door), we were actually able to start building and hosting sites for money. Built a bunch of sites, learned perl, then Java, and kept going.

Linux has been my server since 1995, but it's been my full time desktop since 2005. I may have been a bit of a neckbeard, but I have photoshop CS5 running perfectly (Yay wine!), I can host powerful databases and development environments, I can play minecraft, I can watch movies, I can watch baseball games. I don't know what the heck else you want to do with your machine that you can't do today in Linux, and mostly for free- and if you don't like how it works, I don't think there's much that you can't just change with a minute's worth of googling.

I also still play a little nethack when time permits. Thanks Linus!
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:32 PM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


What surprises me about Linux is just how many people out there are willing to code for free

Actually, these days a lot of those people work for companies who are prepared to pay people to give code away, as long as everyone else has to do the same. The (L)GPL has been a big win there.

And BSD? BSD lost because of the limited support and snotty attitude. The Linux world wanted people to like it. The BSD world was above the peasants. An attitude which has largely persisted, I might add.
posted by rodgerd at 1:36 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


What surprises me about Linux is just how many people out there are willing to code for free. I really wonder who these people are.

These days most new Linux code (i.e. the kernel specifically) is written by paid developers, many of whom work for large corporations. Lots of other major free & open source projects have paid developers as well. It's not all altruistic hobbyists working in their spare time.
posted by jedicus at 1:56 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


In modern linux systems, you select software from a menu (much like an app store, only everything is free) and one button installs it. There's no license to agree to, three or four "next" buttons to click through, or anything like that.

I always seem to end up in dependency hell following this method. Honestly, I've never understood the objection to application bundles. The nice thing about them is that because they're relatively self-contained, they can be dragged anywhere you want them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:05 PM on April 11, 2011


BSD lost because of the limited support and snotty attitude.

Last time I saw numbers for FreeBSD installs VS others - it was in the top 5 with RedHat being #1. Being in the top 5 of the universe of open source OSes is only a loss in an absolute sense.

And as I remember, there was hardware that ran on FreeBSD and not Linux - so "limited support" depends on the observer. Video capture via a Maxtor card to be specific.

BSD had far less pissed down the rathole of market capitalism than the various forks of the Linux kernel.

How much was spent by Turbolinux, Caldera, Suse, Redhat, VA Research and even Walnut Creek via Slackware to hire PR people to tell people about how wonderful this "linux" stuff was? To the point where people confuse Apache and call it their "linux web server" (no your web server is Apache) or "thank Linus" for the ability to play nethack. (when nethack's authors are responsible for the ability to play nethack)

The money "lost" with many of the IPOs is epic. Of the above IPO list - how many are left?

(I thought about Transmeta but then that expands "linux" into other places that is not a pure OS play and VA Research was a stretch but also had a very large gain. )

The Linux world wanted people to like it.

That is what marketers do. Giving away CD's and throwing parties with IPO money will have others "like" you. It seems to have worked for plenty of people.

Meanwhile Linus on Linus I’m a bastard. I have absolutely no clue why people can ever think otherwise. Yet they do. People think I’m a nice guy, and the fact is that I’m a scheming, conniving bastard who doesn’t care for any hurt feelings or lost hours of work, if it just results in what I consider to be a better system. And I’m not just saying that. I’m really not a very nice person. I can say “I don’t care” with a straight face, and really mean it.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:08 PM on April 11, 2011


or "thank Linus" for the ability to play nethack. (when nethack's authors are responsible for the ability to play nethack)

Whoa, settle down there Richard Stallman- as I said upthread, I was first playing nethack on Xenix. (And I've played it on my BSD-based phone, how cool are the times we live in?). I'm thanking Linus for his efforts in creating a system that met my personal needs and let me exercise my personal creativity- and earn my daily bread. This doesn't mean that the *BSD's aren't worthy- I'm thankful for them too, as I get to screw around on my OSX box and have just as much fun. I don't see why so many folks regard operating systems as a zero sum game.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:20 PM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's hard to say for sure but Linux probably has comparable install numbers to OSX, if not higher; there are no stupid computer tricks being pulled to restrict it to running on only one kind of hardware.

Usage share of operating systems
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:31 PM on April 11, 2011


operating systems as a zero sum game

The word "linux" has meaning as:
1) Soap/toothpaste
2) A kernel
3) an operating system
4) anything that touches a linux kernel gets called Linux

1) is the observation of a large amount of money being spent creating a brand and trying to leverage that.
2) no arguments
3) Subject to ones POV. RedHat, Debian and even I with GNU/Linux
4) Look in this FPP - one can see people refer to Apache as a "linux web server"

4 is a nice place to be branding wise - someone elses work and your brand gets to take credit.

(and if one is using X version of an OS that means some other OS isn't running in that spot so on an atomic scale it is zero sum)

BSD-based phone

*raises eyebrow*

Which one is that?
posted by rough ashlar at 2:34 PM on April 11, 2011


Blazecock Pileon:
That site sources either Microsoft guesses or web agent strings. In that Wikipedia article's own words: "Information about operating system share is difficult to obtain. In most of the categories below, there is no reliable primary source or methodology for its collection." The rise of netbooks, coupled with Linux's increasing visibility on power user sites such as Lifehacker, leads me to suspect that the Linux share is a bit higher, not greatly higher but maybe a couple of percentage points, than represented.

rough ashlar:
>>BSD-based phone
*raises eyebrow* Which one is that?

iPhone. It's based off of OSX under the hood, which is in turn based off of BSD.

Meanwhile Linus on Linus: I’m a bastard.

He has to be really, he's a project maintainer. The buck has to stop somewhere.
posted by JHarris at 2:49 PM on April 11, 2011




Why OS X, a UNIX in some sense or another, requires a 15 minute download and install followed by a reset every week or two is beyond me.

Your experience is atypical, e.g.:

Sounder:~ bp$ uptime
14:48 up 42 days, 5 mins, 3 users, load averages: 0.35 0.32 0.26


And that's just for Apple software, to update most other software you have to go to the vendor's website, download a .dmg, mount the virtual disk, run the installer or drag the app into the Applicaitons folder, unmount the disk, and eventually delete the .dmg. If you're used to doing things the Linux way, this all feels unbelievably primitive.

If you want to, you have the choice of installing fink and darwinports to download, install and maintain packages in almost the exact same way you would run a command-line Linux package manager. Or you can download and compile open source software, if you want to do it by hand.

What's nice is that OS X gives you the choice of what software you want (including high-quality commercial software that will never be on Linux) and how you want to install it.

OS X is for Adobe products and Windows is for Office and games and consultant-ware. For just about everything else, Linux is king.

In my experience, Linux is great for running daemons, not so great for much else. Resolving dependencies is so painful on Linux. The desktop options are not very refined. Getting Linux to work on a laptop can require an endless series of kludges. Etc. etc. Stuff just works on OS X — the computer gets out of the way and lets me be productive.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:02 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know what the heck else you want to do with your machine that you can't do today in Linux

Stream Netflix. :-(
posted by jcreigh at 3:06 PM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stream Netflix. :-(

That's fair. Although Amazon VOD works fine.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:08 PM on April 11, 2011


Resolving dependencies is so painful on Linux.

Not if you have a decent repository. I've had trouble with that in the past certainly, but, and I hate to sound like I'm beating the Canonical drum here, these kinds of problems just don't seem to occur on Ubuntu. Apple would do well, I'd think, to adopt that style of repository-based package management officially for OSX. Except that might make their business model of making everyone buy the OS anew every three years seem a bit more tenuous.

The desktop options are not very refined.

I'll admit there are some features that are exposed on OSX's interface, like what they call "services," automation and labels, that are interesting. But I've never actually used them for some reason.
posted by JHarris at 4:20 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounder:~ bp$ uptime
14:48 up 42 days, 5 mins, 3 users, load averages: 0.35 0.32 0.26


You're probably not doing all your patches. There was a recent reboot-required OS X patch... 12 days ago, by my uptime.

Honestly, one reboot per month or so for patches isn't so bad, and I think the Linux kernel gets updated on most distros at least that often. It's got tons of features, but gets lots and lots and lots of patches. OS X has an annoying habit of requiring reboots even for things like iTunes, though, which indicates to me that they haven't really thought their way through the problem completely. On Linux, short of a kernel update, about the worst you ever have to do is a logout/login cycle. (like, say, if they patch X or your window manager, which does not happen often at all.)

There is kind of a cool service out called 'ksplice', which will actually patch a new kernel in over a running one without rebooting the box. But you have to pay for that, and I've never bothered. If your machines can't take five minutes of downtime once in awhile, your systems are architected wrong, full stop.

In my experience, Linux is great for running daemons, not so great for much else. Resolving dependencies is so painful on Linux. The desktop options are not very refined. Getting Linux to work on a laptop can require an endless series of kludges.

I don't know when the last time was that you really seriously looked at Ubuntu, but as long as you avoid ATI graphics, laptops most frequently work well out of the box. You can still find problem children, but you have to almost work at it these days. This is an area that Ubuntu has really, really improved things. It's not typically quite as polished as a Mac, but an extra hour or two on initial system setup is a tiny time investment compared to the amount of time you'll be using the box. If you can't find a Mac that has hardware you want, you're SOL; with Linux (or Windows) you can usually choose what you want and expect it to work.

NVidia graphics also require a separate download of the binary driver from NVidia for best performance. Ubuntu prompts you through this automatically, so it's not like you need to know much about it. They can't legally ship the closed-source NVidia driver with GPL software, so they have to separate the download, but it's about as easy as it gets from there.

Macs, as you observe, typically require no fiddling, but that's not useful if their chosen product offerings don't suit your needs. If you fit into their product matrix, it's an excellent experience, but not everyone does. And again, an extra hour or two of setup and tuning, compared with the many thousands of hours you'll probably be using the machine, shouldn't be a dealbreaker for most folks. I always spend at least that long on a new Mac install adding all the software that comes with a Linux box anyway.

I dunno what you're on about WRT dependencies. That hasn't been a problem in many years, and it's never really been much of an issue in Debian-based systems....Ubuntu is one of many derivatives of that base.

There's plenty of room for criticism of Linux in general (the sound and graphics layers, f'r instance, are both kind of a mess), and Canonical in particular (they ship too soon and release hurricanes of patches), but the stuff you're talking about sounds like five or six years ago. And despite the underlying technical issues in the ancient-beyond-imagining X Windows, the actual end-user experience is pretty darn good.

Saying it's only good for running daemons is flatly silly... after all, look at this thread full of people demonstrating otherwise.

I will, however, say this: if you have recent experience with Fedora.... ye gods, that is horrible stuff. Probably runs fine once you get it going, but what a nasty, poorly thought-through desktop. I recently tried it out on a lark, and ended up slightly horrified. Ubuntu is so much better. If you want a graphic example of just how much polish work has been done, run through installations on both distros. Fedora looks like what you're complaining about.... Ubuntu really, really doesn't.
posted by Malor at 4:24 PM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


NVidia graphics also require a separate download of the binary driver from NVidia for best performance.

Just to chime in on my experiences installing Ubuntu on a few different machines, another frequent problem is wireless cards that require special driver support. They also show up in the Restricted Drivers applet, which would be fine, except for the chicken-and-egg problem of needing to download drivers to get networking to work. I keep around an old USB wireless device that works out-of-the-box on Ubuntu just for such situations.
posted by JHarris at 4:38 PM on April 11, 2011


BP, I suspect that whatever distro you were using where you ran into dependency handling issues, it wasn't Ubuntu/Debian. Hell, as a newbie Ubuntu user, I happily went through everyday userland experiences for months before I even encountered missing dependencies, or even knew about the concept.
posted by a small part of the world at 4:44 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


rough ashlar wrote: "The only people I've seen who can claim that they DEPEND on Linux for their job are the embedded controller or the people who write code for faster trades on Wall Street. Most of the rest? You can replace the Linux kernel with something else and it would not change what they do"

I depend on KVM, which is Linux-only at the moment. I also depend on specific features of the Linux kernel's IP stack at work. Maybe you don't. That's perfectly fine. A lot of us do.

Now, on the desktop? I depend very much on Debian. Don't really care much if it's kFreeBSD or the Linux based one. I actually use the Ubuntu installer, but Ubuntu would be shit if it weren't for Debian and I often end up installing Debian packages or building Ubuntu packages from Debian packages. Not that I need to. For everything that isn't experimentation, Ubuntu works fine out of the box, even for some fairly specialized hobbies.
posted by wierdo at 4:46 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I suspect that whatever distro you were using where you ran into dependency handling issues...

That's the thing, I guess I don't want to be a fulltime system administrator, even if I have the skills to kludge together something that is fragile and will break as soon as I update something else. I just want to get my work done.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:59 PM on April 11, 2011


That's the thing, I guess I don't want to be a fulltime system administrator, even if I have the skills to kludge together something that is fragile and will break as soon as I update something else.

What? You don't, we just told you, three of us separately, the problem is with the distribution you were using. Use a Debian-based distribution, problem solved.
posted by JHarris at 5:03 PM on April 11, 2011


Blazecock Pileon wrote: "That's the thing, I guess I don't want to be a fulltime system administrator, even if I have the skills to kludge together something that is fragile and will break as soon as I update something else. I just want to get my work done."

I can't say about OSX, but I've had fewer dependency issues on any Linux distribution since Slackware 2 than I've ever had on Windows. I can't count the number of times recently I've installed a Windows box and some software and come to find that .NET or the VB6 runtime or the VC runtime is missing. Worse, the effing error messages make it impossible to decipher which fucking version the software wants.

I started on Slackware 2.1. Then went to Redhat 5.1, then whatever version of Mandrake was current at the time, then Gentoo, then Debian, and now Debian for servers and Ubuntu for desktops. In Slackware at the time, there was no such thing as package management, so dependencies could be an issue. Since? Never. On the incredibly rare occasion when I do have to download some random package manually, I ask apt-get to please get the appropriate dependencies and it does.

Of course, I only ever have to do that because I'm an idiot and experiment with things that always end up being useless. One must realize that if it's worth having, it's got a Debian package.

No, if you want hairy, try upgrading libc, gcc, and friends from the version that used a.out to ELF. Manually. Yeah, Slackware was a lot of fun. ;)
posted by wierdo at 5:09 PM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, I forgot Trustix. Awesome server distro. Too bad it folded.
posted by wierdo at 5:10 PM on April 11, 2011


"One must realize that if it's worth having, it's got a Debian package."

If that isn't the unofficial motto of Debian's repository maintainers, it should be.
posted by a small part of the world at 5:17 PM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's the thing, I guess I don't want to be a fulltime system administrator,

I share this perspective, and it's one of the reasons why I'm also an OS X user, and yet... my recent experiences with Synaptic/apt and Canonical's repositories has been pretty darn smooth. Not perfect, but if I had a reason to ditch OS X, package/dependency management would not be anything that'd stand in my way.
posted by weston at 5:21 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


BP, I suspect that whatever distro you were using where you ran into dependency handling issues, it wasn't Ubuntu/Debian. Hell, as a newbie Ubuntu user, I happily went through everyday userland experiences for months before I even encountered missing dependencies, or even knew about the concept.

Actually it was Ubuntu and wine actually.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:22 PM on April 11, 2011


I haven't had any problem with Ubuntu-Wine dependencies in the past few years, but recently GNOME added a new "feature" that prevents you from launching Wine applications without manually going into the file properties and checking the "allow execution" box (or using a terminal, but come on). I assume GNOME 3 will be chock full of these sort of "features"; maybe when the next Ubuntu arrives it will be time to switch to another distribution.

But hey, the biggest doesn't have to be the best... for a free operating system I'm happy with whatever I get.
posted by shii at 5:29 PM on April 11, 2011


An Ubuntu Lucid Lynx upgrade to be exact. I also had to manually twiddle bootloader config to get around an audio issue, at which point, we just slapped Windows 7 onto the other hard drive and forgot about it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:32 PM on April 11, 2011


I've been apprehensive about upgrading critical infrastructure like the C library or gcc or, ye gods, the boot loader. But Debian just doesn't mess it up. They know what they are doing.
posted by DU at 5:49 PM on April 11, 2011


DU: But Debian just doesn't mess it up. They know what they are doing.

They messed it up. Once I figured out what to look for, it was even a documented issue, but that required hunting for the right search terms.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:54 PM on April 11, 2011


KirkJobSluder, Debian didn't mess up. In the case of a Lucid Lynx audio problem, your beef is with Canonical, not the Debian devs. Ubuntu relies on less stable kernels and packages than does Debian-stable; there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. And I'll be the first to admit that backporting hardware drivers after a Canonical-driven upgrade is never fun, though that seems to have gotten less painful with time. Maverick Meerkat even correctly recognized all the hardware on my MacBook, which I wasn't expecting, given past audio / video headaches similar to yours.
posted by a small part of the world at 6:05 PM on April 11, 2011


Getting Linux to work on a laptop can require an endless series of kludges. Etc. etc. Stuff just works on OS X

To get Linux working seamlessly on a laptop do exactly what you do with OSX: buy a laptop with it installed. That way you know your hardware is supported.
posted by markr at 6:20 PM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]



If you want to, you have the choice of installing fink and darwinports to download, install and maintain packages in almost the exact same way you would run a command-line Linux package manager. Or you can download and compile open source software, if you want to do it by hand.

If you've ever used Fink on OSX you would know better than to ever recommend it. Fink is the sort of crap package management software you might expect from a linux distro in 1998. It's the worst kind of software - terrible and stupid. You're better off trying to compile from source.

Speaking of open source - a big problem with OSX is that their tools are the same as you find on linux, sure. But they're either broken in subtle ways, with certain options not existing or more often just not being updated anywhere near as often as they should be. Samba on OSX is what, 3.1 I think with the latest 10.6 update ? The most current samba release is 3.5. And sure, updating it is easy enough, for certain definitions of easy, but then Apple will happily stomp all over it on the next update.

Point is, if you're doing stuff the way Apple would like you to - you're golden and if you aren't well..... Linux is probably a better solution.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:20 PM on April 11, 2011


If you've ever used Fink on OSX you would know better than to ever recommend it.

There's darwinports for OS X, if you don't like fink. Anyway, the larger point is that Mac OS X provides choices for software that aren't available for Linux.

Apple will happily stomp all over it on the next update.

Put stuff in /usr/local. Problem solved.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:26 PM on April 11, 2011


An Ubuntu Lucid Lynx upgrade to be exact

I don't like doing upgrades on Ubuntu systems. I've had nothing but trouble with them. What I usually do is either back up my files and restore them, or else (if I was thinking ahead) use a separate /home partition and erase everything else. I think it's a symptom of the relatively poor testing they do; they put huge amounts of effort into visual and UI polish, but they simply don't test upgrades very well. So I always do clean installs.

Typically, Debian is truly excellent at upgrades, but I had trouble during the Testing phase of Squeeze. The update from GRUB to GRUB2 was poorly handled. I had several machines fail to boot after an upgrade because of faulty settings that were badly imported from GRUB1.

I don't know if that problem is still in the final release; when I'm doing upgrades now, I do the upgrade, completely wipe the bootloader package, and reinstall GRUB2 from scratch. That always seems to work. It may not actually be necessary, but I got burned often enough during Testing that I play it safe. (I should have bug-reported it on their Bugzilla, but they absolutely refuse to do any spam protection on email addresses, and I refuse to submit bugs there until they do. I got a freaking hurricane of spam from my last Debian bug report -- no more.)

On the whole, I'd say Blazecock's and KirkJobSluder's criticism of the upgrade process is definitely fair on Ubuntu (endless trouble on upgrades) and possibly fair on Debian, at least for upgrading to Squeeze. But Debian's not a very good end-user distro, so it wouldn't likely be an option for most folks to begin with. Incredible stability, not much UI polish.

If you plan ahead, a clean install on Ubuntu works nicely, but you shouldn't need to know that much.
posted by Malor at 6:35 PM on April 11, 2011


On the whole, I'd say Blazecock's and KirkJobSluder's criticism of the upgrade process is definitely fair on Ubuntu (endless trouble on upgrades)

Seconded. The home directory thing is the best solution.
posted by JHarris at 6:37 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and:

If you've ever used Fink on OSX you would know better than to ever recommend it. Fink is the sort of crap package management software you might expect from a linux distro in 1998. It's the worst kind of software - terrible and stupid. You're better off trying to compile from source.

I'm using macports right now, because fink looked out of date when I last rebuilt my MBP, but what specifically is busted about it? It always seemed to work fine in earlier years; it was best to put stuff in /opt/local, but it did what it was supposed to do, and never gave me hassles. Are you seeing something I didn't see?
posted by Malor at 6:40 PM on April 11, 2011


GRUB1 to GRUB2 was a pain on many machines, but not all. Otherwise, it's been a long while since I've had upgrade trouble. Some of the time, it would lose some customized sound settings or things of that nature, but again, no worse than any other OS, and generally works correctly.

My latest Ubuntu upgrade went very smoothly. Perfectly, in fact. I'm typing this from a system running Natty Beta 1, which I upgraded from Maverick, which I upgraded from Lucid, which I upgraded from Karmic. Even the HDMI audio works right. That took a bit of configuring in Lucid. In Windows, sound wouldn't work at all with whatever version of the NVidia drivers Microsoft had bundled. Even with Windows 7, it was broken until I installed the drivers from NVidia's site.

The only dependency troubles I've had with WINE pretty much ever involve Windows libraries that are equally painful on Windows.

What is a pain is getting my usual bleeding-edge XBMC working after an upgrade. On occasion, I've even had to compile it myself. I can't really complain much, though, as there has been a working XBMC in the repos for a few years now that I could use if I didn't insist on using SVN versions. There's usually a working PPA for it if I don't upgrade the OS early.

Why don't I just use Debian on my HTPC? PPAs.
posted by wierdo at 6:46 PM on April 11, 2011


And I finally figured out that CD set after much Googling: Infomagic! Which then just leads me on a nostalgia trip to sunsite.unc.edu, which reminds me of wuarchive.wustl.edu, and before that it'd be back to Gopher and wiretap.spies.com.

I'm a pack-rat and I've got a filing cabinet drawer full of *old* Linux distributions (probably most of which wouldn't load in current hardware). Included are 6 multi-cd releases of the Infomagic distribution.
posted by jgaiser at 7:10 PM on April 11, 2011


OK, so long as we're bitching about OSes, check out this OS X bug:

507 ~$ cat
^Z
[1]+ Stopped cat
508 ~$ fg
cat
cat: stdin: Interrupted system call


Holy crap, read(2) returns EINTR after SIGCONT. Scandalous!

(This bug was introduced in 10.4 when someone with an insufficient neck beard mucked with the locks in the tty driver. Tsk, tsk.)
posted by ryanrs at 12:16 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Way back when, I was an enthusiastic naif, and thought Linux was the salvation for all computer users and the inevitable downfall of proprietary OSes. It would be paradise on earth. I kept trying various distros, and was super enthusiastic about Arch, and well, eventually (I'm a slow learner) I noticed that when I was through playing and wanted to get some work done, distros weren't doing anything for me at all. I needed video and photo and music editing software and well, um, you know, like software to actually do something with. At first I thought it was merely a question of time, and for quite awhile it seemed like all the user apps were just about to be developed or perfected, only that perfection was retreating in equal pace to our strides toward it, like a desert mirage. And then, I realized, it was all an illusion.

Here's the thing. How many ordinary users out there, are super interested in how their computer is working at all, and how many want to use their boxes for specific tasks? I have a feeling you could put a squirrel in a computer case, and as long as people got to use great apps to get work done, they wouldn't care. Until I can get work done, I'm not interested in Linux. I stopped following it years ago. From time to time, I check: damn, FCP is getting long in the tooth, is there anything else out there that's better for my purposes? Maybe Linux's got something? No? How very surprising - NOT. OK, back to FCP, hope Apple delivers come April 12 (latest rumor on an amazing FCP update). And so on, for virtually all end-user software. But really, I've realized it's a structural problem and unlikely to be resolved - so checking if Linux caught up to ordinary users needs, is now merely a waste of time, since it never will - but then again, the kids assure me we can do absolutely everything on our phones, so I should just shut up.
posted by VikingSword at 2:11 AM on April 12, 2011


So say we all.

I think linux is utter crap, actually.

I actually like Apple's "walled garden" approach, and have since the Mac Plus came out ~25 years ago. This is not due to lack of desire of learning -- being 2 years older than Linus I was most likely exposed to Minix before Torvalds was.

At the time I had a Mac IIcx and an amazing suite of software from the glory days of Mac -- Cricket Draw, Excel, Word, Wingz, Pixel Paint, Studio/8, Sound Recorder.

Linux is the least-common-denominator of computing.

I buy my computers to Get Shit Done, not futz with everything.

I'm a mobile device maven -- I bought a developer versions of the Palm Pilot, TI programmable calculator, Sharp Zaurus SL-5000D, Sony Clie T-615C, but it took Apple to actually create the first PDA worth $300.

Linux has done exactly jack squat in advancing the state of the art of computing -- you could remove everything it has brought to the world and my career and PC experience would not be affected in the slightest.

It is for losers.
posted by mokuba at 2:36 AM on April 12, 2011


Here's the thing. How many ordinary users out there, are super interested in how their computer is working at all, and how many want to use their boxes for specific tasks? I have a feeling you could put a squirrel in a computer case, and as long as people got to use great apps to get work done, they wouldn't care. Until I can get work done, I'm not interested in Linux.

That time came while you weren't looking, while you were fixated on your specific software needs.

Now, what do 90% of users use computers for? Web browsing. Facebook and Youtube run just as well regardless of whether a browser is running on Windows, OSX or Linux. In fact, web browsing is much better on Apple and Linux platforms because of the vastly reduced relative risk of malware infection.

Video editing beyond low-impact home use is not important to most users. If for some reason it is, there is Wine or virtualization. And if you plan on going on the web sometimes, dare you risk doing it on the machine on which you do real work? How will it hurt your productivity if you have to run a five-hour full drive scan on your machine? How about multiple scans, to ensure the threat actually was removed?

Office software? Now that LibreOffice has freed the OpenOffice codebase from Sun/Oracle's apathy and/or strategy tax it is moving quite rapidly. People say The GIMP can't hold a candle to Photoshop, but most of these people are heavily invested, in terms of training, in Photoshop; for even intermediate use GIMP is just as good and thousands of dollars cheaper. I can author DVDs more easily using Linux's free tools than Windows'. And of course there are the previously-mentioned advantages of Ubuntu which should not be discounted, like repositories.

Just because the world didn't switch over to the Penguin overnight doesn't mean that Linux isn't a very nice thing to have around. It's really kind of saddening -- it's the Linux 20-year anniversary thread, and people are claiming it's a failure because it didn't destroy Microsoft, or isn't a desktop OS that they personally find appealing.

But it did change the world. Linux was, and still is, the poster child for open source software, its most public and biggest success. Because Linux exists, a whole range of software solutions exist now that wouldn't have otherwise, or would only have for much greater costs. You've probably used Linux without knowing it! Android, Kindle, TiVo, many routers, OLPC and a good number of other embedded systems all run Linux under the hood. Whole businesses exist now that probably wouldn't if it hadn't been for Torvalds' little project.
posted by JHarris at 2:49 AM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Linux has done exactly jack squat in advancing the state of the art of computing -- you could remove everything it has brought to the world and my career and PC experience would not be affected in the slightest.

Have you considered trying this new search engine called "Google"? It really is quite nice.
posted by JHarris at 2:56 AM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I buy my computers to Get Shit Done, not futz with everything.

I realize that you're just trolling but that statement hasn't had the slightest validity for at least a decade. Unless there's a power failure or a network outage (/home is in NFS), my Ubuntu desktop at work is always there for me and I never have to 'futz' with anything.
posted by octothorpe at 4:50 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


First install was on a Tandy 386 with an 'evergreen' 486 upgrade - First PC after a long stint in Atari land (All hail being the last off the bus - My Falcon 030 did pretty well on eBay) I installed Slackware 1.something off of a computer show CD - Problem being the Creative CD drive didn't have support, so I wound up sitting at the kitchen table writing out floppies in DOS, then rebooting and installing, and finding that ONE floppy with a bad sector... Heck of a way to recover from getting your wisdom teeth pulled, I tell you.

Last install was Ubuntu, a year and change back - I really didn't get the experience everybody seems to be talking up here - Thinkpad T40, and the audio was hit-and-miss and the power management was so iffy that closing the lid was like playing Russian roulette. I'm sure I could have ironed the problems out eventually, but I was in school at the time, and didn't really have the free cycles.

So I switched over to Windows 7.

I don't hate it, but I don't have to mess with it to get basic services working - With the exception of Logitech's perfidy in refusing to update their webcam drivers - but I installed Vim, and I can live with it until I have enough free time to screw around with Linux some more.
posted by Orb2069 at 5:16 AM on April 12, 2011


I can't believe there's so much talk about the godawful fink and macports, but no mention of the brilliant Homebrew, which handily beats both by technical knockout.
posted by influx at 6:01 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


influx, Homebrew doesn't even attempt to deal with versioned dependencies or options, which are the hard problems that MacPorts and Fink deal with. It's great if you just want to install one or two pieces of software but as soon as your needs extend to anything more complicated, you're back to messing about by hand.

Fink's problem was (I believe) simply that they didn't have the people to keep the quality control up in the way that the Debian / Ubuntu project does. A packaging system is as much about the quality of the packages as it is about the bare technical details: just lifting your infrastructure from Debian doesn't magically create a perfect experience for your users.

It's always amusing to see the Linux-haters come out of the woodwork when this kind of thread pops up on Metafilter. As JHarris says, Linux has changed the world but apprently it's a failure because it doesn't support suspend & resume on their personal laptop.

(In my personal experience I've had better hardware support from Linux than I ever got from Windows. Your Mileage May of course Vary.)
posted by pharm at 6:24 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was very impressed by the Windows 7 install process a few months ago. My first thought was actually "Hey this is almost as good as Ubuntu".
posted by Skorgu at 6:31 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's always amusing to see the Linux-haters come out of the woodwork when this kind of thread pops up on Metafilter. As JHarris says, Linux has changed the world but apprently it's a failure because it doesn't support suspend & resume on their personal laptop.

To be fair, the hate-on didn't really start until we started hearing how Linux was the "light of the world", which opinion doesn't even get advanced by our rabidest Mac fans about Apple.

Did Linux change the world in ways that wouldn't have happened without it? It's impossible to say. Did it create an alternative server OS that dramatically changed server-space? Yup. Did major corporations swing round behind it and build it into all sorts of new devices and services? Yup. Those things alone make it worthy of praise.

But did it make a good-enough desktop OS? After a fashion, maybe, if you're a nerd or a nerd's mom who really does just want a browser. But did it create and sustain an entire ecosystem of professional-grade applications and software for home and business? No, frankly, it didn't. GiMP is only "close enough" if you have no idea how far away you are. Being able to update gcc seamlessly is worth naught if you can't get your job done, as the Germans discovered.

Not having the apps is not having the apps, no matter how easy it is to install them.
posted by bonaldi at 6:51 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Being able to update gcc seamlessly is worth naught if you can't get your job done, as the Germans discovered.

The random switching around from "all open source, all the time" to "no! open source bad, closed source good!" had a lot more to do with internal German politics and top-down dictats from whomever happened to be in power at the time than any intrinsic qualities of the code in question I believe.

Not having the apps is not having the apps, no matter how easy it is to install them.

This of course remains true.
posted by pharm at 7:03 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Linux has done exactly jack squat in advancing the state of the art of computing -- you could remove everything it has brought to the world and my career and PC experience would not be affected in the slightest.

It's funny you should say this. I work on a 15 million dollar 3 Tesla MRI. You know what OS the operator console - a 4 core 16 gig x86 computer - runs ?

Linux.

The OS for the controllers and PLCs and so on in the machine ?

Linux.

The computer that does realtime biometric data acquisition ?

Linux.

The supercomputing cluster we use to process and analyze the data ?

Linux.

OSX is great for sub font pixel kerning or whatever. And frankly Windows has much better filesharing and user management tools than either of them by far. The heavy lifting gets done on Linux, though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:08 AM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


JHarris, I agree with the rest of what you're saying, but this:

People say The GIMP can't hold a candle to Photoshop, but most of these people are heavily invested, in terms of training, in Photoshop; for even intermediate use GIMP is just as good

GIMP support CMYK yet? I heard rumors of "rudimentary" support sometime in the last year or so, but if it doesn't have serious and solid support for it, this feature alone means that it's just not a competitor.

I hate Photoshop myself. I'm not much invested in it and I hate the UI. I think it's a kind of mass insanity that has led to it being used as a tool for all kinds of compositions that it's a poor tool for (web layouts chief among these). But for what it's actually good at, GIMP doesn't hold a candle to it, and can't even enter the competition until either nobody prints anything anymore or it gets good CMYK support.

If we're going to tout open source graphic creation tools, I'd rather extoll Inkscape, which I think is great. But then again, it's not going to replace Illustrator or Fireworks anytime soon. User investment in the software is not the only reason Adobe is still in business. If you do the kind of work their software is made for frequently (and particularly if it's your job) then it's worth thousands of dollars.

It is true that most people can get along just fine with a browser and a media playback and office suite, that Linux is great, free software is great, and you can get some things done with basic tools in niche markets that expensive desktop software often serves. But don't overstate the case.

Linux has changed the world but apprently it's a failure because it doesn't support suspend & resume on their personal laptop.

That kind of extrapolation is certainly a bad generalization, but not necessarily a poor personal judgment. It is a failure for the audience whose hardware it doesn't support well, and people's individual experiences with it matter to their impression. I've talked to people who apparently have had mostly great experiences with Windows while mine have been mediocre. My theory is it's partly a matter of expectations and aesthetics ("taste", if you will), and it's partly that they've either been on the lucky side of the curve or have skill investments which have smoothed their experience. Linux may be the same way. Though as of Ubuntu 8.10, I started cautiously recommending Linux to anybody who doesn't have specific niche computing needs, I think it's best to be careful not to brush aside these issues like suspend/resume on a personal laptop. They still happen to people, and those people aren't wrong in letting it color their judgement.

At least, as long as they're not making sweeping hyperbolic statements like "Linux has done exactly jack squat in advancing the state of the art of computing."
posted by weston at 9:34 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


OSX is great for sub font pixel kerning or whatever. And frankly Windows has much better filesharing and user management tools than either of them by far. The heavy lifting gets done on Linux, though.

This.

I may owe my career to Linux and use it every day at work, but I run OS X at home. Windows, Linux and OS X are all totally valid tools to get work done.

Thanks to Linux, my time is now too valuable to be spent configuring Linux on my home computer. So I run OS X. Which wouldn't have been possible without Linux in the first place!
posted by b1tr0t at 10:05 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unless there's a power failure or a network outage (/home is in NFS),

Actually, my (other) work machine has gone through several network outages without a reboot. My /home isn't on NFS, but other people's (that I mount) are as well as many other dirs. I just restart automount.

Oh, you want to know my uptime? Sure: 566 days.

*buffs fingernails*
posted by DU at 10:34 AM on April 12, 2011


I work on a 15 million dollar 3 Tesla MRI. You know what OS the operator console - a 4 core 16 gig x86 computer - runs ?

Linux.


Pfft. Clearly, you're a loser. mokuba explained it quite clearly!

To be fair, the hate-on didn't really start until we started hearing how Linux was the "light of the world", which opinion doesn't even get advanced by our rabidest Mac fans about Apple.

I don't have the time to go through the archives, but I'm almost certain similar if not more effusive stuff has been said about Apple on this very site.

Anyway, I haven't had any issues with suspend/resume on my Thinkpad X201 running Maverick (upgraded in place from Lynx). But you know, when you have to support an almost uncountable number of possible configurations of hardware, it is a bit more difficult than when you have to support a dozen or so.
posted by kmz at 10:43 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, seriously. I'd like to see the Apple fanboys buy an arbitrary computer made by any manufacturer in the last 10 years and install the latest version of OSX on it, then tell me how seamless and error-free it is.
posted by DU at 10:47 AM on April 12, 2011


I don't have the time to go through the archives, but I'm almost certain similar if not more effusive stuff has been said about Apple on this very site.

"Our fanboys are better than your fanboys."

"Your favorite computing product sucks."

I'd like to see the Apple fanboys buy an arbitrary computer made by any manufacturer in the last 10 years and install the latest version of OSX on it, then tell me how seamless and error-free it is.

That's a solid explanation of one of the chief issues behind the problem, and it also speaks well to Linux that it's able to do as well as it does across such a wide array of hardware. But it doesn't present much of a solution or probably even mitigate much whatever feelings of frustration come up when stuff doesn't work for someone who's trying it out. This is why cautious evangelism and LiveCDs are a better approach than unbridled enthusiasm.
posted by weston at 11:04 AM on April 12, 2011


This is why cautious evangelism and LiveCDs are a better approach than unbridled enthusiasm.

I'd even prefer "unbridled enthusiasm" over the snotty disdain shown in this thread to anyone critical about the shortcomings in Linux.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:17 AM on April 12, 2011


If you go over the thread fairly, I think you'll find that the snotty disdain is towards critiques that are "Linux sucks and my anecdata prove it".

People genuinely asking for help received suggestions (including Live CDs) and offers of further handholding if requested.
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2011


Blazecock Pileon, this is a thread about Linux's 20th birthday. The question you should be asking yourself is why the critics felt that telling the world about their personal negative experience was so much more important than celebrating the genuine positive difference that Linux has made to the world as a whole instead.
posted by pharm at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Linux sucks and my anecdata prove it"

If you go over the thread fairly, no one has said that, either.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:48 AM on April 12, 2011



I think linux is utter crap, actually.
...
it is for losers
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:54 AM on April 12, 2011


GiMP is only "close enough" if you have no idea how far away you are.

But most people don't know how far away they are. Most people don't know the depths of Photoshop, and frankly they don't need them, or care. They don't want to create print-ready CYMK proofs for magazine covers or ads, they want to do image editing, a market even Adobe admits exists with their "Photoshop Elements" line, which is "only" $99 a unit in the store.

And if you do really need Photoshop you can virtualize it, run it on Wine, or even (gasp) dual boot.

Blazecock Pileon: I'd even prefer "unbridled enthusiasm" over the snotty disdain shown in this thread to anyone critical about the shortcomings in Linux.

(head explodes)
posted by JHarris at 11:54 AM on April 12, 2011


In 2007 I found and reinstalled the first Linux distribution I used. I made a couple tiny blog entries [warning: self links]:

Upon finding the CD and notes, after initial failures and starting a search for adequately-aged hardware, and finally upon success, culminating in that lovely screenshot.
posted by fritley at 11:56 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think linux is utter crap, actually.
...
it is for losers


That single comment has no relation to "Linux sucks and my anecdata prove it" and is not in any useful sense a reflection of the factual type of criticisms that myself and others have issued, which still affects users of Linux, twenty years down the road.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:04 PM on April 12, 2011


Oh, you want to know my uptime? Sure: 566 days.

Just shy of 850 days on a 486 that handled over 20,000 separate email accounts with FreeBSD as the base OS and sendmail/Cyrus for the email part.

Cyrus would stuff so much email into an account that UNIX (ok, FreeBSD) failed due to the overstuffed directory. Took 8 hours for the perl script of print "rm "$i"\n"; to run the 21+ million times. Nothing I've seen beats Cyrus.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:08 PM on April 12, 2011


I hate Linux, it sucks. The problem is that every other OS sucks more. (Except maybe OpenBSD.)

I've been a BSD Unix guy since the mid 80s (I shave, though) and I had always treated PCs -- the "toy" computers -- with disdain... until '93 when my friend Clint told me that not only could his Linux PC run TeX, it typeset and printed his 150 page dissertation. So I got myself a 486 with 8 MB of RAM (the network card -- thinnet coax -- had to be special-ordered) and SLS Linux (kernel 0.99 PL12) -- 32 floppies worth. After installing I still had to go in and fix lots of packages and broken links etc. by hand, but at the end I actually had something functionally equivalent to the Sun Sparcstation running SunOS 4.3. I was shocked. Damn that was a long time ago!

It amazes me that sound is still a crap-shoot when installing, but except for a few annoyances like that, installing and configuring Linux (and OpenBSD, and FreeBSD) has always been less painful than installing Windows.

Here's to you, RMS and Linus!

Hey, all you guys whose careers are based on Linux or other free Unixes -- why not send some cash to the developers or projects that have helped you?
posted by phliar at 12:21 PM on April 12, 2011


I'd even prefer "unbridled enthusiasm" over the snotty disdain shown in this thread to anyone critical about the shortcomings in Linux.

Dude, everyone has been very respectful toward you. If we wanted to be snotty and disrespectful, we'd point out your endless Apple cheerleading and hyper-partisanship in essentially every technology thread you ever participate in, and talk about how your opinion is hardly unbiased. Every single fucking time you get into one of these threads, it becomes personal for you -- when someone says that Apple's way of doing things is bad, it hits you as a personal insult, apparently because you identify so intensely with the company. And it becomes "you all hate Apple users!" instead of the more accurate realization that we don't like the way Apple does business, without caring much one way or the other about the users.

Now that? That's snotty. (it's true, but it's snotty.) The rest of the thread has been very polite. We admitted that some of what you said is accurate, while some appears outdated, and some appears VERY outdated. Other than the prior paragraph, I've seen nothing but polite disagreement with you on facts, with evidence provided to support those opinions. YOU are the one making claims like "only suitable for running daemons", which is, in my view, insanely partisan and ridiculous. But I didn't say so, because I was trying to be polite.

I'm not going to take the time to reread every word in the thread, but I believe that if you detected any personal insults OTHER than in this specific post, you have a serious perception problem; your emotions and personal identification with Apple are getting in the way of accurately reading what people are saying.
posted by Malor at 12:22 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


That single comment has no relation to "Linux sucks and my anecdata prove it" and is not in any useful sense a reflection of the factual type of criticisms that myself and others have issued, which still affects users of Linux, twenty years down the road.

FFS, you said noone said it. Someone did. You were wrong.

Linux has been an amazing success.

Linux runs on the smallest devices. It runs on the largest super computers. OSX can't do that. Windows can't do that.

Linux can.

So yeah, some distrubutions can be tricky running on particular hardware. Yeah, Fileshopmaker pro 6000 has anti-aliased menu fonts. Big deal.

I can install Linux on my toaster if I worked at it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:23 PM on April 12, 2011


Last install was Ubuntu, a year and change back - I really didn't get the experience everybody seems to be talking up here - Thinkpad T40, and the audio was hit-and-miss and the power management was so iffy that closing the lid was like playing Russian roulette.

This saddens me, since the T40 was actually the machine I was using when I wrote much of pm-utils. I realize you've had an unfortunately bad experience leading to you not participating any more, but to everybody else - please do be sure and report problems like this if you see them.
posted by atbash at 12:32 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


YOU are the one making claims like "only suitable for running daemons", which is, in my view, insanely partisan and ridiculous. But I didn't say so, because I was trying to be polite.

I use Linux every day. I just think it has demonstrated it works really well for a small set of problems, and that it just doesn't do as well at the others as a few other options. There's nothing partisan or ridiculous about that observation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:33 PM on April 12, 2011


This, for example, is snotty:

Yeah, seriously. I'd like to see the Apple fanboys buy an arbitrary computer made by any manufacturer in the last 10 years and install the latest version of OSX on it, then tell me how seamless and error-free it is.

It's not even true, at least given markr's observation:

To get Linux working seamlessly on a laptop do exactly what you do with OSX: buy a laptop with it installed. That way you know your hardware is supported.

Linux is great, and it has done a lot for the larger open source movement, but even proponents have to acknowledge some of the problems.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:38 PM on April 12, 2011


Blazecock, my reading of that comparison is exactly the opposite: no OS installs flawlessly on every piece of hardware ever made, not Windows, not OSX, not Linux. It's an impossible goal and no other OS on the planet is held to it so why should Linux (metaphorically) feel bad that it's in the same boat?
posted by Skorgu at 12:59 PM on April 12, 2011


I use Linux every day. I just think it has demonstrated it works really well for a small set of problems, and that it just doesn't do as well at the others as a few other options.

There there. Have some cider and pie, it's okay, the world isn't going to end because Linux isn't crap.

Hey, guess what kind of pie? It's your favorite!

I couldn't resist.
posted by JHarris at 1:00 PM on April 12, 2011


Blazecock Pileon: I'd even prefer "unbridled enthusiasm" over the snotty disdain shown in this thread to anyone critical about the shortcomings in Linux.

Pure joyous laughter. Thanks mate!
posted by juiceCake at 1:26 PM on April 12, 2011


they want to do image editing, a market even Adobe admits exists with their "Photoshop Elements" line, which is "only" $99 a unit in the store.

I thought my experiences might be out of date, so I tried the latest version. It's not even on a par with Elements, to be honest. I taught the fundamentals of image manipulation using Elements to a room of noobs in 30 minutes. I wouldn't be done with GiMP's paradigm in that time.

And if you do really need Photoshop you can virtualize it, run it on Wine, or even (gasp) dual boot.

Having to rely on another operating system to get stuff done is hardly an argument for one as being the light of the world, is it?

Yeah, Fileshopmaker pro 6000 has anti-aliased menu fonts. Big deal.

This is exactly the attitude that condemns desktop linux to inferior quality apps. You like driving everywhere in an earthmover built for heavy lifting? That's great. It doesn't make people who want central locking and a radio in their city car effete fops.
posted by bonaldi at 1:28 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is exactly the attitude that condemns desktop linux to inferior quality apps. You like driving everywhere in an earthmover built for heavy lifting? That's great. It doesn't make people who want central locking and a radio in their city car effete fops.

Thankfully, the people writing desktop software on linux don't have this attitude. And for the record, we've had anti-aliased menu fonts for years now.
posted by atbash at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2011


Having to rely on another operating system to get stuff done is hardly an argument for one as being the light of the world, is it?

For goodness sakes, I never said Linux was the light of the world. It's great, has changed the world, and severely undervalued, but I myself use Windows 7 on my primary computer because of my software needs. But I wish I was using Linux to write this, because the interface is a lot cleaner, it updates itself in a much more reasonable fashion, with Compiz it looks a lot snazzier....

Oh yes, and because I wouldn't have a malware panic every six months like clockwork. (Which is a point in favor of OSX too, yes. But this is a Linux anniversary thread dammit. I feel like I'm having to justify my right to celebrate, and it's pissing me off.)
posted by JHarris at 1:52 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Haters gonna hate.

(Oh thread, I wish I could quit you.)
posted by kmz at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2011


JHarris: whether they happen to agree or not, Linux has had an absolutely enormous impact on the world. It's created probably millions of jobs, and has done more to keep the payware vendors honest than probably any other single force. And it's allowed whole classes of device to exist that probably otherwise wouldn't, or would have sucked.

Home firewall/routers are an excellent example: if you want a home router that works really well, you want one that runs Linux, full stop. You'll get the most features and the most stability, all in one unit. Apple's routers are pretty good, although sharply feature-limited, but the great majority of everything else in the consumer space is dismal. Sans Linux, that's what we'd all be stuck with... pieces of VxWorks shit, or worse.

It's allowed much of the cloud storage to come into existence; the biggest providers (like Amazon's S3) use Linux, usually on several levels in the infrastructure, because it's just ridiculously expensive to do it any other way. And a very large fraction of the commercial virtual servers you can rent (also like the Amazon service, although there are many more offerings in this space) are Linux-hosted, because VMWare costs so much and runs so slowly. And with the continued development of KVM, Linux-hosted virtualization is becoming best-of-breed at any price, entirely for free. It allows you to pay $10/mo for what looks like a real physical machine, directly on the net, with big bandwidth.... sans Linux, if that kind of service existed at all, it would be a lot more expensive.

And then there's its huge share as a host for Apache sites web-wide, making cheap websites easily available, its total dominance of supercomputing, (which doesn't affect us directly very much, but is a HUGE boon to science, allowing them to use their very expensive hardware much more completely than any other solution) and a fairly substantial presence in routing and firewalling. And it's helping to provide a more open alternative in smartphones, although the degree of openness there is somewhat arguable.

And, hell, it's running many of the stock markets in the world now -- nothing else goes fast enough for what they need.

Further, there's the fundamental sea change that happened when Linux got popular, with hardware. It's now generally easy to get open source drivers for most computer peripherals. This is a big deal, because the trend was very strongly toward closed, black-box devices that you couldn't really control, you could only plug in and hope they did what you needed. You could buy a modem or a graphic card, but not be able to get any documentation whatsoever on how it worked or what it did, so you couldn't use it how you wanted, and you certainly couldn't fix problems with it and then share those fixes with others.

The advent of Linux has almost completely changed that market; most of the hardware you can buy now, with some notable exceptions, comes with drivers or at least decent documentation. That would probably not be true in a Linux-free world.

So, yes, there is a huge amount to celebrate. Leave the haters to their narrow ignorance, and feel good about what an impact a small group of guys that learned how to cooperatively build complex software online has had on our way of life. As others have said, that doesn't mean you should ignore the rest of the software stack; there's a lot going on that's NOT the kernel. But that kernel is very, very important to the world, and becomes more so with each passing year.
posted by Malor at 2:24 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Malor, would you please summarize the shortcomings of VxWorks? (I don't intend this as a derail, and I won't be arguing with you about it, I just want to know.)
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:33 PM on April 12, 2011


Just not stable, and doesn't deal well with high-connection-volume applications like Bittorrent. A number of years ago, Linksys took their very successful Linux-based WRT54G and GS, cut the RAM in half, and started shipping them with VXWorks, and the cries of rage from the Net were profound. Fortunately, Linksys also started selling a new model, the GL. It was basically exactly what the GS had been, and still ran Linux, so the geeks could find something decent. God, you could literally leave those boxes up for a year at a time without them ever burping even once.

VXWorks has probably improved substantially by now -- it'd be hard for it to have gotten worse, after all -- but I still always push people to get Linux-based routers whenever possible, because I know they work. As long as the hardware is fast enough for what you're trying to do, that kernel will handle it with aplomb.

There is one downside: you have to keep an eye open for patches. Linux-based routers have been cracked three or four times now, and because Linux is a familiar environment, attackers understand what's going on and how to exploit it. The weird, offbeat environments in other routers don't work as well, but they're much harder to crack in the first place, and then exploit after cracking, purely because of their obscurity.

Security through obscurity does kinda-sorta work, as long as you're a small fish in a big pond; it doesn't work at all against someone who's after you specifically, like if you're a big corporation or a government. Attackers going after that kind of target will take the time to crack offbeat routers -- it's actually often easier, once someone actually pays attention. But if you're tiny and anonymous, a weird router can give you a little bit of extra protection, though typically at the cost of other bugs and problems.
posted by Malor at 2:55 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just realized I look like I contradicted myself -- non-Linux routers take more effort and focus to crack, but it's quite common for there to be many more actual holes in their software, purely because they're not examined to the same degree. So for the casual attacker, the non-Linux router is a harder target, but the serious one can often find them much easier to break into.
posted by Malor at 2:58 PM on April 12, 2011


phliar: "Hey, all you guys whose careers are based on Linux or other free Unixes -- why not send some cash to the developers or projects that have helped you?"

I do, when they offer me an easy way to do so, such as an amazon.com wishlist from which I can buy them stuff. ;)

atbash: "Last install was Ubuntu, a year and change back - I really didn't get the experience everybody seems to be talking up here - Thinkpad T40, and the audio was hit-and-miss and the power management was so iffy that closing the lid was like playing Russian roulette.

This saddens me, since the T40 was actually the machine I was using when I wrote much of pm-utils. I realize you've had an unfortunately bad experience leading to you not participating any more, but to everybody else - please do be sure and report problems like this if you see them
"

So you're the one I should thank for my T60 working so well? ;)

I'm lucky. I haven't had hardware troubles with Linux in what seems like forever, aside from the aforementioned HDMI sound. Even that was just an issue with putting the wrong channels to the wrong speakers. I plug my T60 into my docking station, and it magically appears on my TV and magically starts using SPDIF output to my amplifier and magically starts using the Ethernet cable plugged into it. It's fantastic.

Windows XP SP3 wishes it could do that reliably (it often fails to switch screens, or worse blows up while trying to do so). Windows Vista and Windows 7 won't run very well in 1.5GB of memory, sadly. Presumably they would work better.

That's not to say you can't spend hours, days, weeks, months, or even years fiddling with shit if you want to. For example, if you want to make Compiz do things that makes Aero glass look like Windows 3, it takes a lot of fiddling. But if you just want something pleasing to use that works out of the box, you need not spend that time.

I'm sure that part of the reason I haven't had any trouble in years is that although laptops are typically the least likely to work correctly, I only use Thinkpads, which are usually very well supported in the various Linux distributions. On my T60, even the WWAN card has just worked since about 2007.

I have a Windows XP VM running on my HTPC for one reason: Logmein. For some reason, the java version just won't work for me. Oh, scratch that. Logmein works fine in FF4 on Natty. Yay, I can save a gig of memory. (it doesn't actually use most of it, since KVM is neat, but there's still a few hundred MB that it actually uses)
posted by wierdo at 3:42 PM on April 12, 2011


Oh yes, and because I wouldn't have a malware panic every six months like clockwork. (Which is a point in favor of OSX too, yes. ...)

Fortunately, you don't have to have a malware panic on Windows either. It's pretty easy to configure Windows 7 to be a safe Internet client. And as for Windows vs OSX malware, most of the big holes now seem to be through Adobe products (Acrobat, Flash), requiring that you disable part or all of the functionality of those products.

But none of this should stand in the way of your Linux celebration! I'm a Windows guy, typing this into an OS X laptop, and I'm celebrating Linux too! Linux has changed the world in significant ways that Windows and OS X haven't, and couldn't. Having a reliable OS that's free, open-source, and able to run on such a wide range of hardware - that's made so many things possible that simply weren't before.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:22 PM on April 12, 2011


Having a reliable OS that's free, open-source, and able to run on such a wide range of hardware - that's made so many things possible that simply weren't before.

There's quite a lot to be said for being able to use the same programming interface (and, thus, programs and your favored working environment) on phones, routers, desktops, and supercomputers.
posted by Malor at 4:33 PM on April 12, 2011


A number of years ago, Linksys took their very successful Linux-based WRT54G and GS, cut the RAM in half, and started shipping them with VXWorks

Wait -- so are there Linksys routers out there with those model numbers that aren't running Linux, or did they give the VXWorks models different numbers?

(I just recently recommended used WRT54Gs as good affordable workhorse routers, and I should probably take it back if I have to qualify that.)
posted by weston at 5:10 PM on April 12, 2011


Haters gonna hate.

One thing I hate is being labeled a hater for having a different opinion, even for saying Linux is great, just not perfect.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:41 PM on April 12, 2011


One thing I hate is being labeled a hater for having a different opinion, even for saying Linux is great, just not perfect.

In my experience, Linux is great for running daemons, not so great for much else.

?
posted by Skorgu at 6:47 PM on April 12, 2011


Wait -- so are there Linksys routers out there with those model numbers that aren't running Linux, or did they give the VXWorks models different numbers?

Yep, only the GL version runs Linux. You can typically only find it online. Amazon usually carries it.

Most of the the regular G and GS models, which have run VxWorks for several years, can have a Linux firmware put on them. (I think there might be one or two that have problems.) They don't have as much RAM, so you can't load as many features onto them, but they work fine. DD-WRT has a whole section of its website devoted to identifying your specific model and giving you detailed instructions on exactly what you can run and how to install it.
posted by Malor at 7:06 PM on April 12, 2011


Fortunately, you don't have to have a malware panic on Windows either. It's pretty easy to configure Windows 7 to be a safe Internet client.

But as you say, I'd have to do without Flash or Java. That's not the case on Linux. (Hell, last week I got infected and I was running Firefox, Flashblock, have SumatraPDF for my reader and no Java applets were starting that I know of. I have no idea really what caused it that time.)
posted by JHarris at 9:12 PM on April 12, 2011


JHarris, it's not fully end-user ready yet, as it still needs some work on the management tools, but KVM is an extremely good virtualization environment, and it's under incredibly fast development. You could quite likely run Linux, and then fire up Windows in a VM when you needed it.

It requires a computer with hardware virtualization extensions -- pretty much anything AMD has shipped in the last five years, or any Intel chip with "VT-x", and optionally "VT-d". Intel has a nasty habit of removing VT-x from their cheaper chips, and VT-d is only on their more expensive chipsets. AMD just ships their Pacifica extensions in everything.

"virt-manager" is a fairly nice GUI for management, using libvirt, which is a general abstraction layer that covers several different flavors of virtualization. Because of the abstraction, the latest-and-greatest KVM features take awhile to show up in the tools, and at the rate of KVM development, it can mean you have no GUI to get at the neatest stuff.

If you're willing to do some reading and learning, it's production-ready right now, and is extremely fast and robust. If you don't have time or patience to learn the various layers involved (KVM [which is a subset of QEMU], libvirt, and virt-manager), the next version of Ubuntu looks to be substantially improved, and I bet the 11.10 version will have most of the really cool stuff integrated with the GUI tools.

(really cool stuff, in this context: virtio network and block layer support (speeds up guests with proper drivers a ton for network and virtual drive access), ability to directly expose hardware to guest OSes (really only works with network cards right now, but very nice for super-high-performance guest setups -- may require the more advanced VT-d, not sure), and a new graphic layer called SPICE. I don't know much about SPICE, but early reports are that it's wicked fast for running Windows guests.)
posted by Malor at 12:29 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


SPICE is super-neat, but not there yet. You have to compile the latest Windows drivers yourself (or ask me for them), and manually edit the libvirt xml to use the spice-enabled binary after installing it from the PPA. (virt-manager has a selection for SPICE, so everything gets set up correctly to use it, but the present packaging is such that the SPICE-enabled binary is separate from the regular qemu binary, which virt-manager/libvirt don't support) And sound is terribly broken in the current libraries. It can be made to work if you turn off compression, though.

For desktop use, there's no advantage over using the sdl console anyway. It's really nice to be able to connect to my Windows guest from any computer on the network with performance that puts RDP to shame, though. You can watch Youtube videos or whatever with no problem. Video still uses 13Mbps, though. Supposedly the next SPICE version will have better bandwidth scaling.

I'm probably going to be test migrating one or two light users' desktops to VMs in the next month or so, even with the weirdness. They basically use a browser and send/receive some email and have no speakers, so sound isn't an issue. It would be nice to not have to maintain old kit for the users who we can't justify spending money on new computers for.

BTW, virtio has worked pretty well in Ubuntu since 10.04. Since Redhat is the main driver behind all this, you're better off with Fedora for KVM, though.
posted by wierdo at 3:49 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still appear to be using VNC only on all my KVM guests. Was "sdl console" a mistake, or should I be looking into that for better performance?
posted by Malor at 6:14 PM on April 13, 2011


(oh, note: I'm only running Linux guests ATM... I've been chatting with some folks over on Ars that are running Windows, and getting very impressive results.)
posted by Malor at 6:15 PM on April 13, 2011


All I know about SPICE is that it must flow.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:00 PM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Malor, qemu, and thus KVM, can use SDL instead of VNC or another network protocol to display the guest console. The downside, of course, is that the console can only be used from the machine actually running the VM.

I thought it was supported pretty directly at least as far back as the virt-manager included in 10.04. Once you've created and installed the VM, remove the VNC display device and add the "Local SDL window" device. I'm pretty sure it's transparent to the guest. I've only ever used it just to see if it worked, so I don't remember the details too well.

Now that I think about it, there probably is an advantage to SPICE: I don't think the SDL console supports sound. I might be wrong about that, though...
posted by wierdo at 9:14 PM on April 13, 2011


Ah, okay, I had no idea that was even there. I almost always need to manage virtual machines remotely, though, so I'll stick with crappy old VNC for now, until SPICE is ready.

Thanks!
posted by Malor at 10:42 PM on April 13, 2011


wierdo So you're the one I should thank for my T60 working so well? ;)

I guess I'm one of many. There are several people who have spent a lot of effort to make laptop hardware support work better, sometimes including me. Most of the work is done by others.

It's better than it used to be, and getting better all the time, but there will always be more to do.
posted by atbash at 5:52 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's a new Ubuntu release today with a new default desktop environment.
posted by Zed at 1:35 PM on April 28, 2011


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