Sunday, July 13, 2014

OpenSource Lament - Stick-Shift Linux

I have had the pleasure over the past couple of years to see the Linux seed planted and a Linux enthusiast blossom.  Prior to my association with this fellow he had heard of Linux.  It was some cryptic difficult "thing" that seemed to hang around the periphery of his Windows-centric world.  To his credit he wanted not to just know of the back-office systems that provide services to our network he wanted to understand them.

As any sysadmin will tell you the first and most necessary component to understanding Linux is personal initiative.  The person that doesn't want-need-desire to learn Linux can't get it just by loading up the latest distro of Ubuntu.  Linux is a relationship with computing.  It requires a certain kind of passion to enter into such a relationship.  It also requires a certain level of commitment.

Reflection on my early days shows me diving into distros that came on many, many 3.5 inch floppies.  Then if I was successful I got a prompt: root@slackware: ~>  I stared at it for the longest time and then tried some DOS commands...only to be told that "dir" was not found.  I had no comforting background in any of the *nixs.  So I had to start reading TFM.  I eventually discovered "man" and midnight commander (mc).  I was underway.  At least I could see the file system.

Mr. Slackware, Patrick Volkerding was kind enough to include enough FVWM so that once I found the startx command I even got a graphical user interface.  And right there my troubles really began.  I wanted to do the cool things.  With multiple video cards I could run more than one monitor.  With a sound card I could play music.  With an ethernet adapter I could even get on the network.  RTFM.

In those heady days hard drive space and memory were at a premium.  Even worse, resources allocated to a project boxen were hand-me-downs at best.  So it became necessary to roll my own .xorg config files.  And *GASP* recompile the kernel to include the necessary modules to drive my bells and whistles.  At a time when recompiles took way more than just one cup of coffee.  (I would eventually, after a sweeping office PC upgrade, scrounge and build a 5-node MOSIX cluster that cut compile times to a manageable half pot of coffee.)

Software was a matter of downloading tarballs and ./configure ... and ... search for the dependency, download the tarball, ./configure ... and ... search for the dependency, download the tarball, ./configure ... and ... rinse&repeat ... until make && make install were successful.  Then curse and recurse back up the dependency chain until the original make && make install were successful.

So here is my lament.  Linux has become a commodity.  I can slap a DVD in a laptop (of all things) and load Linux ... and everything, everything works.  Through a GUI I can download and install software and the dependencies, if any, are handled in the background.  It all just works.  Well?!?!  If it all just works then what are you bitchin' about?  That Linux Enthusiast I mentioned earlier never got to learn how to drive a stick-shift Linux.

Just my $0.02

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