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Hey, your distro sucks!

March 26, 2009 17 comments

I’m sitting in a room at HeliOS Solutions West/Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with computers running primarly Fedora. However, there are also boxes (going clockwise from where I’m sitting) running OpenSUSE, AntiX Mepis (it’s old), Debian, Xubuntu and Ubuntu.

“So?” You’re asking yourself, and that’s a valid question. This first-paragraph revelation will make more sense at the end.

Having said this, there are few things I like more than working a booth — usually dbEntrance or Fedora — at various shows, whether it’s a large one like LinuxWorld or the Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE), or even talking up Free/Open Source Software in the minuscule venue of a LUG meeting.

Discussing in good faith the likeness and difference between distros, between desktop environments, and between FOSS programs is something that is part of the process; the process that helps uplifts all of us — those using different distros, different desktop environments and different FOSS programs — in this thing called the Free/Open Source Software community.

Helping in good faith people who ask — whether it’s something in Fedora that doesn’t work for a user or something in another distro that is not working — is a common and unavoidable occurrence at all show levels, and it’s good to be able to get someone’s problem solved, assuming you show him/her what’s wrong. It’s the teach-a-man-to-fish-and-feed-him-for-life concept in action.

In good faith: Those are the three key words here.

I bring up those three simple words because invariably at Linux shows like LinuxWorld and SCaLE you have some who don’t follow the “in good faith” part of this equation. You know who they are (and you know who you are): These are the folks who will come to any given booth and essentially tell you what’s wrong with your distro/software/hardware, without offering a shred of evidence, an inkling of cause, or the remote possibilty of a solution to their, um, “revealing discovery.”

They’ll continue by asking why your distro/software/hardware can’t solve world hunger, put astronauts on Mars and cure cancer, among other impossibilities.

In short, their schtick is simple: Your distro/software/hardware sucks and you’re pretty lucky I’m here to tell you why.

A word to those who persist in this behavior: Stop.

It may come as a shock to you that you — and you alone — are the only one impressed with your knowledge and self-importance. In reality, everyone else thinks you’re a world-class, Olympic-caliber annoyance. Rather than helping, you’re getting in the way of those who are trying to assist others who may not be as experienced, and certainly aren’t as arrogant, as you.

So either help us with your degree of knowledge without rubbing anyone else’s nose in it, or just step the hell aside.

Folks tried to spar with me at SCaLE last month, but I blew them off — different strokes for different folks. This issue, however, actually came to a head when Red Hat’s Karsten Wade and I were getting dinner to take on the road on Sunday evening and I was confronted by one of the dogmatards whom I had spoken to earlier in the day. Not being in the mood for hearing an additional litany of what was wrong with Fedora, I just nodded and shrugged while being “schooled” about what was lacking in the distro. But Karsten took a more proactive approach, which was described by Karsten’s response to an item in the previous blog post.

Now the reason I brought up Felton: I’m primarily a Fedora user and prefer Fedora over the rest of those mentioned in the first paragraph. However I use the other distros mentioned above. I’m also game to try others; the history of this blog bears me out — google “eight distros a week” and see what you get. Some of the machines here run GNOME, some KDE, some Xfce, and one on Fluxbox. I’m not an expert at any of them, nor am I married to any of them.

Naturally, I’m open to sharing what I do know with anyone who asks. With nearly three years under my belt on the GNU/Linux side of all things digital, I realize that I’m a relative “newb” at this. Surprisingly I’m at peace with that, despite the fact I continue to learn.

So while I’m always interested to hear the error of my ways, whatever they may be, I’m really not interested in matching wits for the sake of matching wits. You want to prove you know more than I do? If that’s the biggest challenge of your day, then let me make this easy for you: You win.

Like most others, I have more important things to do.

[FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs HeliOS Solutions West/Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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More miscellaneous ramblings

April 26, 2008 Leave a comment

[Has it really been almost a month since I last posted? Probably. But with the Lindependence 2008 project hopping, maybe that's not so surprising. My apologies for the long hiatus to those outside my family who read this blog.]

The Heron has landed: Ubuntu let fly with its semiannual release — Hardy Heron, which really goes by the name Ubuntu 8.04 (and Kubuntu 8.04 and Xubuntu 8.04, for those of you keeping score at home) — and it certainly has a lot to offer. Having a chance to tinker with the beta in preparation for the Cabrillo College installfest yesterday, I seem to join a legion of those who use Ubuntu who are deeply impressed with this release. In fact, some are so impressed — like the writer of this eWeek article who seems to think that the *buntus are ready for prime time. Let’s hope he’s right.

[Also, hats off to the Xubuntu developers who completely kicked bug butt in getting 8.04 out the door. How do I know this? For some reason, I'm on the developer's mailing list and the bug reports -- and their solutions -- were fast and furious over the last few weeks. Way to go, Cody and others on the Xubuntu team.]

MySQL, YourSQL, OurSQL: The MySQL conference in Santa Clara two weeks ago was yet another learning experience wrapped in a swagfest. If I keep going to these, I may never go naked again, with a total of 12 T-shirts (one a small YouTube shirt for Mirano, of course) garnered during the course of the show. I worked the dbEntrance booth with Tod Landis and Shane Duan, two ex-Borland guys who have written a browser for MySQL that’s definitely worth a try. Not to toot my own horn or anything, I did get dbEntrance up and running on a Hardy Heron beta with Shane’s help and they work like they were made for each other.

[dbEntrance was fortunate enough to be across from the Red Hat booth, which had a monitor looping a video called "Truth Happens" which was absolutely great. Watch it here. Go ahead, I'll wait.]

Follow the money: Scott Ruecker wrote an editorial on LXer.com rightfully questioning the validity of a report from The Standish Group International that says the “disruptive technology” of open source has cost the IT industry $60 billion over the last five years.  So Scott asks $60 billion question: How did it cost the IT industry $60 billion dollars? Where did the money go and to whom?

[Scott does acknowledge that those are more than one question and apologizes for it in the editorial, though I don't feel an apology is necessary; at least not from Scott.]

More on Lindependence 2008 upcoming, which is starting to come together better than I had expected. Watch this space.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Eight Distros a Week: Epilogue

February 16, 2008 1 comment

Eight distros. Seven days. One tired blogger.

In seven words, that pretty much wraps up the “Eight Distros a Week” series, named after (of course) the Beatles song “Eight Days a Week.”

I have used more than eight distros — AntiX, Debian, Fedora, Fluxbuntu, gNewSense, Linux Mint, Wolvix and Xubuntu — but these eight are the ones that I use most, talk about most and would recommend to those looking for a distro.

I do sometimes — and have in the past — used others. These include:

Yellow Dog Linux: While Yellow Dog seems to be putting its proverbial eggs in the PlayStation 3 basket, the distro does have a history as being the distro for Macs. Yellow Dog 3 “Sirius” is a better-than-average distro for Old World Macs using BootX on a separate partition, and its Red Hat roots make is very adequate for those Macs that predate the turn of the 21st century. However — you knew that was coming — Terra Soft Solutions, the parent company for Yellow Dog, is not exactly the most user-friendly company, unless you plop down $70 for an “Enhanced User Account” for YDL.net. By the way, if you’re tired of digging around for the download page for Yellow Dog, it’s here. You’re welcome.

Red Hat: I use Red Hat at school (Go Cabrillo College Seahawks!). Red Hat works behind the scenes for a variety of companies with which I have daily contact. As a distro, Red Hat is ubiquitous and there’s really nothing I can add to the volumes written by one of the oldest distros. It’s huge, it works, it’s corporate — what more can you say?

Mandriva: I can’t figure out Mandriva. At a recent installfest at Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif., an 11-year-old installed Mandriva on his Dell boxes. In the process, I put it on a Dell box that was doing nothing but sitting there, and I thought the distro worked well. But I installed it once on a laptop and, for some reason, when I went to change the distro, the BIOS had changed to where I couldn’t boot from the CD. Easily fixed, of course, but the thing is I didn’t change the BIOS. My wife and daughter didn’t, and neither did the cat. Mysterious, I know, and more than likely it had nothing to do with the use of Mandriva, but until I can explain some of the strange things that happen when I try Mandriva, I’m avoiding it.

Knoppix: I’ve had this Knoppix CD that I’ve been carrying around for nearly two years, but it wasn’t until recently that I used it for an emergency. If there were a Nobel Prize for distros, Klaus Knopper should top the short list — not only was the disk helpful in solving my problem, I kept it on the machine for a significant amount of time while I waded through what it had to offer. It’s great, but I don’t use it too often.

Ubuntu: While I’m happy with Xubuntu, whenever I try Ubuntu on an Intel box or laptop, I keep thinking, “You know, this screams out ‘Debian’ to me,” and I generally lose interest. Another thing that usually keeps me at an arm’s length from Ubuntu is the split-screen syndrome — the Live CD always gives me a bonus in the screen department with two screens, and I know how to fix it (and do), but I have to say I’m just not a bandwagoner, although I recognize and appreciate Ubuntu’s contributions to FOSS.

One of the universal digital truths is that the difference between most distros is painfully minuscule, and that the object with having a plethora of options — some 350 active distros, according to Distrowatch‘s count — is the beauty behind the freedom of choice you have regarding what runs your computer.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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