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Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)

  also known as zed
  & handle of notzed

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Saturday, 27 February 2010, 19:06

Sick and tired of being a permanent beta-tester.

Sigh. I was really angry about this, but now I'm just disappointed.I'm just sick and tired of being a permanent beta-tester, or even alpha-tester, for `linux distributions' and much of the software they use. That was never terribly cool, but it was entirely acceptable up until about the turn of the century. But today there's no excuse anymore, and really only one way to describe it, and that's bullshit. It just doesn't seem to be getting better either, and if anything seems to be taking a turn for the worse in the last few years (Notwork Manager, Puss Audio, KDE 4, EXT4, anything from f.d.o, and so on).In the usual bullshit goal to add new features, stability and usability are being cast aside in the permanent quest for shiny. It certainly isn't confined to the linux world - just look at vista or apple - but they don't affect me personally so i couldn't care less.

The latest case to affect me being Grub 2 (apparently it's been in use for a while, but today is my first experience with it). I installed Ubuntu 9.10 on a fresh system, and it just doesn't boot. No problem ... go to rescue mode and fix it. Ahhh, what the feck is this mess? They've turned the boot-loader into a friggan `platform'. I don't want to have to learn a whole new over-engineered `script' format, together with each distribution's overly extensible frame-work designed to make it `usable' - for something that doesn't work anyway, and wont add anything most people need. It's just a bloody boot loader after-all. I know grub had some issues, but it just doesn't need a huge run-time extensible module system and sophisticated scripting platform to copy a disk image to ram and change the cpu's program counter to point to it. And particularly since they still seem to be short on developers - the last thing they need is to make it more complex.

It's a fundamental problem which starts at the project developers and filters it's way through to the distribution makers - but ultimately it is the distribution makers who are making the wrong choice. For starters, if basic things like sound, network, or booting don't work, they rightly bear the brunt of the anger. They are responsible for not just compiling a group of disparate projects and ensuring they work together, but that the application choices actually work. Distributions too often seem to confuse `stable' with `unmaintained' as well - the noisiest busiest projects get the attention, even if an alternative already does the same thing but isn't being actively developed any more since it doesn't need to be. And their choices can have pretty negative effects on projects; including a project 6 months before it is actually ready for production use can leave a sour taste in many users and tar it's image for years.

Project developers do need to take their share of the blame too. Sure nobody wants to maintain old software forever, but if they decide to drop support for and old product, they had better make sure the replacement works pretty well before pushing it for inclusion into distributions (or accept that nobody will use it till it does). Too often unwanted software is forced onto all users as a way to ensure it gets the testing required to make it a complete product, or worse, to ensure a competing project doesn't gain a footing (this is particularly problematic inside Linux where politics has started to blatantly undermine merit). As much as I dislike it, I realise this is part of Fedora's policy, so it can be excused to some extent, but most distributions actually promise a usable system from the start.

I guess i'll try Centos again - I tried it earlier but I couldn't get dual-screen working, and the network went all strange when I went to download decent drivers (the former not entirely their fault - bloody nvidia) ... hmm, maybe I shouldn't bother. And if that doesn't work easily I guess it'll have to be Fedora 10, or perhaps an earlier Ubuntu. At least they just worked as far as I need them (i.e. I don't need sound).

I suppose this strategy of avoiding the unstable shiny shit will work for a couple of years ... and hopefully by then the distributions will have got their fracken shit together, but somehow I just don't think that will happen.So you might be wondering - just what are you doing about it then, you whiney prick?

Well for starters, there just isn't anything I can do about Linux or it's distributions - they are too big with their own culture and momentum - and way too much politics. At the most I might be able to write a small application or work on a larger one with other people - but that wouldn't have any impact. Even when I was working on Evolution I didn't have full control of the project, which sometimes stopped me fixing some of the larger problems. And too often I find myself in the minority and don't have the skills to make my case effectively (for example it is pretty hard explaining something when you think it's so obvious it shouldn't need any).

I have poked around AROS a little bit, and Haiku - I dislike a lot of the way GNU/Linux works and I think the only practical solution to that is just a completely different OS. But so far I just haven't been able to get into them for whatever reason, and sometimes you just have to work to your own strengths - and perhaps working on such projects just isn't for me. I think Haiku probably has the most promise at this point, and I think AROS is a little too conservative in it's goals to ever be really useful for most people. I think that despite always screaming for them, projects like these secretly don't really want any new developers anyway - the developers are quite happy to make their little wins on a system completely of their own devising, without having to worry about the politics and simply the hassles of dealing with anyone new. And I think that's an entirely reasonable approach to take too if you're in it for the hobby - it's a hell of a lot more fun that way for starters, and why else would you be doing it?

PS The pile of dirt hasn't moved, but I did have a pretty good nap - although that'll probably just mean a late night!

Tagged rants.
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