Clueless users are bad for debian (was Let's CENSOR it!)
,----[ On Thu, Mar 25, at 03:52PM, Santiago Vila wrote: ]--------------
| On Thu, 25 Mar 1999, Josip Rodin wrote:
| We are certainly not responsible for *everything* a clueless user may do,
| but if we do not care at all about clueless users, then Debian will never
| be for newbies.
| I think we should try to make a distribution for everybody, not only for
| geeks who have a lot of time to read a lot of documents.
I've been waiting for an opportune time to post this. This appears to be a good
time to do it :) I've been lurking on these lists for a while now. As they say
on the radio, long time listener, first time caller. All comments are, of
Pablo Averbuj Tombstone@EFNet | Finger firstname.lastname@example.org for PGP Key
email: email@example.com ICQ: 7049977 | Perl Warrior, Linux Lover, College
http://www.gos.nu FL Atlantic Univ | Dropout, and The Most Evil Man(tm)
Letter to Debian about Friendliness
1. Stupid Users are Bad.
2. Stupid Users are Bad for Debian.
3. Stupid Users should be ignored.
I'm writing this letter to the Debian community in what is
undoubtedly not a very warm view but one of my stronger opinions about the
Linux community. My first installation of Debian was a migration from
Slackware, synchronized with a fellow slacker (firstname.lastname@example.org), and was
incited by a third coworker (email@example.com). To be quite frank, the
installation blew goats. No if's and's or but's. It was difficult, and I
loved it that way. After getting over the enormous and difficult mountain
called installation, I stood atop its peak and looked down at a beautiful,
green valley where the goats frolicked and the hackers played. It was a
promiseland of customization. Those packages which were trivial and not
worth maintaining were done by a single person. Instead of 1000 hackers
worrying about whether their installation of 'less', or 'as86', or 'grep'
was the latest, one hacker worried about it on behalf of the rest. This
was a wonderful place after the dreadfully satisfying land of slacking.
Many people still complain that Debian is difficult, if not impossible, to
install and I poo on them. If they can't persevere the mountain, they
should not enjoy the fruits of the valley beyond it.
Dangers of user-friendliness
My fear is that inevitably, those who have problems installing
will send nasty letters to the maintainers hollering about what a
disastrous distribution they have and how it sucks because the user
couldn't install it. Of course, the people who have no problem installing
(after the 12th time) do not write the maintainers just to inform them
that once you figure the installation process out, it becomes as natural
as picking the lint out of your belly button.
Eventually these maintainers, although they know they provide a
powerful, complex tool, would believe that they need to convince lure more
users over and gain the approval of those who are too myopic of lazy to
RTFM. These great maintainers would confer and agree that perhaps the
users are right and it is time to develop an easier way to install. This
is the point where I say "foo!" There are numerable reasons why I believe
Linux should remain the difficult, complex, cryptic, command line driven,
undocumented, labyrinth of an OS as it's *nix predecessors. What I see
happening is a paradigm shifting to user-friendly applications that
lose complexity and robustness in the same modification. A place where we
remove some of the 'arcane' options of 'tar' so that the synopsis doesn't
consume an entire page and scare off our lowly MacOS refugee.
I speak these words fully knowing that I am being a hypocrite.
Twenty years ago any hacker worth his salt would have scoffed at my Unix
skills, or my meek programming skills and insisted that we should not move
to those damn magnetic tape drives but stick with punch cards. But that
was different time. The people that were invading the computer culture at
the time were just as geeky and withdrawn as their mentors. I see that the
shift is now more widespread to a more and more unqualified public. People
who have maybe owned a computer for a handful of years now are deciding
that Linux is the correct tool for them and they should immediately flood
our mailing lists with requests for help initializing their WinModem
without the least amount of tact to be able to research these questions
themselves and merely resorting to harassing those of us who are trying to
progress into new areas rather than revisit old FAQs.
Now, for those who may fall into this newbie category but are just
as withdrawn and sit at home thumbing their Bat Book searching to find
the correct delivery flag that they should use in order to have their
mail-server act as a backup should disregard this. Many people come to me
as I walk through our tech support department and ask me what they should
do to run Linux. I tell them that if they decide to install Linux for the
sake of learning *nix, to install slackware, spend three years recompiling
packages to the latest versions, reading mailing lists for bug reports and
locking down their systems. I tell them if they install Linux, to never go
on EFnet for help as chances are, they will be owned. I spend a few
minutes telling them the first steps they should take after installing
Linux, but do not tell them how to do it.
Turn off inetd
Compile and Run ssh
Do not run any services that you do not need
Seek and research all SetUID programs
Read lots and lots of documentation
This usually scares them off. If they insist on installing Linux, I tell
them that I will not answer any question that I feel could have been
researched and answered in less than 30 minutes. Why should I do all the
work for them. -I- already know how to disable ftpd, they're supposed to
be learning. I tell them that once they are past Slackware and can
administer it reliably, that then, and only then, they should move to
Debian. Doing otherwise, they would lose all appreciation for the free
time that Debian affords us and all of its many wonders.
Hacking and GUI Don't Mix
Part of my concern also stems from the recent (decade) move toward
GUI's. I'll admit that I haven't been using Linux quite as long as I seem
to think I have, but before Linux, I only ran DOS. Even when dosshell or
Windows 3.0 and all the descendants arrived knocking on doors promising
new ease of use, I stuck with DesqView and DOS running BBSes for the heck
of it. Those who got on the BBSes, usually had at least enough computer
skills to configure a terminal program and walk through the steps of
creating a new account and knowing what to do once it had been created.
Unfortunately, a lot of recent refugees to Linux can't even do that much.
When approached and asked whether a person should install Linux, I always
ask them what they are going to use it for, and they usually realize that
they think they know what it's for, although they are not really sure. I
know why -I- moved to Linux (The hopes of running multitasking BBSes under
something better than DesqView).
At any rate, there is a movement towards GUIs in the entire
computing industry. I recently acquired my first ISDN router (a 3Com
OfficeConnect 530) which is a great little unit. I'm extremely happy.
However, it came with this horrible utility on two extra disks (for
Windows, of course). I installed it on a nearby machine and was horrified
to see how incredibly useless it was. Very limited compared to the things
one could accomplish by telneting to the router and using the CLI. Where
am I going with this? I'm not sure, but I'm certain I've pissed a lot of
people off by now so I'll keep going.
It is my firm belief (although someone will probably come up with
something to disprove me) that the most powerful tools available to the
advanced/power user are complicated and not user-friendly. I've sat many
hours pondering why this was and my conclusion remains that the people who
write powerful utilities probably aren't using GUIs. It is worth noting
that mouse driven interfaces are extremely counter-productive since moving
from the keyboard to the mouse and back consumes a considerable amount of
typing time . There may be more reasons to this. For example, it is not
very easy to pass output from one GUI application to be the input for
another since the data is not mere bytes which represent characters but
pixels which represent characters to our eyes. This breaks the Unix
tradition of chaining together powerful utilities to perform a complicated
task. Instead you must envelop the entire task in a single monolithic
program that will usually not share it's code with another program. 
Obvious Omission of Redhat
Some readers may have noticed by now my glaring omission of RedHat
from any discussion. Well, it is no longer omitted. I have beef with
Redhat, and my intention is quite honestly not to start a flame war about
distributions as there are others performing this task quite well without
my help. However, I have both philosophical and technical beef with Redhat
but I'll try to only discuss the technical aspects at this point. 
Redhat has shown itself to be the common man's Linux. It tries
it's darndest to be the easiest, most intuitive, and most turnkey (I hate
marketing phrases) Linux solution. It has accomplished this, but at what
cost? If tomorrow there were some bug to be discovered in Redhat's
distribution that was remotely exploitable for root access, the newbie
Redhat user would be a) most likely unaware, b) if they were aware, most
likely at an immediate loss about how to fix it, and c) possibly fix it
incorrectly. My honest belief is that if you want a Unix-like environment
that's totally GUI driven, go to BeOS. I run this on one of my machines
and I really enjoy it. This will give the user them same sense of
community as Linux, except without as many headaches, and truly more of a
'turnkey' GUI solution then Redhat. Why someone would want to learn Linux
by running Redhat is beyond me. I believe it is synonymous to a Windows
user saying they can use DOS just because they can use a shell that runs
on top of it. What it boils down to is that Redhat tries to make SysAdmins
of people who shouldn't even be DosAdmins.
It is my hope that Debian maintainers read this and realize that a
larger base of users isn't necessarily a good thing. I believe that Debian
has found a niche with the advanced Linux user who doesn't have the time
to maintain trivial packages but doesn't want to lose the robustness of
CLIs but always have the option of customizing what they wish. A base of
users who would rather not download and recompile 'awk' but still have the
option to download apache source, recompile it, and integrate it as the
binary package would have. And finally, an excellent base of
self-supporting users who appreciate Debian for the advantages it gives
them and the way it keeps those annoying newbies out.
I had written this document before subscribing to serveral Debian
mailing lists. I wanted to get a feel for the types of conversations on
-user and -devel and -policy before deciding which list to post this to.
However, in the week that I was subscribed to -user I read a great
paragraph or two from a helper to a newbie. I hope he won't mind my
pasting it here:
Date: Fri, 19 Mar 1999 03:15:20 +0100
From: Marcus Brinkmann <Marcus.Brinkmann@ruhr-uni-bochum.de>
Just remember that Linux is not Windows, but a Unix clone. So we
will have more unixish structure then windowish. Every new user
msut accept that. Therefore, the standard editor is not notepad,
but vi. The reasons are also historical ones.
I wonder what the SEUL (simple end user linux) is doing. Someone
should definitely build a simple linux based on Debian targetted
to ex windows user. But let's not make bare Debian to that.
I don't think making Debian windowish does really help anyone. A
derivative of Debian can be windowish, I would encourage everyone
t try something like this.
I think this a great embodiment of my essay. I think it was very well put.
1. My synopsis of tar on my Debian machine uses approximately 23 lines,
not counting the "SYNOPSIS:\n" line.
2. If you average 6 keystrokes per second and it takes 3 seconds to move
your hand to the mouse, move it to the desired location, and place the
hand back on the keyboard, you have lost 18 keystrokes.
3. It is worth noting that Vermont (firstname.lastname@example.org) is currently
hatching an evil plot to make a library that will the point that I am
4. If there is interest shown I will write a discussion of my
philosophical beef with Redhat.