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Re: Future of m68k - Etch and beyond

On Tue, Feb 27, 2007 at 05:04:10PM -0600, Joel Ewy wrote:

> I've run Potato, Woody, and Sarge on Macs ranging from a IIci to a
> Quadra 840av, with Q700 and Q630 to fill in the middle.  I've also run
> Linux of various different distros on all kinds of x86 hardware from SLS
> (anyone remember that?) on a '386/sx-40 to Ubuntu and Fedora on Athlon
> systems.  I used RH5.2 on a laptop with a 25 MHz '486 and 20M of RAM,
> running Netscape 4 and WordPerfect 8 under FVWM95, which is rather
> similar in capability to a Q700.  Recently I've been using DSL quite a
> bit on low-end Pentium systems.

I still have an i486sl33 machine at home. It feels faster than my 060
Amigas, although the 060s should be superior to the 486. So, maybe there's
an arch specific slow down (BE/LE)?

> But I also believe that there are some real, practical reasons to want
> to continue to use older computer systems -- sometimes re-purposed to
> play a different role than that originally intended, like the '486
> running LEAF that shares my DSL connection with my household LAN.  But I
> think that there's still some good use in some of these old computers,
> and I would be very disappointed to see all Linux support for the m68k
> platform come to an end.

Same to me. 

>  Here are real uses I can imagine for m68k
> systems of various sorts:  (Some applications not suitable for all
> hardware...)
> 1.  Special purpose computer:  firewall, network appliance, X terminal,
> home automation controller, print server, file server, slideshow kiosk,
> art installation, etc.

Hmmm, slideshow kiosk? Last time I tried X on my Amigas, it was very slow. I
fear that there won't be a *slide*show at all... ;)

> 2.  General purpose PC for lightweight GUI apps:  word processing with
> SIAG Office, FLWriter, or AbiWord, email with Silpheed, light Web
> browsing with Dillo, and so on.

I'll travel today to my parents house again. Usually I use one of my old
computers to act as a temporary workstation. I don't need a fully polished
KDE or Gnome there. So, a lightweight Desktop makes sense. 

> 3.  Programming platform for students, and amateur programmers like me. 
> M68k is great for learning programming:  the assembly language is nice,
> and there's plenty of improvement left to be made.  There are a lot of
> things somebody could contribute to open source operating systems for
> the 68k.  Not everything has already been done.

Sadly, the CS dept on the local university is teaching x86 assembler and I
think it this is similar to other CS depts. ;)

> 4.  Increase the 'genetic diversity' of the 'Net.  With Apple moving to
> x86, we have reached a historic low point in the diversity of computing
> hardware on the Internet.  While the short-term benefits might be in the
> economies of scale, one major down-side is that it makes the job of
> malicious programmers that much easier.  It's quite conceivable that a
> single binary could be devised that would infect MacOS and MS-Windows,
> and probably also x86-based Linux systems as well.  But making it run on
> a 68K Amiga or Atari would be much more difficult.  And why would
> anybody ever bother?

Well, Debian is about freedom (of choice). It's obvious that there needs to
be diversity to have a choice of at all. Within a x86 world, there's no
diversity and therefore no choice. Sure, there's AMD and there's Intel, but
that is like having the choice between poppy seed rolls and a normal bap. 
So, after Debian has fought the monolithic OS world of MS Windows, it's now
supporting a monolothic world of x86 architure by pushing other archs out of
the release. That's bad because one of Debians main strengths was to have
the same operating system throughout all of your favorite archs. So, when
this advantage is going away, why should I bother to use Debian at all, when
there are other distributions that are more uptodate, are more polished,

> I don't see much point in spending a lot of effort trying to build GNOME
> or KDE for m68k.  Maybe XFCE.  But I do see considerable value in
> carefully selecting a subset of Debian packages that run reasonably well
> on common m68k hardware and spending some time developing a distribution
> based around them, possibly with a new, lightweight installer.

Agreed. The main focus should IMHO be put on being able to release. When
there's enough time and resources left, the port can spent some effort on
other stuff like working on Gnome or KDE or such and distribute those
packages via a separate repositry. It's nice to have, but it's not necessary
for a release and make a good use out of these old machines. 
> As I've said before on this list, I think Damn Small Linux would be a
> great model for an m68k-centric mini-distro.  It has Debian roots, which
> should simplify morphing Debian/m68k in that direction.  The MyDSL
> mini-package system is great for small systems.  And focusing the GUI
> elements around FLTK would be a good move.

I think most of the Debian m68k porters would prefer to stay with Debian
instead of another distro. Just an assumption... ;)
Anyway, if there would be a m68k version of DSL, I think it would be worth a
try and see how much faster or more memory preserving it is in comparions to
the plain Debian m68k. 

> As Ingo J. mentioned above, the extensive use of script languages for
> GUI stuff and installation doesn't make for a happy user experience on
> the m68k platform. 

As stated above, I've got the impression that e.g. dpkg is way faster on a
slow 486 than on a (nominal) faster 060. I don't know why, though... 

> If the 68k platform is dead, maybe it can live on in some ghostly
> afterlife.  I envision a small, Debian-derived distribution centered
> around the m68k.  Maybe merely hundreds of packages isntead of
> thousands.  Call it Ghostship.  Imagine a logo of a ship with sails
> vaguely reminiscent of the old Motorola Bat Wings...  It could include

Hehehe... i think this would interfere with Motorolas Copyright... ;)

> I think such a thing is quite doable, considering the level of effort
> that has already been put into continuing to support the m68k
> architecture in Debian.  Perhaps the time, computing resources, and
> expertise would be better spent if it were directed toward a somewhat
> more narrowed goal and a significantly narrowed set of packages.

I agree here, of course. It's just insane to have to built 6600 source
packages just because of "we are able to build them", when rarely 1000 are
commonly used. 

> [lots of stuff deleted, because I'm in a hurry ]
> I would prefer to see Debian continue to support the m68k architecture. 
> But if it simply isn't going to happen anymore, I really think that a
> more focused effort, like what I have described, could result in a much
> more usable, functional product, and could really justify all the
> countless hours that have already been spent kicking what some have
> called a dead horse.

Well, I think the m68k needs to decide where to go. I don't think that the
way of building all packages doesn't help the port itself and should be
change to something that includes less packages... 

'nuff said... I've to travel to my dads 60th birthday now... ;)

Ciao...                //        Fon: 0381-2744150 
      Ingo           \X/         SIP: 2744150@sipgate.de

gpg pubkey: http://www.juergensmann.de/ij/public_key.asc

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