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Re: Reality check! [was: Re: Debian goes big business?]

On Sat, Jan 23, 1999 at 08:00:06PM +0100, Paul Seelig wrote:
> On Sat, 23 Jan 1999, Steve Shorter wrote:
> > Since when has the purpose of debian been to appease the interests
> > of the mass of unskilled consumers? There are lots of dists that are
> > trying to do that. I'm sure they will do a good job of introducing
> > newbies to Linux. But I never thought that was the purpose of
> > Debian.
> Please don't let's start *this* kind of discussion yet again.  It's
> *not* about appeasing to the masses of unskilled consumers.  It's
> about increasing ease of installation, use and maintenance.

installing debian could be made a little easier and faster - mostly by
having non-interactive installs.

how, exactly, do you think that it could be made easier to use and

i hope you haven't fallen for the myth that a GUI config is inherently
easier than a text file config, because that is simply not true.  GUI
configuration tools are simpler for simple tasks but range from harder
to impossible when it comes to more complex tasks.

(note i said "simpler" and not "easier". they're not the same thing -
simpler does not always mean easier)

this is inherent in the nature of simplified GUI configuration tools
- they achieve their simplicity by constraining the range of choices.
if the GUI programmer hasn't thought of and written a dialog for a
particular configuration then it can't be done.

even worse: all of the linux/unix gui config tools that i have looked at
will lose valuable information from hand-crafted configuration files.

> Skilled people definitely benefit from such time saving aspects in
> their daily jobs.  Even professionals don't want to always have to
> deal with things which explicitly require a professional.  Excellence
> in design doesn't necessarily have to result in awkwardness.

'awkwardness' is subjective. for configuring a program, i find
anything other than editing a well-commented text file with vi to be
extremely awkward and difficult, especially when the machine i am
configuring is at the other end of a flooded modem or isdn link. 

i don't want to have to take my hands off the keyboard and click on
half-a-dozen OK buttons or icons or dialog boxes just to change one
little thing in a config file. i want to be able to comment out certain
parts of the configuration while trialling new options or to leave them
in there as documentation/historical record.

> The fact that even the "mass of unskilled consumers" benefit from this
> is a completely different issue.

"make a system easy enough for an idiot to use and only an idiot will
want to use it"

there are other dists which cater quite well to the "mass of unskilled
consumers". debian caters well for the skilled and for those who are
willing to learn.

debian should make it easier to learn, and therefore easier to make the
transition from unskilled newbie to skilled systems administrator - but
it should do this with good documentation and wrapper scripts where
necessary (e.g. stuff like sendmailconfig and to a lesser extent, the
fmirror config wrapper that i wrote)

> The point is that what's good for unskilled people can be equally good
> for skilled people who no by themselves how to provoke trouble if they
> really want it. ;-)

i find that very very hard to believe. what is good for unskilled people
is to constrain their options so that they don't get overwhelmed by new
information and the multitude of choices available. that is NOT good for
skilled people...in fact, it is extremely annoying and frustrating.

> > Debian IMHO should be aimed toward the skilled technical user and
> > those who are already Linux skilled. There is no other dist that is
> > trying to fill this role. [ ... ]
> Where's the problem (other than that *you* don't care) to make Debian
> comfortable even for "the skilled technical user"?  Hey, i'm skilled
> enough to handle all this stuff but it would be *really* nice if i
> wouldn't need to have to be skilled to be able to to certain standard
> tasks which should rather be automated.

then write scripts to automate them. if your scripts are good enough
and of general use then submit them to the maintainer of the relevant
packages(s). problem solved.

i haven't yet had a debian developer reject any of the wrapper scripts
that i have written to automate or simplify administration tasks. all
have been more than happy that someone else is willing to do some work
to make their package even better. the trick is to write your contrib
stuff so that it works for you, and then re-write it so that it is
generally useful for a lot of people...then submit it to the package

that may seem like a lot of extra work, just to use a package...but in
many cases, it's a lot LESS work than re-implementing your custom stuff
every time a package is upgraded. that's a strong incentive to share
your improvements.

> Yes, i've learned my share and now what?  Do i still have to use a
> system which lets me explicitly feel that i *had* to learn my share
> to take advantage of it?  Or should i better switch to SuSE now and
> renounce at all what makes Debian superior, just to not waste my time
> with things i already know and don't need to learn again and which my
> system could do all alone without my involvement?  For professional
> jobs i need a system which is easy to maintain and which saves my
> valuable time without requiring the knowledge i've had to acquire.

if you can contribute to the bootscripts so that it makes for an
easier/faster install then that will be a good thing.

ditto for if you can come up with tools or whatever to automate
configuration tasks without dumbing it down.

but if you can only come up with something which achieves simpler or
easier configuration at the price of flexibility then you will not get
a lot of support from many people here. install junk like that on your
own system if you must, but don't try to turn debian into some sort of
"linux for untrained chimps".

> Hey, installations are terribly bothersome processes and Debian's
> installation is the most cumbersome and lengthy of them all.  

it aint that bad. it could be streamlined a bit, and there should be an
option for non-interactive installs but it works, and it works well.

the hardest part is running dselect to select from all the packages.
this difficulty is inherent in the number of packages available in
debian these days. choosing from >2000 packages takes more time than
choosing from 400 packages.

hamm was released with a pre-selections wrapper, where you could chose
certain sets of pre-selected packages. it works, but could use some
improvement and probably needs to be updated for slink - there's a good
place for you to expend your energy if you care about this.

i build lots of debian systems, most of them very similar to each
other in the packages which are installed...so i make use of the tools
available: dpkg --get-selections and dpkg --set-selections. used
properly, they can eliminate almost entirely the need to run dselect
during the initial install.

  1.  boot on rescue floppy
  2.  partition and format drives
  3.  install kernel, modules, and base system
  4.  reboot
  5.  after setting the root password, quit immediately from dselect
  6.  install apt by hand with 'dpkg -i'.  configure apt for my local
  7.  grab my selections file with ftp and feed it into 'dpkg --set-selections'
  8.  run dselect, choose apt as the install method
  9.  if building an 'unstable' system, run "Select" to resolve any 
      weirdnesses/differences between unstable-NOW and unstable as it was
      when the --get-selections was run.
 10.  choose "Install" from dselect's menu.

apart from getting rid of postinst questions in various packages, i
don't see how that could be made any simpler or easier. it certainly
couldn't be done without limiting my choices and obstructing me....which
may be 'simpler', but it sure as hell wouldn't make it any 'easier'.

> I'd want to have an installation which would save me quite some
> hassle and would save me the need to help out my friends when the try
> installing Debian on their own.  Why shouldn't an independent company
> do something about it?  I'd happily pay for a Debian diskset which
> features a dead easy install and maintenance if it really saves me the
> precious time i could use for more worthwhile things.  What's so bad
> about that?

nothing at all is bad about that. if someone or some company wants to
create a simplified distribution based on debian, they they are at
liberty to do so. most debian developers would even see that as being a
Good Thing<tm>.

> We are not talking about plain Debian as it stands now but about
> another project which is simply and only based on Debian.  Don't get
> confused about it please.

good. glad to hear it. i'd hate to see debian itself dumbed-down merely
to serve a market which is already adequately catered for, at the
expense of the technically-literate market.


craig sanders

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