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Re: How to install X-Chat in five hours (or more)

On Tue, Aug 05, 2003 at 08:14:23AM -0700, Ian Hickson wrote:
> On Wed, 6 Aug 2003, Hamish Moffatt wrote:
> > On Tue, Aug 05, 2003 at 01:33:19AM -0700, Ian Hickson wrote:
> > > Part of the problem I had was that I had a vague understanding that
> > > there was something called "apt", but that I didn't know what it was
> > > or how to do anything with it. The man page said to see apt-get's;
> > > apt-get's man page suggested the tool was a back-end but didn't really
> > > give any clues as to what front end to use.
> >
> > Not directly, but the "SEE ALSO" list does include dselect(8) which is
> > what you really should have used.
> The term "dselect" means nothing to me. It isn't a usable name. That's
> another example of the problem I mentioned.

Tools have names, and they don't really have to be generic. I think it's
quite acceptable for the installation manual to tell you the names you
need to know to get started, and it does: see sections 8.11 to 8.15 of

"mozilla" isn't a particularly obvious name, when you get down to it;
why not "web-browser"? (Because it's not the only web browser on the
planet, of course. Likewise, it's important not to confuse people
migrating between distributions by having the generic name "setup" do
something completely different wherever you go because people were
scared of using program names.)

> Would it not be possible for debian to have a command "setup" or "install"
> or something similarly named?

I think that's a good example of why generic names may not be a good
thing to encourage people to expect; /usr/bin/install has existed for a
long time, can't feasibly be changed, and is definitely not what you're
looking for.

> Note that, if for some reason the user knew about the command
> "apropos", even that wouldn't help him -- none of dselect, aptitude,
> and apt-get come up for "apropos install" or "apropos setup".

They all show up for 'apropos package', along with a bunch of other
stuff, but yes, that would probably be a useful enhancement to at least
one of those man pages.

> >> To the end user (me), apt-get is arbitrarily verbose. "Selecting
> >> previously deselected package libbla3.2"? "Get:1 ftp://apt sid/main
> >> libbla3.2 3.2.10-9 [827kB]"?
> >>
> >> Look at operating systems used by less intelligent users. They just
> >> see:
> >>
> >>    [#################         ] 60%      2 minutes remaining
> >
> > I don't see how some extra verbosity hurts.
> It hurts because it scares users. My dad would take one look at the
> text, and give up. (And 15 years ago he was a VMS administrator, so
> it's not like he's computer illiterate.) My mum wouldn't even give the
> text a chance, she'd just see a wad of text with odd punctuation and
> run for the hills.

However, it's better for a command-line tool to be verbose up-front,
because if it crashes or blows up or just goes slightly wrong, at least
the last of which is frequent with buggy packages, we need the
information for bug reports (at any rate until such time as we have
logging in dpkg, but since that's bug #957 I wouldn't hold your breath
...). With a graphical front-end it's much easier to hide the verbosity
and have a "show me the installation log" option in case of error. I've
seen graphical front-ends for the Debian package management system that
do exactly this.

I wouldn't suggest that your mum use apt-get in any case, no more than
I'd try to get my parents to do everything on the command line. I'd
suggest a point-and-click package manager instead, if I were having them
do routine package maintenance at all.

> > Frankly if verbosity loses us some users, too bad. I'm sure we pick
> > up more users because of the same.
> You will lose many more than you will gain, since there are many more
> computer illiterate users than geeks.

That hasn't historically been a good argument on Debian mailing lists.
:-) Fundamentally, we're trying to produce the best, most stable, most
reliable, etc. system we can, not get as many users as we can. The two
goals aren't always entirely synonymous. In fact, computer-literate
users may often be better from our perspective because they often
produce better bug reports!

That's not to say that the goal is user-hostility, just that
user-friendliness isn't always the all-defeating trump card when
discussing relatively low-level tools like dpkg and apt-get.

> > To rant a bit, the thing that bugs me the most about MS Windows is
> > how when it breaks randomly you can't fix it because it runs on
> > smoke and mirrors and doesn't give helpful information on what went
> > wrong. With UNIX/Linux you get details and you can fix it.
> Just to clarify, I've nothing against verbosity itself. /var/log, for
> instance, is great (although "var" is a historical name that really
> should be replaced by something more user friendly, but that's another
> story).

You can't get there from here, I think. Unix admins coming to Debian
will scream blue murder if it starts being "/My Variable Data/Logs", and
that group is important to us.

> The problem is verbosity when things don't go wrong.
> I'm all for a "tell me what is going on" feature for debugging.

As I say, I think that's definitely the job of a graphical front-end.
synaptic, gnome-apt, kpackage, the Lindows whatever-it's-called ...

> > Which UI did you use? We have a few. apt-get is not an interface for the
> > Debian newbie. dselect and aptitude are GUI tools if that's what you
> > need.
> I used aptitude. It is not easy to use. It's fine for me, as I'm a
> geek. But if I told my mum to load aptitude and install X, she
> wouldn't have a clue how to do it.
> I just tried using deselect, to see if it is any better.

I wouldn't recommend dselect as a paragon of newbie usability. :-) I
like it, but I'm used to it.


Colin Watson                                  [cjwatson@flatline.org.uk]

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