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Re: OT: Saving GNU/Linux FOSS in the age of Android and iOS

On Fri, 4 Nov 2011 09:25:03 -0400
Bill Cox <waywardgeek@gmail.com> wrote:

> The magic happening in Android, and I hate to admit but iOS too, is
> they've gone back to the bazaar model where anyone can share any app
> they like. 
You know that the Android and iOS 'app stores' are curated, right? On Android, at least, anyone can write an application with Free tools and distribute it however they like; to get it into the App Store requires the cooperation of Google or another managing entity. This doesn't seem very different to me, especially because:

> That freedom to share is missing in Debian.
To get a package *into* Debian. it needs to satisfy standards. To build a package that *installs* on Debian, you need to read about three pages of docs and run a handful of commands. Here in the Age of Ubuntu, you see this all the time.

What is it you're proposing here in terms of software distribution? That the free software world needs better mechanisms than the Debian repositories for distributing software? That the curation requirements are too stringent?

> To get there in GNU/Linux, I'm recommending that a basic "app" run in
> a chroot and permissions jail, with hard links to the exact shared
> libraries with which the app was originally built and tested.

In your proposed system, does every GUI application come with its own binary copy of X11? If not, how do you deal with changes in the ABI? If so, how do you get more than one window at once? What do you do when two applications want to talk to each other but link against different versions of libdbus? Does every sound-based application ship with its own ALSA/OSS/whatever? If so, how do you handle mixing? If no, again, how do you handle ABI drift? Sandboxing is great for security, but trying to segregate applications into discrete library universes seems likely to damage or destroy the idea of a unified operating environment, which is essential for a lot of what we want computers to do.

In any event, what you propose is a radical re-architecture of the desktop operating system. A desktop OS with sandboxing built in at the core is certainly a worthy experiment, and one which other groups are already working on. It doesn't look like Debian to me, though. What is it about this project that makes you think "Debian"?

> In GNU/Linux land,
> we've got Debian, Red Hat, Suse, Gentoo, and many other incompatible
> distros where a binary from one will not run on the other. If I want
> the whole world of deviant GNU/Linux hackers to enjoy the deep tones
> of my stupid buggy fart app, I have to package it many different ways,
> and pass the high standards of the monks of the various Linux base
> distros. It's never going to happen.
In fact, all you have to do is *get someone to help you*, as this mailing list shows. Not quite so onerous as having to learn all the packaging standards yourself, although you still might struggle to find a maintainer for your hypothetical fart noisemaker. Maybe not, though... there's a lot of silly stuff in Debian.

In any event, the idea of a unified cross-distro packaging system comes up a lot, but it seems to miss an important point: each of yum, apt, pacman, and all the others is *already* a unified packaging system built deeply into the architectures of the distros that use it. The only mechanism I can see for eliminating packaging diversity is for the market share of n-1 packaging groups of distributions to vanish. This doesn't sound like a Big Win for the free community to me.
> I just hope to
> convince some of the Debian devs that there is a problem, and to start
> thinking about a solution.  If Debian wants simply to be the software
> run on servers in dark closets, fine.  Ignore the problem in that
> case.  
Call me old-fashioned, but I just don't see the problem. Debian is not designed to be everything to everyone — there are just so many different kinds of computer users with so many different needs. Raw Debian is explicitly a bare-metal, do-anything-you-know-how-to-do GNU/Linux distribution, and radically changing that must necessarily disenfranchise the server-closet crowd and the e17-on-my-phone crowd even if it does manage to create a more fart-app-friendly distribution framework. On the other hand, there is a rich ecosystem of Debian derivatives providing a wealth of different computing experiences for many different kinds of users. Millions of people run Ubuntu on the desktop, for example, including my mother, who still calls a mouse a "clicker". The situation seems to be pretty healthy to me. Of course, bringing new software of reasonable quality into the system is always a boon, but I think we're doing a pretty okay job at that.


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