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Install software on Linux - a minor conspiracy?

By       Message Andrey Gerasimenko     Permalink
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Sometimes media people are not ashamed to look like incompetent idiots. The only explanation I can imagine is that there is some purpose to pursuer. Going an mass for a hidden goal is a conspiracy by definition, right? Being an OpEd reader, I begin to see the pattern when things like climate change or nuclear weapons or hunger or Linux are discussed. The first three are major compared to all things Linux, so we have a minor Linux conspiracy to deal with.

The immediate reason for my post is the following link: click here The problem is not in the article itself, it is in the fact this article is a typical one.

The question is: "If a Linux user could just download an installer for any program she finds in the Net and install it easily, just like on Windows, would it be great?" The assumed answer is "Yes", the assumed current situation is that Linux users have problems installing software, and the rest is the discussion of some efforts to "find one good way to install software on Linux". Sounds good and reasonable? I guess no.

Let me, having in mind that Windows only people, explain how software is getting to Linux desktops and servers. It takes several steps. First, it is written by developers who produce the source code. Second, it is packaged by distribution maintainers who produce packages for their distributions, provided the distribution decides the application is good enough and worth the effort. Third, Linux users download the package for their distribution and install the application, the process being faster, simpler, and with better final results than on Windows. 

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Just to educate Windows only users. The process is faster since there is no Registry related overhead. It is simpler because there are less possible cases to handle (for a given distribution, naturally; for Linux in general there are a lot more cases to handle). And the end results are better because the uninstallation is clean (playing with applications does not lead to performance degradation), shared libraries are in fact shared (so the overall volume of installed files is smaller and improvements made for one application automatically make some other better), and the files are in perfect order (on a well maintained system you can point to any file and the package manager will tell you what package installed it, when it installed it, and what applications use it).

What problems do you see? Or let me ask it differently: if there were problems here, how come Microsoft considers Linux to be a threat to Windows? So, the current state of software installation on Linux is not bad, thus revealing the first false assumption in the article (and lots of similar articles as well).

The "problem" such articles are based on is twofold. First, what if a developer does not want to release the source code and does not want to allow the distribution vendors to distribute compiled binaries? Yes, the end user will have to deal with such vendor one on one, which can ruin some pipe dreams of that vendor. This does not mean that closed source vendors cannot do business on Linux, they just have to play by the rules. Do you want closed source run amok on Linux as they do on Windows? I do not. 

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Second, what if a user wants an application for which her distribution does not provide an installation package? Possibly she uses a wrong distribution. Maintainers do not just package software for easy installation. They also select the software to package and assure quality. The way they do these two things is the main factor that influences the distribution choice of a competent user. For example, if you want the best, rock solid, and essential - go Slackware. If you want full (really full) control, go Gentoo. If you want variety, choose Debian stable or testing. If you want "just works", go Ubuntu. And so on, for each desire there is a distribution to fulfil it.

So, the search for a "good one way to install software" is in fact the search of a way to bypass distribution maintainers. That is, to be free to feed the users with crap and have a free ride on the efforts of the above mentioned maintainers. Is allowing that a good thin? I guess not, more so because the "good one way" is impossible without limiting my freedom to configure my Linux system. And you know, I would better keep my freedom and survive without that "good one way".

Interestingly enough, there is a real problem. The life of distribution maintainers will be easier if the software vendors follow some rules. For example, they should allow to compile their software, copy it to a different folder, and use it from there. Sounds natural, but Linux allows to hard code folders easily and some developers misuse the feature. Possibly enforcing some rules will be good. However, since any enforcing may result in some developers just quitting software development, it also can be bad.

So, how can the plan be read? Write articles about the "good one way" so that software developers, especially those working for free, do all the technical work for us. If they succeed, enforce the "good one way". Harm all the distributions beyond the few compatible with it. Flood Linux with crap, both open and closed source. Let commercial distributions handle tech support for our crap. If the "good one way" is not found, be happy that we successfully purged time and effort of Linux developers that could be used elsewhere. Even if nobody takes the bite, harm Linux creating an illusion that there is a software installation problem in it.

Does the pattern look familiar?
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Install software on Linux - a minor conspiracy?