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.comment: The Desktop? The Desktop! - page 2

The Realm of the Unexpected

  • July 18, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Poor SuSE.

That worthy distribution has, through the lone fault of being a good, solid, product, been saddled with a fate it doesn't deserve: I use it, so when it annoys me I write about it, while other distributions, which would annoy me in different ways, get a pass. And here I go again.

I've noted previously that to bend SuSE-7.2 to my will as far as KDE is concerned meant deleting all the KDE-1.x stuff and replacing all the KDE-2.x stuff and QT. When I built the KDE CVS tree last week, I paid special attention to errors and set about resolving them. Here again SuSE made me cranky, though I suspect that the pablum packaged by just about everybody does the same irritating things.

Running the configure script for kdelibs sent me the error that I did not have OpenSSL installed. I do. The configure script for kdebase clued me in to my lack of CUPS, which I have installed, and OpenMotif, which I also have installed. Back to the CD (actually, back to the SuSE FTP site, which was easier than getting the CD out of the box on the shelf and mounting it) and the full-names directory, in which the packages are actually listed, instead of being sorted in ways that make no sense to me. Sure enough, each of these also had a -devel package.

It may be that in the market targeted by SuSE storage space is at a premium and therefore it's important not to install the whole thing when you install a package. I'm accustomed to building from source, and when you get source, you usually get the headers and so on. So to me the idea of splitting packages into little pieces performs no useful purpose, but to distributors (or at least SuSE) it's apparently a good thing to do. And for argument's sake I'll even grant them the point.

But if they're going to do this, then they are obligated, I think, to make it easy for users to check a single box, right up front, specifying that they want the -devel packages for every binary they install installed, too. Once there was source code, and if you wanted an application, you built it. Then there were package managers, which made life easier for newbies and for installation of distributions, though building from source was still considered acceptable, even preferable. Now distributions are making it hard for those who roll their own. There's no need for it, particularly with applications such as CheckInstall, which will even keep homebuilds from breaking the package management database. There is no reason that desktop and newbie friendliness must come at the expense of more experienced users or those of a little more adventurous spirit.

To this end, I was delighted by a long and highly instructive note I received from SuSE's Lenz Grimmer in response to my having written my impressions of the SuSE-7.2 distribution. Much of what he said was as I expected (the multiplicity of KDE directories is to ease the use of both KDE-1.x and KDE-2.x applications), some was very interesting (the reason for /var/X11R6 is to facilitate remote use with XFree-3.3.6), and one thing truly pleased me: The inflexibility of SuSEConfig is something that the company plans to change. I'd complained that if one changes some configuration files in /etc, SuSE changes them back. This encouraged me to believe that SuSE is both responsive and interested in having a broad variety of desktop users of different levels of skill in their user base.

(Other things that he explained: OpenGL is not enabled by default because it is often more trouble than it's worth, which is to say that it's not reliable yet; on reflection I looked back at the hoops I've had to jump through to make it work well -- compiling both agpgart.o and the DRI driver for my video card into the kernel itself, not as modules -- and realized that he's entirely right. IDE-SCSI emulation is not enabled by default in SuSE-7.2 because, while it works for many drives, it breaks many others, but a search of the docs, both packaged and online, will provide the recipe for setting it up. YaST2 relies on what monitors tell it about themselves -- often not much -- in assessing their capabilities. I replied, stating my hope that SuSE produces a document to ease the transition of users migrating to SuSE from other distributions.)

Speaking of other distributions.

I will receive several notes from Mandrake users in the next couple of days, all in defense of their choice. I am very glad that they are happy. Based on what they say, one who chooses Mandrake will not end up ruefully GNashing his or her teeth. It is by their accounts a fine distribution, and I have no cause to doubt them. But it is also a derivative distribution, of Red Hat, and as a friend said when asked if he would be an artificial insemination donor, why settle for the bottled stuff when you can get the real thing on tap? (Because it's friendlier to newbies?)

Caldera has, to my great sadness, breathed new life into the phrase "a day late and a dollar short." You can now order the Workstation 3.1 product or download ISO images and burn your own CDs for free. From what I have heard -- I have not seen it -- it's a nicely updated though austere version of the traditional Caldera Linux. And had Caldera's plans been made clear a month or two ago, there's a good chance that I, like many Caldera refugees who aren't, would be using it. But it's not something to which regular desktop users are likely to be drawn, and those users are not being sought by Caldera. These factors, combined with a licensing policy unique among distributions and some remarks by Caldera's Ransom Love that seemed designed to shoo away the general Linux user base, in any case mean that one of the oldest and best Linux distributions is no longer a player in the general desktop market. Too bad, though the company's reasons are understandable even if its way of going about it perhaps isn't.

Which in no way justifies yet another attack by the bloodsucking insects also known as plaintiffs lawyers, who have phonied up yet another investor lawsuit, this one against Caldera, its officers, and the underwriters of its initial public offering. It is highly likely that there are people at the underwriting investment banks who fully deserve to be strung up, but it's equally unlikely that Linux companies had anything to do with any real or imagined misdeeds, and it's completely certain that there is no abuse in the history of the planet that has been made right by enriching any bottom-feeding tort lawyer or group thereof, a class of parasite so odious that it makes Microsoft Corp. look positively charitable.

Plaintiffs lawyers. Oh, to see them, in little, colorful hats, dancing on the street and seeking coins from passersby.

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