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Goofy Pro-Linux Story to Counter Pundit's Awkward Efforts to Install Firefox

Ease of Operation vs. Scope of Control

January 25, 2010

This is a response to Installing Firefox 3.6 on Linux: Only Pros Need Apply-- ed.

Back last August, as soon as Firefox 3.5 was released, I installed it on Ubuntu 9.04 (I can never remember the animal names). I didn't know how to do it, because I was a rank beginner. Still am. But back then I was about as rank a beginner as there is, because the first time I had ever so much as downloaded a program, even in Windows, was 4 months before that, in late April. In May, after reading a number of Ubuntu how-to books, I installed Ubuntu 8.10 and in July I replaced it with 9.04. In August I was dismayed to learn Ubuntu would not permit me to update Firefox automatically from 3.0.something to the brand-new 3.5. (I'm still not enthusiastic about this feature � it reminds me too much of Microsoftian control techniques. More on this in a moment.)

I'm a reader of documentation, not so much a lurker on forums. Unfortunately, when I went looking for enlightenment I found nothing in ink-on-paper that offered me a prescription for performing such an upgrade myself. To this day I don't know exactly what steps I took to do it, but I recall it involved downloading directly from the Firefox site following their instructions, I think some degree of unzipping and moving it about, and in short order there stood a link to Shiretoko (Firefox-speak for 3.5) in the Internet section of my Applications menu.

Fortunately, it wasn't until AFTER I finished the task that I looked at the forum. Good thing � the hassles other people had encountered trying to upgrade were blood-curdling, and would surely have scared me away from trying. Sounded a lot like Mr. Gralla's problems.

I'm not saying I'm an expert � I'm saying the exact opposite. I am simply a reasonably intelligent human who has learned that the systems on which Linux distributions are based permit a great deal of manipulation by users. In fact, since there are so many ways to do various things in the Linux-based systems, it's easy to get confused as to which way is going to be the best/fastest/most secure/most stable/whatever-you-value-most path to take. I judge that was the sort of problem some of the forum posters had faced.

At the time, all I knew for sure was that one instance of Firefox worked successfully on Ubuntu 9.04, and there must therefore be some way � I didn't care what it was � to put a more recent version of the same browser on it. I took what the Firefox site offered as Linux-worthy material and played with it until it found the place it fit best. I'm pretty sure that however I wound up doing it I never even needed to resort to the terminal, working solely in the former-Windowser's mode of GUI and mouse. In those early days I was really pretty terrified of the command line, and about all I'd ever used it for was to copy out the partition table or read man pages.

I do see how arguments arise about whether Ubuntu (or any other Linux) is user-friendly. In this case I considered it user-friendly because it allowed a user with very little experience the latitude to muddle about until he found a route to the result he wanted. I can also see the viewpoint of a user in a hurry who is upset because it takes more than one push of a button to achieve his goal. It's a sensitive balance between ease of operation and scope of control.

This brings me back to the No User Update policy of Ubuntu toward Firefox. I recognize that the goal is to prevent collisions between new features of Firefox and the rest of the Ubuntu system, and it takes time and effort for developers to explore all possible interactions in advance. It is protection for the user, assuring her the upgrade won't zap her whole setup. It makes good sense to forbid such upgrades to be installed automatically, maybe even to disallow major sales pitches like �Great New Upgrade! Install Now!� But I think that if eager amateurs like me want to grab the bleeding-edge New Thing even if it breaks their system, they shouldn't have to fight a prohibition to do it. (Good grief � I'm talking like a Crunch Bang Linux fan, when in reality I'm still struggling to come to some detente with openSUSE 11.2!)

And by the way, shouldn't someone tell Mr. Gralla that Ubuntu isn't the whole Linux story?

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