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Thursday, 12 February 2015 11:38

Is GNU/Linux becoming too complex for its own good? Featured


A Debian developer, who faced issues with some minor tasks on his own machines, has now raised the question whether the distribution being built is too complex to understand and debug.

John Goerzen runs the unstable stream of Debian GNU/Linux on all his machines and recently found himself unable to mount an USB drive in either Nautilus, Thunar or Digikam, with a "not authorised to perform operation" message popping up.

(Debian has three streams of development going at any one time: the current stable distribution Wheezy, the testing stream and the unstable stream. The testing stream is the one that will be finally released as the next stable release, in the space of a few months if all goes well.)

Goerzen's complaint is not tied to recent issues that have been apparently caused by Debian's switch to systemd. The main problem he faced was that he did not even know where to start looking to solve the problem.

"I used to be able to say Linux was clean, logical, well put-together, and organised. I can’t really say this anymore," he wrote.

And he added: "Systemd may help with some of this, and may hurt with some of it; but I see the problem (as) more of an attitude of desktop environments to add features fast without really thinking of the implications. There is something to be said for slower progress if the result is higher quality."

Goerzen has articulated what a great many GNU/Linux users confront these days and thus it is not surprising that his thoughts resulted in a flood of comments. A lot of complexity is being introduced into Linux distributions and there are many cases now where debugging something is really like wandering into a maze.

People have often laughed at Windows, with at least two UNIX systems administrators I know describing the art of looking after Windows servers as akin to practising voodoo. With the increasing complexity being pushed into Linux – not the kernel, just userspace – one wonders if the word voodoo will not soon fit the Linux case as well.

The UNIX doctrine is simplicity – build an application to do one task well, and then hand over the output to a second application which would follow suit. But nowadays, the trend is towards trying to build applications that can do everything, and also take out the washing.

A GNU/Linux desktop once was a system where the user could be the master. Now for many things, one is a slave to what the software does. The web of dependencies is growing so wide and so ridiculous that you need an ungodly amount of junk on your system to sometimes run a simple application.

Image: courtesy the GNU Project

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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