Fedora Mailing List Annoyance

I joined the Fedora users/group mailing list (fedora-list) in April 2005, after being on Usenet since the late 1990’s. I somehow always assumed mailing lists were of much higher quality than the “anything goes” attitude of Usenet. Since then, I really haven’t asked too many questions. For the most part I try to only answer questions that others miss or when I think I have a better response than what is posted or to correct obvious technical errors. I try to avoid opinionated or philosophical discussions. Honestly I have learned quite a bit.

Recently the number of off topic ([OT]) issues and philosophy on the mailing list have become unbearable. A generally helpful user asked a seemingly simple question about Fedora and inadvertently opened the flood gates for discussions (arguments) on open source, free software, the GPL, developers, users and worse: the whole “Linux vs. GNU/Linux” naming argument! For over 2 weeks the misinformed, the overzealous, the trolls and potty-mouths have just been trying to get in the last word. I wish they would stop, even super hacker Alan Cox is sick of the “mountain of turd”.

Quite frankly I really don’t care whose uname string is longer (it’s a joke :-) ) Nor do I think the place for such arguments should stay on a mailing list generally for user related issues with Fedora. I seriously think that the people who keep insisting on such silliness are just exploiting the otherwise helpful users as their audience – i.e. a user support mailing list is not a soapbox!

And to the people who insist that a simple filter in your mail client could delete/ignore the threads, I say that’s not practical (and more importantly – not fair). One zealot keeps renaming and spawning a new thread every time he feels the subject warrants it. In my gmail, I counted at least 10 different threads in the past 4 days. And what about people who pay for bandwidth (e.g. India)? They are paying for pages of useless philosophy. And for people on dial-up access? Spend 5minutes opening your Inbox only to find you need to ignore 100 messages. Hmmm.

I do agree with a lot of principals from free software and I think it is based on good intentions, but, at the end of the day, people who feel they need to take it upon themselves to educate all users, well, they just need to know when to stop. There are people who simply do not care, and most likely never will!

So while I don’t think that I would switch to Ubuntu because of idiots on a mailing list, I do think I might stop using the list as it decays into something rather useless. Which is quite a shame, I used to learn a lot from it. I feel bad for newbies who are told (by people like me) that the mailing list is a good place to get help, only to be flooded with messages saying “don’t call it Linux”. … Hmmm. … Well I guess I could always be more active in the forums or go back to usenet. Or maybe just ignore it a little while longer and hope that some common sense will arise.

And as a final note: Was this worth a blog entry? Probably not, but I can think of much worse places to post such opinionated subject matter.

Fedora Makes a Terrible Server

for me.

I am finally giving up on Fedora as a server. I find it just too unreliable. I have been using Fedora since FC1 (and been on Redhat since RH6.0), but for the most part I only used it as a desktop operating system.

When I was using FC3, I found it very helpful to mirror my website(s) on my local machine. This worked great, however with each new Fedora release I found more things breaking with my scripts and setup. For a while I put up with the struggle by doing things like re-compiling PHP4, but even that became quite tiring. I concluded that Fedora just moved too fast for my server development needs. I cannot fault Fedora, rather that it did not meet my needs. However I still used it.

As recently as FC6, I found the need to access my computer remotely. I started tweaking my desktop for some security and making it more “remote-access” friendly. This did work for a while. All I was doing was using SSH and working on my Apache mirrors. My frustration began with the security. I took a long hard attempt at trying to secure the system with SELinux, however for multiple reasons I abandoned it.

Later when moving to Fedora7 I was pleasantly surprised with the performance. The major problem arose when I updated my 2.6.21 kernel to 2.6.23. Some nasty bug was killing my SSH performance. Basically it left me dead in the water. I accepted to fall back on the older kernel, however soon enough I came to install Fedora8 which also had the bug. For the most part I didn’t use Fedora8 for 2 months since I was out of the country. However when I finally did, I got so frustrated that I ended up installing the old F7 kernel on F8. Of course I broke sound, PulseAudio, ACPI and the X-server, but I REALLY needed SSH to work. While this again is not Fedora’s fault, I find the following comment pretty helpful from the kernel mailing list: “Please note that 2.6.23 kernel has a lot of bugs and we don’t recommend using it…” – Regardless, it WAS a kernel that Fedora used.

I personally do not think that a given Fedora release is very stable and/or reliable. Until I started expanding my usage I really did not mind, however now I am finding it more difficult to handle. While some people may suggest I upgrade less frequently, that’s fine and all, but it does NOT change the quality of the release. Furthermore, as my desktop I like to have a new release. … And some people may tell me that I should have been more pro-active and filed bug-reports and other information. Well, I do agree with that, but unfortunately I just did not have the time.

So what’s the solution? Simple: don’t use Fedora as a server. For myself, I bought a brand new computer. I built a low powered file/web server and put CentOS 5.1 on it. In the next few weeks I will migrate all my development onto this machine. Hopefully I won’t need to upgrade it for a very long time.

Will I stop using Fedora? No. It will still be on my desktop. However I will have more realistic expectations from software considered totally “free”.

Sorry for the rant.

Should I Migrate to PHP5?

I noted some sites started pushing to PHP5 with the announcement last year that PHP4 would be EOL (end-of-life) in 2007. In truth I understand that there is no longer a compelling reason to remain with PHP4. The biggest obstacle was older software that did not support PHP5 (since version 5 is incompatible with version 4 in some respects). However there is no reason why most of that software cannot be updated, and if so I am pretty sure that some alternate version 5 compatible software exists. I also read some claims that in simpler configurations PHP4 could be faster/less memory than PHP5. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Finally the biggest problem: most web hosting providers are content with PHP4 meeting all their needs and have no reason to upgrade. I do agree to this in some ways.

My biggest problems with PHP in general are its very poor track record for security, its flaws in design/configuration and finally it’s tendency to break software on updates. In some ways: its just a nuisance to maintain!!! PHP4 will be supported for critical security issues till 2008-08-08 by the PHP developers. However being open source there is no reason why someone else could not support it after that. Redhat Enterprise Linux still supports a PHP 4.3.9 package. I was supporting a 4.3.11 package for Fedora which I updated last in 2007 for Fedora 7. However I only installed it on my personal web server on a development box. I guess it would be really easy to finally abandon supporting old packages and just move to version 5, however I don’t know the effect it may have on my public server with a dozen or so websites.

For now I will set a deadline for myself to migrate to PHP5 by the August deadline. However for the time being, if people would find it useful I am considering repackaging the RHEL PHP 4.3.9 for Fedora 8. My 4.3.11 package is greatly out of date. On my development server, I’ll just go ahead and install the PHP5.2 included in Fedora 8. That will be my testing ground for my server updates coming soon.

Realistically in the long run I should just slowly stop using PHP altogether, given that PHP6 will be another mess very soon. Perhaps I will look into Python or J2EE options, not sure yet.

Linux Opinions and Directions

If you pay attention to Linux news, I’m sure you’ve heard that Eric S. Raymond (commonly called “ESR”) has dumped Fedora in favor of Ubuntu. In case you’re wondering who he is, he is the author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar which is one of the best essays about open source development (highly recommended reading by the way).

The first thing that might come to mind is “so what?” So what if this open source advocate switched? What difference does it make? Essentially not much. However the workings of major open source projects are just as political as any other aspect of human behaviour. While there maybe a common philosophical goal of “free software”, how to achieve that goal is anyone’s guess. All groups have different approaches and biases that heavily influence their development. Simply put, ESR’s public exclaimation was just a very public last-ditch attempt to influence Fedora. Will this be effective? I don’t really know.

Other’s have tried different attempts of influence. In 2005 Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, very publicly switched from the Gnome desktop to the KDE desktop. In a recent response, Gnome developers told him to use the Gnome desktop for a month and discuss the problems. Instead, Linus provided patches (source code updates) to improve Gnome. I don’t think that’s the response they were expecting. In truth I think both sides know that not much will change.

So what does that mean to the average end user of Linux? Basically that the agenda of the developers overrides the desires of end users. That’s it. It may sound cynical, but it makes sense. While many will argue about the freedoms and choices given to users, it really makes little difference for people who don’t know anything about their computers to begin with. While some choices are very nice (there are many more options than Fedora and Ubuntu for linux), some are much more restrictive (KDE or Gnome, not much else exists). Knowing all your options is not always very straightforward.

What about Fedora? There have been lots of changes in the Fedora linux distribution that will take effect in the Fedora 7 release (not Fedora Core 7). In some ways I’m considering switching myself. I cannot in good faith recommend Fedora for a desktop and the same goes for Gnome (which Fedora uses by default). Even though many open source advocates belong to a “community” I often wonder who that community includes? Could I influence Fedora or Gnome? Well if the inventor of Linux can’t then I don’t feel very encouraged myself.

Both ESR and Linus may be quite pompous at times, but their underlying concerns are very sincere and legitimate. I’ve been with Redhat using Gnome since RH6.0 in 1999 and I’ve been helping everyday users with Redhat/Fedora problems since 2001. Do I plan to switch? Well every day that seems more and more likely.