Change of Direction

In certain scenarios I am a little skeptical of Linux and open source applications as worthwhile competitors for closed source or proprieraty alternatives. This is not to say I do not think that there is any lack in potential. In my opinion I do disagree with some choices made by open source projects or linux distributions. In any event the point of this post is not to argue any of that. I was reading a post claiming that Linux needs critics, and I do agree with this. The nice thing the author points out is there is a difference between a complaint (negative) and criticism (positive).

I don’t think I have ever really made any constructive criticism of Linux or Fedora. Unlike the author who wrote the above post, I am a software developer. I could try to help more instead of complaining. (I have complained a lot.) I have never submitted a patch or even filed a bug report. I have probably spent more time trying to get an older unsupported version of software working than I have trying to help with the shortcomings of the newer version. This, I will admit, is quite counterproductive.

For the things that I feel are important I plan to try a bit harder – slowly but surely.

Personally I still feel that Linux and open source will never be a complete solution for all my needs, but whenever possible I hope that with some effort it will be.

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.

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.

Net Neutrality Defeated

In a serious blow to the freedom of the internet as a whole, the US House of Representatives defeated the Net Neutrality vote that would have prevented telecommunication companies from discriminating how and which websites can be accessed by end users. The effects which by far are not exagerated are listed on the It’s Our Net website.

The bottom line is your internet provider (broadband, dial-up, etc) is not restricted from treating all websites equally. For example, if Comcast were to feel a particular website was consuming too much bandwidth, that website can be restricted or possibly taxed. This will undoubtedly effect every website and every web user.

How does this affect Linux? Linux and most open source owes its great success to the ability for any user to access and contribute via the internet. Any company with an agenda or incentive is now able to obstruct that.

As it is many telecommunications companies act as local monopolies, with this new development I can only see further loss of consumer rights and freedoms.

Mozilla SeaMonkey and More Confusion

I just downloaded Mozilla SeaMonkey to test out. For the interested, I have some instructions and commands near the end of this post. However this post is more about confusion in Mozilla’s choice of naming for their products.

I don’t care to re-tell the whole story about Netscape, Mozilla and Firefox, but let me be clear that these folks have had the most abysmal track record when it comes to names. Currently the Mozilla project claims the following for SeaMonkey:

The SeaMonkey project is a community effort to deliver production-quality releases of code derived from the application formerly known as “Mozilla Application Suite”. Whereas the main focus of the Mozilla Foundation is on Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird, our group of dedicated volunteers works to ensure that you can have “everything but the kitchen sink” — and have it stable enough for corporate use.

The truth is that sometimes for corporate users and maybe more-so for personal users stability may not be as valuable as name recognition. Simply put a web browser should be known as just that, not code names or monikers. Before the “Mozilla Application Suite”, it was known as just Mozilla. And Firefox (technically Mozilla Firefox) is living on its third name designation (prev. Firebird, prev. Pheonix). I understand the issue with trademarks and branding, but I question if so many names is healthy for Mozilla’s wider adoption. Additionally Firefox and Thunderbird are available through mozilla.COM – the Mozilla Corporation, not to be confused with – the Mozilla Foundation. Of course this move was necessary if any of these groups wanted commercial success of their products.

The way I see it (objections welcome) is that the Mozilla “People” want everyone to think in terms of their flagship products: Firefox Browser and Thunderbird Mail Client. Ideally they would hope the Firefox would somehow imply “web browser” and a similar effect for Thunderbird even though for most people this would not be blatantly obvious (ie. can you guess the purpose of Microsoft Internet Explorer?). The Mozilla folks wouldn’t mind if people forget that Mozilla is (was) also a browser and mail client, so naming it to some funny project code-name (that they really don’t care if people use) would be logical.

Of course this is all just a lot of time wasted (mine included) instead of focusing on better products. I’ll keep using Mozilla whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it, but if they want a true corporate presense this is one of the many factors they need to overcome.

I hope this will be one of the last names thrown around from this group.

SeaMonkey Installation to /opt

This assumes you have either the mozilla or the firefox RPM installed. These commands are for FC4, but should apply to all distributions.

Note: SeaMonkey will properly work with your ~/.mozilla profile directory.

All commands executed as root of course, start with: su -


# wget
# gunzip -c seamonkey-1.0.en-US.linux-i686.tar.gz | tar xf - -C /opt/
# ln -s /opt/seamonkey/seamonkey /usr/local/bin/seamonkey
# cd /opt/seamonkey/
# mv plugins plugins_seamonkey_default
# ln -s /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins plugins


# rm /usr/local/bin/seamonkey
# cd /opt/
# rm -rf seamonkey


As your own user (not root):

# cp -ar ~/.mozilla ~/mozbkp_pre_seamonkey
# seamonkey &

Currently using, it seems significantly faster than Mozilla 1.7.8 and much more responsive than my Firefox installation in FC4. Usability seems the same, however I have not validated added memory or resource consumption (knowing Mozilla, I know it will be a bigger resource hog).

Pitfalls to Installing Everything

The purpose of this article is to explain the potential problems in installing every package that comes included in any given Linux distribution. For the most part, this is a bad practice and is not conducive to becoming proficient in Linux for either a seasoned professional or a newcomer (ie. “newbie”). It is my hope that this will help educate people on this subject matter.

There are some abundancy arguments that are commonly used and overstated. Specifically: Disk space, memory and bandwidth are all “cheap”. Technically none of these are always true. In fact these are almost always entirely false in third world countries.

There are some minimal advantages to installing everything. There will not be any dependency issues among software packages included in the software distribution. All software will be immediately available for use to try and test. Other advantages are possible, but these are the most relevant.

The problems I see are as follows:

  • Most software will never be used and is redundant. Many of these applications are designed for experienced users who know how to install them even though they are not included in the default install. Examples: Most newbies do not use ‘vi’ or ’emacs’. Most devel packages are only used for compilation.
  • Every software whether used or not must be maintained if they may be accessed by multiple users whether remotely or locally. A typical problem would be for security updates or bugs that you would not normally encounter with default settings.
  • Updates take longer and consume more resources. Everytime a system wide update is done (ex: yum update) it needs to download updates for every single package on the system. Even though you may not pay for your bandwidth, there is some cost to the provider and could serve someone else who could use it more appropriately.
  • (For new comers) You really do not learn anything. It is beneficial at times to understand how software dependancies work and to learn how to install software when needed. Needs change and are not the same for everyone.
  • There is more immediate drain on local resources. Most distributions package enough software to run as either a server and/or a desktop. It does not make sense to run multiple server applications on a desktop machine. Furthermore, most distributions package some packages with the knowledge that some should not run at the same time, i.e. the installer should know what they are doing. Additionally many services and daemons perform redundant tasks, i.e. multiple FTP servers are not typically required or recommended.
  • Although rare, some distributions may include conflicting versions of packages with the intention of the user selecting only one. This is typical of a distribution which may provide a new less popular version in addition to a widely used version. An example in past I’ve seen is (SuSE?) shipping both Apache 1.x as well as Apache 2.x.
  • There are hardware specific options that should not be on every machine and require extra steps to update. In the case of Fedora Core, some kernel packages (which a small population require) are not updated on the same frequency as more common packages. This has lead to some confusion and difficulty.
  • An additional note to Fedora Core users: Fedora Core has always been “bleeding edge” distribution, which basically means it will typically ship with the absolute latest (sometimes not adequately tested) software versions. Also there will always be some software included that may not make it into the next version or update.

Given these points, it is still entirely up to the end user as to what software they should install and use. However, it is very unlikely that anyone could potentially use every single included application. It is better to choose less than more and install as needed. Furthermore it is best to understand why something is needed as opposed to foolish assumptions that more unknown software is beneficial.