Why Should This Linux Installation Be Different From All the Others?

April 21, 2000

I recently booted up a new Linux box, and even though this one came preloaded from the factory, I soon discovered that it had as many problems as all the installations I’ve done from disk. Every time I perform a Linux installation, I feel I’m on a journey to the Promised Land. The problem is that I’m afraid it will take me 40 years.

When I discover that my new kernel (which I had to compile because the old one didn’t recognize my network card) now no longer recognizes my mouse, or that Emacs crashes when I read a file just a few hundred bytes long, I feel the resentment and ingratitude of the Israelites in the desert, who complained to Moses, “It is better for us to serve the Egyptions than to die in the wilderness. Why did you bring us up from Egypt to this evil place without grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates, or water to drink?”

Yes, moving from the “service of Pharoah” (Windows) to the “service of the Lord” (Open Source) is no easy journey. Open Source may be a land of milk and honey, but also of fearsome giants. My first installation from CD was the worst: because the helpful, screen-based installation program misconfigured lilo.conf, I got caught in an infinite loop where I repeatedly defined a boot partition and was thrown back to the same screen once again to define a boot partition. But even more recently, I found a system with an outdated library, and when I tried to reload the library discovered that package installation wasn’t working, and when I resolutely decided to build from source, found that the recommended size for my /tmp directory was too small. And thus my 10 plagues was multiplied to 40, or 50, or even 200. Anger, fury, trouble, and evil have I experienced aplenty.

Therefore, even if we were all intelligent, all discerning, and all in possession of Linux certification, we would still have to drop down and edit system configuration files before getting any serious work done.

I regularly give up and go down again to Windows—not to settle permanently, but just with a “green card,” so to speak. All right, so Microsoft Outlook Express dies whenever I try to open a file containing Japanese characters, but I feel I can live with it, while with Open Source systems I feel like I have to recompile and try again. With Windows, at least, every button on my desktop works, which is more than I can say of the last fvwm2 screen I booted. Windows treats me cunningly, so that only after many days when my system dies do I cry out from my bondage.

Someday, I am sure, all living things will acknowledge the authority of Open Source solutions, and all who are needy can come to eat of its fruit and rejoice in its goodness. Just think, you will be able to work with Linux all the days of your life—and the nights too.

Andy Oram