[CentOS] Thanks, good bye, and an observation from a newbie.

Lamar Owen lowen at pari.edu
Mon Oct 17 14:43:02 UTC 2005

On Sunday 16 October 2005 11:47, Dave Gutteridge wrote:
> 	It seems to me there is a division between a developer's focus on how
> things work, and a newbie's focus on results.

Nobody yet in the thread has touched the real issue.  The real issue has been 
ridiculed, however; 'Luser couldn't get MP3's to play.  Poor Luser...'  So, 
what is the real issue?  Users just want it to work.  They don't necessarily 
share developer's knack for arcana like GTK version numbers and version skew 
prevention.  They DON'T EVEN WANT TO KNOW in some cases.

Why do people use CentOS?  To get work done, perhaps?  If a newbie is a 
hobbyist of sorts, and wants to try out 'that linux thing' and all they've 
known is Windows, then the idea that "one 'brand' of Linux won't run programs 
that another 'brand' of Linux will" is totally alien, and the whole library 
dependency issue is completely foreign, and the newbie justifiably believes 
they shouldn't have to worry about such things.  The newbie just asked 
around, and got some recommendations: 'Yeah, man, Gentoo is so cool.'  or 
'Man, you've got to try Ubuntu.'  Or they read a Linux Journal Readers Choice 
survey, and find CentOS at number two on the list, and want to try it out.  
They DO NOT KNOW, NOR DO THEY CARE, that it is an 'Enterprise' linux.  They 
just care that a lot of other people liked it, and it's popular.

Sure, CentOS is a so-called 'Enterprise' Linux.  But what exactly does that 
mean?  Well, it certainly doesn't mean stability (and let me make it clear 
that I know it's primarily an upstream North  Carolina company's problems).  
It certainly doesn't mean things don't change.  It doesn't get you a system 
that is less likely to break during a minor update.  Nope, none of that.  Nor 
does it get you a primarily 'server' operating system.  The 'Enterprise' 
linux distributions are great general-purpose operating systems.

Sure, I understand why Player C won't work with Player A and Player B will.  I 
even understand why the makers of Player C might be using the versions of 
packages they are using.  (hey, anybody remember the mplayer vendetta against 
gcc 2.96?)

Fact is, Linux in its current state, thanks to the wonderful supportive 
mailing lists (for all distributions, not just this one) is not suited for 
newbies.  Newbies be warned: you will be ridiculed for just wanting the 
system to work.  (yes, a sizable dose of sarcasm to be found there...)

Suggestion to list members (including myself): if a newbie asks a rank newbie 
question, and you don't have the patience to answer it from a newbie's 
perspective, then either hit delete or just shut up.  RTFM is not an 
acceptable answer, unless you answer the question, then provide a polite 
pointer to the place in the manual (that they might not even know how to 
find) that answers that question.

As an example, I wrote up several caveats for the RPM distribution of the 
PostgreSQL RPMs, placed, helpfully I thought, 
in /usr/share/doc/postgresql-x.y.z-r/README.rpm-dist  (named that way, 
instead of README.rpm, so that RealAudio or RPM itself wasn't started when 
people browsed to it with their file manager of choice, or with their web 

Guess what?  Out of fifty newbies who asked questions that were answered in 
the README, only one had the foggiest idea that the file even existed.  And 
that person was simply too lazy to read it.  Of those people, about forty, 
when their question was answered and a pointer to the file was given, were 
very happy the file existed; two even wrote me a note that they wished they 
had known it existed, because then they wouldn't have bothered me.

But the most aggravating answers from the 'knowledgable' users were either 
'throw out the RPM, you really want to learn how to build from source' or 
full of misinformation (on behavior that was FULLY documented).  When I would 
correct that sort of misinformation (my favorite was the people who needed 
TCP/IP connections to the postmaster; the old way was to add a -i to the 
postmaster invocation, and the new way involved editing a configuration file: 
the number of people who advocated EDITING THE INITSCRIPT and adding -i was 
startling, showing their ignorance to the fact that the initscript can get 
blown away in an RPM update at whim, but that the config file wasn't ever 
overwritten), the misinformers would become very offended that I had changed 
the Way We Do Things (I didn't; upstream did) and that I had the gall to 
correct their Obviously Better Information (yeah, I just maintain the 
packages, what do I know?).  The next was the whole logging issue (the 
postgresql initscript redirects stdout to /dev/null for a reason) that, 
again, was documented.  The next was 'I upgraded the RPM with rpm -U and now 
my database won't start!  Why?'  which, unfortunately, had to be answered 
with 'complain upstream; they don't support that kind of upgrade.'  That got 
me a lot of grief, for something I didn't do.

No, Linux isn't for newbies, and ninety percent of the time it's not the 
distribution's fault.
Lamar Owen
Director of Information Technology
Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute
1 PARI Drive
Rosman, NC  28772

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