viernes, 22 de enero de 2010

FF3.6 on ubuntu is not a reason why GNU/Linux is not ready for the mass-market


I have become quite a replicator lately, right?

Well, yet another article from an IT journalist/commentator I have to disagree with.

In the article the writer states that it's too difficult to get FF3.6 installed on Ubuntu and that it's reason enough to call GNU/Linux dead on its tracks to get to the mass market. That sounds compelling at first sight.... but

First: I bet the users of software that aren't quite up to date and that make up those huge botnets differ with the writer of the article. They all make up a part of the mass market as we know it, don't they? So it's OK to have outdated* software, isn't it? (I know, I know... it's not OK... but we are talking about mass market here, so go with the flow!).

Second: Remember that the way software is installed/maintained in the GNU/Linux world is completely different from Windows'. In Windows, as the writer said, you grab the software from internet (hopefully form a reliable location.... but we know that's not always the case, is it?), click on it, maybe will have to restart your computer.... a couple times (why the hell installing Adobe Reader requires you to reboot Windows? Is Adobe Reader the equivalent for Windows of glibc or something?) and then finally you are done with the software. In GNU/Linux, at least in Ubuntu (and every other distro that prides itself of being such), you have to wait for the maintainers of Ubuntu to review software to make it available. That's right.... they do that job for you, the user. And it's not just firefox that they maintain... they take care of thousands (literally) pieces of software to make them fit together and not mess with each other when you installed them on your beloved Ubuntu-powered box. And that not only sounds like a dauntin task... it really is. And what would be the equivalent of that in the Windows world? It would be like waiting for Microsoft to review the software when it's made available by its developers (have you seen how long it takes Microsoft to work on their own bugs? How long would it take them if they had to review other people's software as well?) and make it available to you through the centralized software they provided Windows with so that their beloved customers don't have to go leaping from site to site to grab the latest piece of malware-infested piece of software... oh, but there's no such thing for Windows, is there? Such a shame, you know.

So, in other words, FF3.6 is not made available in the stable Ubuntu release because it's going to be a major work to get it merged, but that doesn't mean there is no way to get it packaged so that our dear writer can use it. It didn't take me too long to find unstable/unsupported repos for FF3.6 (probably its stable enough, don't know for sure) for Ubuntu:

I'll personally wait for Ubuntu to make 3.6 available through their standard repositories... which I hope will happen for Jaunty... but maybe they won't and will make it available for lynx only... will have to wait and see.

Just so that it's crystal clear. This article doesn't state that GNU/Linux is ready for the mass market. I'm just stating that the writer-of-the-article's difficulty to install FF3.6 on Ubuntu is not an excuse to dismiss GNU/Linux's readiness for the mass market. Also, I do think GNU/Linux is ready for the mass market, but that's another quite different story.

That's it.

* FF 3.5 is not outdated, by the way. It will be maintained (at least, security-wise, by the Mozilla foundation for a while).

14 comentarios:

  1. well done man!! I am in disagree with that article too, but I am more lazy then you :)

  2. Hi,
    I've been I linux user for around 8 years now, though I'm giving 7 a try for a bit on my new laptop. Of course I have installed both wubi and have a VM with ubuntu inside also :-). I have used a large number of distros - from gentoo to ubuntu and lots in between. My main problem with distributions is that support is either poor, updates are too slow (debian, centos, etc.) or too quick (ubuntu). I am no longer interested in searching for repos with dubious support, and non-geeks surely aren't either. I think the vast majority of users, including myself, would be much happier with something like the following:
    18 month release cycle for all "base" libraries and programmes, and the possibility to update "big ticket" programmes without installing non-supported repos.
    By "base" libraries and programmes I mean things like grub, glibc or X. I'd also have to put Gnome and KDE in the base category. Do we *really* need to update glibc every 6 months? This just makes for more work for very little benefit for 95% of end-users. The reason for not updating the desktops is that most people actually want something stable for their desktop (both visually and bugwise). If there are bugs they want them fixed, and not what you get with ubuntu "it's fixed in the latest version". Of course the latest version also has bugs, that will only get fixed in the subsequent version and so on.
    What I mean by "big ticket" is simple - Firefox, OpenOffice, the Gimp, and a few others. These are the programmes that end-users would actually go and download and update themselves under Windows, and there aren't that many of them. The distributions should learn from XP. It has survived for going on a decade (with service packs admittedly) and people still have little desire to upgrade because they are comfortable and stability has been great for a long time. It makes a HUGE difference to be able to have a stable base platform and desktop environment AND to be able to have the latest big ticket items. It would also make closed-source vendors MUCH more likely to want publish for the platform, as they don't have to recompile and so QA test every 6 months. Bugs in base items would get fixed, and stability would improve.
    So instead of spending time and money recompiling and QA testing stuff that nobody cares about the time would be spent supporting multiple versions of a very restricted number of programmes on a particular release.
    You'll probably say distribution X does this. Distribution X only has 3.25 maintainers though and could easily disappear tomorrow - for most people this is not an option either...
    My 2c

  3. I just have to correct Anton's post. I have a commercial fax program that I use on Linux. I installed it in 2000. I upgrade with every new release. That program still works fine with no customization on my part required other than to install a few backward compat libraries via the point and click software installer. I have quite a bit of other commercial applications running over a period of years as well. So I think Anton, I think your point about ISVs having to rewrite their applications for each new upgrade cycle is a little misleading. Well written commercial software for Linux is VERY durable, in fact, in some ways more durable than Windows application software which often tells you that you can't install it unless you buy an upgrade for other applications.

  4. Everyone seems to gloss over the fact (or not realise) that jaunty will never get FF3.6, the standard procedure for ubuntu distributions is to only increase version numbers of programs for a new iteration of ubuntu, so to get FF3.6 you'll have to upgrade to Lucid when it comes out. (or get it from a ppa) but ppa's are not end user easy enough.
    It's a pain in the arse and it is a problem in my opinion which needs to be addressed.
    I want a rolling release distro that will upgrade to new versions of programs automatically.
    Ubuntu's update system really just gets new patches to the software you already have not new versions despite often being touted as doing so.
    I've been looking at Foresight Linux, which does what I want, but really ubuntu's success is do to the immense amount of packaging work they leech off of debian. Foresight just doesnt have the resources to to package everything from scratch, and neither does Canonical.

  5. ghmitch,
    Just out of interest, are you claiming that your upgrades are supported by the commercial fax app vendor? I doubt it, and that is my point...

  6. To get the Java plugin support for Firefox 3.6 you need Java 6.10 or above.

    These are both Beta release software. Running a beta level browser may risk stability and security of your system. Add to that a beta level release of something as powerful as Java, and you are really talking about risk.

    The Linus style of software distribution is vastly superior in these terms, and is a reason tha Linux is more ready for the average user's desktop than Windows is. Maintaining software in Windows style, finding software all over the internet in a willy-nilly fashion, is primitive and prone to security and stability risks. Of course Windows users are used to re-installs and help from geek-squad like after-market support.

    However, Linux is different. Most people, like the articles author, see difference as failure. It is not failure to deliver a more stable and secure desktop to end users.

    I am very pragmatic. I truly believe that people should use the software that works best for them; Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD, whatever. The author makes a very good point on why Windows users systems often fall prey to security problems, but does not see it for what it is. I think you have pointed out exactly why, they are unfamiliar with software distribution in Linux, and their unfamiliarity makes them see Linux in a bad light. They are probably very accomplished in the Windows way of doing things. Their inexperience with Linux leads to a level of discomfort that they have not experienced since they were Windows newbies.

  7. Anton, I am using PMFax Pro for Linux that I purchased back around 2000-2001 time frame. It runs flawlessly without modification on my new Mandriva 2010.0 64bit system. I also had a purchased version of WordPerfect 8.0 which I used for years without a problem. It, being even more ancient than the fax software expired in terms of compatibility only a couple of years ago. I also have a full blown commercial version of Quasar Accounting that was purchased in 2002-2003. I just reinstalled those rpm packages on a new Mandriva 2010.0 system uneventfully. I could give you more examples, but I am really not impressed with suggestions that Linux binaries somehow need to be "recompiled" etc for every new increment of the Linux kernel etc. That has definitely not been my experience at all and I have a lot of experience with those things. I think there are a lot of people that are just trying to hard to pump life into some old Linux myths. They make a good story and occasionally one comes across poorly written commercial apps that seem to prove them true, but those are the exception rather than the rule. I also suspect that some people have problems because they choose distributions that limit backward compatibility by not having a robust set of compat libraries available for older applications.

  8. Something else people neglect to consider when this issue of software installation comes up:

    Mozilla supplied Windows users with a point-and-click, wizard-based installer program.

    Mozilla supplied Linux users with a tarball full of static binaries (or source, of course).

    I don't know why people don't understand this, but there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER why Mozilla couldn't write a simple installer for Firefox on Linux. Google does it for GoogleEarth, and so do other software makers. I'm not talking about .deb or .rpm files or anything like that. I'm talking about a distribution-agnostic, point-and-click install wizard a la Windows software.

    But Mozilla didn't. So why is this Ubuntu's failure?

    As for Ubuntu's repositories, people need to understand what they are and what they aren't. They aren't a source for the latest bleeding-edge software. They're the source for software that's been test and known to work with your release. Is it any surprise that users who upgraded to 3.6 are suddenly reporting Java, Flash, or font rendering issues? Gee, why isn't this great release of Firefox in the repos already??

    Finally, for those who want rolling releases -- go for it. That's why they exist. Different strokes for different folks. Here's raising my glass to 300 distros and counting...

  9. I wonder what "mass market" considers the lack of an immediately available incremental browser release a crisis?

    Could it be the same mass market of which 26% still use IE6?

    Could it be the same mass market of which 70% still use windows XP?

    Anyone who believes the "mass market" craves bleeding edge "change" is a fool. The "mass market" desires stability, security, and brain dead ease of use. Ubuntu provides all of those - right now. Windows remains dominant because of familiarity, and pre-installation.

    I've installed Ubuntu on a number of friends PC's as a stop gap until they could "re-install" windows. (Re-install" being the only real fix for mal-ware infested hard drives and registries.) Most of them just went on using the ubuntu partition to browse and send email. go figure.

  10. Thanks for all your comments, guys! It's nice to see that people have followed up on this little debate.

    I have a comment from Owen Synge that he emailed me:

    Sorry, your all missing the point, the journalist, and your reply. Mass
    market users don't upgrade without a reason. The reason is typically
    that some thing is broken. For example not being able to book a cheap
    flight, browse you tube, or order some food.

    Anyone who considers computers interesting is not mass market.

    My father got ASDL he discovered that his computer was no longer
    compatible with the Internet, unfortunately he could not download new
    software to fix that as his Macintosh was too old to run a new MacOsX.
    He moved to Linux because his PPC Mac no longer ran new software, and
    it was cheap to buy a Linux computer (150 Pounds).Now he uses Ubuntu,
    and its been easy. He unlike that "tech" journalist is a mass market
    user, and so wont even know theirs a new version of firefox, and just
    wont care until his computer tells him to upgrade. All the comments so
    far forget real mass market users don't upgrade unless they are told to
    or have to.



  11. I just remembered something. Back in Intrepid, I remember that there was a firefox-3.5 package so that you could install the unstable (later stable) version of FF when 3.0 was the stable one. Why didn't it happen on jaunty with 3.6? Is it because more development resources are put into lucid given that it's a LTS release?

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