The attitude of the Linux community

05Oct10
GNU/Linux
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Finally, finally finally I am on my own machine that runs only GNU/Linux. Nothing is more satisfying than that now and probably for days to come. However now being on Linux full time and not having the Windows way out, I do plan to shamelessly lament, complain, rant and sorely miss some essential applications and features on the Windows side. To keep things short, a few specific examples should demonstrate the ignorant attitude of the community than any flaws in the GNU/Linux system. I know not many people on Linux side like being told where their favorite OS lacks, esp. those who are long time ‘users’.

The one common thing I noticed through the discussions I had or people like me had was that the developer in the linux community ‘understood’ the requirements coming from the Windows users better than the (senior) users in the linux community. The good thing out of that understanding is that developers even can point out to the right places to RTFM and get the info. Much more precise than the pages of complete BS I read on ubuntuforums.org with the linux users giving the most ridiculous of interpretations. Wish the windows user had the sense to shove a screenshot in their fuckin faces. What pisses me is not how much the users miss the point as much as their gaiety dainty gurgling tone of excitement explaining some cool feature that is as relevant as shit for the requirements.

As for the developers, like I said they understand the requirement but not necessarily understand the user who needs it. Take an example of a Sysinternals tool called Filemon. Sysinternals have been there right since the Win9x days (now a part of Microsoft) and the combo of filemon+Process Explorer is just a complete setup for restoring balance to a crazy machine (read 100% cpu usage and excessive disk activity). Sure, Windows is lame at managing resources and keeping out viruses and misidentifying innnocent freeloaders as pirates, but these tools reveal information about the system in real time. It helps a person who knows just how to look at the scrolling list of I/O operations judge for himself/herself what process and what file is appearing a large number of times. Some scenarios that I usually observed were: –

  1. The browser reading from the Pagefile continuously. Used to happen with Chrome that used to flush inactive tabs to disk too soon and long unread tabs would take ages to show up when reactivated
  2. Some application reading from a file a number of times but the operations are all failing. My over-zealous deletion of some folder got rid of some files I wasn’t expecting would be needed.
  3. Somehow the Windows Update in general on my system was fucked up. How’d I know?
    Short answer: Filemon.
    Long answer: Right in the middle of working I find my computer disk activity going straight high with no sign of slowing down. Your task manager won’t show much besides browser/flash taking max CPU and virtual memory. Filemon in a few seconds shows that the process wuauclt.exe is doing a large number of writes to a file. Its not hard to Google and find that wuauclt.exe is the Windows Update client that has a mind and schedule of its own. Filemon told me it was reading/writing to an edb file and from the result of the operation I could conclude that the client was having problems with reading/writing the file. In all this while its not even possible to kill wuauclt.exe because it respawns. Disabling updates is a stupid idea even by GNU/Linux standards..as far as home computer is concerned. Herein Process Explorer helps by offering to suspend the process so that it neither clogs up the resources nor keep respawing and restarting its menace

Many other situations related to disk activity specifically to the point of identifying files and processes can be diagnosed with these tools.

Consider a situation in Linux that happened that totally justified needing Filemon badly. I’ve firefox, pidgin, rhythmbox and gnome-terminal open. I see the HDD led glowing constantly all of a sudden. First irritating thing is that Rhythmbox is having a lot of trouble playing the song smoothly (reminding of grooveshark via my 256kbps fraudband as I competed for bandwidth with others in the house). In a minute, the system becomes so busy, I can’t pause the song, I can’t switch to firefox to close it or I can’t switch to gnome-terminal to run a top or htop. Even switching to ctrl-alt-F1 (text console tty1) took ages while the X session (ctrl-alt-f7) blanked out and stood there for a long time before I finally switched to tty1. After all this running top/htop showed nothing specific to which process was doing all the excessive I/O’s. firefox, X, plugin-container (flash container for firefox 3.6.10) were all each < 10%. There were spikes in CPU % usage but nothing that was constant for a long time. Filemon in this situation would give enough info to atleast Google specifically.

What I intend to point out here as in the beginning is not the shortcomings of the OS as much as the ‘Linux is free what more do you want? Talk is Cheap, Show me the code’ mentality of those who find feature requests from experienced Windows’ users very irritating when such a thing is:

  1. not available as an app (CLI/GUI) on Linux -> user
  2. user asking is not competent to understand libraries and write code to churn out apps as and when they need -> developers

The solutions (albeit relevant ones) I’ve got for getting a replacement totally makes me do a facepalm.

If getting an alternative for one tool’s this convoluted, you can take a look at the Sysinternals’ suite and imagine how many eons, its gonna take to cover it all. However here’s an attempt to look at things positively.

  1. I’ve no dependency on a GUI as such. tail -f is easily my most often used visualization of live data.
  2. When I migrated from Windows I was aware of some tools that were specific to the OS in a way that they helped where the OS lacked. Linux may or may not be lacking in those areas or it may have its own set of problems. I am ready to learn of ways to handle those problems but wish the community was more upfront about the drastic change in complexity. Even a “If it becomes that easy your system would be prone to malware?” comment would do…to begin with.

Me complaining is not at all any indication direct or indirect that I am ignorant of what is possible on Linux OSes of the current day. There are ways to do things that I used to do, just that there is a communication gap between users and developers. Or uber developers and just-pass-in-programming-subject sysads as in my case. If you want a good experience/impression of the linux community meet them at conferences or workshops.

Enough shameless ranting for a post / night. You can curse me, if it has some substance. Or you can write a different hopefully positive PoV of the community and state of things on Linux side. Either ways, I ain’t leaving Linux anytime soon and future posts following this will show some appealing features of the tux for the end user primarily as and when I get unlazy to write a blog post. If this post was a series of tweets, I’d only bother with asking about alternatives or substitutes to specific applications knowing just as well, not many replies would come, though even some valid explanations as to why they are unnecessary would help.

The word count and the theme of the post totally reminds of my livejournal days.

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