The Technical-Critique of gNewSense

January 13, 2008 at 10:12 am | Posted in Patterns | 6 Comments

I am posting a Critique of gNewSense from technical viewpoint. I am strictly in agreement with RMS on the concept of Free/OpenSource Software. I was happy when after a long time, finally, a 100% Libre distro named gNewSense was released. For this post I have kept Free Software issues aside and talk purely in terms of technical achievements.

Why FSF did not choose to support a better distro or create a new one with lessons learned from like Debian/Gentoo/Arch/CRUX/Slackware and chose these lessons as a base for new gNewSense ?

Did FSF not want to support a better distro (technically) ? I found 3 places of information that I think describe the decades of experience of GNU/Linux in as few words as possible:

http://crux.nu/Main/About
http://www.slackbook.org/html/introduction-slackware.html
http://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/The_Arch_Way

When RMS started on GNU Project he did not go with a monolithic kernel. He also did not go with BSD kernel. IIRC, At that time someone proposed that idea but RMS wanted something better than UNIX kernel. He is one of the most amazing Hackers I have ever seen (including DMR, Ken Thompson & Uncle John McCarthy), he went over to a microkernel based design and started Hurd. The 1st 2 points of Hurd were “Freedom” and a “Better Kernel”. This paper speaks LOUDLY about the things I am talking about:

http://www.gnu.org/software/hurd/hurd-paper.html

I mean:

PATH-1: “FSF supported UBUNTU -> gNS”

when it could be

PATH-2: “OpenBSD-> Debian -> Slackware -> FreeBSD -> Gentoo ->
Arch -> CRUX —-> FSF creates a new distro”

well, a large amount of time has already been spent into creating gNS from, PATH-1, when at the same time it could be spent into PATH-2 which carries collections of good advice and sane technical-points. What stopped RMS or other people of FSF from reading about the UNIX lessons or technical lessons from GNU & Linux development over the 2 decades (except Free Software Philosophy) and why FSF never ever thought of creating a 100% Freedom distro by using PATH-2 or some other path like PATH-3 better than these 2 PATHs I have mentioned. I want to know that reason, thats all I am asking for. One question you might ask is what’s the technical point I am making ? To me, UBUNTU is just shitty distro because it manages the system configuration using GUIs. I don’t understand the importance of GUIs. My 1.5 years of experience with different Linux distros tells me that

sooner or later a user has to know about what those GUIs hide, sooner or later, at some point of his time with GNU and Linux system he has to read and understand that “/etc/resolv.conf”. Then why make fool out of users by providing a “sysconfig-network-gui”. Windows works the same way, you must manage the system using different GUIs,. just point and click. UBUNTU & Fedora both spread the same philosophy as of Windows: HIDE THE SYSTEM. That way user will never need to see source and read. This will prevent any open sharing of resources. I am not saying that gNewSense blocks sharing. I am just saying that GUI suyem management produces proprietary-thinking as a side-effect.

I am not against X or GUI, I still use X and read my pdf files in xpdf. I am talking about using and promoting GUIs to manage system, security settings for example. Windows does the same and that helps preventing any access to lower level of system, the text-files. Using GUIs to manage the system is an anti-Open practice, whether done intentionally (MacOS X) or unintentionally (Debian). When I tried to discuss this with BLAG folks, they removed me from BLAG mailing lists :(. I felt sad at this.

My reason is that gNS was not properly organized. I mean the creation of gNS was as disorganized as the creation of Hurd. after 20 years, Hurd is still in development, I read the history and all the technical papers and searched all the Hurd mailing lists archives and found out that problems, that lead to the failure to release the Hurd at proper time, were non-technical. if design of Hurd could be well organized we could have been using a Hurd OS now without all of the that Proprietary shit like Skype, ttf-ms-fonts kept up to date in repos by distros like Arch and CRUX. Hurd could have been a major player in today’s social environment but my point is not Hurd, my point is gNS. All I am saying is that I see a Design-Pattern emerging 2nd time.

I really do not want that Design-Pattern to emerge for 3rd time. That scares me to death.

Remeber I am not bashing FSF. I am first to admit that RMS has done lots of great work for people like me. He is very responsible, intelligent, hard-working , ethical and a better Society-Builder than many politicians in our Senate (thats what I call him :).. My points are only technical. As usual I always think both in terms of 2 points: Technical and Philosophical. IMHO, With in the GNU, Linux, OpenSource, Debian and other communities and their products, gNS gives us the 100% Free Software OS it intended along time ago but it falls short on producing a technically better distro. remember my comparison lies only with other Linux distros. We don’t run GNU. Gentoo, Arch or CRUX all are Linux distros because they give you all iron chains/cages (Skype, Adobe Flash plugin, ttf-ms-fonts, Sun JRE etc) so that you can close yourself into those cages, for free :(

gNewSense I wanted to mean “FSF sponsored distribution”. IIRC, I read it somewhere on net. RMS uses this on his laptop. So, officially, I can call it an FSF supported distro and unofficially, FSF’s distro.

One questions still revolves inside my brain, If it is GNU/Linux, then Why did not FSF started distributing a 100% Free disro in 1990s, Linux kernel was i use since 1992 and we get gNewSense in 2005, no wonder people call it Linux.

I am not hating FSF in anyway, I just did not like their way of working, their techniques of doing an OS. Calling it GNU/Linux will not change anything, 95% of users will still call it Linux and will never know about GNU. For me it is 3rd party OS created by picking up Linux kernel and all other GNU utilities (contributing to 85% of the system) . I still call it Linux because thats what people understand. Calling it GNU/Linux is like dealing with effects rather than cause of the problem. 8 years ago, when I was studying in 12th class, in my Chemistry Lab I found that, in a specific chemical reaction you always get the same products. If you want to change the product then you need to change the reactants. No matter how much time I spend with same reactants, no matter how much hard work I did, for hours and hours, I always got the same product in the end. As soon I change even one of the reactants there was a totally different kind of reaction and me and my classmates found a new problem to work on because we got a new product and we needed to analyze a whole new chemical process :). From that experience I concluded what I now call as the “Law of Casue & Effect”. So, by calling it GNU/Linux, you deal with effects, not with the cause( reactants) that triggered the reaction and a whole new environment. No matter how much head we will bang with this GNU/Linux or Linux, we will get the same result because we have same reactants form last 16 years. Hence I do not waste my energy in making people understand the GNU/Linux. I just call it Linux. You need to change the reactants:

GNU utilities + Linux kernel —-> Linux [in 2008 ]
GNU utilities + GNU kernel (1983, a monolithic kernel) —-> GNU [ in 2008 ]
GNU utilities + GNU kernel (1988, a micro kernel) —-> GNU [ in 2008 ]
GNU utilities + GNU Hurd kernel —-> Hurd [ in 2011 ]

To get to the 3rd scenario, we need 2 things: working Hurd kernel & GPLv3 or GPLv4 (from Future) applied onto the whole GNU system. I am right, Hurd can be released in 2011, only if FSF solves the non-technical and organizations problems that they are facing since 1983. I am sure, FSF is in dire need of an OS that is about Freedom, not to mention the technical power that goes with such philosophy.

Linux is not that, Linux is about a better OS than what we have on our desks now, its not about Freedom, it about price, money, it costs zero dollars, except these 2 things Linux is nothing, it has no identity exactly like Open Source, use better technology whether its Proprietary or Free it must not concern you. If in near future, they find something better, say New-O :), then people will start to use New-O and Linux will loose lots of users then like Windows is loosing its users day by day. Then people will replace their Linux installations with this new and better New-O.

Was that my point ? of course not. . Then, what is my point ? Here it is:

FSF is working hard to erase a social-problem, I am sure Proprietary Software are very big social-problem but will doing hard-work and producing Free and Open Source Softwares will resolve this problem and will put FSF as the Leader of New Society ?

I think not. Just looking at the last 30 years of computer history, I can pretty easily conclude that if FSF wants to build a better society and totally and completely remove this social-problem, it needs to change and bend its ways of working. In an email conversation, RMS said to me that He does not need to work on Hurd, That he does not need to develop any Hurd kernel at all, only because we already have a GPL-ed kernel named Linux. Worse part is that he thinks he is right. I am sure he is wrong. This society really needs a 100% Free OS, at least a fully GPLv3 OS but RMS got Linux kernel and everyone got Linux and then we bang our heads and say “Please call it GNU/Linux”. Unless Hurd or some other better kernel comes, we will always discover words like OpenSource/Linux., The day RMS/FSF sets the GPLv3 OS phenomenon into motion, everything will start to change and that change will happen faster than Linux, Faster than any other technology has developed. Trust me on this because I speak from both experience and common-sense.

History of Computers can teach us many lessons. In the beginning of 1970s Bruce Lee said: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. When you put water into the cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into the bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it into the teapot it becomes the teapot. Now the water can not flow or crash. Be water my friend.”. and just before the beginning of this new millennium, Morpheus said: Free Your Mind

I think both well apply to what I want to say.

Now to surprise you, I have 2 hard disks, On one I use gNewSense and on the other I use BLAG. I have removed Firefox from both of them and use Icecat. Why .. ? … because….… I want Freedom…

Copyright © 2007, Arnuld Uttre, #331/type-2/sector-1, Naya Nangal, Distt. – Ropar, Punjab (INDIA) – 140126

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice, and the copyright notice, are preserved.

6 Comments »

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  1. Hello,

    GnewSense was not done by the FSF. It was done by two individuals. And later the FSF supported the system to some extend. But it was never really an FSF project.

  2. > GnewSense was not done by the FSF. It was done
    > by two individuals. And later the FSF supported
    > the system to some extend. But it was never
    > really an FSF project.

    I know. I think I need to choose my words carefully. I have updated my blog to reflect the changes and also included little more explanation.

    I wanted to mean “FSF sponsored distribution”. IIRC, I read it somewhere on net. RMS uses this on his laptop. So, officially, I can call it an FSF supported distro and unofficially, FSF’s distro.

  3. […] Read more at original source […]

  4. I couldn’t disagree more with regards to the importance of GUIs. Few people are comfortable with editing text files and typing arcane abreviated and acronymized commands in a black and white terminal.

    For non-nerds, getting rid of GUI configuration just gets rid of the user, it doesn’t encourage them to learn.

    Imagine going to the car lot and being shown a car that despite having an integral roll-cage and 500bhp engine; in order to start it you have to warm the carburettors for 5 mins (10 in winter), then prime the carburettors with a syringe full of ether while simultaneously turning the throttle and holding open the choke.

    Compared to a normal car that starts with a key.

    There’s nothing stopping me from starting my car in a similar ridiculous way, but I have no interest in that. GUIs are similar. They don’t prevent people from understanding how the system works — they provide a convenient abstraction.

    Would you rather do away with some other convenient abstractions like “files” (really just a reserved area on the disk)?

  5. GUIs… well, they serve some purpose. For the technically uninclined — they are the heaven. For the l33t h4x0r — they suck the hell out of their lives.

    I personally was a GUI anti-proponent (my shell live is GNU Emacs + gnome-terminal). But when I bought my laptop, I discovered that you really need something like Ubuntu to manage things. Well, you can’t sudoedit /etc/apt/sources.list or sudo invoke-rc.d networking restart in midst of a presentation (I’m an MBA student — presentations are vital!). I’ve always thought about switching to something like Debian Lenny on my laptop. But I’ve always found that GUIs keep people’s mouth shut; and Compiz will make them say “Aaah! This looks like Vista!”.

    If you think I’m a GUI weenie; no, I’ve been with GNU/Linux 5 years ago (RedHat 7.2 or something). Was a great fan of Mandrake 8.2 and KDE. Now my Debian Etch + Xfce makes my life. I’ve learnt that GUIs are great if you want to unlearn things.

    Regarding the example you quoted, try editing /etc/resolv.conf in Ubuntu. You can’t. It’s function is managed by NetworkManager and it will overwrite your changes. Similarly, the fun playing with /etc/inittab is gone by the introduction of upstart. I haven’t got into grips with upstart.

    What is great about command line is the text-based config files (my .emacs being my favourite and frequently edited). It really gives you an idea of how your box is going. But what is lacking in text console for me is:

    * Full fledged framebuffer support (it’s broken, not consistent and heavily dependent on the particular card)
    * Lack of UTF-8 in the console. Thanks to the brain-dead design of PC. You can’t include more than 512 chars in the kb. Sure, there are alternative methods.
    * Lack of uniform access methods in text console. SDL is full of hacks. GGI project looks promising — but is in infancy.
    * I look forward to the day when my Emacs can do Malayalam in text console.

    I hated GUIs. Decided to stick on with something that remotely served the purpose. Well, you need GUIs for some needs — eye-candy is one option — for people with aesthetics. ;-)
    Why I decided to stick with Xfce can be found here: http://maravind.blogspot.com/2008/02/valentines-day-in-love-with-xfce.html

    Great to see you active in Hurd list. IMHO, whatever is Hurd lacking can be blamed on Mach. Ever though of porting Hurd to something else. I’m having Minix3 kernel on my mind. Never mind RMS’s license claims. Can you try that for just the kicks of it?

  6. > Comment by Mahesh Aravind
    > GUIs… well, they serve some purpose. For the

    > technically uninclined — they are the heaven.
    > For the l33t h4×0r — they suck the hell out
    > of their lives.

    I am neither l33t nor h4x0r. I was a *maniac* for “Search Google for Historical Events” and GUI system configuration still sucked my life to death.

    > I personally was a GUI anti-proponent (my shell
    > live is GNU Emacs + gnome-terminal).

    well, mine is “wmii + rxvt-unicode + emacs

    > But when
    > I bought my laptop, I discovered that you really
    > need something like Ubuntu to manage things.

    hmm… I will bite now ;)

    > Well, you can’t sudoedit /etc/apt/sources.list
    > or sudo invoke-rc.d networking restart in
    > midst of a presentation

    well, if you can click on Admin Menu then you can also click on X-Terminal ,only if you want to save your time but that will surely scare the hell out of your audience ;)

    > (I’m an MBA student —
    > presentations are vital!). I’ve always thought
    > about switching to something like Debian Lenny
    > on my laptop.

    Debian uses GUI based system configuration.

    > But I’ve always found that GUIs
    > keep people’s mouth shut; and Compiz will make
    > them say “Aaah! This looks like Vista!”.

    here you are right and I agree because this is truth.

    > If you think I’m a GUI weenie; no, I’ve been
    > with GNU/Linux 5 years ago (RedHat 7.2 or
    > something). Was a great fan of Mandrake 8.2 and
    >. Now my Debian Etch + Xfce makes my life.
    > I’ve learnt that GUIs are great if you want to
    > unlearn things.

    fan.. of Mandrake :( , seems like you never tried Gentoo. regarding “unlearning”, you are right.

    > Regarding the example you quoted, try editing
    > /etc/resolv.conf in Ubuntu. You can’t. It’s
    > function is managed by NetworkManager and it
    > . will overwrite your changes.

    hehe.. thats funny because I used ubuntu for 1 week and it *never* ever overwrote any change I made. You came from Mandrake and use Ubuntu and even after 5 years you still use a Desktop, so it will surely overwrite your changes. Since I am using it only from 2.5 years so it will not overwrite mine ;)

    I leave it to you to find the reason on why it did not overwrite any of my changes.

    > Similarly, the fun playing with /etc/inittab is
    > gone by the introduction of upstart. I haven’t
    > got into grips with upstart.

    don’t know what you mean exactly.

    > I hated GUIs.

    you miss the point. I myself use GUIs (wmii + IceCat). I hate GUI based system configuration, remember the GNOME Administration Menu ? In your case the Xfce Administration menu.

    > > Decided to stick on with something
    > > that remotely served the purpose. Well, you need
    > > GUIs for some needs — eye-candy is one option —
    > > for people with aesthetics. ;-)

    eye candy ?

    My wmii is most eye-candy thing I have ever seen since 1996, my 1st contact with computers. see it here:

    > Why I decided to stick with Xfce can be found
    > here:
    > http://maravind.blogspot.com/2008/02/valentines-day-in-love-with-xfce.html

    will read it later.

    > Great to see you active in Hurd list. IMHO,
    > whatever is Hurd lacking can be blamed on Mach.
    > Ever though of porting Hurd to something else.
    > I’m having Minix3 kernel on my mind. Never mind
    > RMS’s license claims. Can you try that for just
    > the kicks of it?

    Hurd is the Love of my life. Its my Life-Partner. Well I have one more life partner named copyleft ;). BTW, RMS said to me that he does not need to develop the Hurd since we already have a copyleft based kernel named Linux.

    I checked Minix3 a long time ago. I even installed and used it but its BSD license kept me away. I am basically much more inclined towards preferring a GPL based softwares over other ones. That’s why I use Linux, not OpenBSD. OpenBSD is very mature and impressive piece of softwares but it is not GPLed. I want to breathe single moment of my life with GPL :)


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