Installation - More user friendly

Johnson David DavidJohnson at Siemens.com
Mon Mar 8 11:22:21 PST 2004


On Sunday 07 March 2004 12:57 pm, Donald Turnbull wrote:

> Plans exist aplenty. Talk is cheap. See, for instance the libh
> project stuff -- http://www.freebsd.org/projects/libh.html -- which
> was a nice idea in many ways but has entirely failed to produce any
> results for about the last two years. What is missing are concrete
> pieces of code: applications that work. If you think you can do
> better than what we have presently, you are very welcome to submit
> samples of works in progress.

I think libh died because of me. I joined the list, and my "let me 
introduce myself" post was the last message ever on their mailing list. 
Maybe it's my deodorant :-(

Seriously, I think the problem with libh was that it tried to do too 
much. I was to be a new package manager, sysinstall and GUI toolkit all 
wrapped up into one library. There was just too much stuff to get 
working correctly in the foundation before anyone could start working 
on the actually functionality. And the fact that you had to keep around 
old incompatible ports like qt2-static didn't help.

What needs to be done is to go back to the UNIX way of doing things, and 
divide up the problem into a set of small tools each doing one thing 
very well. Then "sysinstall" would merely be a shell script combining 
the parts into a whole. I'm actually starting on one small piece of 
this. Contact me off list if you're interested.

> On the other hand, your contention that FreeBSD installation is
> user-unfriendly particularly for the nieve user, is not entirely born
> out in practice. Most people take a few minutes to get used to the
> way it works, and then find that they can navigate around the menus
> and get things done very effectively.

While that is true, there is still the problem that sysinstall is very 
hard to maintain. It was created over a weekend just to get something 
out the door, IIRC, and was never meant to be a long term solution. 
Just peruse its source code and see how long it takes until your brain 
starts hurting...

> You'll also have a great deal of difficulty persuading experienced
> users that they need a glitzy X based installer which won't work over
> a serial line connection, and that doesn't permit the same
> flexibility as the current sysinstall(8). Style palls very quickly
> unless it is backed up by substance, but substance makes up for any
> amount of lack of style.

I think we need both text and graphical interfaces to sysinstall or its 
replacements. We need the text UI for all of the reasons everyone gives 
whenever the topic comes up. But a graphical interface is more than 
just eyecandy if done right. A GUI can display information/controls 
more efficiently than a text interface, and can provide a better "help" 
interface as well.

As one example, consider partitioning the harddrive. For a fresh drive 
that's going to use several slices and partitions, one doesn't want to 
use "raw" fdisk, disklabel and newfs, it's just too difficult and error 
prone. Sysinstall is a much better solution, but still not ideal. An 
interface where the partitions are displayed and manipulated as graphs 
(such as with PartitionMagic) would be very convenient. You certainly 
don't need it if you go into the install process knowing exactly what 
your partitions are going to be, but if you don't a GUI can save you 
some time.

As another example, to select packages in sysinstall, one enters a new 
screen for each category, and must back out to enter another. Two tree 
lists, one listing the available packages, and the other listing the 
chosen packages, would be very convenient. With the resolution of a 
GUI, you can have both of these lists on screen simultaneously. Debian 
does this with its text based tool, but it's extremely difficult to 
use.

David


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