A strategic question

Joseph Vella satyam at sklinks.com
Fri Jan 27 23:27:25 PST 2006

On Friday 27 January 2006 06:16 pm, Jozef Baum wrote:
> This posting doesn't contain a technical question about FreeBSD, rather a
> strategic one.

I did my first time ever install of FreeBSD 1 week ago.  My background is M$ 
from DOS 2.something till XP.  About 2 months ago I tried my first Linux 

> I knew UNIX is a toolkit intended to IT knowledge people, so it will never
> perform a breakthrough to the average desktop user. But my disappointment
> with FreeBSD was great.
> In fact, to install FreeBSD, one needs already a lot of knowledge about the
> system. To acquire that knowledge, one needs experience on an installed
> system. But to have an installed system, one needs already a lot of
> knowledge about the system. That's the problem.

That you are frustrated I empathize with, to have expectations and place blame 
I don't.  I don't think it's fair to attribute "the" problem to something 
that is "your" problem.  There's nothing wrong with expressing that something 
is not the way you would like it, however, correct me if I'm wrong, it seems 
that your tone is that things are not the way they should be and the people 
that have spent an incomprehensible amount of knowledge, time and experience 
are at fault, rather than you are frustrated at the learning curve, time and 
energy to achieve your goals.

> The handbook doesn't tell you that, at the "last chance" message, you have
> to take out the boot CD and to insert CD 1. But if you don't do so, nothing
> gets installed.

I had the exact same occurrence during my install. I did think it was amazing 
that such depth of knowledge and experience on the inside had such a 
superficial flaw.  But I kind of laughed at the juxtaposition.  Kind of like 
how I'm charmed by Einsteins' messy hair.

> I configured a German ISO keyboard, but many keys don't work correctly. One
> has to look with Google to find additional information about configuring a
> German keyboard.

I find that Google is a prerequisite tool for any in depth (and not so in 
depth) computer work.  It seems like you're complaining that to make a 
painting you had to use a paintbrush.

> I have a cable Internet connection and my network card was recognized, but
> getting an IP-address with the DHCP service of my provider was impossible.
> Again, I had to look up with Google how to allow the firewall to get an
> IP-addres with my provider's DHCP.

I think it was Newton who said something like with Google you stand on the 
shoulders of giants. 

> The locate command did not work, as the locate database seemed to be
> corrupted. I had to figure out how to rebuild this database.

I had the exact same experience, except I figured it hadn't been initialized 
yet.  (I guess I'm lucky because I knew about locate and updatedb from my 
short Linux experience.  It was installed to run automatically and within 5  
minutes of starting my computer the disk would grind away.  It drove me nuts, 
and it took a bit of Googling to find out about top and then to see what was 
causing it and then finally get it under my own manual control.)

> The root user had a csh, while ordinary users had a sh shell. I had to
> figure out how to provide the same shell to the root user and the other
> users, as all those virtual users are all one and the same person, me.
I was bugged by the same thing too.  I posted about it on the newsgroup where 
several people replied that it's good to be used to that shell because in 
case of emergency that's the only shell that's going to be available.  I 
figured I'll just deal with it for now.

> I tried to setup an X Window environment (nVidia Geforce video adapter),
> but the horizontal and vertical refresh rates of the manufacturer didn't
> work, I had to experiment to find out the one X likes. Then I could startup
> X, only to not having configured at all my German keyboard.
We are both having very similar obstacles.  I had to come up with a crazy mode 
line to get my wide screen monitor to work right, we are talking many hours.  
But now I have 1680x1050 resolution, hardware 3D and that OpenGL screensaver 
"Euphoria" working.  That alone is enough beauty and feeling of 
accomplishment to keep me going for the next challenge.

> I tried to install emacs during installation, but it didn't succeed.
> Returning to the post-installation tasks after having installed the system
> resulted in a successfull installation of emacs (working only after a
> system reboot).


> I could go on for hours with this kind of troubles. But now comes the
> strategic question.
> Why is it that FreeBSD people, who seem to be perfectly able to formulate
> correct algorithms for implementing UNIX concepts, and translating them
> into code, don't care at all about a novice user, providing him with an
> installation program that doesn't work as it should, even without a GUI?
> I know UNIX is all about solving problems, but is it really interesting to
> make it apparently deliberatly so difficult for a newcomer? Is it really
> the policy of those guys to make the entry level to UNIX difficult, only to
> avoid a breakthrough of UNIX (FreeBSD) to the desktop users?

You can't really believe it's deliberate. Look how much time and energy it 
takes to get a damn keyboard, hi-res monitor, etc.. working from an end-user 
level.  What do you think it takes to program a single device driver.  Then 
attempt to do it for driver after driver in an almost infinite variation of 
configurations.  I can't even get HTML to look the same on my clients 
computer as mine.

> I knew the installation, configuration and optimization of a Unix system
> would take me a lot of time and patience. But after some weeks, the only
> result, as probably for many others, is an immense frustration. I cannot
> imagine that people capable of developing such a complex operating system
> as Unix are unable to offer newcomers a correct and easy install procedure.
> But probably, that's not their concern.

I would think it's a part of the equation for them, but not the goal.  I've 
never seen it remotely implied. Personally, I really enjoy the challenge.  I 
am so far totally intrigued by an indescribable quality of working with this 

There are many levels of participation that people like to engage in for 
different endeavors.  Some people would take a plane to go across country, 
some would say hey I want to see the sights first hand and drive across, 
while others would say you're not there unless you cycle across.  All are 
valid.  I find there's something in each of them.

I've seen many posts like this in the Ubuntu forums. Post where someone was 
frutrated by the difficulty of getting something to work, and how there were 
people responsible who were not doing enough or the right thing or ... 
Compared to FreeBSD that distro is totally easy to get up and running for all 
kinds of multimedia on all kinds of hardware with a huge selection of 
applications.  I did not however find it easy at all and at times was totally 
frustrated.  Unlike some, I find Windows XP to be a fast, stable and polished 
environment. I got my wireless working in 5 minutes.  It took me three four 
hour days in Linux. So far FreeBSD has not been co-operating with my desires 
at all.  There's different levels.  If one doesn't work for you, you can 
always try something else.

 I find your "strategic question" to be an attempt to place the responsibility 
of your unmet personal conceptions and expectations on others.  

> Please, guys, if you want FreeBSD to survive and to become not only a
> server OS, but also a desktop OS, realize that you are going the wrong way
> by annoying newcomers with a puzzle. I want to learn Unix, the real Unix.
> Searching a text file for a string with grep, not launching a tremendous
> memory hungry application under X Window to do so. I want to learn how to
> pipe Unix commands to get usefull work done.  I want to learn the ed line
> editor as a starting point for using sed. But please, don't frustrate me
> from the beginning by making the installation of FreeBSD so difficult. Drop
> some whistles and bells on which you are working, and encounter the newbie.

This makes no sense at all.  You claim to be embracing the command line and 
the learning curve yet complaining that you can't work with it and that 
somebody else is responsible.

I've experienced huge frustrations.  I haven't accomplished the most basic of 
my goals in the amount of time I would have expected to have three times as 
many.  I can relate.  Let's get together and talk about how hard and 
frustrating it is.  Let's help each other figure stuff out.  We've hit 
several of the same obstacles.  There are bound to be many more to come that 
one of us figures out before the other.  Let's share our successes and 
commiserate in our frustrations.  Let's hope many others help us, let's not 
expect them to.

> Many thanks in advance for your comments.
> A frustrated FreeBSD newbie
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