freebsd - for the win

Chad Perrin perrin at
Sun Jun 13 00:50:19 UTC 2010

On Sat, Jun 12, 2010 at 03:51:32PM -0700, Charlie Kester wrote:
> I worked at Microsoft Developer Support in a previous life, beginning at
> the time that Visual C++ and MFC were first introduced.  One of
> Microsoft's big selling points was what they called "wizards" --
> basically, a set of simple, dialog-based code-generation tools. What I
> observed, over and over again, is that people would use the wizards to
> create simple MFC applications and then get hopelessly stuck as soon as
> they needed to do something the wizards or the MFC framework didn't
> easily provide.  All the wizards had accomplished was to move the point
> where people got stuck; they hadn't done anything to increase people's
> understanding of how MFC-based code worked or how best to customize it.
> What the wizards did accomplish was to bring in a whole bunch of new
> customers who were encouraged to think of themselves as MFC programmers,
> without requiring them to have even the most elementary competence in
> MFC.
> I'm reminded of this whenever I see proposals to make the FreeBSD system
> install and configuration more graphical and "user-friendly".   Same
> goes for the ports system.

I understand that point of view, and I agree as far as it goes.  I find
no particular value in adding gradients and clicky mouse-operated buttons
to an OS installer.  In fact, that sort of thing tends to slow me down
significantly, interfering with the efficiency of the installation

What I *do* find to be of value, however, is improving the installation
process so that it is clearer what is going on at each step and improving
the efficiency of it without damaging its flexibility.  I don't have any
problem with making it easier for a new user to understand and use, as
long as it doesn't interfere with the suitability for experts who don't
care about whooshing noises, 3D animations, "helpful" cartoon characters,
and the ability to use a mouse where it's not really needed.  In fact, I
think the world would be a better place if more people used FreeBSD,
almost regardless of their levels of technical expertise -- as long as
the OS doesn't start catering to their demands for Clippy and spinning
logos that take three minutes to load.

> As one of my old colleagues used to say, "There are no shortcuts to the
> righthand side of the learning curve."

True, of course.  I don't know how exactly you mean your statements to
come off, but I feel compelled to point out that this doesn't exclude the
occasional usefulness of giving some shortcuts between one (limited)
learning curve and another (far less limited) learning curve, though, as
we get if the path from MS Windows to FreeBSD (for instance) is made a
little clearer.  This is, after all, why we have things like quick
introductions to programming languages: to help people do something like
learn how to program in Common Lisp after having spent several years
screwing around with VB.NET (for a particularly egregious example).  Such
a move from one learning curve to another can be a real eye-opener, and
might result in eventually producing the next FreeBSD core developer.

Chad Perrin [ original content licensed OWL: ]
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