A quality operating system
antiequality at gmail.com
Sat Aug 20 04:47:05 UTC 2011
I make decisions about hardware and software for those who work with me.
Talking with my second in command this morning, we reached a quandary.
Ron is completely pro-Linux and pro-Windows, and against FreeBSD.
What is odd about this is that he's the biggest UNIX fanatic I know,
not only all types of UNIX (dating back quite some time) but also all
I told him I was considering FreeBSD because of greater stability and security.
He asked me a question that stopped me dead:
"What is a quality operating system?"
In his view, and now mine, a quality operating system is reliable,
streamlined and clearly organized.
Over the past few years, FreeBSD has drifted off-course in this
department, in his view.
Let me share the points he made that I consider valid (I have deleted
two as trivial, and added one of my own):
(1) Lack of direction.
FreeBSD is still not sure whether it is a desktop OS, or a server OS.
It is easy for the developers to say "well, it's whatever you want,"
but this makes the configuration process more involved. This works
against people who have to use these operating systems to get anything
In his view, a crucial metric here is the ability to estimate time
required for any task. It may be a wide window, but it should not be
as wide as "anywhere from 30 minutes to 96 hours." In his experience,
FreeBSD varies widely on this front because in the name of keeping
options open, standardization of interface and process has been
(2) Geek culture.
Geek culture is the oldest clique on the internet. Their goal is to
make friends with no one who is not like them. As a result, they
specialize in the arcane, disorganized and ambiguous. This forces
people to go through the same hoops they went through. This makes them
happy, and drives away people who need to use operating systems to
achieve real-world results. They reduce a community to hobbyists only.
(3) Horrible documentation.
This is my specialty and has been since the early 1980s. The FreeBSD
documentation is wordy, disorganized, inconsistent and highly
selective in what it mentions. It is not the product of professionals
but it also not the product of volunteers with a focus on
communication. It seems pro-forma, as in, "it's in the documentation,
so don't bother me." The web site compounds this error by pointing us
in multiple directions instead of to a singular resource. It is bad
enough that man pages are separate from your main documentation tree,
but now you have doubled or trebled the workload required of you
without any benefit to the end user.
To a developer, looking at some inconsistent or buggy interface and
thinking, "If they can't do this, they don't belong using FreeBSD
anyway" is too easy of a thought. Yet it looks to me like this happens
quite a bit, and "this is for the elite" has become the default
orientation. This is problematic in that there are people out there
who are every bit as smart as you, or smarter, but are not specialized
in computers. They want to use computers to achieve results; you may
want to play around with your computer as an activity, but that is not
so for everyone.
(5) Hostile community.
For the last several weeks, I have been observing the FreeBSD
community. Two things stand out: many legitimate questions go ignored,
and for others, response is hostile resulting in either incorrect
answers, haughty snubs, and in many cases, a refusal to admit when the
problem is FreeBSD and not the user. In particular, the community is
oblivious to interfaces and chunks of code that have illogical or
inconsistent interfaces, are buggy, or whose function does not
correspond to what is documented (even in the manpages).
(6) Selective fixes.
I am guilty of this too, sometimes, but when you hope to build an
operating system, it is a poor idea. Programmers work on what they
want to work on. This leaves much of the unexciting stuff in a literal
non-working state, and the entire community oblivious to it or
uncaring. As Ron detailed, huge parts of FreeBSD are like buried land
mines just waiting to detonate. They are details that can invoke that
30 minute to 96 hour time period instantly, usually right before you
need to get something done.
(7) Disorganized website.
The part of the FreeBSD project that should set the tone for the
community, the FreeBSD website, reflects every one of these
criticisms. It is inconsistent and often disorganized; there is no
clear path; resources are duplicated and squirreled away instead of
organized and made into a process for others to follow. It is arcane,
nuanced and cryptic for the purpose of keeping the community elitist,
hobbyist and hostile to outsiders.
In addition, huge portions of it break on a regular basis and seem to
go unnoticed. The attitude of "that's for beginners, so we don't need
it" persists even there. With the graphic design of the website I have
no problem, but the arrangement of resources on it reflects a lack of
presence of mind, or paying attention to the user experience.
All of this adds up to a quality operating system in theory that does
not translate into quality in reality.
You alienate users and place the burden upon them to sort through your
mess, then sneer at them.
You alienate business, professional and artistic users with your
insistence on hobbyism. These people have full lives; 48 hour sessions
of trying to configure audio drivers, network cards or drive arrays
are not in their interest.
Even when you get big parts of the operating system correct, it's the
thousand little details that have been forgotten, ignored or snootily
written off that add up to many hours of frustration for the end user.
This is not necessary frustration, and they get nothing out of it. It
seems to exist because of the emotional and social attitudes of the
Sadly, Ron is right. FreeBSD is not right for us, or any others who
care about using an operating system as a means to an end. FreeBSD is
a hobby and you have to use it because you like using it for the
purpose of using it, and anything else will be incidental.
That is the condition of FreeBSD now. If these criticisms were taken
seriously, I believe the situation could change, and I hope it does.
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