Openness vs. Comfort

Polytropon freebsd at
Fri Jun 12 15:36:49 UTC 2020

On Fri, 12 Jun 2020 15:37:42 +0200, Vincent DEFERT wrote:
> My impression is that there are 2 sub-groups in the FreeBSD community, 
> those wanting FreeBSD to dominate over Windows and Linux, and those 
> wanting to keep every semi-colon in its set line and column forever.

I don't know where you take that impression from, but
in my experience, neither the FreeBSD community nor the
mailing list participants seem to fit in one of those
groups. In fact, I'd even say it's the exact opposite:
Many FreeBSD users use Linux as well, or macOS, and some
even use "Windows", and nobody insists on a non-changing
world. The FreeBSD OS itself is proof for that.

> [ Deliberate exaggeration here, but posts on this mailing-list and on 
> the forums seldom fall in the mid-range. ]

Erm... no. :-)

> 1. Why mailing lists?
> I assume all of you have perfectly healthy eyes. Great!

I belong to the group of people whose eyes have seen better
times. That's why I prefer mailing lists over web forums,
for example, due to a simple fact: Any halfway decent MUA
(and that applies for text-mode MUAs as well) can make the
message text display so it's nice to read. Even a blind
user can use the appropriate tools. Web forums tend to make
it harder, because they either consist of CSS + JS that
"knows better" (i. e., you increase the zoom in the browser,
now the page doesn't render properly anymore), or they have
such a bad look & feel that using them even with the aid
of the settings in the web browser is a terrible experience.

As mentioned many times, mailing lists offer the ability
to use without registration. All you need is working mail.
You don't have to be logged in (or even online) to read
and write messages. I think this is a significant advantage
over everything web-based.

> Unfortunately, this is not my case. For me, reading plain text messages 
> is a torture. I made an effort in the beginning, but it is not possible 
> in the long term.

What exactly is your problem? You know that X can (for
decades!) zoom by pressing Ctrl+Alt+[+] and Ctrl+Alt+[-],
and as I said, MUAs and even ye olden X terminals (xterm)
have font size control. There are other tools that run
on X to help, like screen magnifiers, and there are of
course the application settings where you can choose a
minimum font size and a preferred font size (and font
face) for message text. That is a solved problem, I would

> But what purpose do these mailing lists serve?
> I've read several times they were the right place to meet developers, 
> but this is mostly true for freebsd-current@ an freebsd-stable@, not 
> this one.

This is the "general questions" mailing list. It's often
used as a first approach, because users here can direct
you to a more appropriate list if needed.

> So in the end, this mailing list (freebsd-questions@) is just to be used 
> when looking for help.
> Which means that at the time you need help, you must face additional 
> difficulties, at least legibility and focus.

Why are those _difficulties_?

> I don't know what you do when you have to solve a problem, but the first 
> thing most people do is google for it.

This is hard, because to a search engine, you cannot
express a question. You can send strings, and more or
less, weighted by relevance and money, the search engine
returns "AND NEAR" results without understanding (!) what
you're looking for.

Terminology is another problem. When you write to a
mailing list, the recipients are aware of the meaning
of certain words, which in the broad context of a search
engine, can mean much more, and the search engine takes
that into mind and lists many false-positives (because
the search matches "AND NEAR" for the words used).

And now imagine program names that (by accident or by
intention) match a "real life object". Sure, you will
now say that people don't just search for one word,
but again, the search engine "forces" them to form a
query in a way that it leads to usable (!) results
(which is different from "any results" - SRPs full
of stuff with no value).

> And what do you get when you google something? Links to web pages.
> Which mean that if answers given on this list had some value, they will 
> be invisible to most people.

There is an archive of the mailing lists, which can be
searched through using any search engine, and in many
cases, SRPs contain links to - guess what - web pages
containing mailing list messages explaining how to solve
a specific problem.

There is no "the one source" for answers.

Questions can be complex. Answers too.

And as there is no "the one source", there is no "the
one answer".

A thing where mailing lists are great at is that you
get answers or suggestions from real people in the
same "time frame" as you are, not paid-for ad content
that's already 5 years old and more or less says "buy
our product".

> So using a mailing list in 2020 is reserved to things of little or no value.

Well, I wouldn't say that. If someone told the same about
searching with google, it would be "the same kind of true":
you find results with answers that no longer apply...

> Important things deserve a forum: they are visible (indexed by search 
> engines), legible (web browsers accessibility features) and well 
> structured (threads) so you can stay focused on what you're here for.

Technically, the mailing lists have those features.

Visible: mailing list archives are on the web

Legible: the MUA can display messages much better than what
a web-based forum uses as predefined settings (which the user
cannot change and which sometimes even fights the browser's

Structured: that's what the references in the headers are
for; the structure is preserved in the content as well (and
any decent MUA can sort by date or in thread view)

> 2. Linuxophobia / Linuxallergia
> If I were fully satisfied with Linux, I wouldn't be there.
> However, there are also good things in the Linux world that could 
> inspire development decisions for FreeBSD.

Again, this happens all the time. Keep in mind that, if I
may say that, most of the FreeBSD ports collection's content
is software ported from Linux.

Maybe you're confusing something: Looking critically at how
things are done over in Linux world are sometimes claimed
to be hostile, which they're not, because in a technical
context, it's not "I don't like it", but "it's a bad idea
because of reasons".

> So what do we get in 2020?
> A ports collection with a huge dependency mess and unreliable package 
> repositories that remove your applications when a build has failed.

If you experienced _that_, you obviously must have done
something inappropriate. I cannot image a realistic scenario
where something like this would happen...

> When you report these issues, you're told "jail everything" or "use 
> poudriere".
> Those who do so set strong barriers around FreeBSD.

You don't _have to_, but for certain things, it's suggested
because, yeah, that's the building process these days, and
it is because it solves more problems than it creates. Don't
get me wrong, I have my own problems with that, but it's the
logical thing to happen.

> Using jails means every new user must learn a whole lot of things to use 
> FreeBSD, even in irrelevant use cases.

Depends. Jails have their place, but they are not mandatory.

> Using poudriere means learning even more + dedicating a machine to build 
> your packages + waiting for as long as needed to build everything you 
> need + fixing bugs + rebuilding.

Again, this is not true. You don't have to dedicate a machine
for that. With today's power even in cheap laptops and home PCs
it is no problem to use the "everyday desktop" as "build server",
to make a simplified claim. And fixing bugs is, on most cases,
not a matter of the novice user.

> Linux distributions have fully addressed these issues 15 years ago and 
> it is the bare minimum expected from a distribution.

And the problem is not solved yet. :-)

> At least for this, Linux would be a good source of inspiration. And I 
> know at least one Linux package management system released under the BSD 
> license.

As you know, Linux (here: all the distributions) use different
package management tools, whereas FreeBSD uses one: pkg. It's
not perfect, but what is? It's improving, and definitely can do
more than its predecessors (pkg_*). The ability to use software
from modified sources as well as software from precompiled
packages has certain implications, that's for sure, but the
handbook and the FAQ address those requirements and explain
what to do.

> 3. Comfort and Openness
> FreeBSD has a great base system and a great text mode installer, but 
> what's the point in installing it if managing applications is a mess and 
> asking for help a curse?

Both statements are not true.

Application management with pkg is, compared to what other
OS platforms can offer, good. There are of course cases where
problems occur, for example, if you want to install software
that cannot legally be packaged, so you _need_ to build from
source, or if you want nonstandard build-time options. The
system keeps track of your installed software, and depending
on how much "non-standard" stuff you have, either Poudriere
(I still have problems with that word!) or "pkg lock" is the

> Being open (or opening up) doesn't mean giving up on what matters to you.
> It just means you know quite well what matters to you and you feel safe 
> considering what surrounds you, and use whatever out there you deem 
> appropriate to take good and continued care of what matters to you.

Again in my very individual experience and interpretation,
the FreeBSD community is one of the most open (according
to your description) ones.

Many things have changed over the years. Not every change
was a good one, and welcomed by the community, and some
things haven't arrived in FreeBSD yet (especially WLAN
drivers) but the overall development of the system and the
software-building infrastructure can be seen as improvement.
It is _different_ from how things are done in Linux world,
of course, but using a different approach does not mean
it is an inferior (!) approach.

Magdeburg, Germany
Happy FreeBSD user since 4.0
Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, ...

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