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Re: [gNewSense-users] A user's view

From: Guilherme Vieira
Subject: Re: [gNewSense-users] A user's view
Date: Fri, 27 Dec 2013 02:57:59 -0200

*hugs Josh fondly with tears in the eyes*

I am a good software developer with quite above average knowledge and intelligence, very knowledgeable of pre-C++11 C++, who could easily get his head around template metaprogramming, and yet I fail to handle GNU systems.

After Snowden came along and I realized that Stallman was right all along, I've decided to ignore non-libre software in my life entirely. I'm starting slowly and it's painful. I refuse to install non-libre software on my laptop unless it's for the purposes of reverse engineering or studying the software in order to build libre equivalents. I will continue to exorcize non-libre software and SaaSSes and bad services like GMail from my life, but I'm doing it one step at a time. First it will be my laptop, then it will be the SaaSSes and bad services, then I will consider getting a phone with Firefox OS or Replicant if I can get a 100% libre one, otherwise I might quit using cellphones altogether.

Ignoring the existence of non-libre software really felt like taking the red pill. I felt like I was living that scene where Morpheus shows Neo what the world has become: an empty, dull, lifeless space. That is how I see GNU, which is my world today.

This is not a gNewSense problem. Crapness is pervasive. I have no idea how people who use even non-libre GNU/Linux distros such as Ubuntu, Fedora, or Debian, can say their systems work with a straight face. There is nothing more unstable than something running on top of Xorg, or ALSA, or PulseAudio, or the Linux console.

I cannot believe those people mocked the stability of the Windows operating system. You have got to be kidding me. My Windows 95 was far more stable than any GNU distro I have ever used. I am not kidding. Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, Debian, Gentoo, Arch, Parabola, gNewSense, you name it, I have tried them all. They suffer from the same problems. None is "better" than the other.

When I say this to people I hear back "oh, that's strange. I don't have considerable problems with distro 'X,' you should really try it." I'm sick of that. That's how I tried many of the aforementioned distros.

It's all bad, and it's so inconceivably bad that not even someone like me who can think about exploiting a template system to write programs that in turn generates source code that finally become a library, that gets imported into another program that potentially exploits the type system again, finally generating a program that will power a server that will serve _javascript_ programs and connect to databases and do complicated things can really handle.

I will tell you how I "handle" gNewSense: I have installed gNewSense 3. It would crash during power downs and it would crash when I switched from Xorg to the Linux console, and it would also crash randomly if I clicked around too much.

So I updated the kernel to one I found somewhere and those problems were gone. I have also tried to stick to one of the browsers that came bundled with the system: Epiphany, IceWeasel, and IceCat. None was remotely sane. Some of them could not play animated GIFs. Others displayed texts with awful fonts with lots of alias. So I threw them all away, installed Mozilla Firefox, and never looked back.

Today my laptop does almost everything I want it to do. It cannot drive my HDMI port, however. This is something that the original kernel could, but the new one cannot. Since I obviously prefer the stability of the new one, I just ditched my big monitor. It's been powered off for months now. I take it that the comfort I had in using it was illusory, something like the juicy meat that Cypher referred to as he explained to Agent Smith why he wanted to go back into the Matrix.

Stallman says all the time that "the GNU community is great, you can ask them anything and they'll come up with a solution." Well, I've explained my HDMI problems in this list before, but nobody answered. I know gNewSense is a small distro with a small, very busy community, but oh man, how can an HDMI output not work? This is so shameful. How can "grandma with her Yeeloong" use this system if the HDMI output needs troubleshooting?

And if you say grandma wouldn't have updated the kernel, well, in that case grandma wouldn't even be able to see graphical output on the &%$$% built-in display!

Seriously, there has got to be a community of people who focus on this issue. WHERE IS IT? I'll throw at them all the money I've got and I'll help with everything in my reach, but it's gotta exist first.

A community that will pick, say, Xorg, and say "okay, we will make this work on such and such and such platforms, and it will be guaranteed to work and be tested on those platforms, and you will be allowed to change such and such configuration parameters and that's it." Such configuration parameters should be grandma-friendly, be incapable of bricking the graphical interface, and have a graphical interface to tweak them. It shall be called Xorg-unf**ked or Xorg-that-actually-works.

I won't turn back anymore. I've made a vow that I will only use libre software and I'll play by it, forever. I'll work around issues when I can, actually fix stuff when I can't work around them (I did debug my GPU kernel objects before giving up,) and I'll plainly accept that some technologies are out of reach when all of that fails (which is what happened to my HDMI output.)

When Xorg was unstable and I couldn't figure why, I almost fell back to the Linux console. I already use vim anyway, so I intended to use a framebuffer browser there, such as Firefox with GTK on DirectFB and play music using mpd and such. Luckily, I found a way to work around the problem, at the cost of my external monitor. I guess everything has a price :) I'm willing to go very far for freedom, as you can see.

But I do wonder: How is everybody using GNU and managing not to be as pissed up as I am? By God, what am I missing? I used to blog about the problems I encountered in my GNU adventures here (but stopped):

P.S.: Please don't take this too personally. I know the gNewSense community can only do so much, and I'm glad it does what it does (it is my distro of choice, after all,) but I really, really need to take this out of my chest from time to time. And I wanted to meet good counter arguments to all that or like-minded people who want to try to solve this problem somehow.

Atenciosamente / Sincerely,
Guilherme Prá Vieira

On Fri, Dec 27, 2013 at 1:10 AM, josh <address@hidden> wrote:
I have been following the recent emails on gnewsense users.
As a mere user I doubt if my opinions will be greatly valued but here
they are anyway:

I have just installed gNewSense version 3, mainly because updates to the
previous version stopped working properly some time ago and the version
of evolution supplied with it stopped recognizing links in emails and
then stopped downloading and uploading emails to the server. And Yahoo
took a dislike to IceCat.
I could find no explanation for these occurrences, So I decided to
install the new version.
Due to a few avoidable mistakes - not helped by some obscurity and
unexpected behaviour by the installation program - I managed to lose all
of my stored email and contact addresses but my other data was backed up
and reloaded OK.

Version 3 is great - except for the inclusion of IceWeasel, which people
like Yahoo don't want to work with. No problem - install Firefox. But
Firefox doesn't have the downloader that I liked to use with IceCat -
although there is a much better one that can eventually be found after
half a day or so of searching. And my Brother printer won't work
anymore. So just get the driver and install that again. Ok, but Xsane is
not included with the distro. Easy, it's there on Synaptic, just
download it. Except that when downloaded it won't work and gives no
information about why.
Discover that the scanner driver is separate package - I'm sure it
wasn't when I originally installed the printer; I'd have remembered that
alright. Install it following the instructions on the Brother website
for brscan2 for DCP 350-C on Ubuntu. System says it's installed;
Synaptic says it's there; Xsane still can't find it. And I have no idea

How many weeks of spare time will I need to devote before I am able to
simply do all of the normal things that I regularly did with the
previous distro?

Perhaps here I ought to mention that I started out in the computer
industry as a maintenance engineer in 1965 and remained in that field,
in various roles, until 2003. So I am not exactly computer illiterate.
And I enjoy learning more and sorting out problems. Not only did we not
have GUI screens when I started out, we had to punch up machine code on
paper tape to get the system started. DOS, when it arrived, was relative
child's play. So I don't find using a terminal any sort of challenge in
itself. I do find Linux obscure to the point of insanity.

So, could you spare a moment from wrangling with each other about
abstruse security concerns, which may or may not be of importance, and
discussing what should be the basis of the NEXT distro, and apply your
considerable intellects to the mundane question of how to get normal
mortals to use THIS distro and GNU_Linux in general? I am really anxious
that you should succeed; I don't want a world dominated by microsoft.
But my experience over several years now is that the sort of people who
are the main users of PC's and laptops simply don't have the time or the
expertise to cope with the obscure intricacies involved in any sort of
change or hiccup in our systems. And it would take the skills of an
experienced researcher with unlimited time to discover and decode any
sort of support information.

Since one of my skills is Technical Documentation I would love to write
some simple, understandable descriptions of how the system actually
works and what to do when it doesn't. But the available information is
verbose, unstructured, and, in the forums, seems mainly to address
peculiar requirements, or be rants by hobby purists who can't understand
why anyone should want to use GNU-Linux as a simple, reliable tool and
probably feel that they ought not to be allowed to do so. But I am
struggling to understand the most basic things myself and, although I
hope to have many years of productive life left to me, I doubt if I will
live long enough to fathom out these mysteries, let alone document them.

Obviously a huge amount of skill and care by many people has gone into
trying to make the system user-friendly and reliable. My feeling is that
there are too many others in the free software community intent on
undermining their efforts by adding layers of obscurity and actively
trying to keep out 'non-geeks'. I can understand and sympathise with the
impatience of the 'Ever onward and upward' developers but, I repeat, the
survival of the free software movement probably depends on its
mainstream appeal. And that means doing what the user wants, without
obscure technical challenges.

I doubt if I have made my point adequately but this is the result of
another 2 hours of thought devoted to this subject and I can spare no
more at present.


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