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Date:      Sat, 20 Aug 2011 12:40:06 -0600
From:      Chad Perrin <>
Subject:   Re: A quality operating system
Message-ID:  <20110820184006.GB21139@guilt.hydra>
In-Reply-To: <>
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On Fri, Aug 19, 2011 at 11:47:04PM -0500, Evan Busch wrote:
> 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
> Unix-like OSen.
> I told him I was considering FreeBSD because of greater stability and sec=
> 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.

This is why I like FreeBSD, relative to MS Windows, Apple MacOS, or any
Linux distribution I've encountered.

> Over the past few years, FreeBSD has drifted off-course in this
> department, in his view.

To the extent that is true (and I'm sure one could easily build a list of
minor points where this is the case), it is still far less so than with
Linux-based systems -- and MS Windows has *never* been "reliable,
streamlined, and clearly organized" by any reasonable standard at all.
One must wonder about your associate's confirmation biases.

> 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
> done.

=46rom where I'm sitting, FreeBSD looks like a server OS that works great
as a desktop OS -- for precisely the reasons that it makes a great server
OS.  What it does *not* do as well is serve as a toy or appliance for
people who just want to spend all their time in Microsoft Office, Visual
Studio, or Adobe Creative Suite.

> 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
> deprecated.

This "argument" doesn't make much sense to me.  What kind of task is so
wildly variable in its estimable completion time on FreeBSD without being
so variable on, say, MS Windows or one of the bazillions of Linux

> (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.

I do not see a reasoned argument here.  What I see is a lot of
hand-waving and finger pointing with nary a supporting argument to back
it up.  I'll stop short of calling it trolling, for the moment.

> (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.

If you want horrible documentation, stick with MS Windows and Linux-based
systems.  Seriously, the FreeBSD Handbook is better documentation even
for Linux-based systems than the vast majority of Linux books.  Manpage
coverage in FreeBSD is better than in the vast majority of Linux
distributions by an order of magnitude.  Source code documentation is
better in FreeBSD than in the majority of Linux-specific and GNU code
that I've seen (and it's even better for OpenBSD and NetBSD, from what
I've seen).  I don't know where you're getting these ideas.

In short, the best user documentation I've seen for Unix-like OSes is
FreeBSD documentation; the best developer documentation I've seen for
Unix-like OSes is OpenBSD documentation, though FreeBSD also does well,
and Linux . . . well, it does less well, but at least it's leagues ahead
of MS Windows.

I hear good things about *some* areas of developer documentation for
MacOS these days, though.

> (4) Elitism.
> 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.

I see elitism everywhere.  FreeBSD certainly has no monopoly on that.

> (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).

I guess there's nothing to be said here.  You have arrived at your
conclusion.  In my experience, there's one or two people known to be
trollishly hostile to querents on mailing lists and in IRC channels, and
the rest of the people are generally helpful.  Meanwhile, helpfulness or
hostility of people in the Linux world is wildly variable from one venue
to another, but the more technically knowledgeable the venue, the more
hostile people tend to be -- which means that in venues where the people
answering the question often know less about the subject than the person
asking, you get a lot of very friendly people.  The Ubuntu forum comes to

> (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.

Some of this goes on everywhere.  Microsoft's developers have ignored
whole classes of vulnerabilities in MS Windows at least since the middle
of the 1990s, as far as I've seen; probably longer, but I wasn't paying
as much attention back then.  Linux-related, GNU, and various BSD Unix
system development efforts all run afoul of this problem from time to
time.  Apple developers actually *intentionally* forsake some areas that
desperately need attention as a matter of policy, because they do not
want to make certain things easier for users.

> (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.

Read the Handbook for processes to follow.  It's pretty well organized.

> 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.

I think you're imposing an idea of motivations that is not necessary or
even appropriate.  Yes, some things fall by the wayside; yes, some things
could be better organized on the site.  I don't dispute that.  I doubt
it's a malicious "screw the beginner" policy, though, as you seem to

> All of this adds up to a quality operating system in theory that does
> not translate into quality in reality.

Funny -- my experience is that Linux distributions tend to be pretty
damned crappy lately, especially in comparison to FreeBSD.  There are
problem areas, but at least the problem areas in FreeBSD are not problems
with nondeterministic behavior.  I've been dealing with a Linux-based
system quite regularly lately that is driving me up the damned wall
because performing the same act yields different results at different
times.  Trying to "fix" a problem involves waving chicken bones over the
computer and praying to whatever you hold holy as much as delving into
the sort of configuration stuff that *should* actually fix something.
Once "fixed", stuff is likely to break again.  Screw that.  I prefer my
experience with FreeBSD, where I might not at first know how to fix
something, but once I figure it out it makes sense and it damned well
stays fixed.  The same fix will work again in similar circumstances, too.

In dealing with this Linux-based system, the thought that keeps crossing
my mind is "If I wanted to deal with perversely non-deterministic crap
like this, I'd just use MS Windows."

> You alienate users and place the burden upon them to sort through your
> mess, then sneer at them.

I don't believe I have sneered at *anyone* lately.  What are you talking
about?  Are you just trying to pick a fight?

> 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.

How the hell does it take you 48 hours to configure an audio driver?
It's about a five-minute process in the vast majority of cases, if you're
slow or unlucky.

> 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.

I don't like to take this attitude, generally, but you have essentially
begged for it:

If your idea of asking for help is to bitch at length about imagined
slights, and to miss the forest for the trees, then good riddance.

> That is the condition of FreeBSD now. If these criticisms were taken
> seriously, I believe the situation could change, and I hope it does.

If you gave serious critiques, rather than just looking for an excuse to
insult people, I'm sure many people would be more inclined to take them
seriously.  Destructive criticism, at least half of which looks either
dead wrong or pretty petty in the face of larger problems with MS Windows
and Linux-based systems to which you want to unfavorably compare FreeBSD,
is not helpful to anyone.

Chad Perrin [ original content licensed OWL: ]

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