"The Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

(?) The Answer Guy (!)

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

(?) Complaint Department:

From T Elliot on Sun, 20 Dec 1998

(?) Having worked with Unix (1983-1989) and (gasp) MS-DOS (from DOS 2.11) and Windows (from Win 3.0 to NT Server 4.0 - I once installed the NT5 beta, but decided it was too risky) and occasionally been tempted into trashing my spare PC to install Linux, one of the biggest problems I find with Linux is the lack of coherent tools and user interfaces.

If I install a package under Windows, I get a shortcut to the program(s) via a menu or window (program group).

(!) So don't use it.

(?) Do the same under Linux and then I have to write down the main program name or remember it (after examining the files to be installed so I can figure out what the actual command is) - sure it will probably be installed in the path, but I'm getting old and the memory is failing.

(!) Yep. I know. Tough isn't it?

(?) My spare PC is currently running RedHat 5.2 and this afternoon I downloaded Code Crusader et al and therein lies the tale... NOT ccrusader, NOT codecrusader or variations thereof, but "jcc" - no additions to the "start menu" if using Fvwm2 or any other window manager, in fact, no indication that the system had new software except that the disk free space had decreased.

Until this type of thing is resolved, then Linux will only gain the support of the lab-coats or the enthusiast.

(!) ... and professionally administered sites where a sysadmin or delegate evaluates packages before installing them --- figures out what is going where and deploys them according to their needs.
This is a rather boring message. I'm not the Linux complaint department. You can send your suggestions to Red Hat Inc., S.u.S.E., Caldera, and many others.
Incidentally, S.u.S.E. does have some scripts that maintain your system default window manager menus when you install new packages.
As for the implied suggestion --- I know that some people at Red Hat are working on something like this. However, since there is no central authority over Linux development and there are no "code and interface police" to enforce your notion of "how things should be done" --- there are practical limits to what can be accomplished.
For those that care, the usual technique I use when installing RPM's is to list and/or browse the contents of the package before I install it. You can list them with a command like:
rpm -qpl <package.file.name>
... and you can narrow that do just the docs using:
rpm -qpd <package.file.name>
You can browse through an RPM file interactive using Midnight Commander ('mc'). Just highlight the file using mc's "Norton Commander inspired" interface and hit [Enter]. This will traverse down into the RPM file as though it were a directory tree --- and you can browse through and view the file contents to your heart's content.
When you use mc's [F3] key to view a file, it can interpret several types of files. Thus you can view the man pages from inside of an RPM file without installing anything.
Since many of the most useful programs available under Linux and other forms of Unix are designed as filters, or intended to be run as services (possibly as dynamically launched 'inetd' based daemons) or cron jobs --- or are otherwise non-interactive --- it often doesn't make sense to add menu options for them.
However, I've suggestion to Red Hat and S.u.S.E that RPM maintainers and builders be encouraged to add entries for programs that constitute "user interfaces" (for character mode and/or X Windows --- and for any other interfaces that might arise in the future --- such as Berlin). One of Red Hat's senior people disagreed with the whole notion, though that may be more a deficiency in my presentation than anything.

(?) PS. My main PC runs NT server 4.0 sp4 with sql server, iis, etc, etc. I use it for software development using DevStudio (c++) and even though I have to reboot the &^^% thing every time I touch something in its config, I'd rather that than guessing at what I've installed and what the comand line is.

(!) Great. More power to you. So, do a Yahoo! search to see if you can find the "complaintguy" somewhere. Let me know if you find him (or her) and I'll bounce mail like this to the appropriate venue.
The problem here is that you seem to have confused me with some Linux advocate. I use Linux and I prefer it to other systems that I've used (although FreeBSD is a very close second).
I've espoused the opinion, on several occasions in this column, that the selection of any tools (software or otherwise) should be done through a process of requirements analysis. Some requirements can be met with a number of solutions. So, after we've found a basic list of possible solutions that meet the requirements we can narrow down that list by measuring them against our constraints and make final selections (if choices still remain) based on preferences.
The time is rapidly approaching when you can run a complete KDE or GNOME system and never see a command line. Developers of KDE, GNOME, and eventually GNUStep applications will be free to integrate their interfaces in the ways that are appropriate to each of those systems.
The KDE developers have already shown an amazing predilection for generating KDE interfaces to existing programs. Once nice thing about Linux and Unix is that it's relatively easy to design an application in a client/server model --- and to provide multiple front ends (clients) which each provide unique forms of access to the same application functions. This is just good programming design.
Another nice thing is that we can concurrently run programs from many GUI's under the same desktop. Thus I can run a GNOME application under KDE and vice versa. Indeed using VNC and XNest I can run whole X sessions within a window under one of my X sessions.
Of course, people who just stick with the front ends will be constrained from access many of those powerful filters and tools that I described earlier. It's unlikely that front ends will be built for all of them.
However, most people only use a few applications, anyway.

(?) PPS. The main gripe is - USER TOOLS and EASE OF CONFIGURATION.

(!) So find someone to gripe to. I'm here to answer questions.
(P.S. the various "advocacy" newsgroups are perfect for this sort of message).

(?) More on "Complaint Department"

From T Elliot on Fri, 25 Dec 1998

(?) Thank you for your comments and suggestions. I appreciate that I have probably wasted your time, but you have answered most of my questions (including to whom to gripe).

(!) If I was worried about "wasting my time" I wouldn't have signed up for this.
However, one of the few rights I reserve for myself in this column is the right to be a curmudgeon.

Copyright © 1999, James T. Dennis
Published in The Linux Gazette Issue 36 January 1999

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