0Why linux will never be mainstream

The title of this art­icle almost reads like click-bait, but that isn’t the inten­tion. I’d just rather it soun­ded like click-bait than the rant that it really is.

Let me start by say­ing that I cur­rently run 2 unix-based sys­tems, a linux-based VPS (that runs this site) and a BSD-based fire­wall box at home. I’ve writ­ten about both sev­er­al times already. In both cases I run these *nix based sys­tems as I believe in using the best tool for the job, but I was some­what reluct­ant to start with and I still reg­u­larly find they reduce me to curs­ing. I teach teen­agers for a real job, but I find the *nix based sys­tems I oper­ate cause me vastly more irrit­a­tion and frus­tra­tion. Let me elab­or­ate with a recent example…

I recently set up a pfsense box as a home router (as I wrote about on 21st Novem­ber). After 5 days of suc­cess­ful oper­a­tion that web inter­face advised me that there was an update avail­able from 2.4.1 to 2.4.2. There was an option to install the update from the web inter­face which I opted to use. The update took around 60 seconds to install and the sys­tem then announced it was reboot­ing and the web inter­face would refresh in 90 seconds. After 90 seconds the sys­tem was still not respons­ive, and des­pite my wait­ing about 20 minutes there was still no response from the box. With con­sid­er­able frus­tra­tion I unplugged the box and moved it into the room where I have a mon­it­or and key­board, con­nec­ted it up and powered up, expect­ing some issue with the IP address or with the alloc­a­tion of the LAN ports. I was being far too optim­ist­ic.

Instead I was greeted by the boot­load­er announ­cing that it was unable to find “loader.efi”. In fact there was a sequence of poten­tially use­ful inform­a­tion that I would nor­mally asso­ci­ate with a drive fail­ure or cor­rup­tion, includ­ing “ZFS found no pools”, “no boot­able par­ti­tions found”, “failed to read size of boot/loader.efi”, “failed to load loader.efi” and some­thing I can’t remem­ber pre­cisely about a pan­ic. I tried googling (via my phone) a series of these phrases but some came up with no res­ults at all, and oth­ers came up with what appeared to be the open source code that out­puts the errors, but noth­ing else.

This was the point at which I star­ted to curse the sys­tem — the prob­lem of “no help” is an infuri­at­ingly com­mon one with *nix sys­tems — for some reas­on the atti­tude of many people seems to be that if you can’t solve it your­self you’re too dumb to be allowed to use their “super­i­or” sys­tems. By this I don’t mean the offi­cial developers, I mean the glob­al com­munity of users. Just try googling for a boot par­ti­tion prob­lem on a win­dows sys­tem and you will find 10’s of mil­lions of art­icles, guides, posts, util­it­ies and more all offer­ing to help, and whilst it some­times takes some wad­ing through, there is nor­mally some­thing that works. With *nix you might as well not both­er even googling, you’ll either find no answer, or you’ll find a post where someone else has asked and been sneered at, or (best case!) you’ll find an answer so unde­cipher­able that you have to spend anoth­er 3 days read­ing to learn how to under­stand the answer. This state of affairs is would be laugh­able if it wasn’t for the fact that you *nix based sys­tem is usu­ally doing some­thing import­ant and you need to fix it PDQ, and con­sequently I think this situ­ation is pathet­ic and con­tempt­ible.

So far so bad, but it doesn’t get bet­ter. I even­tu­ally gave up on “fix­ing” the prob­lem and decided I’d just do a full rein­stall to get things back up and run­ning as quickly as pos­sible before my wife star­ted com­plain­ing about the total lack of Inter­net access. I dis­covered that it is pos­sible to restore the set­tings file from a pre­vi­ous install dur­ing install­a­tion that I chose this option dur­ing install­a­tion. I was offered a choice of which par­ti­tion I wanted to restore the file from. I didn’t know which par­ti­tion it was loc­ated on, and (no sur­prise) googling proved a waste of time. I figured I’d just pick a par­ti­tion and see what happened. The screen flashed very briefly and install­a­tion offered to con­tin­ue. Unsure if the flash had revealed suc­cess or fail­ure I decided to reboot the sys­tem and try again, only this time I used my phone to film the screen so that I could actu­ally read the mes­sage. Hav­ing to do this in itself demon­strates yet more pathet­ic stu­pid­ity — what good is a mes­sage if it is dis­played so briefly that no human can read it?

My phone trick­ery was suc­cess­ful and I was able to read the mes­sage. I had chosen the wrong par­ti­tion, but the installer had searched all of the par­ti­tions and found the set­tings file any­way. This begs the ques­tion — what is the point in ask­ing me to choose a par­ti­tion if you’re then going to search all of them any­way? Yet more stu­pid beha­viour, but at least the set­tings file was suc­cess­fully loc­ated. I then pro­ceeded with the install­a­tion which was suc­cess­ful and did restore the set­tings as hoped. The even­tu­al upshot of all this was that after about 3 hours of frus­tra­tion I was able to get back to a work­ing sys­tem, but no thanks to any help from any­one else, and for every step for­ward from the developers (option to recov­er set­tings) there were 2 steps back (can’t read the mes­sage, had to select a par­ti­tion which was then ignored).

The whole exper­i­ence took me back to the bad old days of Win­dows 95 — which often failed for unex­pec­ted reas­ons, requir­ing rein­stall­a­tion. How­ever, sev­er­al things actu­ally make this more excus­able for Win­dows 95 — firstly there wasn’t really much in the way of a world wide web back in the mid 1990’s, and secondly it was over 20 years ago and tech­no­logy is sup­posed to have moved on since then! Most import­antly — even without the web, help from oth­er people was easi­er to come by for Win­dows 95 back then that it is for *nix now, a situ­ation that it unfor­giv­able.

To avoid this art­icle being just a rant I have tried to include as many of the “google whack” phrases I encountered in the hope that it may help oth­er people. I will endeav­our to write up all of the prob­lems I encounter and man­age to solve with my *nix sys­tems in a way that is as access­ible as pos­sible. I wish (but don’t hold out much hope) that the ridicu­lous­ness of this sort of exper­i­ence will gradu­ally dawn on more of the *nix com­munity and that in the future there will be more pro­duct­ive and sup­port­ive shar­ing of ideas and advice, because without this, there is no way that *nix will ever achieve main­stream accept­ance.

Got some thoughts of your own? Indulge yourself below by commenting! If you would like to subscribe please use the subscribe link on the menu at the top right. You can also share this with your friends by using the social links below. Cheers.

Leave a Reply