[rescue] SGI Indigo2 & IRIX 6.5

Phil Stracchino alaric at metrocast.net
Mon Dec 1 15:07:35 CST 2008

Jonathan C. Patschke wrote:
> On Mon, 1 Dec 2008, Phil Stracchino wrote:
>> OK, fine, you don't like Linux.  Your position is noted.  It's not the
>> optimal OS for real SGI hardware.  That, too, is noted.  You only weaken
>> your position by stretching your arguments against Linux to the point of
>> ridicule in order to scrape up things to bash it with.
> If you thought I was serious, you've missed my point.  So far, the
> argument has gone like this:
>     "Linux rocks because you have so many choices of desktop environment"
>     "Okay, but they all suck"
>     "Ah, well don't blame Linux for that!"

Uh, no, actually, it didn't.  It started out with you listing all the
things you felt IRIX does better on SGI/MIPS hardware than Linux does,
followed by a quick and entirely ungrounded stab at printing systems on
Linux (you implied there is no single printing system for Linux that
Just Works with everything on the system; just off the top of my head,
both lprng and CUPS meet the criterion).

Then you later made some valid points about GRIO on IRIX and some sound
hardware-specific reasons why XFS probably shouldn't be used on Linux
(though I observe that JFS performs as well as if not better than XFS
for almost all applications, and works fine on Linux), but diluted your
message by bashing Linux for the cryptic component names often adopted
by Red Hat (the Microsoft of open source) and GNOME, and for the bloat
of KDE and GNOME.  Granted many distributions use GNOME as their default
desktop; most distributions use Mozilla or Firefox as their default
browser, but that doesn't make Mozilla or Firefox part of Linux.

> You can't have it both ways.  My original contention was that the desktop
> environment that -ships with- IRIX is really quite nice, fairly light on
> system resources, and very well integrated into the rest of the operating
> system distribution.

If that was your *intended* original contention, you didn't do a
particularly clear job of conveying it.

>  Linux, however, in its many varied distributions,
> generally -ships with- desktop environments that are either severely
> minimalistic (Xorg + twm) or bloated to silliness (GNOME, KDE), and that
> none of the above is nearly as much a component of a cohesive whole as
> Indigo Magic is in IRIX.

I think this is the point where I say "You can't have it both ways."  ;)

Now, *that specific point*, though, I can't disagree with.  I think one
of the biggest problems Linux is facing, at least in the consumer arena,
is that Linux has no clear "identity" on the desktop, because the
primary desktop environments (KDE and GNOME) have made the stupid
mistake of trying to compete against Microsoft *but letting Microsoft
dictate the playing field* by trying to be the complete Windows
experience on Linux - a venture which is predestined to fail, not least
because they're always going to be playing perpetual catch-up.  GNOME in
particular, I think, is the worst thing that ever happened to Linux,
because GNOME redefines Linux, from the consumer's point of view, from
"a free, more stable, more secure alternative to Windows" to "something
that tries to be a free Windows look-alike but doesn't quite make it".
GNOME falls in to the desktop-environment equivalent of the "uncanny
valley" - it's trying to be just like Windows on Linux, but fails just
enough to be irritatingly different without actually being a distinctly
different thing.  It's neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat.

I tend to think of an essential Linux distribution as shipping with the
Linux kernel, the GNU userspace tools, a solid system compiler
(gcc/gpp), all the supporting system libraries (notably glibc), an
Xserver (X.org, which is really quite respectably functional overall,
has very broad hardware support even though not universal, and has
really pretty respectable hardware acceleration support on *most*
accelerated hardware that it supports) and a selection of basic window
managers (twm, mwm, fvwm, Windowmaker, xfce, fluxbox among them), plus a
bunch of other common userspace tools such as OSS or ALSA sound systems,
BIND, lprng or CUPS, sendmail or Postfix (or occasionally ... um ... the
IBM MTA whose name currently escapes me), etc.

These underpinnings are pretty much constant from one distribution to
the next, with minor variations.  At this level, the greatest variation
between different distributions comes in the form of one of several
package management systems (be it rpm, portage/emerge, apt, or
whatever), and often vendor-specific sets of add-on GUI administration
tools (Red Hat, SUSE, Mandriva all have their own, which stab you in the
back in various different and interesting ways if you actually try to
configure things yourself at low level, and which add various amounts of
complexity to doing any task other than the commonplace and humdrum).
With or without the vendor-specific tools, though, you certainly have
enough tools there to put together whatever kind of a desktop you want,
as minimal or as rich as you want yours to be.  (My desktop setup, built
on top of fvwm2, is visually pretty minimalistic, but very capable under
the surface.)

Then *on top* of the underlying 'general Linux kernel/system/userspace
distribution', there are the handful of major SEPARATE desktop
environments: Enlightenment, KDE, and GNOME.  All of these started out
as *environments op top of* Linux, but none of them began as *part of*
Linux.  I'm not certain what KDE uses by way of a window manager; GNOME
keeps changing its mind about what its default window manager is (it
used to be sawfish; currently I believe it's metacity).

Of these, KDE at least doesn't really impact the functionality of the
rest of the system too much.  You can use it or not as you wish, and if
you don't use it or don't even install it, that won't get in the way of
using anything else.

I'm not sure whether Enlightenment is still around as a complete desktop
environment or not; I know that at least the Enlightenment window
manager and esd, the enlightened sound daemon, are still around.  (Back
in its heyday, I think it was E that taught GNOME about bloat.)

GNOME, on the other hand, is a malignant, metastatic cancer that has
insinuated its tendrils into Linux (and now, Solaris 10 as well) at
almost all levels.  It has become such an assumption that GNOME will be
present, that many desktop applications on Linux that really have
nothing whatsoever to do with GNOME nevertheless rely on GNOME libraries
and won't work properly if GNOME isn't present.

Back shortly after Solaris 10 came out, I tried to see if I could get a
functional, but GNOME-free, Solaris 10 installation on an Ultra5.  I
couldn't do it.  GNOME has metastasized so thoroughly throughout Solaris
10 that as far as I can tell, you cannot have a Solaris 10 installation
with anything other than a console interface without having at least
parts of GNOME installed, and I'm not sure you can actually have a
running Solaris 10 system *at all* that contains no GNOME components.
(I regard this as a very foolish decision on Sun's part, but I can see
the point of selecting a single more-or-less complete desktop
environment.  I just wish they hadn't integrated it so deeply as to make
it effectively non-removable.)

> When you steer the argument to "Oh, well, none of those components is part
> of Linux, so you can't blame Linux", that's a non-position.

I didn't say "none of these additional components are anything to do
with Linux".  I said specifically "KDE and GNOME are not Linux", and
more generally, "Don't blame Linux for the failings of KDE and GNOME"
(particularly GNOME - see above).

The additional components that *are* part of an underlying Linux
distribution - the GNU userspace, the various MTAs, what-have-you -
work, and work well, and generally work well *together*.  (In fact, if
they didn't, KDE and GNOME would be dead in the water.)  The fact that
most consumer-oriented Linux distributions (there are exceptions;
Xubuntu, for example, ships with a desktop built upon xfce) now ship
with either KDE or GNOME preconfigured on top of those does not
invalidate that fact.

>  IRIX, as a
> product, was targeted at end-users and developers.  Linux distributions,
> as products, when targeted at end-users and developers ships with one of
> the above-mentioned suboptimal user environments.  I'm comparing them at
> that level.  If you're going to absolve Linux distributions from those
> problems merely because they aren't part of the linux-X.Y.ZZ.tar.bz2, you
> need to accept all the other things that "Linux", as a kernel, doesn't
> ship with, which includes all the extremely basic components I mentioned
> earlier.

I think you're intentionally throwing the baby out with the bathwater to
make your point.  But that's your choice.

  Phil Stracchino, CDK#2     DoD#299792458     ICBM: 43.5607, -71.355
  alaric at caerllewys.net   alaric at metrocast.net   phil at co.ordinate.org
         Renaissance Man, Unix ronin, Perl hacker, Free Stater
                 It's not the years, it's the mileage.

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