Jay Little
With A Linux Shell Comes Great Power... And Great Responsibility

11/11/2021 16:25:17

So here we are, living in a world where Linus Tech Tips has released its first Linux challenge video. Of course while it all seemed like good fun to most people, a lot of negative and some positive consequences came out of that video. The purpose of this post is to discuss some of these consequences.

For starters, one of the most prominent developers for Pop! OS, Jeremy Soller, has decided to step back from it and work on other projects at System 76. Well that sucks. He was a valuable resource for Pop! So what happened? The Twitter hate train happened after the release of the video. The reason why is because Linus ran into serious problems with Pop! during his portion of the video. The long and short of it is that he tried to install Steam, but Pop! was currently suffering from a bug in which certain dependencies for that package were missing so it refused to install Steam. The GUI told Linus no.

To be clear, when I upgraded to 21.10 beta on the day of release, I experienced this bug myself. Somebody had already reported the bug so I helped to triage it on Github. Within a day the issue was resolved. Like shit, bugs happen. In this day and age its inevitable. How you react and adapt to the bug means everything.

Well Linus reacted to this differently than I did. This is not a condemnation because I'm a long time Linux user with lots of experience adapting to bugs that pop up. So I decided to just open a browser tab and play DCSS (and yes by play I mean lose) while I waited for Steam to get fixed. Linus on the other hand, decided to drop down to the shell and install Steam that way. Ok so at this point, no big deal. Hell I install almost everything via the shell anyway so this is hardly a problem. Bravo to Linus for even being willing to open the shell as his recent Linux related diatribes on the WAN show seemed to indicate that he was generally opposed to this idea.

But its what happens next that really forces me to put a lions share of the blame for this on Linus. See up until this point, he just couldn't install Steam. That was the actual bug. However Linus decided to give the system permission to do whatever it decided it needed to do to fix the issue, consequences be damned. Oh sure he didn't read any of the warnings in the terminal where apt informed him that proceeding might result in catastrophe, but that doesn't absolve him of responsibility for authorizing it.

So yeah, he "bricked" his system. While it was fixable, I don't blame any new Linux user for cutting lose of the distro and trying something else at this point. But I do blame them when they open a shell, run a command with root privileges and utterly ignore the warnings its plastering across the screen about very bad consequences and tell it to proceed anyway.

It turns out however that a large percentage of the Linux community disagrees with this assessment, especially the Tech Linux YouTube contingent who have thus far universally expressed sympathy for what happened to Linus. Oh sure it sucks... but he made it a thousand times worse by treating the system like a black box which produces output and warnings that can be safely ignored.

Linux isn't Windows. It's not a black box. While the apt tool could've just opted to not do this stupid thing (note: System 76 has already patched their version to ensure this and is attempting to get the patch upstreamed with Debian), it instead opted to provide the user with a transparent accounting of everything that would happen if he chose to proceed. The user made the decision to proceed. Then it did exactly what it told the user it would do.

As a software developer, I don't want to work in a world where the end user is 100% unaccountable for their actions. I strive to work towards a better (IMHO obviously) world in which well designed tools empower knowledgeable users to accomplish the tasks at hand. I am not working to create a world in which we never allow users to fail and never ask them to learn from their mistakes. That world scares the living hell out of me. I won't lie. It bothers me that so many of the public Linux personalities have taken the opposite stance. It makes me strongly question whether or not Linux actually embodies the values that I described above which I hold near and dear.

Bottom Line: I switched to Linux so I could wield more power over my own computing experience. But with great power comes great responsibility. I am content to take responsibility for my actions as a user, for better and for worse. Can the rest of the Linux community say the same?

As of right now, it seems the answer to that question is no.

[Top] [Rss] [Email]