An email to Eric Raymond, regarding my adventures in LiveCD Linux-or-
Why Bill Gates is Still Rich© Joseph Betz, 2006
I mean of course, approximately the same sentiments, not that he expressed his with an iron hand, or a coarse texture.
I couldn't believe it. It was as if the heavens had parted and finally spat out somebody from the linux community that actually had a clue about what linux would have to do in order to attract Windows users. In a word or three:
Make it work.
Here's the email I sent to him. Some names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Date: July 19, 2006
Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening, Eric:
If you feel like it, feel free to share this long screed with anybody developing open source linux stuff.
I have to preface this by saying that until a week ago, you did not exist in my world. Utterly unknown. I don't spend my life in open-source / LiveCD / Linux forums, so there was no real reason I should know of your existence, despite the fame you enjoy within the community.
However, through a "help me" question posted on a private email list I'm on, I eventually came to know of you. Put simply, a buddy was looking for a reasonably painless way to do whole partition backups of his XP boxes. As I'm sure you know, as soon as you'd try to do this from within Windows, you'd run into open files that simply can't be closed, copied, accessed.
Having played briefly with Knoppix a few years back, I knew that "Hey, you can burn an ISO image onto a CD, boot it up from there, and it doesn't touch a damn thing on your hard drive. From there, you can back it up. It'll discover your drives, your USB hard drive, your memory sticks, your network, it'll configure all of it by itself, it's maaaagic."
I remembered how slow the LiveCD of Knoppix was though (at least on the notebook on which I last tested it,) so I figured I'd download something newer, better, smaller, faster.
So I downloaded Ubuntu, latest version (wascally wabbit, rabid rat, whatever the hell it was.)
I burned it, changed my boot order, booted her up, and away we go. Slooowly, but hey, you are asking the system to work off the CD drive and uncompress on the fly, so you have to expect that.
This is where life gets interesting. Or incredibly frustrating and stoopid, depending on your perspective.
It found all my drives, all my partitions, and dumped them into a little window for me. Hallelujah. This should be a piece of cake. It found my USB external drive too, automatically. That's more than Windows 98 ever did for me.
Quick aside: I don't do partition backups like my friend does. I'm just looking for a way to rescue what I can when a neighbor or family member can't boot their OS because the controller or heads on their hard drive are pooched and are making some area inaccessible, a situation that has happened twice in two years for different neighbors. Emergency Data Rescue is the name of my game.
So this is just beautiful, as far as I'm concerned. I don't even have to remove the drive and put it in my USB box, I can just boot an OS off CD and away we go.
I double-click a drive partition. A partition that the OS has recognized, knows what the label says, knows how big the partition is, knows that it's the second logical drive in the second partition of the first hard disk, and knows it's formatted in NTFS.
Ah, the beauty of interactivity. The OS helpfully said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Sorry, Chuckles. That drive ain't mounted."
Ah. Yes. I remember Unix types in my circle of friends nattering about mounting and unmounting drives. Seems logical. Just gotta figure out how to do it. Well, let's see if the spiffy UI knows that mice have two buttons. BINGO! Right-click, select Mount, and... Nothing.
Go back to unix geek friends, after going to a terminal window and playing around trying to get "man mount" to tell me anything useful. I feel slightly dirty even typing in "man mount," 'cause, well, it just sounds so Brokeback. Doesn't matter though, the output is unintelligible to humans, and even though I tried to parse it all out and came close, nope, just couldn't find the magic words.
Quoth geek 1: "mount -t ntfs /dev/hda1 /mnt"
OK, well I sussed out from all my attempts and googling that I'd need to prefix that with the "sudo" command, and did so.
HEY! It looks like it worked! Got my C drive mounted. No idea what I'd have to change to get D, E, or H, but let's just go with what we have for now.
Back to our friendly GUI, sloooowly, and once the CD drive stops manically chopping out bits & bytes, let's double-click on that puppy again, and get me some data!
Again paraphrasing the error message rather than quoting:
"You don't have permission to do THAT! You crazy? Who do you think you are, ROOT?"
Let's just pause here a moment and insert a couple paragraphs of relevant conversation between me and Unix geek 1:
Now, lucky me, I'm semi-clued. I GET why D and E would be 5 and 6 rather than 2 and 3. It makes sense to me, but sure as hell wouldn't if I didn't understand a tiny bit about partitioning, and I do mean a TINY bit.
I also understand exactly why typing "w" into fdisk would result in, well, probably a mass shooting incident eventually, but first a complete loss of all my stuff. I just want to confirm with you that perhaps Aunt Tillie would not understand this, and if she ever found herself being guided into this hellhole, she would be a single keystroke away from losing all the pictures of her grandson that the kids emailed to her. Forever. And her OS. And her recipes, and her email, and the ability to do a damn thing about it.
Anyway, back to our show.
So, we managed to mount, but still can't access. Not even for just reading, no writing, which is all I'd be after anyway. Writing to NTFS volumes would sure be spiffy, but as long as there's a FAT32 drive out there somewhere to dump my dying files on, I'm happy.
I guess we have to find a way to change permissions.
HAHAHAHAHA(insert several thousand more HAs here)HAHAHAHAHA!!!
OS paraphrase: "No, you won't be changing any permissions here, Skippy. I'm running this show. Me! The HKIC! (Head Kernel in Charge)"
I guess I have to log in as root to get ANYTHING done on this box. Search forums, Google 'til I'm blue in the fingers, come up with the official unix way to do this, all the time considering that I didn't log into anything to begin with (I understand that was done for me, hey thanks guys,) and that I have no idea what the root password would be. Off we go...
Found the magic words. Yay. Suffice it to say, the magic words resulted in OS paraphrase:
"YOU? Change ROOT passwd? A freaking n00b like you, changing passwords? Oh, no no no no no, that just ain't gonna happen."
At this point, I've got the better part of a day and a half into SIMPLY TRYING TO ACCESS A DRIVE. A drive that should have been mounted by default, with read access, so a USER could USE his system.
I shan't bore you further with more about trying to ubuntu my way into something useful. Subsequent bitching yielded this resource from Unix geek 2:
> A live CD that gives me all the functionality and auto-detect/
> JUST lets me file manage & troubleshoot. I really can't stand it
> It'd also be spiffy if the thing just assumed I'd want to access my
> I know, this is counterintuitive to the *nix community. But having
I've never used it, but it sounds like what you're looking for.
I promised to perform sexual favors on him if the damn thing actually worked. I was taking a risk, but not much of one.
I downloaded and burned System Rescue CD, and booted from it.
Incomprehensible boot menu, sans help, instruction, or defaults. Great.
Can boot fifty-two different ways, none of which get you a GUI and a file manager. Fantastic.
The subsequent exchange, which includes an open letter to the open/live/linux development community, and also contains the occasional dirty word, some of which are obscured with dashes, for the faint of heart:
For now, my tender lips are safe from the hairy, sweaty n-tsack of one Mr. Smithers.
I suppose this could swing either way, as the CD does work in the sense that it a) boots, b) has a few very useful tools for those who are asked to walk up to a completely pooched machine, one where the end users have no idea what the system even contains, and c) eventually, with a bit more work than I'm willing to put in, could be the magic bullet that Jones could use to back up entire partitions (yay) without having to try to do it from inside Windows, and thus having to fart around endlessly looking for ways to make a few constantly changing files hold real still and get copied.
But, it is at the very best incomplete in very important ways, and no, didn't do what I'd really need it to do.
There is no GUI. Without a GUI, in an unfamiliar linux environment, having to potentially f--- around ipconfigging network adapters from the command line, and playing these absolutely ridiculous games of trying to mount volumes and get into silly-ass permissions headaches makes the whole setup more work than it's worth. I don't want to sit there every time I try to rescue some files from a dying and corrupted drive and type in 57 lines of mount this and blah blah that, it defeats the purpose. The drive will be dead before I can even access it.
Also, since there's no GUI, there's no file management utility that will make this operation feasible. Even if it had the linux equivalent of StupenDOS (anybody old enough to have used this?) you could actually *gasp* MANAGE FILES.
There are partition tools on the disk, including some with the ability to clone whole partitions, which I did not run since the documentation available is ridiculously incomplete, to the point where I frankly don't know if simply running this or that from the command prompt would hose my existing partitions by default.
With a whole lot of decent documentation, this could be exactly what Jones needs. Might even be good for me in some cases, and since it'll boot and run a hardware info utility (aida) that'll give me a lot of info I need when I sit down at an unfamiliar machine that doesn't want to play nice.
But as released and documented, it's useless for file rescue and file backup, which is pretty much all I'm after.
Also, upon reboot, XP for the first time ever gave me the chkdsk "Something may be wrong with your C drive, we're gonna scan it and fix problems" screen, which fortunately did run, and unfortunately ran so fast once it found and fixed the problem that it closed before I could see what the problem was.
Open note to the Linux/open/liveCD community, none of whom are actually reading this:
I appreciate what you're doing. It's frankly a f---ing miracle that I could download a huge-ass image file, burn it to a CD, reboot, and have a whole OS actually load without f---ing anything up on my machine, do productive work (completely theoretical at this point) and then just summarily reboot, grab the CD out of the drive, and I'm right back to my happy XP box. Very cool. Nice work.
There's a reason why the "Linux Revolution" hasn't put so much as a small dent in Microsoft, and I'm able to sum it up in a few words:
If your objective is to see what can be done, using the time honored "dog-lick-balls" motivation, you're on the right path. Don't change a hair for me.
If your objective is to force, with considerable malice or at least abundant apathy, people who are coming to you because they are up against the wall and you are their last hope, to "come over to your side" and learn an entirely new OS, which you are SURE they'll fall in love with once they just figure it out, then nice going.
If your objective is to be the holder of power, to be "the smart one" in your group of peers, to bait and switch the inexperienced and then say "HAHAHAHAHA!! I'm not gonna tell you how to do the things I said this thing could do, HAHAHAHAHA!!!" then you've got it precisely right. Fantastic. Stay the course.
If you actually want people to USE your stuff, you might try a different approach. For example:
If you say "this runs from CD without changing your system," then don't change my system.
If you say "this is a system rescue disk," then put something on it that will help me rescue my system. At the point where I can't boot my own OS, it's not helpful to back up my whole partition, since my whole partition is obviously F---ED UP. I need to grab MY data and run. And you won't let me do that.
If your spiffy Linux liveCD can show me icons of my drive partitions, can tell me that my drive partitions are formatted with ntfs, can show me how big they are and what they are labeled, and can tell that this partition is the second in the extended partition of the second drive, then it can DAMN WELL MOUNT THEM FOR ME FOR F---'S SAKE!
You've managed to make a CD that boots a system, automatically detects stuff that Windows won't, finds my DHCP-enabled network in a second and configures itself for it, finds my USB hard drive, thumbdrive, etc.; does all this neat stuff, and it CANNOT allow me to access the files on my hard drives. That's USELESS. You made another that's supposed to be specifically for rescue, but it doesn't allow rescue. Again, USELESS.
The people you want to impress with how easy and good and fun your OS is do not care that you have painstakingly documented, in a language they don't read, how to compile their own kernel. They want to be able to DO THINGS.
XP lets them, if annoyingly. Mac lets them, if smugly. You don't. You tell them they can, then make it impossible for them to find out how. And your forums are filled with legitimate questions that would be simple for you to answer, that were asked last year, and have received either no replies, or one reply from a fellow newbie that says "Well, after googling for four days I found this web page which says you do x, y, and z. I tried it. Didn't work for me. Good luck."
Using your systems is exactly the same as it was for me the very first time I turned on a computer with pre 5.0 MS-DOS. "Hey look, blinky lights. Hey look, black screen with a few characters of garbage on the left edge. Let's see what it can do..." And then, after typing things and hitting enter, it says "Bad command or file name". Not even knowing what that means, I type "help" and hit enter. "Bad Command or Filename." Lather, rinse, repeat.
To sum up, Linux/open/Live CD community, get your s--- together if you
ever want this to more than the wank of a very few geeks with way too
much time on their hands. As it currently stands, my opinion is "nice
idea, but f--- you, it ain't worth the time."
(After I wrote this, another friend referred me to your essay)
Yeah. Right. The CD doesn't even let me get to my files, but you want me to overwrite those files by installing your OS, the one that sucked up a day and a half of my life trying to do something TRIVIAL. Sure, pal. That's gonna happen. I'll happily roll the dice with my system based on your word.
It also doesn't help that "Well gosh, all you'd have to do is use IZarc to open the ISO file, find whatever stupid file(s) you'd have to find that contain default settings and root access, then edit them by hand, then re-create a bootable ISO image. Oh, and you'll want to write a script that automatically mounts your ntfs volumes, since you're such a damn whiner about it."
User questions from almost all of the people you're talking to:
Worse yet, you would be able, the capability is obviously there. You guys just made up your minds that you WON'T LET US.
Wanna know the big secret to putting Bill Gates into the poorhouse? Look at what windows does, and do that. You can go ahead and do it better, easier, etc. But DO IT! It's what PC users know, it's what they're used to, and for the love of ghod, THINK!:
For me, personally, an uncompressed OS that merely contains the abilities of the OS, plus the ability to actually manage files and gives me the opportunity to learn about how the UI and system works would be SO DAMN MUCH better than squeezing everything down so you can fit in more games, and a whole office suite. I could do everything I'd need to do with the base OS (reconfigured to actually WORK) + hardware discovery & support + Firefox, just in case I need to google something up.
The next release of Ubuntu should be named "obstinate ostrich." It's perfect. It won't do you what you want, and trying to make it results in it burying its head in the sand.
If you, Eric, know of a liveCD that actually suits the purpose, I, well, I'm not promising sexual favors anymore, but I sure would be grateful.
Good to meet you.
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