The GNU/Linux “Chicken Little” Syndrome

You know the type. The technical reporter that tries to do something on GNU/Linux, cannot figure it out and thus states to the planet the equivalent of Chicken Little saying, “The sky is falling!”, regarding GNU/Linux. We see them over and over coming back to the same point, “Until ‘Linux’ solves [insert the technical reporter’s failure to do something here], it won’t be ready for prime time.” What a crock of compost.

In this case the technical reporter in question is Preston Gralla over at Computerworld Blogs. Specifically his recent article I just finished reading titled, Installing Firefox 3.6: One more reason Linux isn’t ready for the prime-time mass market. The problem here is that Mr. Gralla and those like him seem to think it is absolutely necessary to have the latest release of [insert software here] on [insert Linux distribution here]. When that is absolutely not the case in the majority of situations.

I run Mandriva 2010 at the moment on my desktop system here at the ERACC Intergalactic Spaceport and Karaoke Bar, otherwise known as my home office. I have been running releases of Mandriva for several years now. At first I too wanted to always have the latest, cutting edge release of every package out there. After a while I came to understand that if Mandriva package maintainers saw that a patch was necessary for an application I run then they would patch the version in the distribution and release the patched version in the update repository. If there were a new version of a software application that had security implications for a desktop user, then after testing the new version it would be included as an update for the life of that desktop release, usually 12 to 18 months. Long term desktop releases would get these updates if needed for their lifetime as well, usually 3 years. Then the next time I install updates I get the patched or new version.

I have come to appreciate and accept this. After all, it is highly unlikely that a zero day exploit would be found that could crack my Mandriva system from a user-space application, like we see happen so often on Microsoft systems. The default security in a GNU/Linux system makes creating a zero day exploit that can “pwn” a GNU/Linux desktop system slightly less difficult than a single person being the first to find the next Mersenne Prime[1][2] with pencil, paper and an abacus. Is it possible? Maybe, by a long shot. Is it likely? Not really. As a result, I can just be patient and wait for the new or patched software to appear in my update list. If I really want to be on the cutting edge, along with all the problems that may imply, I can install Mandriva’s Cooker version. This is the untested, it may break, it may slap you around with a large trout, developer version of Mandriva. Not recommended for the faint of heart and those who like their system to “just work”. Or I can go with a distribution like Gentoo Linux.

Honestly, I do not really want to be on the cutting edge. I want stable, known to be working with my distribution, software packages. For that I can wait for the updates or the next major Mandriva release. Regarding Firefox versions, I just updated to Firefox 3.5.7 a week or two ago using Mandriva’s updates. I do not see a pressing need to get Firefox 3.6 Right Now. I can wait for it. Mr. Gralla and his ilk can too, once they figure out how this GNU/Linux thing really works. Of course they can also stick with Microsoft and keep getting “pwned” with web based drive-by exploits that take advantage of Microsoft’s poor design decisions.

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Gene A.

Gene is a "Unix Guy", network technologist, system trouble-shooter and IT generalist with over 20 years experience in the SOHO and SMB markets. He is familiar with and conversant in eComStation (a.k.a. OS/2), DOS (PC, MS and Free), Unix, Linux and those GUI based systems from Microsoft. Gene is also a follower of Jesus (forgiven, not perfect), and this does inform his world view.

33 thoughts on “The GNU/Linux “Chicken Little” Syndrome”

  1. In the infamous Huttese explative of Starwars, Mr. Preston Gralla’s article is total and complete “Bantha Poodoo”.

    Use your brains Mr. Gralla!!!!

  2. Another good example of idiotic tech reporters:,my-life-with-linux-special-edition-going-back-to-linux-with-ubuntu-netbook-remix.aspx

    (PC Authority’s “My life with Linux special edition: Going back to Linux with Ubuntu Netbook Remix” by David Fearon.)

    Fearon says Ubuntu/linux isn’t ready because Open Office doesn’t save in .docx format by default and RhythymBox is bad (though he never explains why). Call attention to this moron too!

  3. “The problem here is that Mr. Gralla and those like him seem to think it is absolutely necessary to have the latest release of [insert software here] on [insert Linux distribution here]. When that is absolutely not the case in the majority of situations.”

    Well said – I absolutely agree with you. A vast majority of users don’t know which version of software (or OS !) they use – and they are happy fellows nevertheless!


  4. One can always go ahead and download the mozilla packet directly from them.
    Or build the source with a few simple commands…
    Or add repository entries directly to the project to get the latest ASAP…
    Or use git to latest dev branch…
    Or … ;)

    If someone is unfamiliar with these methods, they should not be giving false impressions about linux.

    I use mainly LinuxMint on the base, a ton of other repositories, including a few yum ones (yep, over some apt ones…. spice-space ftw), and a few git dev branches.

    I work in IT, fix MS OS’s every day that have outdated patches or no SPs installed which cause terrible issues… my work PC has nix and a VM incase I ever need to touch any MS OS again.

    Comparing between linux where without running an update one might not have the latest features or better performance vs windows without patches crashing, getting infected and possibly even failing during their SP update, I rather pick the linux, thank you.

    And the way that the basic users mindset between the two OS’s is so hugely different.

    No-one using linux expects everything being latest, working straight from the box, without issues or even with a slight minor annoyances. It is great if it does and a huge bonus, but not always the case. A minor tweak here or there or another dependency is usually needed… so what? The patches are tested, tried, fixed, resubmitted and finally declared stable enough for use. And eventually when the distributions test the new versions on their end to ensure nothing is broken or changed dramatically they set it on their own repositories. If I do not like the way one program works, I can always choose not to use it and pick another one. Or I can check if there is anything I can do to move around the issue. Or if I need I can change the source to tweak it to work like I want it to. Linux is operating system that WORKS. I can work on it, I can work with it and I can work in it. There is always a way.

    On the other hand those who use Windows just want things to work. They expect things to work out of the box and without ever having to do anything anymore after that (for instance updating their system, or getting a firewall). And if something does not work like they want, for instance if an application does not work properly, they get frustrated and instead of thinking or trying to get it to work (for instance with opensource programs downloading the source and compiling is too much =/) they say that it does not work or needs to be updated and move on OR ask their kids to do it OR just live with it.

    Excellent post, like always. Keep up the awesome work.

  5. [Sneering, inappropriate comment deleted.]

    Mike, if that is your real name, please use your real e-mail address if you are going to post your anti-Linux hate speech. Otherwise, you get no cookies from me. :) Gene

  6. Although i dont agree with mr Grallas article (there are plenty of other options other than getting the latest version from the official repository), i also dont agree with the position you give here.

    Repositories are a wonderful tool, that allow updating almost all the software in a machine; there is no equivalent in the windows world, Windows Update only updates (some of) the Microsoft software, and the best aggregator i fond (FilleHippo) only had the most popular.

    However, it has also its drawbacks; security updates lag behind the upstream (although not as bad as windows with its Patch Tuesday approach), and major updates are left for the next distro release, which can take 6 months or more.

    The approach you describe (stability over new) may suit a corporate mentality, but it is completely out of touch with most domestic end-users expectations, not to mention being against the linux development mantra of “release early-release often”.

    Linux savvy user wont have a problem here, they will just bypass the package manager and compile the new software if needed, and can deal with any conflicts may arise; most users cannot do that, though.

    The only solution i find is that the distros make such testing repositories easier to find and use, and especially have different update standards and priorities for some popular software, so that the time it takes to get the latest version of that software is minimized; this also necessarily implies a better connection with the upstream (like starting real testing when RC versions are released).

  7. You know, it never ceases to amaze me how people can think that all operating systems should behave as Windows does, and I work in IT! Other OS’s don’t and they most likely never will behave as Windows does – and that’s a good thing. I, for one, run OpenSuse because it doesn’t behave as Windows does – it behaves more logically.

    If that hack Gralla had bothered to do what he does when he has issues with Windows (either do a little research with Google or talk to a knowledgeable person) he would have found several very easy solutions to his imaginary problem. Of course, as you say it’s the “The sky is falling!!!” mentality because something designed NOT to work like Windows actually doesn’t work like Windows. Sheesh!

  8. From Mr Gralla’s bio
    “Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld, and the author of more than 35 books, including “How the Internet Works,” “Windows XP Hacks,” and “Windows Vista in a Nutshell.”

    The titles of his books, say it all :)

  9. Funny thing.. I read the article refered to, and I went and installed the latest FF..

    Here is what I did.. In my Liubnx guru way..

    1) Download the reccomended version from getfirefox.
    2) Unpack the archive into myhome folder
    3) Double click thefile named firefox.

    I realist that my three years of intensive trraining as a Linux guru put me so incredibly far ahead of mere journalists, but come on.. It’s hardly rocket surgery..

  10. The sky is falling syndrome is due to their fear that people will abandon Windows and put them out of work. They have nightmares that if something other than Windows catches on, they might have to learn a different way of doing things. That is the total sum of it.

  11. Be patient with them, most of them are Americans. With what passes for journalism and politics in America today, hysterical paranoia is normal.
    Only difference is what they are hysterically paranoid about, and who “THEY” are.
    Usuallyit has something to do with who signs their checks.
    Restrict your audience to the sane, if possible.

  12. I challenge Mr. Gralla to install a fresh copy of XP or Win7 plus all the software equivalents that comes with (say) Linux Mint7. Go on, do it. Then connect your printer, Wi-Fi, webcam and soundcard – in less that 40 minutes.

    Then, and only then, do you try and tell me how wonderful Windows is, and how bad Linux is.

  13. Carl (comment #17), thanks for reading.

    Did you mean to insult the entire American continent? Probably not. You probably mean the USA so I will go with that. Since I am a U.S. citizen I am not too fond of your implication about my fellow citizens being insane. If you have anything constructive to say, then say that. Let’s keep the USA bashing in some place where it is appreciated. This is not that place. Thanks.

    All, further anti-USA comments will be summarily deleted.

  14. How is this really a Linux issue? When software won’t install on Windows, do you call MS? Probably not; you call the software vendor. I see this as a Mozilla problem, not a Linux problem.

  15. Not real hard to get the latest Firefox. Does windows come with 25,000 apps that you can install with a click? Debian, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Suse all do. How long can you run windows before you have to reinstall because of malware? My system had Debian sid installed on Feb 2004, still up and running, with weekly upgrades.
    Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.9.2) Gecko/20100115 Firefox/3.6 Downloaded, extracted, click on firefox. Not hard.

  16. I agree with you wrt the general opinion on linux and the latest apps etc. but I think your views on why these IT-tech writers treat Linux the way the do is mistaken and quite substantially at that.

    They are tech-writers making a living writing Windows-tech. They have no interest in Linux, they don’t use it now, have no intention of using it in the foreseeable future but their status as tech-wizards demands that they at least pretend to know what Linux is about (that’s why they specifically blame their shortcomings on Linux and not themselves). In fact for most of them Linux is a threat because it threatens to undermine their established wizard status and what follows from that. Add to this substantial ad revenue from advertisers who might not be too pleased with articles that go against what is communicated in their ads.

  17. I totally agree with your article. It’s a nice piece of thinking. For the category of users who prefer stability is just great. However for the ones who want the latest versions and apps released there are distributions like Arch, Gentoo or even the source based ones (Lunar Linux, SourceMage). So, every preference can be served by the Linux world. It just need to search the one that matches your desires. Choise is good :)

  18. This whole fiasco with the Microsoft apologists and Microsoft anti-unix, anti-linux writers has been going on for what, more than 17 years now? It was going on before Windows95 and WindowsNT 4.0 hit the shelves, and will continue on. What is a genuine truth, however, is that those that live in the Microsoft world (writers, tech support, admins) that ARE mouthy about Microsoft in a NON-Microsoft way never get heard, never get press, never get recognition. Never will, neither. “History is written by the victor” rings true in this particular realm (operating systems and software) and having the most money makes you the victor. Simple as that.

    There can only be hope that, in time, enough folks will step up and speak up – I’ve got more than enough clients/customers that have become sick and tired of the “crud/fud” hype of Microsoft and have migrated to Mac or linux – that’s fine and dandy by me as they’re esteem for me is higher than it was when they were running whatever Microsoft OS they were running. That’s good karma, and I can live with that.

    I’m happy with not necessarily being on the “cutting/bleeding” edge – although on several of my workstations my Ubuntu is at the “bleeding edge” – and everything just works, always will work, and will only stop working when the hardware dies. I’m happy with that. I have an older server with extremely low specs that’s happily chugging away running Ubuntu 8.10 – as a desktop and a file server/mail server/authentication server/proxy server/db server – and I’ve not updated it in nearly a year, but works like a champ – including Firefox. It works. I have no complaints, I have no security worries.

  19. What I don’t get is how a Windows user complains about Linux software not being up to date. Where I work, the network is still on XP, and will be for quite some time. In fact, we have at least 2 computers still running windows ’95! We have trouble opening documents sent to us because our company still uses MS Office 2003. Most Windows users I know are running older versions of their software because they can’t afford the latest and greatest. Then, let’s not forget that one of the reasons for the recent browser attacks is because most Windows users are still using MS Internet Explorer 6 (not that upgrading to a later version will make much difference).
    I’ still run Mint 7 on one of my computers, and I guess that makes me “Old School” in Mr Gralla’s eyes.

  20. Am I missing something here…What can you do with FF3.6 that you can’t do with FF3.5 or 3.0 for that matter…My Mandriva 2010 boxes run FF3.5 and my Mandriva 2009 FF3.0.17…can’t tell which version I am using…

  21. Gralla’s main point was that installing software outside the repository is a pain in the ass compared to Windows, a point that no one here has denied.

    Linux is stuck on stupid. It’s been at 1% since 1998. Proprietary Developers f****** hate the repository system. They want to publish binaries on their own websites. Users don’t like having to wait repository updates or face dependency hell.

  22. timmy (comment #31), thanks for reading.

    I see you appear to be a Microsoft fanatic. Good for you. However, your arguments are old and tired. Usage of GNU/Linux is probably significantly over that lame 1% that anti-Linux haters like to throw about. I install Adobe products from Adobe’s web site outside the package system of Mandriva and installing their applications, flash player and reader, works fine. If Adobe can figure this out then any software company serious about breaking into the Linux “market” can too. Finally, “dependency hell”? Are you serious? That has not been a problem on a major Linux distribution in years. You need to update your arguments, and so does Mr. Gralla.

  23. Actually… one of the problem IS installing from outside repo’s. You don’t necessarily end up in debendancy hell, but you do end up having to scurry around finding all the packages and upgrade them to the correct versions.

    I’ve had irks getting HandBrake deb’s from their site working on older/newer versions of Ubuntu than they were intended for. But then, you encounter the same issue in Windows. Some programs will quite happily install, yet throw all manner of strange errors: the problem? Win2k instead of XP or SP1 or SP2 and its expecting SP3 (or the reverse, you have SP3 but it only works with SP2 or SP1). I’ve even seen a program go bonkers because .net 3 was installed… not 3.5… it never checked during install.

    At the very least Linux tells you “You can’t do this!” rather than silently installing then exploding mysteriously.

    But to the matter at hand. I find it rather amusing that you get strings of these articles appearing in the trade press about Linux. However, you often find the self same writers had no migration problems worthy of an article when going from Windows to OS X (or the other way around).

    I’m being exceptionally cynical, but how much if Microsoft’s or Apples marketing budget vs RedHat or Canonicals? You can’t entierly discount the possibility that these articles are more FUD. I mean, did these people have issues going from XP to Vista/Win7? Probably not.

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