Eric S. Raymond: Aunt Tillie builds a kernelJan 14, 2002, 19:39 (72 Talkback[s])
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From the Linux kernel mailing list, Eric Raymond comments on kernel configuration for 'Aunt Tillie'. The thread may be found archived at http://marc.theaimsgroup.com/?l=linux-kernel&m=101103184011770&w=2
From: Eric S. Raymond Subject: Aunt Tillie builds a kernel (was Re: ISA hardware discovery -- the elegant solution) Date: 14 Jan 2002 12:52:28 -0500 Let's say Aunt Tillie needs a kernel update. Aunt Tillie is running a distro kernel (modular everything) on the machine her nephew Melvin bought her last year. The distro kernel knows about the ISA devices on the machine. She complains of occasional lockups, and that she gets skips when playing her Guy Lombardo MP3s. Melvin says, over the phone: "Yup, that version had some VM problems. And you need the low-latency stuff that went in three releases ago. But never mind the technical stuff. Just click on the 'kernel update' icon on your desktop." Melvin is 500 miles away at college. Aunt Tillie clicks. She sees a message saying "Downloading kernel sources" and a progress bar. Under the hood, the machine is downloading the tip of the stable branch from a kernel.org mirror site. So why doesn't she use Red Hat or Mandrake's RPM update? Maybe she's running something else. (You ain't going to tell me Aunt Tillie is ready for Debian apt-get, either.) Maybe she wants a kernel that's compiled for her AMD Athlon K6 rather than a 386. OK, so she doesn't know what processor she has, she just remembers that Melvin told her you get a faster kernel when you build it yourself. (Aunt Tillie probably thinks having a faster kernel will mean she can download images from her favorite knitting-pattern website more quickly. Aunt Tillie is a little confused about the difference between processor and network speed. That's OK; well-designed technology should allow people the luxury of ignorance.) Then the progress window changes to a message that says "Configuring..." and some information about her hardware. This is the autoconfigurator running inside a GUI shell. Then it says "Building..." and another progress bar. Finally it says "Please enter your root password so I can install the new kernel". And, once she's done that, it tells her "Your new kernel will be named 'Sapphire' on your boot screen. Shall I reboot now?" She clicks "Yes". Her machine reboots. She selects "Sapphire" on her boot screen. The new kernel boots. She logs in. She surfs to her knitting-pattern website. She logs out. When she clicks "Shutdown", a popup says "This is not the same kernel that will come up by default when you next boot. Should I make it the default?" She clicks "Yes". Her kernel upgrade is done. It required just four mouse clicks and one password entry. At no point did she have to retain mental state about previous stages of the upgrade. (Aunt Tillie is getting on in years; she isn't as good at retaining abstract facts as she used to be.) In fact, at a pinch we could have done away with the password entry, presuming that anyone with physical access to the console is allowed to perform canned administrative functions (though not to a root shell). We have the technology to do all of this now; the autoconfigurator is the last nontrivial missing piece. And if we truly want world domination, this is what it's going to take -- ease of use that is Macintosh-like or better at *every* level of system use and administration. It takes a different way of thinking than most hackers are used to. We're proud of our mad programming skillz and our ability to wrestle with arcana. That pride isn't a bad thing -- except when it gets in the way of designing systems that Aunt Tillie can use.
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