Linux

I have a bone to pick with the open source community


Recently I upgraded my phone to a Treo 680. Love it! Prior to that I was using a regular cell phone and a Sony Clie. Well the Clie had serious battery problems and I had to be around a wifi access point to use the online features. Not so handy in today's world. I was sycing my clie on both Ubuntu Dapper and Fedora Core 6 via network (i.e. using port net:192.168.1.1) flawlessly. 

But then comes syncing via USB. 

Heavy sigh.

I tried for days to get Ubuntu Dapper to sync with my Treo. It was sporadic at best until it finally wouldn't work. I loved Ubuntu. But it wasn't meant to be. So I switched back to Fedora Core (now using 6) and was able, with little tedium, to get my Treo to sync with jpilot. Not perfect (I wanted it to sync with Evolution) but it'll do.

I don't know how many of you out there have dealt with the mess that is Linux USB but I have a-plenty! And it's not pretty. Linux uses the udev system to create and destroy symbolic links from hardware to software. And from what I've seen the right hand of the kernel developers has no idea what the left hand of the user-space developers is doing.

This is unacceptable.

I realize a good deal of the open source community may look at this issue and say "who cares - it's user-space". Sorry gang but this could easily be a deal breaker for many a new Linux user. Think about it - people need their devices. Many of us who are on the go all the time need to remain connected and sync'd with our calendars, to-do lists, contacts, you name it! To think that Linux's ability to sync with a usb device is not priority is a big mistake.

Think about it: users want simplicity. Users want their computers to "just work". To think that my father would have to remember to open up a terminal, run chmod 777 /dev/ttyUSB* every time he wanted to sync his device (or worse, have to edit or create a udev rule by hand) is the equivalent to my father saying "Windows just works!"

I believe it's time the open source community puts forth a real effort to create a kernel division dedicated to making sure devices "just work". USB has been an achilles heel of the Linux OS for a long, long time. I hate to think it will continue to be so but I'm afraid that until more effort is put forth to standardize the work being done this will be an issue.

So please open source community - show us all that you really care about embracing your users by fixing the usb kernel bugs for good. I've seen these bugs for nearly ten years now and it's growing a bit, well, old.

Fix 'em before Vista arrives so there's even less reason for people to jump the open source shark! 

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

20 comments
D-cat
D-cat

I feel your pain here. I like my SuSE 10 here. Instead of mounting to something that changes all the time, a default hot plug event (still handled by udev) will mount to "/media/[volume label]". Assuming that your new toy's volume label is set, it will result in a consistent mount point that should make all your sync tools happy.

The-Jetman
The-Jetman

Freespire (www.freespire.org) is a distro that all non-gearheads (ie. the folks who *don't* want to write shell scripts and eschew the cmd-line) should look at. I think it mite be a better Windows than Windows. Worth looking at as a live CD....

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

I have SimplyMEPIS, and have used Ubuntu, and all the USB devices that I use just plug and operate - key ring memory drives (5 different ones), external hard drives (2 different ones), mice, keyboards, NIC, modem, camera, scanner, etc. Some are USB 1, some are USB 2, all just plug and go. ----------- Better drivers for Linux can be available, except the hardware manufacturers rarely write Linux drivers for their hardware, they leave that up to the Linux community. It saves the HW guys money, they know the Linux people will write a driver and share it, but with Windows, you write your own or it can't be used on Windows at all.

The-Jetman
The-Jetman

Folks, this issue (to me) appears to be typical of Linux in general, that is when need and skill combine, good things happen. Specifcally, when an indiv (simialr to those commenting) decide they *need* better (or more universal) USB support, the code will happen. Isn't that the driving force behind the proliferation of distros ? Need (*or* desire) and skills. Also likely, when a startup/existing Linux company sees an opprtunity to make a better appliance, new code will be written and pos propagate to the various distros. Long before Linux was twinkle in Linus T's eye (prob before he even had a computer, in the early '80s), getting hware specs for virtually anything was simply a matter of sending a SASE to the vendor and voila, one had hware specs and pos a note from the company offering a contact person. (Been there, done that.) Today, that's the exception and not the rule. Today, these decisions are made by legal and mktg depts (I've had this exchange elsewhere), not by engineers/techs as was formerly the case. I *wish* there was a way to convince the non-tech decision makers in hware companies, that Linux is as much of a blessing to them, as many of us already realize.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

to have that though requires. Hardware manufacturers to co-operate. Some one in the open source community who has a reason to put in the effort to do the design and coding. Remembering how much USB has changed over the last ten years, and the absolute nightmare that USB was under windows, I think you are both harsh and missing the mark. Open source requires contributors, it requires you to invest your time. If you don't like what you get, and your only contribution is to whinge from the sidelines, why should anyone pay attention to you?

Jaqui
Jaqui

the sad part is that people can't live without these devices, which really doesn't say much for those people. but yup, linux usb device recognitin is not where it needs to be. udev is a small step in the right direction, but it is not the final solution to the problem. I use linux only, and I never have problems, because I rarely use the latest fad devices, like palm pilots. I have no need for them, nor any respect for those who require them.

halibut
halibut

Why do you not respect those that need a palm pilot or newer "fad" device? Palm devices were created for a need, and that need is a portable device to help organize time and resources. (They aren't really a fad device being they have been around for how many years now?) And most devices were made due to a need or want in society, innovation sparks new devices and improved computing experience. My beef is more to why does the vendor not support alternate OS's. Mind you I agree with you on a personal level, I personally don't like palm's nor "fad" devices like an iPod nor do I want to own these devices myself because they have too many problems in my own home network but they have become a necessary evil for others in my department to in which have the requirement for certain devices. I would shutter to think what our support SLA's would require if we didn't have these mobility devices.

Jaqui
Jaqui

people refuse to use their minds when they have these devices. I don't carry any electronic devices to remember appointments, I remember them easily. I don't carry a phone book, it's in my memory, not a device that can break down. why respect someone who is to lazy to use their mind? they are obviously to lazy to work as well. if the device is needed, the person is incompetent..mentally. and yup, palm pilots are a fad. they'll be completely replaced by these bloatware filled cell phones that are out now, that do everything a palm pilot does with even more in them.

Choppit
Choppit

It must be great to be perfect, never forget, never make mistakes........

NOW LEFT TR
NOW LEFT TR

a Portable Computer a Personal Computer Hmmmm - that makes YOU just what you describe when using a PC. You sir are a first class fool. Even 'BA' would not pity yoiu for this one.

joe
joe

Look. I only have effective use of my right hand (did I mention disabled?) and in that the fine motor skills are not exactly the best. I can barely hold a pen let alone write with it. I can, however, type reasonably well. With the palm I set it to large font and use some of the little add-on/hack tools and that makes it usable. I don't disagree with you about the lack of efficiency and usability of the PDA. But under the circumstances, it is much easier to use than paper & pen. The pertinent point, though, is that when you make unfounded blanket statements about something without any knowledge or understanding it only makes you look less than credible. If you had originally said something to the effect of, "PDAs are less efficient and flexible than paper & pencil and, in addition, sold on the marketability of their 'geek factor'" I would have been one of the first to agree with you whole heartedly. I have no problem admitting that the first palm I bought was done solely on the geek factor as my health was no where near the condition it is now. Had you used this approach to your position on PDAs you would have been taken far more seriously and gotten your point across in a much more cohesive and clear way.

Vetch_101
Vetch_101

To address the issue of using a calendar and address book - I don't particularly use them for remembering appointments or phone numbers, but then I don't have a lifestyle that lends itself to that need. If I had 50 or 100 meetings a week, I might find that those things were necessary. Even if I did, I'm not sure it would be a sign of mental laziness, I think it would be a sign that I was working hard. I'm not sure what a "DAYTIMER" is, but I'm guessing it's called a File-o-Fax in the UK... I don't see quite how you can claim that using a diary to note down your appointments allows you to claim the mental high-ground because you can read your appointments on paper rather than on a screen. You are suggesting that it is somehow intellectually inferior to use one form of note taking than another. That is clearly an illogical argument. Besides which, the efficiencies offered by these devices are improving all the time. For example, you can now get your calendar updated whilst you are on the move because you can get internet access. You can make a date repeating every 2 months, etc with one key-stroke rather than flicking through pages. You can send emails to people as you wait for the plane. You can essentially be about as productive as you can with a laptop. And you can ensure that any personal information stored in it is encrypted and protected in a way that you can't with a file-o-fax... Plus they come as part and parcel as a mobile phone contract, these days, so they are essentially "free". Plus with the onset of drop down keyboards and (sadly) Windows Mobile 2005, the interface is pretty much as usable as a standard notebook. The claim that "portable electronic devices are NOT required, they are a symbol of mental laziness" suggests that you have not considered the full possibilities of these devices. It's the same sort of Luddite-esq argument that could have been levied at laptops 15 years ago - "A portable computer - why would you need such a thing? A person should be able to keep their personal information in a file-o-fax" or a pocket calculator - "Why would you need one when you can think for yourself...?" - because the skills involved in achieving these things are low level. The need for human minds to be working on these things is disappearing. It's not about being lazy, it's about prioritising. I am perfectly happy to and regularly do memorise hundreds of numbers, IP addresses, passwords, even Volume License Key codes to install Office 2003, but that doesn't change the fact that there are times when I would rather prioritise thinking about the challenges that are part of my capacity that a computer cannot achieve. The whole point of labour saving devices (including computers) is that they are there to enable us to improve our productivity, often times by taking out the day-to-day repetitive work so that we can focus on the challenging parts of life. For example - when writing a shell script we do it so that we don't have to redo the same thing over and over again - it's more efficient. In the same way, we use PDAs because they free us to think about the more important things that computers can't contemplate. I think that if you had one, you might find that the constant access to the internet, emails, and word processor was actually an efficient productivity tool rather than an opportunity to ridicule the owner...

Jaqui
Jaqui

so a DAYTIMER is not used because it's not the fad? palm pilot = fad. pen and paper isn't cool, use electronics you are just saying you have to follow the advertising. plastic population..don't think for themselves. see, portable electronic devices are NOT required, they are a symbol of mental laziness. that's why I have zero respect for most people, they beleive advertising and buy everything they can. to lazy to think for themselves. why spend hundreds for an electronic device that is extremely inefficient instead of 3 bucks on the refill for a daytimer, which is efficient? [ no handheld electronic device is efficient, the interface is to complicated for it to be efficient, at the size it has to be to be hand held. ]

joe
joe

Your classification of PDA users is the same as stating that anyone using a hearing aid is just lazy and mentally deficient for not being able to hear the world without one. After all, if you can hear fine with no aid then the only reason anyone would use one is pure laziness. I need a PDA to keep track of appointments and contact info. You would then call me "someone who is to lazy to use their mind" and that I am "obviously to lazy to work as well." The assertion that "if the device is needed, the person is incompetent..mentally" just rings to strongly of someone who hasn't a clue what they are talking about. You see, I have a physical disability that causes cognitive impairment in-and-of itself. And to top it all off, the medication I take has it's own affects that compound the problem. As you do not know my work habits, nor the manor in which I live my life, it's fair to say you have no idea whether I am lazy or incompetent. However, based on your comments, I can make educated guesses as to your mental fitness and degree of laziness. I won't, though, because I do not have enough information to make an informed and reasonable statement. It would be nice if you would try and do the same.

udippel
udippel

I know, one shouldn't bite the hand that feeds you, but here I have to. It also needs to be said, that whatever others say and write, Linux installs 'in general' more simple than Windows. But all those advantages are easily wiped out by having one or another item or peripheral for which the install is worse than all the (good) sides combined. And at times this problem is home-made. I had a few lengthy discussions on the appropriate lists *and* the developer of that udev-implementation. For reasons not to be detailed here in order to avoid boredom, I happen to have an off-the-shelf notebook that does not permit to read my external USB-devices; be it CD, floppy or thumb drive. Let's just leave it at that. The things that made me shed tears: 1. It was mentioned a few times, that I should 'simply write some very easy rules for udev'. The person who wrote this, might be a good coder, but someone needs to shield the public from him, and vet his code intensely. This is just insane; to tell Joe User to write a few lines of udev config to read from his devices. 2. It got worse: I was willing to do so, but for here not to be detailed reasons (see above), it turned out that there simply was no config that could be written to make it work. Confirmed by the developer. Now, had it been a driver issue, I'd understand. It wasn't. It simply doesn't fit into the philosophy of udev. And at fault was - I. For having bought a strange object. For sure, no strange object, it works well with all legacy /dev/ solutions; but udev doesn't cater for it. The fault was finally put into my court: For having received a notebook from my employer that didn't fit into the philosophy of udev. These guys need to be kicked in their pants: You as a developer don't decide how notebooks must be built; not you decide on the philosophy of devices. When writing a device filesystem, you simply make it work, irrespective of philosophy. And when you can't behave, someone ought to kick you out. Unfortunately, Linus or Andrew accepted this crap as 'elegant' or whatever you wrote. I can't agree with that passage of yours. Firstly it must work; elegancy very often helps; but at times it obfuscates the whole matter.

mgordon
mgordon

"These guys need to be kicked in their pants" -- Why? For devoting a portion of their lives to creating an operating system, applications and drivers with no compensation and very little cooperation from hardware manufacturers? (I acknowledge that *some* open source software is developed using paid programmers; Sun's Star Office is probably an example). There's a saying in the United States of America: "Beggars cannot be choosers." If you PAY for something, THEN you have a right to make demands.

udippel
udippel

This isn't the only one, but a complete thread showing that things are not exactly rosy. Like that person writing, that in Windows a floppy drive will always come up as A:, and someone else confirming that this isn't supposed to be the case with udev. Some suggest adding rules, others suggest additional software, Gnome, hal, volume-manager and other stuff. Read here for yourselves: http://debian.news-view.co.uk/viewtopic.php?p=6191 ... and I keep arguing that the task is a task of the device manager (udev), not of other layers above it. That you might have or not have, use or not use. My greatest disappointment was to read, that udev is not supposed to recognize types (thumb drive versus floppy drive), only manufacturers.

halibut
halibut

Great Rant! This is the primary reason to why Linux hasn't beaten MS in the market. A Server is one thing, you set it up and let it run, rarely a device configuration change has to happen and the server runs almost flawlessly. Whereas the Workstation / userland has constant and consistent changes that happen. If open source providers don't begin to provide performance optimized Video Drivers for Gaming, consistent USB support for handheld devices, and economic support from manufacturers, the hope for Linux and open source to overtake MS in the volume of operating systems in the market will be non-existant.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

provide optimised video drivers when the closed source providers don't. MS don't write video drivers for the video cards, the people who make the video cards do, and they give the code to MS to include in their Windows, or give it to you on a disc with the video card. Some video card manufacturer's now include Linux drivers on the disc as well. I have two USB drives, a MS Mouse and a sound card that do NOT work properly in MS Windows, but do in Linux. Why, because Linux people were able to access the base code and write a driver, whilst you can't do that with Windows. I have yet to see any Windows installation where you do NOT have to load manufacturer's drivers for video cards, sound cards, net work interface cards, scanners, etc after installing Windows. Yet every Linux install I've done in the last 12 months have auto loaded drivers for such devices, and they worked perfectly.

badiane_ka
badiane_ka

that on the point of usability a lot needs to be done. I don't think and disagree strongly that they should immitate M$; they should solve a problem which presents itself in the most efficient and elegant way possible. I a piece of software is written and is categorized as utilitarian then it allows for a function to be performed and thus there is a great chance the there may be more than one way to solve the problem. I agree with you that there should be a division whose job is to bring usability to functionality. I love the fact of the detailed structure which, though complex, gives a lot of power to the users willing to use it and that also allows for very detailed user interface design. That way many different kind of interfaces may be designed with different levels of flexibility and complexity but only in function of usability. So that a user may not only perform the basic desired functions but may also delve into the darker areas of their equipment all in the comfort of their gui. Sometimes I'm in a hurry and don't have to time to go and figure out where something when wrong. My mom called me because she wanted to use her brother printer with her new ubntu install. She wouldn't have been able to get it to run without my help under windows but even much less with cups and the fact that brother has a proprietary driver that requires a fair knowledge of the underpinnings. I have been using linux for a long time and will say that things are much better then they were a long time ago. There has to be a group which is dedicated to making the technological improvements more accessible to the different leve of users. Also DOCUMENTATION, DOCUMENTATION, DOCUMENTATION and properly written.

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