Nov 112021
 

If you follow a certain Linux on Youtube, you may well be aware of an incident where Linus was trying to install Steam on a newly installed copy of Pop_OS! and managed to produce a bit of a mess without a desktop environment. What happened?

I think that when he encountered a problem installing Steam with the gooey, he then obtained a command-line “recipe” for installing Steam – potentially for a different distribution (it certainly mentioned removing lots of “stuff” including gnome-desktop).

Is this a problem with Linus being a bit of an idiot or Linux being a bit broken? A bit of both perhaps.

Linus’ idiocy is perhaps an example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing – he mentioned being comfortable with using the command-line, but would admit that he doesn’t understand everything that goes on within it (to be fair, nobody understands everything even those who’ve been using the Linux command-line for over 20 years). And certainly when apt said “To install this package, I’m going to remove this long list of other packages”, the appropriately cautious should be saying “No” (and yes there is a prompt to allow you to do that).

The Linux command-line follows the principle that if the human wielding it wants to do something dumb, it may warn you but it will let you do whatever you want. That’s handy but scary and dangerous.

Now most users will likely veer away from the command-line – this is where Linus was a bit of an idiot – at least until they have a bit more experience. But perhaps those who make distributions should make the danger a bit more dangerous by adding a warning when opening the terminal (added to ~/.profile so we can remove an unnecessary warning) :-

WARNING !!!!

The command-line can be dangerous if you are not careful. Pasting in "recipes" found on the Internet for solutions to issues can result in serious damage to your Linux installation requiring re-installation.

In particular a recipe should be specific to your distribution and the version of the distribution you are running. 

When looking for solutions on the Internet, always bear in mind that there are idiots out there who will publish “solutions” that are anything but. As mentioned in my hypothetical warning, recipes are very often (especially when dealing with software installation) specific to a particular distribution and version – use it inappropriately and you may well run into serious trouble.

On the subject of gooeys, it would be handy to include a “Solutions” link when an error occurs in a software package manager that takes you to a web page specific to the package you are trying to install. Encounter trouble installing “Steam 6.23”? The solutions link might take you to a page saying “This package is out of date; please run Update”. This would allow links to be specific to the distribution and version in use – a lot more helpful than simply expecting the user to search the Internet for a solution.

King Alfred Looking Down At The Runners
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