Wandering Thoughts archives


Why there is no POSIX standard for a Unix GUI

The other day I was reading A Tale of Two Standards, where Jeremy Allison mentions in passing:

Interestingly enough the SUS doesn't cover such things as the graphical user interface (GUI's) elements, as the history of Unix as primarily a server operating system meant that GUI's were never given the importance needed for Unix to become a desktop system.

I don't think that this is the real reason that there is no POSIX or equivalent standard for Unix graphical user interfaces. Because I am a jaundiced and cynical person, I think that the real reason GUIs were not standardized is that they could not be, because they were being viciously fought over by the vendors all through the period when Unix standards were being created.

POSIX is effectively a common core of Unix, ie what everyone could more or less agree on and was basically already doing. Where it wasn't that, it was in an area (such as regular expressions or threading) where no one was really doing anything and so there were going to be no active losers. Where POSIX required that vendors change, the change were generally small (and often could be contained off in a corner that didn't disturb the rest of the system).

This did not describe GUIs in the Unix standardization period, not in the least. There was no common core; indeed, for a long time there was not even an agreement on the underlying graphical system being X Windows. Standardizing a GUI would have meant either inventing one from scratch or picking one vendor's GUI to basically win; this would screw either all vendors or all but one vendor (or group in the case of Motif).

Compounding the problem was licensing. GUIs are big and complex, which means that they are expensive to develop, which means that everyone who had one wanted money to let other people use it (well, their code for it). This significantly increases the stakes involved in the standardization of one; if you win, you probably get to collect a bunch of licensing money, and if you lose, as a practical matter you probably have to pay a rival a bunch of money. Is it any wonder that no vendor was interested in losing?

(This is the political perspective. There was also a technical perspective, which I would characterize as saying that GUI standardization was vastly premature at the time because we didn't know enough to make a good, enduring GUI standard, in either appearance or API. It may even be premature now, given that all of the de facto standard GUIs today are still evolving and changing.)

unix/WhyNoStandardUnixGUIs written at 22:47:15; Add Comment

Why Grub2 doesn't solve my Ubuntu kernel problem

A commentator on this entry asked what sounds like a good question: why don't I have Grub2 boot the older kernel that I want to use, instead of removing the newer one?

The problem is that it's not a robust solution. The first and largest issue is that what I really want to do is enforce a negative ('never boot this specific kernel'), but the only tool Grub gives me is a positive one ('boot this specific kernel'). There are a number of plausible situations that cause what kernel I want to boot to change; for example, if Ubuntu releases a new kernel update that is anything but a point version. In any of these situations, I lose.

The other issue is specific to my somewhat unusual situation and how Ubuntu packages kernel updates, but cannot be fixed even with a true negative option in Grub. Suppose, not entirely hypothetically, that Ubuntu gets around to releasing some version of their proposed kernel update as an official update. This official update will have the 32-on-64 security fix, and we will want to run it. However, it's quite possible that Ubuntu will make it a point release of the general proposed kernel update version. As already established, such a point release increase will use exactly the same kernel names and file names as the current proposed kernel update, and as such Grub will see it as exactly the same kernel. Even with a true negative option, there is no way for Grub to get this one right (short of reaching into the packaging system to pull out detailed metadata on just what exactly the kernel is).

The only way to fix both issues is to make the undesirable kernel disappear and then to have Grub do its normal thing of 'default to the highest version kernel'. Only then will any normal Ubuntu kernel update do the right thing.

(If this was a bad kernel update from the regular Ubuntu repositories, instead of a proposed testing one from elsewhere, I would then have to arrange to block reinstallation of that specific version of the kernel package.)

linux/UbuntuSpecificKernelIssue written at 02:35:22; Add Comment

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