One reason why the Debian package format is not my favorite

June 22, 2007

In their wisdom, the people who created the Debian package format decided to allow packages to ask the person installing them questions. By including this feature, they insured that Debian packages do quiz the people installing them about various things.

The problem with this is that questions are landmines. Every time you ask one, you are gambling that the person knows enough about the issue to give you an informed answer. When they do not, at best they just pick the default answer (fortunately Debian seems to mostly insist that package questions have default answers) and you have just made them nervous.

Worse, every question that a Debian package asks is a decision the people building the package have pushed off to the people installing the package. Let's rephrase that: every question is a decision that the people who know the package best have deferred into the hands of people who are just installing it, perhaps merely because their users asked for it or they thought it sounded interesting.

The great advantage of package formats that do not allow install-time questions is that they force the people building packages to actually make decisions, not duck the issues.

(This entry is brought to you by the Ubuntu ilisp package, which felt it was burningly important to ask me whether it should use FSF compliant keybindings or some other ones.)

Written on 22 June 2007.
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Last modified: Fri Jun 22 23:09:12 2007
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