Mercurial versus git for sysadmins, or why we picked Mercurial

December 13, 2009

I've recently managed to persuade my co-workers to start migrate away from doing version control with RCS and to using a modern VCS (which has made me think about various issues). Specifically, I picked Mercurial, which I think is one of only two sensible options right now (the other being git).

I'm perfectly prepared to believe that git has important aspects that make it technically superior, and that git has more power for doing sophisticated things that matter for serious development. But for us, all of that pales next to a very important property of Mercurial: it's really easy to tell my co-workers how to use Mercurial. Without caveats and 'watch out for this mistake' and 'never forget this argument or odd things happen'.

We have simple needs; point in time snapshots, the ability to see what we changed, and perhaps to write log messages about it that will be preserved for later use. I can teach people how to do this in Mercurial in a few simple commands. Git is, how can I say this nicely, not quite as simple, and it looks much more intimidating. (Such perceptions count a lot when you are trying to sell a new way of doing things to nervous co-workers.)

And, since we have such small and simple needs, any technical advantages and sophisticated features are essentially irrelevant. Git may be better than Mercurial, but either of them are good enough for our modest needs. So Mercurial's simplicity of use wins the day.

(I have found myself tilting this way for personal use as well. Git may be a great system, but it's still intimidating. Mercurial is much less scary. I somewhat regret this, because I really do want to someday use git for more than tracking the Linux kernel, so that I can get properly familiar with it. (Of course the answer to this issue is to just force myself to use git for my next project.))

Written on 13 December 2009.
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Last modified: Sun Dec 13 00:58:18 2009
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