Two approaches to Unix environments

September 24, 2006

There are two general approaches to coping with the various environments of Unix accounts that I've seen people adopt. The first is taking the default environment that each system comes with (perhaps with minimal and easy customization for stuff that really bugs you); the second is building a completely customized personal environment that you then drag everywhere.

(To stereotype, people who follow the first sort feel that life is too short to spend futzing with your environment when the one that someone else worries about works well enough, while the other side similarly feels that life is too short to live without something that fits your desires to a T. Note that this isn't to say that the first sort doesn't care about the environment they use, just that what they care about is probably indirect issues, like a more generally consistent GUI, instead of specific features that the second sort are solidly locked to.)

The split influences a lot of attitudes in relatively deep ways. For example, the first sort if much more likely to really like moving to Apples; for the second sort, the Apple GUI is at best neutral and often negative, since it is not their environment.

I am a very strong second sort of person, and I am currently wrestling with the true nemesis of my calling: moving my personal environment to a new system (in this case Fedora Core 5 on an x86_64). Because I have so strong particular opinions on things, even little changes are completely irritating; this makes dealing with things like font issues rather interesting.

The other annoying bit of moving my environment is trying to figure out how to make it do various useful things normally provided by the system environment. For example, FC5 will conveniently automount USB keys and DVDs and so on, if you use GNOME or KDE; now I get to figure out all the magic bits and daemons so I can add them to my own environment.

Oh well, at least I'll come out of this experience better informed about the inner workings of some of the black magic involved.

Sidebar: why font issues bug me and matter

Every OS upgrade seems to futz around with fonts so that things come out wrong for something. And don't get me started about Xft, apart from saying that there sure don't seem to be any good monospaced fonts for people who like their inter-line spacing relatively narrow.

Why do I care about fonts so much? Because the layout and spacing of a great many things on my screen, and how I organize space, is strongly tied to how much space things like 80x24 xterm windows take. Change the fonts, those sizes change, things don't fit together any more, and I grind my teeth in your general direction.

(Don't ask what I feel about the possibility of changing display resolutions.)

Written on 24 September 2006.
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Last modified: Sun Sep 24 22:38:48 2006
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