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.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2006-09-25 19:41:27:

IMHO, the automounting took a dubious direction in Fedora. It may be because Fedora's core development team is not as strong as the desktop team, and thus desktop people simple outcode their peers. You try to make David Zeuten program a daemon, see how it works for you. Debugging messages of HAL are almost a perfect illustration. But it's much worse than the external storage. NetworkManager with all its wonders means that you do not have your network functions until a user is logged in - even idling at a gdm screen is not good enough.

As for the fonts, I eventually caved in. I love Xft2. So I switched to terminals which not just overlap, but completely stack. Under this paradigm, you may see the wisdom of screen-inside-gnome-terminal too (especially since it started to support UTF-8). This layout can be retrofitted into older systems. To be sure, it's not superior to tiled layout there, but the things you'd do for the sake of uniformity.

By cks at 2006-09-28 23:34:45:

The automounting stuff that I really want is the bit that handles all of the dynamic device names and mount points for me. It's a real convenience to be able to stick in a random USB key and not have to worry about what SCSI device it will be and what partitions it has and so on.

Written on 24 September 2006.
« Weekly spam summary on September 23rd, 2006
Some reactions to a dual monitor X setup »

Page tools: View Source, View Normal, Add Comment.
Login: Password:
Atom Syndication: Recent Comments.

Last modified: Sun Sep 24 22:38:48 2006
This dinky wiki is brought to you by the Insane Hackers Guild, Python sub-branch.