Thursday, 1 April 2010

CentOS isn't worth the paper ... oh hang on

After a few more hiccups I finally gave up on CentOS on my workstation last week - I don't mean to diss on the CentOS project and people as such, but I have to say I had a pretty negative experience with it and probably wont be considering it again (there just isn't any need). I hadn't tried it before, and thought i'd give it a go, mostly because I was expecting simple reliability.

Unfortunately not.
Lack of packages
Just how limited was a little bit of a shock ... but this was something entirely reasonable and had no major problem with this.

Lack of stability
This was both shocking and surprising. I had a lot of stability issues from day one. Primarily that xterm's constantly locked up when trying to do ordinary things like 'man blah' or 'less foo' (and I need to use the real xterm - the other `desktop project' knockoff's are unusably slow at full screen, and barely usable even at 80x24). I got around it using info, or emacs shell but it got old very fast. Firefox also had a habit of grabbing the pointer if I accidentally dragged something which is too easy to do. For the most part I loathe DnD because generally it's too easy to trigger and used in some really stupid places, and where it could be useful - e.g. dropping files into an application or filename selector, it isn't implemented, sigh. I wish GUI designers of the free `desktops' had a wider GUI experience than just MacOS and Windows 95.

Bloody slow (not just slow)
Ok I'm a bit spoilt with my home workstation and it is decidedly slower hardware, but this was a little ridiculous. I can forgive some of it because I chose to encrypt the home partition, but I really have no feel on how much that makes a difference. I'm sure EXT3 is something to blame here too - if anything demonstrates that the Linux project is no true meritocracy it is that this steaming pile is still the main filesystem of choice when so many more advanced and reliable filesystems have existed for years!

Updates broke it
What finally broke the camel's back was turning it on one morning and having no X any more because the update manager prodded me to install a different Linux and I wasn't paying attention. I am 'partly to blame' because I am using the proprietary nvidia driver (the other one just didn't work, and I need OpenCL/CUDA or something down the line too) from livna or something or other - but I haven't had quite such problems doing similar things in the past that were so difficult to resolve. After mucking about for an hour or two I gave up and just installed Fedora 11 (the newer ones are just fucked up too much to be slavagable within my patience band). That ended up taking the whole day (made a few mistakes along the way), but it was definitely worth it.

Now I don't know how much CentOS differs from RHL, but this doesn't leave a good impression of that either. The whole point of using old software with limited packages is for stability and reliability and it was on those two particular points that I had the most negative experience. Probably the worst I've had with any OS since automated package management existed (~10 years).

I've moved to Fedora 11 and have had no issues since. Faster, more stable, more packages, blah blah blah.

X, Java, Netbeans

Well, while i'm dissing on free software projects ... I don't know what they're doing wrong but OpenJDK has some major performance issues that simply make Java (and anything that uses it) look really bad (in all fairness I am using Fedora 11, so it is certainly quite an old release ...). I am doing some stuff in netbeans (6.8) and although usable for the most part, had a decidedly lurcherous gait which only got worse over time till it was barely usable. I resorted to using emacs for editing (it's still a much better basic editor), jumping back to netbeans only to look up methods (JavaDocs as useful as they are are a bit unwieldy to navigate, particularly in a web browser). I suspect it has more to do with something basic like the interaction with X than anything else - and we all know what a mess of The X Windows System that f.d.o are making so it probably isn't entirely `their fault'.

So I finally got sick of that and after a bit of searching on the net and trying "-Dsun.java2d.pmoffscreen=false" to no big effect, the only thing seemed to be to try the Sun JDK. *Cough* Oracle JDK. Apart from a different way of selecting fonts that initially made it look a bit crap, and a generally lighter appearance in the text you'd think I just upgraded the computer to see the difference.

It's like night and day. It might use scads more memory than a C app but it feels just as snappy and responsive (at least in comparison to how it was, hard to guage). The thing is, having such a poor user experience from the OpenJDK just continues to give Java a bad name when it just isn't warranted, and hasn't been for a long time now. I was originally just going to implement a GUI in Java (or maybe just a prototype) but I might try a few tests of the algorithms to see how it compares to the C code - it spends most of it's time in FFTW anyway at present. It's a real pity that it doesn't support a primitive complex type, but that isn't the end of the world. I'm using the Shared Scientific Toolkit at the moment, although mostly just for the arrays and fft ops (that's all the code really needs).


Oh god what is this pain in my head ... yet another messed up build system. One that provides all the craptascialness of Ant for your C++ projects too! Jesus, who comes up with this shit? I had some issues building SST - it turned out I just needed to install the static FFTW library, but along the way I had my first experience of CMake. About the only thing going for it is that it doesn't use XML. What I don't understand is why these things come along and break the whole point of make files? During the build something failed - so I worked out how to manually run the command and the command ran ok. Fine then, just run make and let it continue ... oh no, that would be too fucking simple wouldnt it? It uses some fucked up meta-system for tracking build dependencies, so it just re-builds the whole directory again, again failing on the final link. Then I ran a different make target which built ok ... but wasn't quite what I needed. No problem, try the original build target ... 'target up to date' ... huh?


The one and only point for any make system to exist in the first place is to guarantee your builds are consistent without having to recompile everything every time. For everything else you may as well just use shell scripts - which are conveniently embedded inside a Makefile. I understand CMake does some other stuff, and also provides a `shell script' environment that supports broken operating systems, and that idea has some merit - should you wish to interact with such a broken system at least - but if it can't get the basics right what use is it?

Ant is another nightmare all of its own - not only does it not do any dependency checking whatsoever (one of the most critical features of any build system), simple human readable shell scripting is replaced not only by a disastrous and unparsable XML scripting language but also by dynamically loaded Java modules! I can understand wanting to use your favourite language for everything, but Java is not a scripting language and sometimes there is a right tool for the job.

completely broken ...
... simply worthless.
... CMake ... Ant ...

I consider any tool where you must occasionally `make clean' to get a reliable build to be completely broken and simply worthless. CMake seems to get around this absurdity by abusing 'ccache' - another painful bit of kit that shouldn't need to exist (the limited use-cases for which ccache provides any service can mostly be done in other much simpler ways - assuming you have a reliable dependency mechanism in the first place). And Ant gets around this by the fact the java compiler is quite fast anyway, and already does the dependency checking - but only for the Java sources, and any real project has to do more than just compile objects and link them together. One often has to 'clean and rebuild' in all the GUI IDEs i've used, but there should be no reason to ever need this unless you're manipulating files outside of it.

Is this you?
What I find disappointing (vexatious, alarming, and upsetting too) is that people refuse to learn a basic reliable, flexible tool, and then come up with their own which doesn't even solve the original problem. `I can't use an editor to control the tabs in my file' is really an idiotic and puerile argument (if you do think that, then yes i am in fact calling you an idiot. Idiot.) I suspect if they understood the original problem they wouldn't have bothered to inflict all this crap upon themselves or the rest of us in the first place and wouldn't the world would be a better place for that?

I understand some people think make is a bit arcane .. but it isn't. XML is the definition of arcane - lets design a format which makes it easy to write parsers, for developers. You know that tiny bit of code that gets written once and forgotten about because nobody fucking cares once it works. It's not like they even got that bit right - the parsers are large and complex and the code you write using them ends up being large and complex too (and it's all slow). But the real winner is that this then inflicts all the nitty-gritty which makes it 'easy to parse' onto the user for whom it is decidedly not easy to parse, or write, or even design. Now that's arcane.

But I digress.

The auto*tools are a big bit of nasty, but at least it's only one (perhaps broken) system to learn, not 'n' (definitely broken) systems where 'n' is monotonically increasing. And there are plenty of application projects for which it shouldn't be needed (but gets used anyway, sigh).

Woke up too early

Shit, I was supposed to have some bricks delivered this morning - I was up way too late and got little sleep worrying about making sure I tell them to put it in the driveway to avoid 3 hours of back breaking work moving them. I suppose i should go get some groceries, or I might just avoid the shops which turn into a nightmare of panic buying just before Easter since many shops are shut - GOOD HEAVENS - for 2 whole days in a row. How ever will we all survive for so long without being able to buy more shit!

1 comment:

Sankar said...

What are the filesystems that you feel are better ? I want to try them out.

I heard even Google is using ext for their huge volumes of data (may be I am wrong)