Talking about apt…

Again I had a long, long discussion about apt. And again I got the feeling that there are to many people outside who do not think in a technical way about solutions, but who believe in solutions. The whole discussion about apt and rpm is a typical example for it…

This was a bit special because it was with a friend of mine. In former times I had already said that apt is maybe a little bit old and that I prefer yum because of its “living” status (the programmers are open minded and implement new features if they make sense) – we started a discussion which went to nowhere quite fast because I was not prefered and was not able to point out any weakness or strongness of any of these programs.

But this time I was, and the discussion went into a interesting direction:
It started when he invited me to a wiki where he tried to compare the main linux distributions. We discussed some of the points he had already written and then said that it would be nicer not only to have editors which are debian users. And as a joke he said that he would heavily criticise Suse just as an provocation if there would be no one who would start editing this part – I answered that I than would criticise apt then.
The answer was more than expected:

apt is awesome

And there we were. The discussion went hot quite fast: first he pointed out the usual stuff which I had heard everytime: apt had been ported to rpm, there must be reasons for that.

Sure, that had been – but it has been dropped now completly! There is no more ongoing developing of apt4rpm, it has completly been dropped. And all other (big) rpm distributions has their own tools now (urpmi, yum, yast).
The second argument was another typical argument – that yast is far to bloated. But the most people who say this do not now that yast can be used in a command line, even as a graphical program in command line, and that the software installation routines are only a small part of the whole set of tools.
After pointing this out he tried to battle on a technical layer: apt is easy, fast and reasonable. Yes, he is right, but again: that’s nothing special. Check urpmi, check yum: fast, easy, the syntax is alomost the same. Where is the difference? Where is apt stronger than its competitors?

And now it was my turn: I pointed out that yum is able to install packages with the same name but different versions or different architectures. And I pointed out that yum is able to use mirrors.
He than had to draw back on argumenting that he personally do not need these features, and that the standard debian user uses his own set of mirrors.

He than pointed out that other people in the debian world wouldn’t use something different because they are just used to apt – it’s not bad to have a tool quite long time unchanged because the people can use and handle it very well.

That’s right, no question – but that was the only argument, and it counts only for debian-people who are working with debian quite a long time, and are experienced. That not an argument for the standard user, and if the technical backend of apt is out-dated, the to-be-used-to-it argument is not an excuse for the fact that apt is not really developed at the moment.

But to be fair: My friend was not aware of a possibility which comes with apt that I miss in yum: it’s not a beginners feature, but I would like to be able to automatically configure, compile and after that install from src.rpms instead of binary rpms. That would be an option for packages like mplayer for me, and as far as I know apt has some options in this direction.

Nevertheless the main point is: apt is nice, and it was one of the first, really good programms to install and manage packages. But that’s long time ago, and there has been quite a lot of development in this area where apt hadn’t participated in.
You can’t really see this development as far as you are only looking around in debian worlds, but if you try to look beyond one’s own nose you will see that apt has to battle several competitors in the rpm world – and has completly lost this battle.
There are reasons for that, several technical reasons – and I would like to see that the apt-developing people are honest and start to implement some of these features into apt to improve the software management there, too. It would be nice if I have to administrate a apt-based machine next time.

But until than, just to stay clear: I don’t bash apt! I pointed out the technical advantages of the competitors, and tried to compare the strengths and weaknesses, an there were strengths and weaknesses on both sides.

And I want to reach a state where I can discuss about apt without having the feeling of not discussing something but talking about dogmatics and believing in something the whole time. My friend had no real chance against the technical arguments for other solutions so he draw back on something like used-to-it and enough-for-me. That’s not how you shoudl discuss, especially not if you are talking about technical things.
And, the most improtant adn I must admit disappointing thing was: there was never nor a small glimpse of accepting. It would have been nice if I had got the feeling that he had started thinking about the topic after the discussion, and maybe have had a look at yum/urpmi/whatever, just to see how it is working, just to educate himself about other possibilities, just to brighten his horizone…
But I don’t think that he did. Actually I never met someone who liked apt and had a deeper look into other solutions.

So, if you start discussing something like this next time: take care of your arguments, take care of your own point of view, that you do not move back to domgatics, and just open your mind a little bit that there are maybe other solutions outsied which are worth a look. I don’t want other people to change their distribution/software management/whateveryyouaretalkingabout, but discussing is the way to open the mind for other point of views, and especially in the free software world you can easily try out other solutions and have a look at them.

And, just to add: we are still friends, and when I comlained about the fact that it is sometimes very dissapointing to discuss about apt when some apt users are completly not open minded, he said that he can understand me very well: he always meet Suse users who don’t even have an idea about debian but are complaining in a stupid way without knowing anything. So stupid people everywhere around, so everyone has a lot to do 😉


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