Monday, November 16, 2009

Jack of all trades, master of none

While I probably say this about other things (C++, perl), I think I've found something else it applies to -- the OpenSolaris Live CD.

The Live CD attempts to offer both a "Live Use" environment, and a "full" (for some value of full) installable copy of OpenSolaris.

The problem with this is that we have way, way too many things duplicated on the Live CD. For example, two copies of Mozilla, two copies of Evolution, and two copies of Thunderbird. (One copy each to run in the live environment, and one copy in packaged form for installation.)

This is crazy.

People who want to play around with an operating system don't need two different mailer packages. In fact, one could argue that if I'm going to use a Live environment, the CD is not going to be my method of choice. I'm going to want eithe a DVD, or (more likely) USB media where I can get faster performance and have more options. Trying to keep a live demonstration environment in the confines of a CD (or rather the space left on the CD after the installable portions), makes no sense at all. As a Live environment, I am going to want all the bells and whistles, and compilers too! (And -- perhaps most importantly -- office applications like Open Office, which don't fit in the CD right now.)

Conversely, there are those who just want to install the bits. The live media is just a vehicle to install from. Oh, there are potentially useful applications that can be present too, but they are always in support of installation. Having a web browser so that I can access my router's configuration, for example, or search for updated information about my hardware, is likely to be useful. But do I really need or want two different mailers? And klotski? PDA synchronization? Etc. This is crazy.

And its worse; because of the size of the Live "CD", we already have a situation where it does not fit on the CD. We have also sacrificed other things that, in my opinion, we should not have, in the name of "space". I'm a strong tcsh advocate, and its absence from the installation media is sorely felt, especially when installing to systems that don't have a Internet connectivity. I'm sure there are other similar things that could be the installation media if only there were space.

Well, there is space. Easily. We just need to be smarter about it.

Its time to separate the jobs into separate tasks.

  • Live Media. (Live DVD, and probably also USB.) Give up on trying to do it in 700MB for a CD though. This should be sized for a single DVD, and have all the goodies, including OpenOffice. It should continue to offer installable bits as well.
  • Install media. This should not have the Live environment, but have only those tools which are deemed supportive to installation. (Do include a web browser, but don't include games or a music player, for example.) It should fit easily within 700MB. I suspect that the installation media could even be merged into the AI media, to support a single disk that can do either network installation, or local CD-ROM based installation.

Eventually the 700MB limitation is going to be a problem even with a change like the above. I believe that we can go a lot longer with what we've got, if we don't try to force the jack-of-all-trades to fit into a shoebox, though.

9 comments:

trs80 said...

Ubuntu and Debian can just copy the contents of the Live CD when installing instead of having to use packages - surely IPS should be able to support that as well? Get rid of the duplication and everything you want fits on the one CD.

Binary Crusader said...

Are you certain about the two copies of each package?

At last check, the LiveCD does a CPIO install of exactly what is on the CD; there are no 'packages' per se.

It does some special loopback mounting logic magic for this all to work right.

As for the two mailers (Thunderbird, Evolution), that's being resolved.

It's a sad state of affairs really since Evolution is tightly integrated with the GNOME environment while Thunderbird is not, but Thunderbird is arguably much faster than Evolution.

As for the other things, I'm not in Sun marketing so I can't tell you what they were thinking :)

Che said...

Couldn't agree more! The mail programs probably serve as the best examples of unnecessary crap that fills the live cd which is now forced to be a live DVD :-|

Apps on the live cd should have utility (example gparted, device driver utility)...

phil said...

sounds like a good idea to me =).

iirc freebsd differentiate between live & installation cd & i never heard any complaints about that.

Michael Martin said...

Great overview and summary of ways to improve the distribution! Having both a feature-rich live DVD/USB ( or hybrid ISO ) and a simplified, package-rich, install-only CD would be very beneficial.

Rand S. Huntzinger said...

I think it is just a matter of time before we have a live DVD. The number of systems with only CD capability is declining and the need to put more software on the live media is increasing. I would think going to a live DVD would make things a lot easier for those who produce the distributions. Your suggestion of an install only CD might make sense for the few systems who can't handle a DVD or for those who only need the system for installation. That said, I wonder how long we'd really need a CD-based distribution at all.

Dave Miner said...

Sadly, this post runs off the rails in paragraph 3 due to your lack of knowledge on the live CD. There is no duplication of the form you're postulating here: the live CD installs by copying its contents, not running package operations. Binary Crusader has it right.

The size requirements for the CD are based on the expectations of the market that OpenSolaris is designed to reach, which you're frankly not all that representative of. Download speed, cost, and hardware capability are all issues that are actually important in many parts of the world, and thus the constraints we're operating under there. Solaris Next may have different requirements that lead to different combinations of capabilities, but the ones for the live CD are actually quite clear. It's mastered one trade, and the reviews and volume of the distribution speak for themselves.

We'd welcome contributions to help make it better once you've taken the time to get familiar with the requirements and the implementation.

Garrett D'Amore said...

Thanks for the correction... I guess I made a bad assumption.

So why is it then, that the Live CD is approximately three times the size of the AI media? I guess I'm missing something. (Maybe its the uncompressed nature of the software that you have to use to run it?)

I understand that there are folks for whom even 700MB is too much.

One question springs into my mind though: if they can't afford the disk space or network bandwidth for a "real" DVD based install, but I guess I kind of take issue with the idea that this represents some significant majority (or even a significant minority) of our users.

These days, most people live in the first world, and frankly a significant percentage of our users probably have a lot more disk and even better network connectivity than I have.

I guess optimizing our main content delivery vehicle for some folks in Vietnam or Bora bora, where their packets are delivered by specially trained tuna fish, and still rely on cast-off PCs for their main computing, seems ... unfortunate. (Especially with the particularly high memory requirements we have for OpenSolaris, which basically exclude most of that ancient hardware anyway.)

I hope that we are not aiming for the Lowest Common Denominator here. I think folks who really have Lowest Common Denominator needs are probably more likely to be happy with the likes of NetBSD, which can still run on Sun 2 and Vaxen.

Garrett D'Amore said...

Sorry, I mispoke when I said

"These days, most people live in the first world"

What I really mean was that most of our user base is in the first world. (Or countries which are closing the technology gap sufficiently quickly enough to be considered such.) I know that we have users in places in Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia that are less fortunate and might not have reliable broadband or be able to afford a DVD drive, but I still think these users comprise a minority.