Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Wed, 18 Apr 2007

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Proprietary systems and IMSc computer usage

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In general, I think we need to be aware of some pitfalls of certain platforms (like Mac and Windows; I don't know if Solaris still fits in this category). In the past I have had to deal with Solaris 7 systems and I am basing my remarks on that and my minimal experience on this topic with Windows and Mac.

The biggest lacuna of such systems is the lack of (what we have come to see as) "standard" software1. Consider the following tools:

ghostscript, vim, emacs, TeX, xfig, mutt/pine, bash, tcsh, ssh, firefox/mozilla/thunderbird, perl/python/ocaml/lisp

  1. Most of these tools are essential to our work. Some of them, like "ssh", "vim" or "emacs" may also be required on a compute server.

  2. Most of these tools have a lot of different dependencies and are non-trivial to compile from source---especially on 10s of desktops/servers.

  3. Often one has to ensure (as with TeX) that the different files are installed in the right places and appropriate configuration is done before the programs work properly. This requires some kind of packaging.

  4. One has to also keep up-to-date with patches for bugs (security and otherwise) or for additional features.

  5. It is a huge extra burden on the system administration at IMSc to carry out the tasks (2)-(4) unless pre-packaged versions are available. (Mutiply the problem by the number of machines unless there are packaging tools that simplify the distribution).

So it is essential that there is a community2 "out there" that carries out these tasks. One can then use their efforts and perhaps even join them in some of the tasks. (This perhaps explains my involvement with Debian3).

  1. One alternative is to switch to using tools like Office, Outlook, Programmers Studio and so on which are supported on the platform.

  2. In the past Sun has supported such work directly as well.

  3. The lack of satisfactory multi-media support in Debian leads to a similar set of problems associated with that. Fortunately, for most of us multi-media support does not satisfy (1) above.


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