Debian GNU/Linux Squeeze – first impressions

Well.. when it comes to usability Debian still has a long way to go.
Even though I’ve used Debian for various machines for years, I found myself reading all about package management internals (pseudo-packages etc). I know all that stuff, but why was I spending time reading it again?

The reason is that I had a newly installed Debian system and I *dared* wish to remove the games from Gnome. No reason for them to be there, as I never use them. So I fired up a terminal, su’ed to root and used aptitude to figure out what package I had to remove. Soon enough it was obvious that I needed to get rid of the package “gnome-games”, as all of these games come bundled together. No problem with that, issue the standard aptitude remove gnome-games, only to be told that to do that, I need to remove Gnome. The whole thing. The entire graphical environment.

Thinking “surely, it just means the metapackage, well that’s annoying but I’ll live”, I told it to proceed. It was the recommended action, and apt is supposed to be excellent at conflict resolution, right?

So I hit enter (for Yes), and voila! A long list of packages to be removed and the warning that “217MB will be freed”. WAIT – HOLD ON – STOP IT dammit! Don’t take my entire GUI away!

Using aptitude has failed me on this one, and it’s not exactly rocket science. Freshly installed system, and I’m asking it to remove a trivial package. Since it says that gnome-games is “recommended” and not a hard dependency, why does it try to rip the rest of gnone away?

And, what’s that cryptic interface that surely users will love:

root@lifebook:~# aptitude remove gnome-games
Reading package lists… Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information… Done
Reading extended state information… Done
Initializing package states… Done
Reading task descriptions… Done
The following packages will be REMOVED:
gnome-games
0 packages upgraded, 0 newly installed, 1 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 0B of archives. After unpacking 2,511kB will be freed.
The following packages have unmet dependencies:
gnome: Depends: gnome-games (>= 1:2.30) but it is not going to be installed.
The following actions will resolve these dependencies:

Remove the following packages:
1)     gnome

Leave the following dependencies unresolved:
2)     gnome-games-data recommends gnome-games
3)     gnome-desktop-environment recommends gnome-games (>= 1:2.30)
Tier: Safe actions, Remove packages (10000)

Accept this solution? [Y/n/q/?] n

The following actions will resolve these dependencies:

Keep the following packages at their current version:
1)     gnome-games [1:2.30.1-1 (testing, now)]

Tier: Cancel all user actions (20000)

Accept this solution? [Y/n/q/?]

I mean…

Please write instructions in plain English. Right after I’ve asked aptitude to remove gnome-games, it comes back with

gnome: Depends: gnome-games (>= 1:2.30) but it is not going to be installed.

What is that supposed to mean, exactly? Should that perhaps be rewritten to spell

A software package you’re currently using (gnome) needs the package you’re trying to remove (gnome-games).

There. That’s in English.

Then you’re told

The following actions will resolve these dependencies:

…which sounds quite good, and then the geek-speak starts:

Remove the following packages:
1)     gnome

Leave the following dependencies unresolved:
2)     gnome-games-data recommends gnome-games
3)     gnome-desktop-environment recommends gnome-games (>= 1:2.30)
Tier: Safe actions, Remove packages (10000)

Accept this solution? [Y/n/q/?]

What’s the user to make out of all this? Let’s see…

  • You get a 1-2-3 list of actions broken into two sub-lists and then are given a chance to answer yes/no. Why can I not choose the action I want? I would just hit “1” and sod the unresolved dependency.
  • What’s all this gnome-games-data stuff? I never asked for that. I never ought to see that.
  • Is “Tier: Safe Actions, Remove packages (10000)” supposed to mean something to users? (I understand what the poet is trying to say, after years of using Debian and after thinking about it for a good hard minute, but man is this bad interface design)

Then I try to copy/paste this madness to a text file on my USB stick to transfer to another computer to post here, and I realise that right-clicking on my mounted USB stick comes up with ALL OF THE FOLLOWING THREE options at the bottom of a huge menu:

Unmount

Eject

Safely Remove

I thought that user interface design was one of the strengths of the GNOME project. Well, it’s still failing in some basics and it’s quite disheartening to see such design in a modern operating system in the year 2010.

PS: Using the System -> Administration -> Software Centre to remove gnome-games doesn’t do anything. Just ignores me.

Using the convoluted Synaptic package manager (what an interface! 10 buttons, 3 panes, menus, mystic “S” columns…) I was able to remove gnome-games without wiping out my GUI, even though I was warned that “gnome” would be removed too. At that point, I was past caring.

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