Saturday, February 5, 2011

Listen to your Package Manager - It Knows what it is Talking About!

Many people instinctively click through any popup window that appears on their screen when they are trying to accomplish a task. A good deal of these people do not even read the message that is presented to them, they simply look for the Close/OK/Next/Yes button so they can move on with what they are trying to do on their computer. I am fairly certain this behavior has been ingrained into the minds of the masses from having to deal with popup windows when surfing the internet, popups are distracting and are almost never useful.

Almost never.

There was an issue with one of the repositories that Bodhi uses this week. Even thought we are based around Ubuntu 10.04, some of the backporting the team does causes some core Ubuntu packages for 10.04 to no longer be compatible. Not a big deal, we roll our own for these few packages.

One thing we had not counted on was the few backports Ubuntu provides to it's LTS releases and this week one of these backports was the package xserver-xorg-video-geode. As you might have guessed this is one of those packages that is no longer backwards compatibly with Bodhi. In fact, if you went to upgrade this package via apt-get or one of it's GUI front end such as Synaptic you would be presented with a warning message telling you that installing this new package may break your system along with a list of conflicting packages that would be removed (nearly the entire system).

Thats a pretty good warning message, I wasn't terribly concerned about getting this one package corrected right away - I had other more pressing things to work on.

Boy was that a mistake!

Even with the cryptic message about the package possibly breaking your system and only to proceed if you knew exactly what you where doing - I was contacted by half a dozen people who where all wondering why their system was no longer functioning. I didn't realize what they had all done at first, but once I pieced it together I decided it was worth the half hour it was going to take for me to get a Bodhi compatible version of this xorg package into the repository.

The moral of my little story here? Listen to your package manager! (that and I need to stay on top of the lucid backports a little bit better) Whenever you are doing anything on a GNU/Linux system that requires the root password you should be sure to understand everything that is going to be done to the system before agreeing to it. This can save you a lot of headaches and broken machines down the line!

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Have to agree with this article. Package managers issue warnings for a reason, and warning messages are sometimes critical. Whenever I 'apt-get dist-upgrade', I pay close attention to the listings of packages that the command wants to remove.

    I had this problem on LMDE: I saw that an upgrade to most of the video drivers was going to remove my whole desktop, along with half of my console system, practically breaking everything I had installed. Thankfully I saw the volume of packages to be removed, so I just typed 'N' at the prompt and did an 'apt-get upgrade' instead, which doesn't resolve dependencies but rather just updates the packages that don't force new installations or remove packages already installed.

    Package management is serious matter. Heed the warnings before clicking "OK" or "Continue".

  2. Not reading pop-ups is Windows' users syndrome, where 99.9% of popups are a nag.
    As far as I know, Linux does warn you when you really are to be warned.
    ...and we learned to read.

  3. I know. People are blinded by the fact that Windows viruses are called "computer" viruses, when they really affect only one easily-replaceable component of the computer -- the operating system -- and only the Windows operating system. They therefore are paranoid about popups and think they are all about harming their computer, not realizing that it actually does give you a real -- *not* fake -- warning.

  4. This drives me insane.
    My wife still uses WiNdOwS, and while my "tech support" stuff for her is nominal (I escaped WiNdOwS after WIN98) I will help her out by offering advice, although not actually using/touching her computer.
    Up pops a window, which she closes immediately.
    I ask her what the pop-up said, she doesn't know.
    The funny thing is that she's an ex-WiNdOwS programmer, so she should know better.

  5. I agree that the information is clear and valuable, but many people probably don't know or care what an xorg is; the warning makes no sense to non-tech people. When does the removal of a package matter and when is it a trivial issue, when it's all gibberish to a non-techy?

  6. @left.crupps I thin the message "warning may cause irreversible damage to your system" is pretty clear to anyone who can read :-/

  7. sounds like the update was poorly designed to fail and shouldn't have made it to the repo in the first place

  8. Sounds like you only glazed the post ;)

  9. I'm not the anonymous poster above, but I would have to agree with him. I understand that it's not your fault that the update got into the upstream repos, but part of the responsibility of running a distro is making sure updates like that don't end up making it out to your users.

    Not saying that we always succeed at that goal, but I think it was a mistake to ignore the problem when you first saw it and assume your users would make the correct decision (speaking as a system administrator who has done the same thing and regretted it).

  10. Hi

    What caught me out (once!) was when the package manager failed to download all the packages & asked 'do you want to proceed anyway.' Clicking yes caused real problems as some dependencies were not upgraded breaking a few things (including X windows). Fortunately I was able to fix this from a terminal.

  11. This brings up two problems with the package manager. First, it is asking a question that some users are not qualified to answer. Second, there is no undo button if they answer wrong.