UNIX Fragmentation

Did you ever notice that while UNIX and Linux versions are uniform in most areas, there are certain areas where every system seems to do things their own way? These are the things that nobody seems satisfied with, and so has to create their own version – and thus confuse new users. From what I’ve seen these areas are:

  • Menu-based system administration tools
  • Package management
  • Locations of user-added software
  • Filesystems

The last two are not so bad – user-added software locations are generally limited to /usr/local and to /opt (if any), and filesystems don’t tend to “wander” from one UNIX to another – and managing filesystems is not done often enough to make the slight differences annoying.

The real annoyances to system administrators tends to be the first two – system administration tools and packaging. Consider these options of system administration tools for various systems:

  • smit (AIX)
  • sam (HP-UX 11v2-)
  • smh (HP-UX 11v3+)
  • yast (SUSE Linux)
  • redhat-config-* (Red Hat)
  • sysadm (Unixware)
  • webmin (portable)

This doesn’t take into account all the others – IRIX, other Linuxes, ad nauseum. What is it about system administration that every last distributor has to do it their own way? Perhaps webmin will help some, but do we really want a web server on every server? Even so, this is becoming a requirement imposed by the distributors already – so might as well standardize on webmin, right? Perhaps not….

And packaging is even worse. We have these options:

  • RPM (Red Hat)
  • pkg (Solaris)
  • depot (HP-UX)
  • dpkg (Debian)
  • pkg (Unixware)
  • Ports Tree (FreeBSD)
  • emerge (Gentoo)
  • pbi (PCBSD)
  • lrp (Linux Router Project and spinoffs)
  • packages (MacOS X)
  • ports (NetBSD)
  • ESP (portable)

What is it that people just can’t leave well enough alone? Perhaps if BSD had come out of Berkeley with these tools, things might have been different.

There is one ray of hope in this ghastly array of choices: the most flexible and powerful (in my opinion) is also portable: RPM. So all of the systems previously mentioned will also run RPM. Too bad that they won’t necessarily run APT-RPM, but that’s another problem.

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