Originally Published: Friday, 25 August 2000 Author: Hugo Rabson
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Children of the Kernel

In late January 2000, I took apart a Linux-Mandrake CD's install engine and filesystem to see how it worked. I thought perhaps it would be possible to create a CD, which would install Linux and Windows at the same time. My boss had recently helped me to create a CD which used Norton Ghost to install Windows in about ten minutes; however, at that time, Ghost did not support the ext2 filesystem. I therefore decided to write a GPL'd product which would do the job.

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In late January 2000, I took apart a Linux-Mandrake CD's install engine and filesystem to see how it worked. I thought perhaps it would be possible to create a CD, which would install Linux and Windows at the same time. My boss had recently helped me to create a CD which used Norton Ghost to install Windows in about ten minutes; however, at that time, Ghost did not support the ext2 filesystem. I therefore decided to write a GPL'd product which would do the job.

My wife would not let me have a computer at home, in case I over-worked. (She was right: I would have.) So, I developed Mondo at work. My boss liked the idea of a program, which would let us 'Ghost' Windows and Linux on to a newly-built PC. My boss's boss said I could use the company's facilities to develop the product. Mondo Rescue had begun.

I was running a small computer store full-time, which meant my programming activities, might at any time have been interrupted by a colleague or a customer, on the phone or in person. What is more, I had to contend with the bug reports, comments and congratulations that came flooding in as soon as I published the product on Freshmeat.net.

That was a fun time. Sure, I was working twelve-hour days with no completion date in sight, but the users told me I was doing something new, something no-one had ever done before. I admit, I was pretty pleased with myself.

Now, in August 2000, Mondo Rescue can backup and restore Linux, Lin/Win and even Windows-only PCs. I have used it to backup my own (Red Hat Linux) PC, the store's (Windows-only) cash register, and some customers' PCs as well. In each case, the CD will restore the source PC's entire filesystem to another PC. It will even set up the boot sector for multiple OS'es.

This essay is not designed as an extended boast. Mondo has its strengths and weaknesses, like any other software. I am merely making clear the fact that Mondo works, largely thanks to the valuable feedback from dozens of talented individuals who have had problems with Mondo, picked it apart, reported/fixed bugs and even submitted patches to be rolled into the next release.

These few, these happy few, have helped to stop Mondo from being yet another mediocre attempt at a GPL'd disaster-recovery program for Linux. Doug Nordwall, Steve Pitts, Adam Sleight, Rick Haskin and John Harrison deserve special mention. A (hopefully) complete list of contributors can be found at http://www.microwerks.net/~hugo/thankyou.html

However, since early June, the helpful patches and bug-fixing ideas have stopped coming. The authors of the original patches have continued to correspond with me, giving me valuable feedback. I am not suggesting they are doing anything wrong by not scurrying around my code, looking for ways to make it harder, faster, cheaper, smoother, etc. I am suggesting that I am not getting new patches from new users.

This leads me to believe that Mondo is, on the whole, working; and the only users still having problems are those with esoteric hardware and those who still think using a potato to power a lamp is pretty cool. (No offense, Debian users.)

The latter users bug me the most. They are shortsighted, stubborn and complacent. Unfortunately, there are more of them on the way. These users have tired of the instability and general suckiness of Windows. They:-

  • saw Linux on ZDTV
  • liked it and asked a colleague about it
  • bought a CD from Amazon or possibly BestBuy
  • threw it into their PC
  • realized Windows really isn't that bad, especially if you you're not computer literate
Everyone knows by now that the Linux kernel started out as the pet project of a college kid in Finland. Hundreds of truly, madly, deeply cool Linux apps are developed in people's free time. Sometimes they are commercial projects with GPL'd spin-offs but most of the really neat code to enter the Kingdom of Torvalds comes from people who do it because they feel they have something to contribute to the community... or maybe just because they feel like it.

Be nice to them or they'll stop. They surely ain't doing it to please you. I can't be the only software developer to get e-mail saying things like:-

"Your program sounds like a really cool idea, if only I could get it to work. ;-p When I run it, it bombs out & says something about not being able to find some files. I'm running an AMD computer. What do I do?"

If the Linux community is to survive, it must educate these new users in etiquette. They must be taught to appreciate the fact that much of the software they take for granted came to them for free. Just as are forefathers sacrificed for our freedom, new Linux users need to be reminded that thousands of man-hours were spent perfecting the software they are now using; they should thank Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox, Richard Stallman et al in their /etc/cron.daily prayers.

The best way for these new users to be taught the true cost of GPL'd software - the cost to the developers! - is to encourage them to write their own software. When they realize how difficult it is to write a program which runs well on all major Linux distributions, they will be better users for it. Who knows? They might contribute more to the community than any of us could have imagined.

At the very least, new users could learn how to report bugs via bug buddy, bugzilla, etc. They could send encouragement and thanks to developers. Perhaps someone could write an Automated Thanking Machine, which sent a virtual bouquet of flowers to the developer of the package of your choice...

Hugo Rabson manages a small computer store near Nashville, TN. He has been using Linux since 1997, has been married to Jeanette since 1998, and recently convinced his boss to put, "Yes! We support Linux!" in the company's Yellow Pages ad

This article originally appeared at www.osopinion.com and is published under the open content license.





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