rants: Tue Dec 2 22:49:00 2014

Tue Dec 2 22:49:00 2014

C privilege

Previously I went on at length about the flaws in the language-based package manager model; coincidentally I got to see some of the background/sausage-making1 of a Debian attempt to reconcile certain pip vs. dpkg issues. While I have a lot of respect for the people involved and the effort they're putting in to the problem, I stood (quietly) by my belief that the whole space is wrong... and then a digression about C led someone2 to state that

it could be argued that distros packaging is the C package manager

which collided with a few other ideas floating around in my head:

All of this clicked into shape as a pattern of privilege - not to coopt the language of the very real problems the industry faces, but just to look at the "anti-pattern" of the conflict between distro and language package management from a perspective that makes some sense of why language package managers refuse to die off - it's not just that the people who work on them are persistent and/or stubborn. Certainly it turns the question around: given all the other language-specific package managers, where is the C one? And, as with social privilege, once you start looking for it, you realize that maybe "you're soaking in it" - and that Unix has been, since the 1970's, an extended support system for the C language, so of course any "distro packaging system" is going to be heavily C-program biased.

Now is that a helpful epiphany? It has the initial smell of "reduced to a previously unsolved problem", but it does suggest that attempting to credit C with it's proper share of the packaging burden might be productive; that leads to the idea that instead of "why would a language have anything intelligent to say about where files get installed" that in fact, the language may have one set of things to say, and the distro has a different set of things to say, and while we need them to mesh, they are more likely (today) to grind. It also suggests the fun mental exercise of considering a world, perhaps not without C but one where you assume your language of choice (yes, Python) as a starting point - maybe not as deeply special as the Lisp Machine, but it could still lead to some implementable insight.

  1. "If you like law, or sausage, best not watch them being made" - not actually said by Otto von Bismarck, according to wikiquote

  2. Pretty sure it was @schmichael but I could be mistaken.