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Re: [olpc-software] On installing software

On Tue, 2006-03-28 at 21:30 +0100, Mike Hearn wrote:
> OK, so here are some more thoughts :)

Thanks a lot for an insightful mail! Sorry for not snipping a lot of
your reply; feel free to snip from my message if replying though...

> Firstly a couple of cosmetic issues - why LaptopSoftwareManager instead 
> of a more generic name? It might be useful elsewhere (though I 
> appreciate that this raises interesting political issues). 

Yea, names are difficult to choose, I'm not attached to the name
LaptopSoftwareManager but I have a slight affection for StuddlyCaps and
all the die-hard UNIX people hate me for it :-). Naming is just

> The ".app" 
> extension is already in use by MacOS X and ROX Filer, and people who 
> wish to distribute cross-platform software on the same media might find 
> that a bit annoying. A wider name might be better as you could use such 
> bundles for themes, screensavers, wallpaper packs, etc - stuff that is 
> "software" but not an application. 


> Maybe .software .bundle  .box etc?

Yea, .bundle sounds good to me.

> I question /usr/local instead of /usr for software :) Historically 
> installing "non distro stuff" to /usr has prompted massive flamewars, 


> IMHO out of all proportion to its importance, given that it's just a 
> file path. Nonetheless this involves adapting possibly large numbers of 
> programs and even libraries. Why not use /usr


 1. /usr is on flash, we don't want to wear that out with writing

 2. /usr and / will probably be mounted read-only and we really never
    want to modify these as it makes core OS upgrades harder (this is
    where we want to ship binary deltas)

 3. I like that a reboot completely rebuilds the forest of symlinks;
    it's sorta inline with the appliance thinking: "if the damn box
    doesn't work, just turn it off and it starts working again" [1]

[1] : Sure, LaptopSoftwareManager should be able to work on /usr and
have enough brains to start with a target of existing symlinks...

>  - the daemon doing the 
> symlinking can ensure nothing is overwritten or modified, and it solves 
> the problem of needing to modify lots of software.

But there is not a lot of software on OLPC.. sure, for usage on other a
normal Linux distribution this might not be the case... but I'm pretty
sure you can get those "look in /usr/local too" patches upstream, don't

> PINs? Why PINs over more easily remembered passwords?  :)

Oh, I'm just trying to provoke discussion about how and if we should do
auth at all (if someone wants to discuss how and if to auth, please
start a new thread though)

> The problem of malware, stopping programs installing software themselves 
> etc is a ridiculously deep one .... why would a program need to trigger 
> the installation of another program if it can just include the malware 
> itself, for instance? Why not just screw around with the .bashrc or the 
> session manager or gconf? To prevent applications installing other 
> applications (which might be a desirable feature in some cases!) I don't 
> think we need any user interaction - DBUS security policy can be used to 
> say things like "Nautilus can whitelist apps, the 'Manage 3rd Party 
> Software' applet can whitelist apps, nothing else can". X security can 
> stop programs trying to "remote control" other apps (though there are 
> other possible attacks).

Right. Yes. Outside OLPC there might be requirements to be able to lock
this down and a pipe dream of mine is to get Fedora to use this too [2]

[2] : I really like Fedora Extras. I do. It's wonderful and useful. But
I think that ideas like AppDir packaging against a known platform makes
a ton of sense too.

> File conflicts are a tricky problem but one that's important to deal 
> with IMHO, given that there would be no sysadmins around to fix things 
> when they go splat :) My proposal involved a "stack" of software, but 
> that's more an artifact of how union mounts work than anything else. If 
> you look at the files that actually need to be linked to /usr/local then 
> they are only files important for desktop integration - icons, menu 
> entries, online help and so on. The applications private files don't 
> matter. In many cases the actual file names on disk don't matter either, 
> for instance .desktop files can be totally randomized and GNOME doesn't 
> care. So the daemon could easily randomize some filenames as they are 
> symlinked to reduce the problem of conflicts. Library sonames are a much 
> harder issue, but that's what the platform is for. And executables 
> probably don't matter as their name is only meaningful to humans for 
> end-user apps, so they could be tagged with -1 -2 -3 etc by the daemon 
> (or not symlinked at all, and then the user has to tab complete the path 
> to the appdir).

Yea... tagging with -1, -2, -3 sounds like a good way to reference count
usage of /usr/local/lib/libSomeSharedLibrary.so.1.2.3. Would be
interesting if the packed shared objects doesn't match even when the
name matches :-)

> On dependencies - I'm not sure duplicating package manager dependency 
> checking logic in such a daemon would be a good idea. There are several 
> models of dependency checking, some radically different to others. For 
> instance autopackage has a very rich dependency checking API, which 
> scans the system looking for clues as to what interfaces are actually 
> implemented autoconf-style. That's very different to something like 
> dpkg! One way to solve this is to say that OLPC apps cannot have 
> [library] dependencies at all, this is what MacOS X does and it's end 
> users love it as it's so simple. On the other hand this can be  
> inefficient and we have tighter efficiency constraints and more modular 
> libraries.

Yea, it's very very tempting to say just that, cf. that we have plans to
provide an ABI stable platform as I mentioned here


I say we just do that... sure, we trade some efficiency and bandwidth
for the very desirable goal of not having dependency checking. And
specifically for OLPC I don't see a lot of apps installed on the laptops
sharing libraries and frameworks anyway...

What do other people think here?

> What to do about dependencies is connected to how appdirs are 
> distributed. You suggest a .app.tar.gz format, but:
> a] IMHO .tar.gz is a poor archive format :) You can't randomly seek to a 
> given file like you can with .zip, and gzip is not good compression 
> compared to LZMA.
> b] You'd end up redefining RPM/dpkg but using META-INF entries instead 
> of headers/whatever dpkg uses (in fact .debs are tarballs aren't they?), 
> and not gain much.
> c] Such a thing would be OLPC specific, reducing the efficiencies of the 
> mass market and making it harder for Joe Linux Developer to contribute 
> (he'd need to take time to develop a package for a platform he probably 
> doesn't have).
> I think there's nothing wrong with representing apps as appdirs 
> internally, and that'd be quite convenient. And when you know you're 
> swapping stuff with another OLPC laptop user you can of course just 
> transfer the appdir directly.  I'm less convinced it's the right format 
> for general purpose distribution. Apple took this approach and ended up 
> with piles of hacks (internet enabled dmgs, safe content, etc) and they 
> don't have to worry about a fragmented distro space or dependencies! 
> Nowadays much of Apples own software comes in their .pkg format, which 
> is a simplistic equivalent to RPM.
> So what I'd propose is some intermediate format that is recognised as an 
> AppDir, then converted to an _actual_ expanded appdir as it's being 
> installed by LaptopSoftwareManager. That appdir can then be moved 
> around, deleted, shared over the network, sent to other users etc as is 
> wanted. The intermediate format could be anything - rpm, deb, 
> autopackage, zip file, tarball .... this email is a bit long already but 
> here are what I think the selection criteria should be:
> * Already existing. Seriously, a container for software is not a very 
> complex thing, the hard parts are how to manage its interaction with 
> other containers and what's inside the container :) Any new format would 
> have to reinvent most of that, so there'd need to be a clearly 
> demonstrated gain.
> * IMHO they should work for users of "normal" Linux distributions too. 
> It's just a gut feeling but I think there would be more software usable 
> on the laptop if developers can simply be told "do what you normally do, 
> but faster and with fewer resources" rather than requiring them to set 
> up VMs, complex SDKs, etc. That means maximizing their return on 
> investment, eg, the more users can hit with their work the better.
> * It should be easy to evolve as eg, better compression algorithms are 
> invented, the platform is modified, mistakes are made and must be worked 
> around ....
> * Should be nice for end users and developers, have nice tools and GUIs etc.
> I'd argue that autopackage meets all those criteria, no surprises there, 
> but it could be argued that other formats would too.

So... would I be able to take an autopackage and expand it into an
AppDir for this LaptopSoftwareManager we are discussing? Because, if
that's the case then it's great and we are a long way already...


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