in Education, Linux

operating systems that hold your hand too much…

I’m all in favour of making an operating system like Linux easy-to-use. Linux’s popularity means that for many users it is the only exposure to a UNIX-like operating system that they are likely to see, and that’s why it’s important to give them the best first impression of UNIX so that they’re not turned off by it. This includes being standards-compliant and introducing as few distribution-specific hacks as possible.

I bring this up in the context of shell aliases. Today I was alarmed to see the following set by default for all users on a a SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 system:

alias +='pushd .'
alias -='popd'
alias ..='cd ..'
alias ...='cd ../..'
alias beep='echo -en "07"'
alias dir='ls -l'
alias l='ls -alF'
alias la='ls -la'
alias ll='ls -l'
alias ls='/bin/ls $LS_OPTIONS'
alias ls-l='ls -l'
alias md='mkdir -p'
alias o='less'
alias rd='rmdir'
alias rehash='hash -r'
alias unmount='echo "Error: Try the command: umount" 1>&2; false'
alias which='type -p'
alias you='yast2 online_update'

I get very alarmed when I see default behaviour set like this. There are a number of issues with this:

  1. It misleads new users by making them believe the behaviour of “ls” and other commands is different than what the actual default behaviour is.
  2. It introduces a set of commands to the user (e.g. “rehash”) that don’t really exist in the shell, leading to confusion if the user goes to use another UNIX machine without these aliases.
  3. It misleads users into believing that some DOS commands also exist in the Bash shell (e.g. “rd” or “md”). Rather than encouraging them to learn the correct commands, these aliases provide a crutch to the user that they are unlikely to discard. They may then use this incorrect information when describing procedures to other users. This would particularly be disastrous in an interview type situation (e.g. “Q: What is the correct command to make a directory under UNIX?”)

All of these aliases are unnecessary and imply that the personal shell alias preferences of SUSE developers are being imposed upon all users.

I would like this to serve as a call to all distribution vendors, SUSE particularly, to not ship Linux with unnecessary customizations that only serve to confuse users and introduce disparity between Linux distributions where none originally existed.

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