rtyler

Awesomely Bad

A coworker of mine, @teepark and I recently fell in love with tiling window managers, Awesome in particular. The project has been interesting to follow, to say the least. When I first installed Awesome, from the openSUSE package directory, I had version 2, it was fairly basic, relatively easy to configure and enough to hook me on the idea of a tiling window manager. After conferring with @teepark, I discovered that he had version 3 which was much better, had some new fancy features, and an incremented version number, therefore I required it.

In general, I’m a fairly competent open-source contributor and user. Autoconf and Automake, while I despise them, aren’t mean and scary to me and I’m able to work with them to fit my needs. I run Linux on two laptops, and a few workstations, not to mention the myriad of servers I’m either directly or peripherally responsible for. I grok open sources. Thusly, I was not put off by the idea of grabbing the latest “stable” tarball of Awesome to build and install it. That began my slow and painful journey to get this software built, and installed.

  • Oh, it needs Lua, I’ll install that from the repositories.
  • Hm, what’s this xcb I need, and isn’t in the repositories. I guess I’ll have to build that myself, oh but wait, there’s different subsets of xcb? xcb-util, xcb-proto, libxcb-xlib, xcb-kitchensink, etc.
  • Well, I need xproto as well, which isn’t in the repositories either.
  • CMake? Really guys? Fine.
  • ImLib2, I’ve never even heard of that!
  • libstartup-notification huh? Fine, i’ll build this too.

After compiling what felt like an eternity of subpackages, I discovered a number of interesting things about the varying versions of Awesome v3. The configuration file format has changed a few times, even between one release candidate to another. I ran across issues that other people had that effectively require recompilling X11’s libraries to link against the newly built xcb libraries in order to work (/usr/lib/libxcb-xlib.so.0: undefined reference to _xcb_unlock_io). Nothing I seemed to try worked as I might expect, if I couldn’t recompile the majority of my system to be “bleeding edge” I was screwed. The entire affair was absolutely infuriating.

There were a few major things that I think the team behind Awesome failed miserably at accomplishing, that every open source developer should consider when releasing software:

  • If you depend on a hodge-podge of libraries, don’t make your dependency on the bleeding edge of each package
  • Maintain an open dialogue with those that package your software, don’t try to make their job hell.
  • When a user cannot build your packages with the latest stable versions of their distribution without almost rebuilding their entire system, perhaps you’re “doin’ it wrong”
  • Changing file formats, or anything major between two release candidates is idiocy.
  • If you don’t actually care about your users, be sure to state it clearly, so then we don’t bother using or trying to improve your poor quality software

In the end, I decided that Haskell isn’t scary enough not to install XMonad, so I’ve started replacing machines that run Awesome, with XMonad, and I’m not looking back. Ever.