Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2022/ Upgrade Consistency

Upgrade Consistency

This week I upgraded my netbook from Debian 10 ("Buster") to Debian 11 ("Bullseye"). Overall the upgrade went smoothly. When it completed I felt as if I was using the same computer, with the same programs, in much the same way. Even Firefox stayed mostly consistent. I appreciated that I would get extended security coverage without having to relearn all my programs.

One thing broke: wicd depends on Python 2, and so was not packaged in the latest release of Debian. I had to switch to network-manager instead, which was a downgrade.

Upgrades are stressful. Things break and then you have to fix them. Having user interface changes forced upon you feels bad. Sometimes I consciously make a change (such as when I switched from screen to tmux) but when I make such changes I want them to be my choice, not the choice of some design nerds deciding that skeuomorphic icons are out and flat icons are in. I understand that sometimes change is beneficial, and that using 15 year old .vimrc files makes me a dinosaur, but I feel that having consistent user interfaces is a feature, not a bug. When I am expected to revamp my workflow because I want security updates, then I am serving my computer, and not the other way around.

I think this was behind a lot of the pushback against systemd. Linux users were used to having choice and stability in their init systems, and then most of the major distributions made a decision they were going to adopt this new ecosystem, and the job of the users was to live with it. systemd may or may not be a good ecosystem to adopt, but having that forced upon us was unpleasant and (I feel) unnecessary.

The Windows world is weird. On the one hand the backend supports ancient APIs that should probably go away. On the other the frontend changes with every new version of Windows, and often the changes are obnoxious. I do not hate Windows 10, but I hate Cortana and the increased surveillance and Candy Crush advertising in my start menu. I know that for many users the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 10 was stressful. I find that many users find even small interface changes a real hassle. Web apps are notorious for this -- changed its interface a while ago, and boy did it cause headaches for the people I support.

I am shielded from much of this hassle because I use Linux, which lets me use boring old tools that have been around forever. Maybe if I used a modern desktop like KDE I would have to deal with more churn, but I use a boring window manager with a boring terminal and boring terminal-based programs, and for the most part they stay stable even as they gain features. I still dread major upgrades, and sometimes I am forced to overhaul my workflows, but overall the upgrade experience is better.