[Web4lib] blue sky thinking

Karen Coyle kcoyle at kcoyle.net
Thu Jul 27 11:25:17 EDT 2006

Keith D. Engwall wrote:
> Aside from having a good firewall to sit behind, what is the biggest reason against doing this in-house?
> We just put together an Ubuntu linux server for about $600 with 1 GB of RAM and 400 GB of storage space.  
Having heard many statements/arguments for using open source software, 
about a year ago I decided to do the experiment myself. I meant to keep 
notes about how long things took me, what problems I ran into, etc. but 
it was so frustrating that I just couldn't immortalize it in a fixed 
form. But it went something like this:

1) Get operating system and burn to disk. Since I was starting with a 
blank slate, I had to find a copy of the OS and get it onto a CD so I 
could install it. The particular application I was aiming at wanted that 
to be Debian. This was easy, maybe a half hour (note: I read the install 
documentation before downloading most software).

2) Insert disk and boot up. Answer install questions. Here I got stuck 
for an entire afternoon, believe it or not. First, there were lots of 
questions to which I did not know the answer, so I was back to my other 
machine to read more documentation. Then there was one menu that 
absolutely stumped me -- not because I didn't know the answer, but 
because I didn't know how to make an "x" appear before my choices. I 
moved the cursor (tab tab tab) to the right spot and typed "x" - 
nothing. I typed "a" "b" -- basically I went through the entire keyboard 
- nothing. Added "ctrl" before them - nothing. Shift - nothing. I looked 
at the online documentation. It just said "select the ones you wish to 
install." Nothing on how to select. The next day I tried again, and only 
by accident did I hit the space bar - BINGO. So I wasted 4 hours because 
nowhere did it say that the way to select an item in a menu is to use 
the space bar. OK. I got over that.

3) I now had a basic OS installed, but in order to run my app I would 
need things like MySQL, Apache, etc. I would need "packages." I have 
some experience with Red Hat (until they abandoned all of us desktop 
users), with Suse, and with something else that I don't remember now. 
Each has its own way to install software. I was on the phone to a friend 
who is quite well versed in Unix, so he offered to help me go through 
the package process. The first thing he told me to do was type 
"dselect". De-select? To get things? No, it means something like debian 
select, and you go through menus to get to a huge list of possible 
software packages to select and install. All I can remember about this 
is hours spent going through lists, selecting something I needed, only 
to get a screen saying something about dependencies, but no explanation 
of what I should DO about them. Many many hours. Eventually, I had stuff 
installed, but no idea if any of it would work. I didn't write it down, 
but this took days -- days because I would occasionally install the 
wrong thing and then want to uninstall it, or I'd go to install 
something and it would ask me questions I couldn't answer. In the end, 
the thing that always frustrates me about Unix is that I don't know 
WHERE my installed software is. There's a logic to it all, I'm sure, but 
I've yet to find a clear explanation.

4) Now I installed the app I wanted to run, although it then needed some 
changes to things like Apache, etc., to work properly. I spent another 
day or so doing all of this. In the end, I actually was able to start my 
app. But at that point I had run out of steam, and the machine has been 
turned off since then. Maybe I'll spend my summer actually getting the 
app up and running as a functioning system. Then again, maybe not.


Karen Coyle / Digital Library Consultant
kcoyle at kcoyle.net http://www.kcoyle.net
ph.: 510-540-7596
fx.: 510-848-3913
mo.: 510-435-8234

More information about the Web4lib mailing list