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Re: Future Direction of GNU Hurd?

From: Jonathan S. Shapiro
Subject: Re: Future Direction of GNU Hurd?
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2020 10:34:15 -0700

On Mon, Sep 14, 2020 at 11:46 PM Dr. Arne Babenhauserheide <arne_bab@web.de> wrote:
> The fundamental problem with the Hurd is the same as it has always been: it
> is a solution looking for a problem. Hurd advocates have not been able to
> clearly articulate what problem is being solved and why it is a problem
> that users should care about or be concerned about. This has been the state
> of the Hurd *for 30 years*.

This is false.

Oddly enough, I have learned to appreciate the (usually) German habit of combatively absolutist assertions on subjects that are fundamentally matters of opinion. It took me a while to become accustomed to it, but it was one of the patterns I came to enjoy in my interactions with Jochen Liedtke. I also appreciate the irony in this, since one of my failings is that I am prone to the same pattern of interaction.

Your response, unfortunately, does not provide any counter-example. I asked what problem Hurd attempts to solve that users should care about. Most of your examples are technical rather than user objectives. The exception that I see (the audio confirmation pop-up) is a security anti-pattern; it is in direct opposition to what we know about human factors design in security systems. The browsers are also getting this wrong, so perhaps they should not be our design guide.

In my opinion, a 30 year effort should not be an attempt to solve a small human problem. The justification for this type of effort demands a *large* human problem. Sometimes, humans do not recognize such problems until they are presented with a solution, which is why I framed my question as users "should" care about it.

The Hurd may have one now, but it did not have one the last time I had contact with the project. The claimed goal at that time was provably (in the formal mathematical sense) unachievable. It would be wonderful if that has changed.


I wrote clearly in 2011 where the Hurd solves real problems:

And nowadays SystemD proved that the features that the Hurd makes easy
are so compelling that they make it possible to get distributions to
sign on to constraints that would have been an absolute no-go before.

Reading that I expect your next question to be: "Why doesn’t it get
adoption then?"

The short of it:
- Audio

For Audio I hope to be able to build a sound-translator that allows
starting programs without sound access and when the program tries to
access the sound device popping up a desktop notification and/or sending
wall note that asks the user to allow access.

That’s what the browsers do, but on an OS level. You no longer need to
either trust applications not to send your microphone stream to a remote
server at any time or create dedicated users and start programs either
trusted or untrusted, and different from Windows you actually get
notifications when something tries to access audio (instead of silently
failing to work).

> I am reluctant to say something so discouraging, but when a project
> has not moved forward substantially in 30 years

This is false, too.

I used to write the Month of the Hurd before 2013 when I refocussed my
contributions on the Freenet Project to combat pervasive surveillance,
and I saw substantial steps forward every month. And this kept going.
We’re talking about a kernel, so steps might not be graphical, but it

A short story: When I was at FOSDEM a few years ago and Samuel held a
talk about the Hurd, I saw the looks of people who thought "Oh, Hurd
again didn’t move". So I asked a question: "What changed in the past 3

What followed by Samuel was a brief excerpt of huge improvements, one of
which was "you can now use subhurds without root access" which means
that in the Hurd there was no more need for anything dockerlike.

I don’t think that many people kept the feeling that Hurd isn’t moving
after getting the answer.

I can’t really blame you for thinking that the Hurd didn’t move, because
we don’t really communicate that well, and partly I’m to blame for that
because I don’t find the time in recent years to write updates. But the
Hurd is moving substantially.

If you’re still not convinced, please have a look at the News of the
Hurd up to 2013: https://www.gnu.org/software/hurd/news.html
That’s when I was still writing news entries.

Best wishes,
Unpolitisch sein
heißt politisch sein
ohne es zu merken

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