the filesystem hierarchy of modern operating systems

Björn Ottervik bjorn.ottervik at
Sun Jan 14 19:24:14 UTC 2007

On Mon, 2007-01-15 at 02:02 +0900, Arwyn Hainsworth wrote:
> On 14/01/07, Jonathon Anderson <anderbubble at> wrote:
> > Ubuntu developers:
> >
> > Why is the specification mentioned in [
> >
> > ] and [
> >
> > ] "oft-rejected"? Granted, these proposals are not very thought-out or
> > defined, but it seems like the kind of user-centric design decision that is
> > Ubuntu's foundation. I understand the benefits of the Filesystem Hierarchy
> > Standard (such as minimal-mount booting and interoperability through
> > standards-compliance) but these seem more like barriers-to-entry for an
> > otherwise ideal system: problems to be solved, not reasons to stay
> > entrenched.
> >
> > I think back to my gradual acceptance of OS-X. A staunch Windows user, I was
> > completely taken aback by the lack of "Add/Remove Programs," let alone
> > "C:\".
> >
> > As I became more familiar with Linux, I began asking myself "what is
> > '/etc'?" or "if I make a webpage, where do I put the .html files?" or "what
> > is the difference between '/bin', '/usr/bin', and 'usr/local/bin'?" (It took
> > me days to figure out what "usr" even meant!)
> >
> > I looked up the FHS on Wikipedia (and the subsequent links) and finally
> > understood the point of it all. Still, when I later used a Mac (as I
> > sporadically do) I realized that there was something more: "/Applications"
> > (et. all.)
> >
> > There's another side to this issue: atomic packages. I think back to my
> > Windows days: dll hell... untraceable files installed everywhere... the
> > registry... an unmanageable melting pot of binaries that could only be
> > cleaned out by periodically re-installing the operating system from scratch.
> >
> > I don't have this same problem on Ubuntu, but it's not because the problem
> > doesn't exist. In fact, I think the fileystem hierarchy in Ubuntu is way
> > worse from this angle. A program gets installed in /usr/bin, /usr/lib, /etc,
> > and who knows where else. It's manageable because there is a system (apt)
> > that keeps track of it all for you, but that makes package-management a
> > monolithic, cathedral task that is very isv-unfriendly.
> >
> > I believe that the adoption of the ideals presented by "GoboLinux" [
> > ] are a necessary component of the evolution of a
> > consumer-level desktop os (as opposed to an enterprise-level server os).
> >
> > Granted, this seems to be a consistently-rejected idea, and there must be a
> > reason for it. Still, in my reading, I have found no document explaining,
> > from the Ubuntu perspective, why this "oft-rejected specification" is, in
> > fact, oft-rejected.
> >
> > Comments are greatly appreciated.
> >
> Two reasons:
> 1) Prohibitive cost. It would require large changes to the Debian
> packages and a lot of extra testing to implement.
> 2) No real benefits. The only plus this would provide is a
> Non-educated-user-understandable file system. The atomicity of
> applications is an illusion that will quickly disappear once you
> delete a dependency.
> While a non-educated-user understandable file system would be nice, it
> is a problem that can wait. User-installable packages would be higher
> on my wish-list.
> Mind you, there is a way to kill two bird with one stone: having file
> locations determined by meta-data as opposed to having them hard-wired
> into a tar-ball. This approach also has it's share of problems,
> including a high development cost, but at least it has more benefits
> than changing the FHS.
> Arwyn.
(short comment on non-educated users)
I think theme might be a need to ask what an uneducated user is. Someone
who realy is uneducated couldnt care less, since he or she should never
traverse anything other than ~ anyway; besides /media that is, but that
sort of user wouldnt ever know CDROMs mounted outside ~, or even
understand the concepts of 'mounting' or 'home' in the first place.
(back on topic)
The problem is only for above average windows users, and even then, I
wonder if the problem isnt more about unlearning and relearning than one
system being better than the other. (Mind you, i prefer the Unix
filesystem layout to the
throw-stuff-into-the-air-and-let-it-fall-as-it-may approach of Windows.)

Package managers makes this more or less a nonissue from the users
perspective anyway, as has already been said. Using a packagemanager to
manage- and browse your installed applications (much like the Windows
Add/Remove panel, btw) instead of a filemanager is realy just using
diffrent tools for doing the same thing, with packagemanagers being more
capable and powerfull than anything you can do by hand with a
I think the reason this isnt worked is that there is no pressing need
for such a change.

/Björn Ottervik

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