There really is something wrong with Automatix

August 4, 2007

Finally, an actual analysis of what’s wrong with Automatix. I’ve never used the thing, but I’ve been amazed at continuously seeing blanket condemnations followed up by neither detail nor refutation. The comments on the report and elsewhere echo the same line that the earlier condemnations always received – ‘It solves a need.’ People also seem to like to raise the inappropriate dichotomy of ‘pragmatism vs perfectionism’ or ‘usability vs. ideological purity.’

The fact is that most of this stuff was never that hard to install. (And I have a feeling that in those freak times when normal procedures screw things up, Automatix will just screw them up worse.) For most of Ubuntu’s brief history, you could find clear and concise instructions for everything Automatix does at ubuntuguide. Surprisingly, there are still quite a few people trying to get the word out about ubuntuguide to stubborn Automatix defenders, like the guy who said:

when i started with ubuntu i thought automatix was a godsend. i still use it. if automatix is dangerous, then i ask the developers, board members, forum moderators, etc to post a guide to the forums that shows newbies how to install everything that automatix installs. people need something like automatix. please address that need if automatix is harmful.

The fact is, that as of Feisty, I can think of nothing for which one needs Automatix or ubuntuguide. The ubuntu-restricted-extras provide most things, the rest is available through Medibuntu, the default Gnome installation provides nice little dialogues which make everything dirt simple, and it’s all documented in the official Community Docs. (Start here)

I should think that one of the tasks for the documentation teams, in addition to bringing in all of the blog post howtos, is figuring out a strategy to combat the persistence of outdated information on the web – especially in light of the rapid release schedule, and the fact that much of what changes is default or official ways of doing things. With each Ubuntu release, there’s less and less need for these sorts of hacks to get common tasks done, and yet they never die, leaving users with a mishmash of advice, and the potential (or rather likelihood) to render unusable what is actively being shaped to be more usable than whatever came before it.

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