A bad Linux day

Yesterday was a bad GNU/Linux day. I was getting angry, and I rarely get angry. Every once in a while, I type “apt-get upgrade” and everything goes to hell. Like the print server's ability to print from PDF. Right when I'm trying to print last-minute boarding passes, confirmation pages for hotels and rental cars, directions from the airport, etc.

I of course found workarounds, then in some cases had to work around the workarounds. But in all it took about 3 hours to figure out what was going on and get 10 pages printed. Something was broken in how CUPS talks to ‘pdftops’, causing it to hang. There were recent security updates to CUPS, but when I downgraded it, the problem persisted. It's still not fixed, but I found and subscribed to a probably-relevant entry on bugs.debian.org.

I guess I use Debian ‘stable’ so that this sort of thing happens very rarely. The frustration had me questioning my commitment to GNU/Linux and other free software. But of course it's not that simple: what I treasure is the hackability, and so some instability is inevitable. Even on a Mac, I'm likely to access unsanctioned functionality with “sudo vi /etc/cups/cupsd.conf” or whatever, but this kind of customization rarely survives updates.

I suppose the solution is to take updates more seriously, evaluating them the way a business would: apply them only when there's sufficient time to run a systematic set of regression tests.

©20022015 Christopher League