A look at Gobo Linux

I came across an interesting Linux distro today, called GoboLinux. Gobo brings about a radical change in the way your filesystem is organized. Instead of having your programs scattered all over, Gobo organizes the filesystem in a much more sane manner (because lets face it, there may be a method to the madness that is the Linux filesystem, but for most purposes, it’s still madness). In Gobo, doing an  ls /  will give you:

Programs
Users
System
Files
Mount
Depot

You can easily tell whats going to be where. For example the /Programs directory has… well all your Programs! But the best part is, if you had two versions of Foo, they’d be in /Programs/Foo/1.0/ and /Programs/Foo/2.0/. In effect, the filesystem is now your package manager. Thats a really cool way of looking at package management. You install a program into /Programs (Gobo comes with a nice path-agnostic compilation system called “Compile”), and then if you want to uninstall, just delete its directory. Want to know which program a file “belongs” to? That’s natural as well, with this hierarchy.

Of course everything cannot possibly be so simple, and Gobo has an uglier side. First of course, the filesystem-as-package-manager cannot by itself deal with dependencies. Compile handles dependencies, but if you’re going to slap a package manager on top anyway, then you’ve lost some of the elegance you gained with this new filesystem hierarchy.

What’s worse is that Gobo needs to litter all the directories with symlinks to handle shared files, etc. What’s even worse is that Gobo still maintains the the traditional hierarchy alongside the new one! Without it, they would go straight to compatibility hell. So they still have /usr and friends, but these are now symlinks to their Gobo counterparts. They’ve even made a kernel extension (called GoboHide) to hide this ugly underbelly from your eyes (GoboHide is not strictly required, it’s only for hiding the traditional hierarchy).

I can’t help get the feeling that I’ve been sent back to square one :). Of course, that’s not really true, and my gripes are aesthetic more than anything else. Gobo really has done something pretty innovative. But wouldn’t it have been easier to just use fuse to achieve the same goal? Don’t touch the filesystem hierarchy, don’t make a new distro, just make a filesystem with fuse, that acts as a different “view” of all your files.

I admit I haven’t thought too much about it, but it seems possible to extend this to a package manager that would masquerade as a filesystem. You would certainly be able to get the /Programs coolness, and an rm -rf /Programs/Foo/1.0, would uninstall version 1.0 of Foo. You might even be able to manage dependencies within the confines of the filesystem-as-package-manager paradigm. On the other hand, it could just be a hook into an existing package manager, and still provide many of the advantages of Gobo. Food for thought, and perhaps for an interesting project at some point in the future!

As far as Gobo itself goes, I think its great that they’ve done something so innovative, and I wish them luck. Only problem is, a nicer filesystem hierarchy is not by itself a strong enough motivation to switch distros (especially since I’m perfectly happy with my package manager). Maybe as Gobo matures it’ll be worth looking at again.

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~ by hellfeuer on March 26, 2008.

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