Ok, Grandpa Willie only cares about support for his doodad. Why do
you conclude that he should never build a kernel?
It's just as easy in principle to write a friendly front-end that
downloads sources and compiles them, as one that downloads binaries.
The obstacle is reliability, because there are more things that can
go wrong. But imagine for a moment that this is overcome. What
benefits might accrue from Willie compiling his own kernels (even if
he doesn't realize it)?
- It's easier for third-parties to provide kernel software in source
form than in binary form (because binaries must be in the correct
package format, and be compiled with the right config options, and
adhere to the particular distribution's conventionts; whereas
source is relatively neutral). Why should Willie be limited to
getting his kernels from his vendor? What if his vendor doesn't
support the Flangelistic2000 SuperDoodad yet, but there's a solid
driver available from a volunteer? What if he hears the hype
(sorry) about the low latency patch, and decides he wants to try
it (maybe his MP3's skip when Netscape thrashes)? Why take the
choice out of Willie's hands? And why keep a willing tester and a
developer apart? (If you claim that novice users don't want to
install random beta software--that contradicts my experience with
lots of Windows users!)
- It's a system that experts are likely to use as well, because
there's a lot of overlap between this system and what experts
want. A nice front-end to browse and manage kernel versions,
patches, and drivers; to download, configure, compile and install
them? I might use that. Such a system helps more people, and
thus attracts more developers. It's more likely to become common
infrastructure, instead of a distribution-specific one-off.
- It makes it easier for Willie's hacker grandson to help him.
Hackers know all about compiling kernels, but aren't as likely to
be familiar with the distribution's binary packaging. The more we
all do things the same way, the more we can help each other; when
different groups use different tools, the community is fragmented.
- It can support a graceful transition from beginner to expert.
Suppose one day, for whatever reason, Willie really does need to
change a compile-time option. Or, heaven forbid, he gets curious
about what his computer is doing when the status line says
"compiling". He's already got all the pieces he needs. Ideally,
he just needs to click on that scary "Advanced options" button.
- Building from source is good karma.
You might think these are trifles and < 1% cases. My intuition
tells me that they add up in the long run. At least it's worth
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