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RE: How well does CVS handle other types of data?

From: Ralph Mack
Subject: RE: How well does CVS handle other types of data?
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2001 00:21:31 -0400

> It is the build system and the configuration management tools which give
> project managers the ability to reliably reproduce products from known
> sources.  All CVS does is keep track of the related source code
> revisions necessary to produce such a reliable repeatable build.

And for many projects on Linux make _is_ the build system and CVS _is_ the
software configuration management (SCM) package. Over the past three months,
most of the people who come to this list are looking for SCM, not patch
management. CVS has all of the basic characteristics to support it, with a
few weak spots. It even deals with binary files just as badly (well, maybe
a little worse) than the other contenders do.

In answer to another person's question, the most serious issue with binary
files isn't the disk space that they take up. I think I read on this list
that CVS reads the whole file into memory before taking it apart. If so, it
more a question of how much virtual memory you have on your system. This
that one day you go to checkout the file and it simply won't work any more.
Having more memory on the machine just postpones that day. If you are going
to store images in CVS, they should be relatively small images that change

I think the overarching argument is just a variant of a classic debate that
has gone on for at least as long as I've been writing code professionally.
a) Do you build an all-encompassing environment, optimized to be convenient
   typical use but difficult to coerce into unanticipated patterns, or
b) do you build an environment that provides an integration platform for a
   of independent programs that both permits and requires the user to cobble
   together to make precisely what they want?
The former is Win98/WinNT/Win2000 and the latter is Unix/Linux/etc.

I think most users want an environment that provides all typical use
easily out of the box but permits (but doesn't require) them to go behind
facade to cobble together something more if desired. Most users are very
people. They don't want a learning curve. If I need a manual to use a
program, my first instinct is to return it to the dealer. I expect to be
productive with a tool within ten minutes of first encountering it without
documentation. If I were to take that approach with Linux, I'd have to stop
using it entirely.

I think a lot of people wish, because Linux is free, that it would offer
a cost-free alternative to Windows with roughly the same kind of user
It doesn't. Windows is a very good environment for busy people who just want
get things done using the computer but have no love of learning about
or customizing how it does things. Linux is still very much a hacker's
If you have a hunger to know all about how to get the most out of the tools
available to you and are eager to spend time cobbling them together into
tailor-made for the work environment you envision, Linux is home. And CVS is
so very Linux.

I would love to see a host of open source projects layered over the existing
tools to fulfill the desires of all those Windows users and force Bill and
his cronies into retirement. One good candidate is a GUI SCM tool to
the setup, administration, and use of CVS, layering over CVS as CVS once
over RCS, possibly providing some of the features that CVS is missing. This
would be a lot easier if CVS provided a few extra hooks for such tools.
the repository is transparent, RCS formats are so well-documented, and the
has full access to CVSROOT and everything in it, maybe the hooks wouldn't
even be
necessary. I haven't spec'd it - I'm just speculating. I'm sure it would cut
down traffic on the list; the reason the same requests keep coming up is
a lot of people want them.

Along these lines, does anybody know if there is an initiative underway to
the XFree86 clipboard become as useful on Linux as the clipboard on Windows?
initiative to specify GUI consistency standards, perhaps by creating a
"logo"? If these problems were solved, Linux would _begin_ to be a viable
workstation environment. As it is, it is no better at collaboration between
independently-developed GUI apps than Ultrix or OSF/1 was twelve years ago.
Windows 3.0 trumped both of them. This is a real shame considering how Unix
practically _defines_ good collaboration between command line applications.

Ralph A. Mack

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