ejolson
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Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:15 pm

The Pi was introduced in 2012 and it is now 2018. During this time, the software has become more difficult to understand.

Raspbian understandably tracks Debian. The focus of Debian is not to create a simple operating system that is easy for students to understand and for makers to modify. The changes to Debian have not only made it more complicated but those changes have broken many well written tutorials on how to build things with the Raspberry Pi. While makers can post questions on this forum asking why the instructions they have followed don't work, educational materials once created and adopted are expected to remain relevant for about ten years or the lifetime of a textbook.

My opinion is that the main operating system for the Raspberry Pi should not follow Debian so closely, because the goals of Debian developers are not only different but incompatible with Raspberry Pi. In the same way that Devuan was created for use on servers, I would suggest that the Raspberry Pi have a stable operating system targeted for use in teaching computer science that is easy to understand and to modify.

Please keep the comments on this thread a constructive discussion of advantages and disadvantages of closely following Debian and what might be done to make Raspberry Pi easier to understand and modify as well as making it stable enough that tutorials and educational materials can be created which will work for many years.
Last edited by ejolson on Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.

epoch1970
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:27 pm

Docker will soon take care of all that.
In the meantime, the effort required to maintain a decent collection of packages (assuming a traditional binary distribution) would be absolutely immense, should RPF unstick from a mainstream distribution like Debian.
Then you have to consider the user base, Debian is (was?) one of the most popular distributions, many users have some sort of experience with it.

PiCore would be a great distro to build upon, it is a perfect match for the Pi and there even are a decent number of packages that come with it. But it is just too alien, the user base is too small.
I am willing to bet a leg it'll be Debian until the end; that is, until the OS becomes a utility no-one cares about because people are assembling containers.
"S'il n'y a pas de solution, c'est qu'il n'y a pas de problème." Les Shadoks, J. Rouxel

Heater
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:50 pm

ejolson,

So many thing you have written there run counter to my experience:
The Pi was introduced in 2012 and it is now 2018. During this time, the software has become easier to use but more difficult to understand.
I see it as the same difficulty to use and the same difficult to understand as Debian was back in 1996.

Raspbian adds unnecessary pain and difficulty by changing things all the time, and importantly by changing things from Debian. That means what you become comfortable with in Debian does not work on Raspbian. Networking configuration for example.
The changes to Debian have not only made it more complicated but those charges have broken many well written tutorials on how to build things..
This is true of any and all Linux distributions.

But really, normally people complain that Debian has such long release cycles between stable versions. Debian is a very conservative distribution, favouring long term stability over ne shiney software versions or new ways of doing things.
...educational materials once created and adopted are expected to remain relevant for about ten years or the lifetime of a textbook.
Clearly you have not been in school or university for a long time. A big complaint today is that text books have new revisions every year and the students have to get the new version of risk being hopelessly confused.
My opinion is that Raspbian should not follow Debian so closely...
As far as I can tell it does not. Again the networking configuration is an example. It's a huge pain if you are a Debian user to find that Raspbian has changed things for no good reason.
I would suggest that Raspbian be targeted as a stable operating system for use in teaching computer science that is easy to understand and for makers to modify.
Me too. To that end Raspbian should track Debian more closely and not diverge unnecessarily. Then what people learn using Debian on their PC's and servers will work on Raspbian as well. Or vice versa. And the long release cycles of Debian gives everyone a comfort zone of stability.

In general I think the issue you are alluding to is insoluble. Operating systems change, application software changes, those tutorials, blogs and the like become out of date and stop working.

I would be happy if all those tutorials and blogs etc actually had publication dates on them and specified the exact versions of OS and other software they were using at the time. Then a lot of frustration would be saved. No more following instructions only to find they don't work anymore, because everything has changed, with no clue why.
Last edited by Heater on Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:53 pm

epoch1970,

Docker containers are great and all. Amazingly useful.

But really, that is another layer of complexity one should not have to deal with unless one has a need to.

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The Traveler
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:11 pm

The changes to Debian have not only made it more complicated but those changes have broken many well written tutorials on how to build things with the Raspberry Pi.
How many DOS tutorials do you see these days? Software evolves.
The complication, as I see it, doesn't come from Debian. Partially, It comes from the Raspberry devs building and maintaining their own flavor of Debian. It's not a trivial task and they only have so many hours to commit to it. If they don't follow the Debian tree closely enough, they lose all the man-hours of development from the more numerous Debian contributors that makes Debian stable. Any evolution of an OS is a trade off in some regard. I think it's much to the credit of the Raspberry devs that they have done what they have. Burn an image to SD, plug it in and go.
I would suggest that the Raspberry Pi have a stable operating system targeted for use in teaching computer science that is easy to understand and to modify.
Again, all instructors need to do is refrain from installing newer images. If their curriculum is such that it depends on a particular OS version, or language version, nothing compels them to use a newer release. If a particular OS version or release breaks something critical, one can load an earlier image. If you need Python 2.x.x for instance, you can load it along side 3.x.x. This is true of many applications in the linux ecosystem.

If the only application for a RPi were educational, perhaps it would be simpler. However, since the RPi's inception the application domain has broadened considerably and has become more commercialized. So, if you want to continue to offer hardware, it needs to meet the support needs of the various sectors in which it's employed.

Cheers.
Last edited by The Traveler on Wed Jun 20, 2018 9:22 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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epoch1970
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:21 pm

Heater wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:53 pm
epoch1970,

Docker containers are great and all. Amazingly useful.

But really, that is another layer of complexity one should not have to deal with unless one has a need to.
Complexity still, certainly.
But these are much bigger objects, they wrap software and networking in one go and are quite easy to assemble if you follow the recipe to a T. So in fact containers hide a lot of complexity to end-users.
I really think resistance is futile in this case.
(besides, containers do work great on Pi, when Java and VMs are marginally functional)
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:21 pm

ejolson wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:15 pm
I would suggest that the Raspberry Pi have a stable operating system targeted for use in teaching computer science that is easy to understand and to modify.
But what would that be ?

I don't think there are many Operating Systems which are easy to understand and modify, and it's a rather niche area for even computer science students to be dabbling in.

Minix is the main option I can think of. That has apparently been ported to a Pi but I'm not sure how well that caters for anyone wanting to use a Pi beyond tinkering with operating systems.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:34 pm

I don't think the motivation for creating the Pi was that the OS be understandable at a deep level. That is a long road. It was created to be a cheap and relatively simple machine for kids to learn some programming with. As such the OS should be understandably simple to install, configure to ones situation and start learning some programming with.

Raspbian, along with the documentation on raspberrypi.org does that admirably.

It's a reality that things change. Recipes that worked on your machine yesterday may not work on my machine today.

Frankly I prefer that to the frozen in time "stability" of the closed source software world. In that world people cling to Windows XP or whatever because the old application they paid good money for does not work on anything newer.

I was chatting to some guys recently that still use versions of PCB layout software from 1995, they nurse old XP machines and such to do so. That is just nuts!

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 8:50 pm

Odd that people think the complexity is due to divergence from Debian.

We try pretty hard to make as few changes as we can (because its a maintenance nightmare), so intrigued to know what these major usability changes/differences are. Networking was mentioned, but AFAIK, it's pretty much plain Debian. So where else? We do have the config.txt file which is unique to us, but that isn't exactly difficult to understand, and is pretty much necessary.

We have diverged from plain LXDE to produce the Raspbian desktop, but AFAIAC all those changes make it easier to use, not harder.
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hippy
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 9:13 pm

jamesh wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 8:50 pm
Odd that people think the complexity is due to divergence from Debian.
I suspect most problems are due to tracking Debian; going from Wheezy to Jessie to Stretch. That has meant there's a lot of stuff on the web which no longer applies to the latest.

Changes in hardware as the Pi has evolved have also created some inconsistency which also presents some problems for those not using the Pi as a pure software platform.

On the software side there are things which will only run on later Pi and not earlier which can cause some confusion when that's not made clear.

Bakul Shah
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 10:12 pm

hippy wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:21 pm
ejolson wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:15 pm
I would suggest that the Raspberry Pi have a stable operating system targeted for use in teaching computer science that is easy to understand and to modify.
But what would that be ?

I don't think there are many Operating Systems which are easy to understand and modify, and it's a rather niche area for even computer science students to be dabbling in.

Minix is the main option I can think of. That has apparently been ported to a Pi but I'm not sure how well that caters for anyone wanting to use a Pi beyond tinkering with operating systems.
Plan9 would make a great option for this. In six years of Pi it has not changed much and by studying it you would learn most all of the important OS concepts. plan9 kernel compiles in a minute on the original Raspi. So you can easily hack on the kernel, recompile and test, all in a few minutes.

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Imperf3kt
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 10:38 pm

If tutorials become outdated, then perhaps the fault lies in the inexperienced user?

The Pi was designed to help you learn, not copy/paste

If a tutorial fails, learn why.
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mfa298
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 10:55 pm

ejolson wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:15 pm
While makers can post questions on this forum asking why the instructions they have followed don't work, educational materials once created and adopted are expected to remain relevant for about ten years or the lifetime of a textbook.
I think any educator that expected a ten year old computing text book to be current is probably deluded. Things move quickly in IT so anything that goes into detail is potentially out of date within a year. General principles may last longer but then I don't think that's what your talking about (The general principles of an init system are largely the same between sysvinit, upstart and systemd the implementation is what changes).

ejolson wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:15 pm
My opinion is that the main operating system for the Raspberry Pi should not follow Debian so closely, because the goals of Debian developers are not only different but incompatible with Raspberry Pi. In the same way that Devuan was created for use on servers, I would suggest that the Raspberry Pi have a stable operating system targeted for use in teaching computer science that is easy to understand and to modify.
I'm not sure that's true. AIUI significant difference is that raspbian targets ARM6+HF (required for the Pi1 and Pi Zero) whereas Debian targets ARM7 based systems only. Other changes are about improving the overall user experience based on user feedback and issues.
Heater wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:50 pm
As far as I can tell it does not. Again the networking configuration is an example. It's a huge pain if you are a Debian user to find that Raspbian has changed things for no good reason.
From what's been said elsewhere that change was about providing a better user experience (or fewer issues) for the majority of users. AIUI the use of dhcpcd has fewer issues for the majority of users compared to the other methods. It's easy enough to change back to /e/n/interfaces of network manager if you prefer. For the most part I leave my pi's on dhcpcd, the only one I've changed is the one that's a dhcp server (for obvious reasons).

That particular change was made 3-4 years ago (I think it came in one of the later wheezy releases although had some issues) so anyone following a guide telling them to edit /e/n/interfaces is probably reading very old documentation or one of the many cases of someone creating a tutorial based on many other outdated tutorials which are not current.

Rather than trying to fix an issue in the OS that I think probably isn't there maybe the solution is to improve the skills of learners (whatever experience level) and educators (whether professional or blog writers). So that tutorials and guides provide useful information like what platform its aimed at and when it was last reviewed for accuracy and those reading the guides know how to verify the quality of any guide (just because its easy to follow with pretty pictures doesn't mean it's current and/or accurate)

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:38 pm

Linus has maintained the mandate "don't break userland" for at least a decade. As a result, Linux binaries from 2004 continue to run without any difficulties on recent kernels. In addition, a lot of effort has been put into making sure Linux device driver's for the Pi hardware work well. Therefore, I would suggest that Linux is a natural base on which to build an operating system for the Raspberry Pi. The same is not so clear about Debian and, as pointed out, many other Linux distributions.

While it is true that Debian ships old versions of software, a significant portion of the questions on this forum arise from things not working in Stretch based Raspbian the way they did in Wheezy based Raspbian. The way I see it, the problem with Raspbian is not new versions of existing software so much as the changes to use old versions of completely different software that is incompatible with established tutorials and leaning resources just to track Debian.

Going forward, I would suggest the mandate "don't break compatibility of Raspberry Pi with existing tutorials and learning resources."

mfa298
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:51 pm

ejolson wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:38 pm
While it is true that Debian ships old versions of software, a significant portion of the questions on this forum arise from things not working in Stretch based Raspbian the way they did in Wheezy based Raspbian. The way I see it, the problem with Raspbian is not new versions of existing software so much as the changes to use old versions of completely different software that is incompatible with established tutorials and leaning resources just to track Debian.
That's a bit like saying things on Windows 10 don't work like they did in Windows XP.

The world moves on, what was current a few years ago isn't now. I don't think that's a problem of the OS or hardware it's an issue with the documentation.
ejolson wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:38 pm
Going forward, I would suggest the mandate "don't break compatibility of Raspberry Pi with existing tutorials and learning resources."
So what your saying is we should only have BCM2835 based Pis with no more than 512MB ram as some tutorials will only work with them and not the newer Pis? (gpio memory address changed for the pi2/pi3 so original tutorials/code won't work on newer pis)

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:51 pm

Could you give an example of something that doesn't work on Stretch, that does work on Wheezy?

Personally I have never come across anything of this nature, instead it it usually the opposite, in my experience.
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:53 pm

epoch1970 wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:21 pm
Heater wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:53 pm
epoch1970,

Docker containers are great and all. Amazingly useful.

But really, that is another layer of complexity one should not have to deal with unless one has a need to.
Complexity still, certainly.
But these are much bigger objects, they wrap software and networking in one go and are quite easy to assemble if you follow the recipe to a T. So in fact containers hide a lot of complexity to end-users.
I really think resistance is futile in this case.
(besides, containers do work great on Pi, when Java and VMs are marginally functional)
The ultimate "wrapper" is one that contains everything, and a prime example of that is...MS WIndows. Are you sure you want to go down that road?

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:24 am

Imperf3kt wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:51 pm
Could you give an example of something that doesn't work on Stretch, that does work on Wheezy?
What no longer works are the tutorials, learning resources and human knowledge base of how to do things. Moreover, it is difficult to make a case for creating new soon-to-be-useless teaching resources when the operating system changes.

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Imperf3kt
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:26 am

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:24 am
Imperf3kt wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:51 pm
Could you give an example of something that doesn't work on Stretch, that does work on Wheezy?
What no longer works are the tutorials, learning resources and human knowledge base of how to do things. Moreover, it is difficult to make a case for creating new soon-to-be-useless teaching resources when the operating system changes.
Could you be more specific?
All the stuff I've tried, has worked no matter the version of Raspbian I use.
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:29 am

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:24 am
Imperf3kt wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:51 pm
Could you give an example of something that doesn't work on Stretch, that does work on Wheezy?
What no longer works are the tutorials, learning resources and human knowledge base of how to do things. Moreover, it is difficult to make a case for creating soon-to-be-useless teaching resources when the operating system changes so frequently.
That's because the folks who publish those things don't care enough to fix them when the OS changes. Or they don't care enough to note the things that are OS specifics and may not work on your distro.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation docs don't suffer from that disease and when you find one that's broken you can either create an issue on the github for their stuff or you can re-write it and create a pull request. I've done both of those - it's not difficult.

If you find a tutorial that has comments activated - tell the author about their errors.

It ain't rocket science, it ain't worth moaning about it and it ain't going to change any time soon. One thing it doesn't do is make the Raspberry Pi harder to use or too complicated if you keep your wits about you.
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:40 am

If you use Raspbian on Pi's you end up having to learn how Linux works too.
A side effect of coding on Raspbian was having to learn Linux by osmosis :lol:
If you end up fighting Linux, then things can get messy.

Raspbian got too big so I moved to the TinyCore version called PiCore.
More Linux learning required but at the shell scripting and AWK/SED level.
Linux still caused me trouble, so two years ago I found and moved to Ultibo.
Why do you need a stable OS? Write your own :lol:

I still use Pi's and I'm still learning to code.
Wanted to learn Aarch64, OpenGL so I'm back to Gentoo64 Linux ;)

There is a point where maintaining Linux gets in the way of learning coding.
Or the Linux OS makes a simple gadget hard to code.
The Pi's difference is a simple SDcard swap can move between all these options and many, many more.
You have the freedom to use any OS or none.

Raspbian started out as a Debian spin but more and more it is going mainstream.
This means more options, Pi's and other SBC are now where the action is.
The industry has recognized the importance of these low cost computers and more and more drivers for SBC's are getting mainstreamed.

Is Debian the best OS? Should Raspbian follow Debian?
Debian does not do ARMv6 which is the historical reason for Raspbian.
One day all new Pi's will be ARMv8 or maybe RISCV ;)

RPT is a small company so they don't have a lots of coders to support their own specific OS.
RPF Mission is to provide low cost high performance SBC's for education in coding.
Unless RPT gets very much bigger, Raspbian will take the easy way and ride on Debian's coat tails.

There will be no fixed, never to change OS for Pi's.
The software gets better, bugs get fixed, more code gets working, more drivers are needed for weird gadgets.
Learn to go with the flow, adopt agile methods.
A fixed OS will not embrace the new hardware and software, things like CV/ML/AI.

But in the beginning Raspbian could run from a 4GB SDcard., then I needed 8GB, now I use 16 and 32GB.
So yes it is a getting bigger and bloated, but now all sorts of things just come with Raspbian and just work out of the box.
This box is now very big with lots of tools in it, tool box too big? use another one.

Plus the new PI hardware is very much different than the original version.
Would the old OS work on new Pi's.

Now for the Education market you have a point.
A fixed hardware software would allow educators a chance to breath and catch up.
Perhaps stick just to Microbits and use the Pi's as Desktops that program Microbits.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 3:55 am

DougieLawson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:29 am
That's because the folks who publish those things don't care enough to fix them when the OS changes. Or they don't care enough to note the things that are OS specifics and may not work on your distro.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation docs don't suffer from that disease and when you find one that's broken you can either create an issue on the github for their stuff or you can re-write it and create a pull request. I've done both of those - it's not difficult.

If you find a tutorial that has comments activated - tell the author about their errors.

It ain't rocket science, it ain't worth moaning about it and it ain't going to change any time soon. One thing it doesn't do is make the Raspberry Pi harder to use or too complicated if you keep your wits about you.
This ^ QFT.

Stop using youtube for your instructions. Most of those so-called tutorials are posted by people who know little more than you do, don't post useful information (like OS version), and don't care enough to follow up and keep their tutorials relevant. There are exceptions, of course, but it's hard to find the gems behind all the trash.

Almost everything I know about the Pi I learned from the raspberrypi.org site, where the information is much more up to date. Some other things I learned here, and other things I already knew due to my familiarity with Debian (which, as jamesh said, Raspbian tracks pretty closely). If you look for tutorials on the official site, and read the blogs and changelogs so you know when something major has happened (like SSH being disabled) you'll have a much easier time than trying to wade your way through the junk on youtube.

The main differences between Raspbian and Debian are there for various reasons, like the way the Pi SoC boots vs more mainstream processors, and for simplicity in the educational sector where children will be using it, and while I don't agree that all those things are good, I do understand why they are there. And most of those things can be easily overcome (SSH and even wireless networking can be pre-configured on the SD card before the system is booted, creating your own user is simple and follows Debian, and things like changing password, hostnames, and many other configuration settings are available in the raspi-config utility).

Raspbian is actually quite easy to use. Most of the time what I find is that people having difficulty are stuck in a Windows mentality. Linux is not harder than Windows, it's just very different.
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 4:13 am

And don't forget this forum has more info than any YouTuber ever will.
If you cannot find help here it probably does not exist or is new bug ;)
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 4:14 am

Gavinmc42 wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:40 am
Debian does not do ARMv6 which is the historical reason for Raspbian.
It's be more correct to say that Debian doesn't do ARMv6 Hard Float, as they do have armel code which was the original OS for the Pi. The armhf code runs faster than the armel code in many cases.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:01 am

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:24 am
Imperf3kt wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:51 pm
Could you give an example of something that doesn't work on Stretch, that does work on Wheezy?
What no longer works are the tutorials, learning resources and human knowledge base of how to do things. Moreover, it is difficult to make a case for creating new soon-to-be-useless teaching resources when the operating system changes.
I don't get this.

On the whole, the OS has not changed significantly in 5 years. Yes, there are some areas, networking, where under the skin, Debian has changed and we have changed with it, but the VAST majority of stuff is the same as it's always been. I've having trouble thinking of any areas that have changed significantly, except networking.

As for ensuring all tutorials stay backward compatible - I do not think that is actually possible unless the OS never changes at all. Progress requires change. Just keep tutorials up to date. And all ours should be, and if they are not, let us know and we will fix them.

I'd also really like some examples of where we have diverged enough from base (Debian) Linux to affect the average end user significantly. Note, not changes made in Debian that we have taken on by default (i.e. networking), but where the RPF(T) have moved away.
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