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‘Bitrot’ Not a GNU/Linux Issue

Posted in GNU/Linux at 7:10 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: A noteworthy advantage of Linux and GNU on desktops, servers, and various devices

In computing, everything should ideally scale linearly or logarithmically if/where possible, except perhaps for innovation in hardware which can be nearly exponential in some terms due to multidimensionality and various other factors. Linux takes good advantage of hardware and, owing to reuse of code, programs are rarely bloated. With Windows, contrariwise, common practice/advice is to assume bloat is normal and reinstallation a routine task which mitigates bloat. Those are two separate issues; one deals with scalability and the other with the steps needed to remediate. In GNU/Linux, where malware is rare, optimising a system is often possible without radical measures like clean-installing.

It is not uncommon to see distributions of BSD or GNU/Linux running for years without a reboot or a reinstallation. These systems, which first found widespread use in (gradually more mission-critical) servers, required a high degree of tolerance, robustness, stability, and minimal downtime or rebuilding time. Windows, which had primarily emerged through the desktop, took over a decade to get the basics of networking and user privileges almost right — an issue that still makes it attractive to rogue programs.

“More and more enterprises pursue GNU/Linux and people who know how to maintain it.”The three Rs, restart (application), reboot , and reinstall, have made infamous a class of box booters who are sometimes synonymous with Microsoft-certified administrators. Whereas UNIX and Linux professionals tend to deal with complicated issues of automation and troubleshooting, many of their Window-centric counterparts spend their days wrestling with issues associated with performance (setting aside restrictive licensing that impedes expansion) and malware, which are two related but separable issues. Over the years I have narrowed down the low efficiency of maintaining Windows clusters (requiring more administrators per cluster) to what some call bitrot, or the notion that digital data — or an executable program – inevitably needs to erode over time, requiring one to revert it back to a pristine condition.

A solid GNU/Linux distribution is unlikely to slow down or break down on its own. On my main workstation (since 2008), for example, I never had to reinstall an operating system unless I switched between distributions (Mandriva was losing its corporate backing at the time). I could use the system for months at a time without any reboot. I could install over a thousand packages without it resulting in slowdown or performance degradation of any kind. It is harder to achieve the same thing with Windows, based on people to whom I speak. The three Rs are essential there.

More and more enterprises pursue GNU/Linux and people who know how to maintain it. For continuity of service and for minimal intervention it takes a system that will not ‘rot’ over time or be made deprecated because the company which has exclusive rights to the source code decides so.

Originally posted in Linux Advocates

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  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    April 16, 2013 at 10:53 am


    The three Rs “restart (application), reboot , and reinstall” do something more important. They remove third-party apps from the hard drive. Things will eventually get left off through attrition or lack of time or distraction or whatever. Apps are difficult to install on Windows and systems hard to restore. It’s not like Debian or Fedora where customization can be done with a script. On a large scale, counting a large number of machines, this is a very effective way for M$ to reduce the market share of competitors and force the ‘default’ applications and settings on people.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    That’s a good point. With apt-get/aptitude/dpkg and package lists restoring a system is easy but rarely required (Debian upgrades are in-place upgrades and for other distributions there are rolling releases).

    Needs Sunlight Reply:

    Another important thing the “3Rs” do is waste time. That keeps individuals and whole institutions overloaded. From M$ perspective, the ideal is if the institution can be forced into crisis management mode. That leaves zero time over for anything except the most pressing of the artificial crises brought on by M$ software. In such a mode, there is no time or resources available to test or even look for other solutions and alternatives. All time and resources are spent just thrashing and mindlessly buying and deploying M$ products. Oh yeah, and, as mentioned above, erasing third-party apps. That is an effective way to keep non-M$ software and systems out of the shop.

    Then there is the headcount growth as institutions throw money and bodies at the problem. That helps out the petty empire builder and helps M$ “outvote” the legitimate technical staff, who are usually driven out by the posse of M$ clowns, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

  2. Needs Sunlight said,

    April 16, 2013 at 11:00 am


    Uptimes might get even longer for GNU/Linux systems. We’re not sure what Oracle is doing to ksplice, but with it you can patch a running Linux kernel without having to restart.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    And you can restore an application in its current state (or revert back to past states) by copying its dot (.) directory/ies, which cannot be trivially achieved with a settings repository like a Registry.

  3. NotZed said,

    April 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm


    Obviously the author has never looked at any linux code, it suffers bit-rot just like anything else. Being free software mitigates the problem (at least it is likely to compile) but doesn’t remove it.

    As an aside, does your new site really need this continual advertising by reposting stories? If I wanted to read LA I would just go there, but it’s light-weight opinion pieces aren’t much worth reading.

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