XFCE Add/Remove Programs and Synaptic Package Manager Fail

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As mentioned in an earlier post, I got my XO laptop up and running on Ubuntu so I can do a little more useful work with it. (Firefox is a far-and-away superior web browser to the built-in browser that comes with Sugar.) Of course, never satisfied, I noticed there were a few simple applications I’d like to have on there (like a calculator), so I went to install them.

I fired up the “Add/Remove” app in XFCE to see what apps were available. It got to a stage where it said, “Building dependency tree…” and disappeared. Tried a few more times and got the same result. I dropped to the command line, ran gnome-app-install (it took a while to figure out that’s what the app was called) and saw there was a segmentation fault occurring. Then I tried apt-get and got a message about a “segmentation faulty tree.” Very clear.

Doing an additional, oh, hour of searching, I found that this happens when certain cache files get corrupted. The fix?

sudo rm /var/cache/apt/*.bin

Basically, delete a set of cached files that the installation system uses because they’ve gotten corrupted. Re-running the apt-get commands will then work, as will the “Add/Remove” program.

I had updated the OS and installed packages after getting things working, so I know for a fact apt-get was correctly working. I’m not really sure where/how these files got corrupted, but it’s fixed now.

Before I get off on a tiny rant, let me be clear: I started my career on a LAMP stack. I used to be a huge Linux guy, loved me some Perl, and lived life on the FOSS side. I still like Perl, though I haven’t written any for a few years. It’s been a while since I’ve been in that world so it’s taking a little getting used to getting back in. I’ve been there, and I appreciate what’s available.

That said, this, right here, is precisely why Linux will never overtake Windows or MacOS on consumer desktops. There is precisely zero chance that any member of my family would have had the time, patience, or wherewithal to figure out what the name of the “Add/Remove” app is, run it at the command line, figure out that it’s just a wrapper for apt-get, run that from a command line, and then figure out what the cryptic “segmentation faulty tree” error message meant. And my family is chock full of smart folks. They’re just not computer geeks, and investing the time to get into it at this level isn’t something they’re interested in doing. They shouldn’t have to be.

Windows and MacOS definitely have their problems. Windows, sure, maybe more so than MacOS. That said, I have never once had an inexplicable failure in Windows on something so critically low-level as the installation system, and any time there is a problem, there’s a single, central event log I can go look at to see what happened. Even if it doesn’t tell me exactly what happened, it’s at least got enough information that if I literally copy and paste the error into Google, I’ll come out with a pretty good chance of getting the answer in the first few hits. Blue Screen of Death? Sure, I’ve had my fill. Weird glitches? Absolutely. Usually, though, it’s because I’m installing and uninstalling all nature of things, combined with the fact that I’m a developer, so I’m always tweaking and changing and updating and doing all sorts of unconventional stuff - unlike the standard user.

Anyway, rant over. I’ll probably disable comments on this one because I’m really not interested in getting into a religious OS war here; I just needed to vent my frustrations in getting what I feel should be a simple thing up and running. I’m excited to get back into the Linux world and to have the XO as an excuse to mess around with it. We’ll see how the journey continues.