November 19, 2009 | Linux/Unix, Power User, Rants

The latest version of RedHat’s Fedora Linux distribution features the ability for users to install software packages without having root privileges. On the one hand, RedHat employees are saying this is only due changes upstream from PolicyKit, but on the other hand, those same employees defended the decision saying that turning off this ability requires only a trivial change by administrators.

This sparked a melee on Slashdot, which reported on the situation, with most posters arguing vigorously for not allowing the PolicyKit changes. Basically, allowing users to install any and all packages (even if they are signed) opens up the possibility of many attacks and problems, not all of which can be foreseen, but that’s the point: The Unix philosophy has always been to give the least amount of privilege necessary to do the job. But RedHat’s Richard Hughes disagrees:

I don’t particularly care how UNIX has always worked. Looking at the use-case and the things people are trying to do this seemed the best default. Admins can trivially change the default on machines if they wish.

User dedded expressed the outrage from users:

This is not only a huge change from previous Fedora behavior, it’s contrary to every other version of Linux or Unix with which I’m familiar (and VMS, and comment #72 makes the claim for OSX). And it wasn’t announced.

Some of the early comments in this bug are disturbing in a breaks-the-trust kind of way. Comment #8 is just rude. Comments #14 and #15 try to shut the bug down without discussion. Comment #9 claims that admins can “trivially change the default”. But this “trivial” change apparently involves a new command (there’s no pklalockdown on my F11 system) with an obscure switch, or six lines of obscure configuration in an equally obscure location (five subdirectories deep!). (Why is system configuration under /var and not /etc?) And a subsequent comment claims the pklalockdown option goes away in the next polkit release.

The fact that the change wasn’t announced seems to add to the feeling of many in the community that Fedora is nothing more than a testing ground for RedHat, and RedHat doesn’t really care for a good user experience in each release of the distribution.

Read more here.


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