The GoboLinux Way
The "legacy" tree
Unfortunately, not all programs have the flexibility to be installed anywhere. Occasionally, hardcoded paths creep in even in programs that belong to userland, and should, at least theoretically, allow themselves to be installed inside, say, a user's home directory.
As much as we'd like to see this done in the long term, patching all applications is not an option. For this reason, GoboLinux keeps, as stated earlier, a legacy tree where all usual Unix paths are mapped to GoboLinux equivalents, so, if a Makefile looks for /usr/X11R6/include/X11/Xaw3d/XawInit.h, it will find it, although it is at /Programs/Xaw3d/1.5/include/X11/Xaw3d/XawInit.h, where it belongs. When two applications have a directory entry with the same name, the GoboLinux scripts recursively expand them. Both Xorg and Xaw3d have X11 under include. A directory /System/Links/Headers/X11 is created automatically, holding links from both X11 directories.
Another interesting feature is that the GoboLinux scripts execute make install using a special user id that only has write permissions inside the program's source directories and the program's entry under /Programs. This way, files can't "escape" from the GoboLinux hierarchy and slip a directory into the legacy tree.
A detail that might surprise you at first is that when you look at the root directory (with
ls or graphical tools), you don't see the legacy directories, even though you can
cd to them. They are certainly there -- they are just kept hidden using GoboHide, a kernel modification designed to conceal the legacy tree from the usual system view (GoboHide is of course optional -- GoboLinux works just as well using standard Linux kernels).
Influences and roots
As you read this, you have probably found many familiar concepts (not to mention directory names). GoboLinux has clearly found inspiration in other operating systems, like NeXT, BeOS and AtheOS, but it was the notion that they build "something different" using an existing Unix base (be it using a BSD foundation as in Mac OS X or using GNU tools as in AtheOS) was the most important influence of all. There are several other projects, in various stages of development, that use the Linux kernel as a foundation and feature alternative directory trees. Interestingly, most of them are clones or heavily inspired by a specific proprietary operating system (at different points in time, we've seen clones of RiscOS, NeXT, BeOS).
GoboLinux, on the other hand, is not a clone of anything else. It uses standard Linux desktop software. We believe that the well-organized directory structure makes it a good testbed for new ideas -- possibilities are wide open (see the forum and moreso the mailing list for discussions, and to a lesser extent IRC channel #gobolinux on freenode).
Differences between GoboLinux and a traditional Linux system
This is not a thorough description of GoboLinux, but a quick cheat-sheet of facts that are good to know when you are getting acquainted to the system.
- In the GoboLinux hierarchy, files are grouped by their functional category (executables, libraries, and so on). There are links at the classic directories you are used to (/bin, /usr/bin, and so on), but remember that they all point to the same place. This is a huge advantage, as it means, for example, that you'll never have to search for a library throughout your filesystem again -- it will always be in /lib (and in /usr/lib, because they point to the same place! -- no worries about compatibility).
- There are symbolic links relating most of the usual UNIX directories to the GoboLinux tree. Therefore, you will find directories such as /etc, /var/log and /usr/bin in the expected places. However, some directories, such as the users' directories, didn't need to be linked to their "legacy" locations. This way, for a given user called "joe", you'll have, instead of /home/joe, /Users/joe. Notice also that the superuser's directory is no different than the ones from the other users, so, root's directory is at /Users/root. Mount points are under /Mount, not /mnt.
- Another major difference between GoboLinux and most Linux distributions is that it does not use a BSD nor a System V initialization procedure. Instead, it has its own. At /System/Settings/BootScripts you will find a few files that command the entire boot procedure: BootUp and Shutdown run at system boot and shutdown, respectively; you can define custom "runlevel" scripts to define different ways you want your system to be initialized (say, Single and Multi for single and multi-user, Graphical for boot into graphic mode, etc.) and control that from the boot loader menu. The /System/Settings/BootOptions file separate site-specific settings from the rest of the scripts. You can also find a library of application specific tasks at /System/Links/Tasks that can be used during boot (those are installed by the apps).
For a better overview of how it looks and feels right, nothing beats giving the Live CD a spin. You'll be running a full GoboLinux system without having to install anything. Just burn a CD-RW and give it a go!