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Dare ye click it?

For many years, Linux's user account system has worked marvellously well for maintaining security. In the older days of Windows, users would run with administrator privileges all the time, never being aware when a program decided to trample all over critical system files. In contrast, pretty much every desktop Linux distro pops up a big password dialog box, saying that it needs special privileges to do a certain task - and making the user think for a moment.

However, I wonder if we can do more. As Linux spreads further into desktop territory, users are going to become increasingly blasé about password prompts. For instance, have a look at this:

This is an official tool supplied by default in Ubuntu 10.10 (which, admittedly, is still in development so this silly message may be simplified by the final release). But if we're writing a tutorial on this tool, and we tell users that it's OK to enter their password when given such a prompt, how will that shape their perception of these warnings? Will it become the norm to absent-mindedly tap in your password whenever a dialog box appears?

Perhaps the warnings need to be more specific. "This application requires DIRECT HARDWARE ACCESS which could crash your machine", for instance, or "This application WILL CHANGE YOUR STARTUP SCRIPTS, which may make your system fail to start". Some folks may think these messages are a bit extreme, and would scare newcomers - but isn't that the point? If they dissuade dabblers from doing anything too drastic, or at least make them phone the nearest Linux guru beforehand, then perhaps that's the best solution.

I'm just thinking here - what do you reckon, readers?

Your comments

I for one would prefer that,

I for one would prefer that, rather than the application xxxxxx requires root privilages, we should have 'the applictaion xxxxxx requires root privilages, it WILL EDIT FILE XXXXXX WHICH GOVERNS XXXXX OF YOUR SYSTEM, WHICH COULD CAUSE XXXXXX TO HAPPEN would you like to proceed?'

This should be uber scary prompts!

I'm one of those guys that keep over tweaking systems and breaking them. Some these prompts have stopped me for going further, but most of the time I go for it and destroy my system.

I really don't care since I can always re-install and I love doing it.

Caveat Emptor

I feel that the warning should be explicit. As a convert from Windows where you were expected to take everything on trust from Microsoft and suffer the consequences when they screwed things up you should be clearly advised on what is expected when you take the course of action.

It should at least prompt the user to proceed with caution and for those like Mel then enjoy your experiments

Caveat Emptor indeed

I think this dialogue is best left as a prompt to say: you just told me to do something, did you mean it?

A message could be of the form: "The program XXXXXXX wants to change your system. If you asked it do to this type in your [or the admin] password below. If you are unsure, click Cancel and the program will not run."

This is along the same lines as those buttons which are marked 'Advanced', i.e. there's a suggestion that you should only go ahead if you know what you're doing. I think any risks are highlighted enough by this.

Giving people generic warnings is a quick way to make them ignore you in future. The message should say what will definitely happen (the program will get extra access to the system) and not cry wolf about what might happen.

I'm with Martin Greaney

As Linux becomes more accepted by the wider community it will be more likely the user will not have the foggiest idea what they are doing so any explanation must be simplistic.

Perhaps we should also include the message, "Have you backed up your data?" then, if you wreck the system, rescue will (hopefully) be just be a re-installation away.

There is a better

There is a better alternative which is usually possible with more work on the part of the package developers : provide a setuid-<administrator> binary executable to perform the specific administrative functions needed and nothing else, and let anyone run it, including (most commonly) other unprivileged programs in the package.

This also has some pitfalls, and is sometimes difficult to program, but it avoids the annoying and as you say potentially bad-habit-forming prompt.


I'm with Martin Greaney too

I agree with Martin but think the message should include "Are you updating or modifying your system or configuration? If so enter your password to continue or press 'Cancel' to stop any changes being made." This would be much better than the current Microsoft option of "Just click the button to run with Administrator privileges".

I'm also starting to think that a normal user should be able to authorise updates of currently installed applications (not the kernel). This would take a considerable amount of pressure off administrators and updates. This shouldn't allow normal users to install additional software, just updates through the distro's approved repos.


OK, mob, the prompts are there as warnings. Leave them there for the average user. As a Sys Admin, they are a bloody nuisance. Two hundred popups in a day and I am ready for one of those YOU Tube videos tossing it out the window. God bless Command Line.

Take care and be safe

could use colour

Traffic moves forward and stops by such simple instruction.

If were going to have system popups at all? I think colour could be utilised to save time and make messages easier to decipher and more immediate.
For instance, I probably wouldn't stop to read a green warning, orange I might give it a glance to make sure and red; I would defiantly look into it or just abort the action rather than *&^%$ things up.

By using Colours I'd hope to alleviate the need to read warnings unless they were system critical "RED".

Colours are a good idea...

I agree with johngnuguin, who says we should use colours to indicate the severity of the issue. I know that I don't necessarily read all the prompts as it is and some people I know on Vista/Win7 never read any prompt: they just bang in their password, happy as Larry, and then moan about Microsoft when their system falls apart.

At least if a big red flashing screaming alert came on to say you were doing something unwise, people would pay attention (or at least just click cancel out of sheer, unbridled terror).

But also make there be somewhere to turn such alerts off for advanced users/cross sysadmins.

Give the user Options

Have a basic warning message with 'plain english' info on the potential effects. In that window include a 'Details' button for more advanced users to see exactly what is happening.

Color coding based on what is being changed and potential risk is a good idea too.

after much brain activity

after much brain activity and despite my idea about colours, I changed my root account theme to a dark colour that I can hardly see. This is an interim measure designed to slow me down and make sure I read more warnings ect.
This didn't stop me inadvertently removing nm-applet with the apt-get autoremove tool though.
Even after glossing over the list of things to be auto removed I still didn't spot it because its part of gnome-somthingorother.
May some coloured text in the command line is needed?

Basic schooling

What I wanted to know is....are they teaching kids about the basic of UNIX type operating systems (SysV) - err - no; so it is going to be a steep learning curve for a large number of youngsters

Password Warnings

If you run a live system like knoppix 6.3 you can do ANYTHING you like & pay no attention to silly warnings. If you break it just reboot !ocket

phone a linux guru? i don't think so ,Why?..

The guru will most likely tell you to go to ... the closest forum.Not just any Forum. NO A community?.. Yes .Or is it?..
You wanna know how many questions i asked on Community forums? FEW ,answered =Less . Books & mags about Linux....ufff: loads approaching a ton.
Yep ,i am one Newbie but a N__b?.. maybe, to the point of giving my handle name that very same NOOB ?. Too much..
Do I agree that Linux is a Great OS probably the Best ? Yes.
Will I dis any other OS? NO. it happens a lot especially with newbies seeking some kind of reassurance of their acceptance in their newly found forum.They forgot that they learned everything they know on .......s,
can i build a house alone ? maybe.
Work the Command line ? NO ,besides ls usb ,etc ..
Do i dare? Hell YES!

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