back to article Debian spices up APT package manager with a dash of color, squishes ancient bug

Major updates to Debian's Advanced Packaging Tool don't come along very often, but APT 2.9 is here with a significant facelift. APT version 2.9 has just been accepted into Debian's unstable development channel. This is an unfinished development version, which should lead to APT 3 in time for Debian 13, which will probably …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "it's not the best choice for those who suffer from daltonism, or red/green color blindness"

    Coloured command line is all too often a case of "works for me" and if you have the developer's choice of terminal background (and their colour vision!) it's readable but half of it disappears against some other background.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Hopefully they've left a flag in to allow for monochrome operation, or a config file where you can specify the colours you want to use.

      1. Reuben Thomas

        If you're red-green colour blind, won't it look monochrome anyway?

        A few years ago I was involved in a project to design human-distinguishable bar-codes. We used colour for "bling", but chose the palettes so they were distinguishable with monochrome vision (and any combination of colour blindness). Red and green are so widely used for stop/go good/bad that I think it's hard to argue for another default (especially when they're combined with other cues such as the positioning of traffic lights or ticks and crosses, widely used in terminals.

        What *would* be good (but take a lot of work in the physical mark-up world of terminals) would be role-based colours à la CSS, so that users could configure their palette in a way that would make sense across a wide range of terminal apps.

        In the mean time, colour should never be a crucial element of any terminal program's output. Not just for those not blessed with full colour vision, but because one of the great things about terminal is copy and paste, and one can't rely on colour coming too, so anything copy-and-pasted mustn't lose meaning for being stripped of colour.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Not necessarily - there are weird effects at play.

          You know those circles of dots which are used to test colour blindness, if you are colour blind (or even just deficient) then you see different numbers.

          I know they're carefully constructed, but it can be hard to see red out of black text

          In theory the lists are still arranged with a header, although the "important" bit about stuff being removed should remain on screen.

        2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          OK, disclaimer, I am not an expert in this stuff at all. I just wrote it. But...

          > If you're red-green colour blind, won't it look monochrome anyway?

          No. That's the problem.

          My degree is in biology. I did some fieldwork. It was great. Among other things, if you want to study mammals, you have to go out at night. If you are on what Terry Pratchett called "the business end of the food chain" you sneak around in the dark, because you're small, juicy, tasty, and fairly defenseless.

          We all evolved from small furry things that sneaked around in the dark trying not to get eaten by dinosaurs. In the dark, you need rod cells in your retina not cones. Rods pick up faint light. Our evolution favoured rods and we lost a lot of the cones, which pick up colour. Don't bother waving a red rag to a bull; he can't see red anyway. Any rag will do. Neither can your dog or cat. Mammalian predators don't need that much. But the things that evolved from the things that ate our ancestors -- birds -- see colour much better than us.

          Small mammals tend to be nocturnal and they can't see colour well, so, you use a red flashlight, because they can't see red light so it just -- isn't a light to them. We can see it because we evolved more recently from small furry things that went up trees and ate fruit, so they re-evolved colour receptors so they could see which fruit was ripe... although the fruit colours evolved for birds, not mammals. (Also, binocular vision was for leaping from branch to branch, not predation.)

          If you lack that minor recent mutation to give you colour vision then you can't see red light, like a mouse or vole or shrew. So things like glowing red letters on a black background _don't glow any more_. They fade into the background.

          That's the theory, anyway. I am very myopic but I see colours fine, so I only know the theory, not the practise.

          Decades ago WinWord started underlining misspelled words in red. Not so bad: folks with daltonism can still see the wiggly grey underline.

          Then later it started underlining grammatical mistakes in green, and they can't tell the difference. Snag.

          1. LionelB Silver badge

            Excellent and very accessible article here: The Causes and Consequences of Color Vision (assuming you can see that link).

          2. David 132 Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Excellent diversion there into the science of mammalian vision - thanks Liam!

            It does make me wonder about a vision phenomenon that I first noticed as a small child. At the time, I had a bedside digital alarm clock, with red 7-segment LEDs to show the time. I was always amused/disconcerted that if I waved the clock around fairly slowly in front of my eyes, in near-darkness conditions - such that the outline of the clock could still be discerned - the red LEDs seemed to "float" and move out of sync with the rest of the clock, almost as if they were extruded red glowing rubber, and wobbling.

            I speculate that it's a rods/cones thing - different visual sensitivity to motion vs. colour - but I could be talking out of my posterior.

            Has anyone else observed this oddity, or have a better explanation?

            1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

              -- Has anyone else observed this oddity, or have a better explanation? --

              Yes and probably - persistence

          3. LybsterRoy Silver badge

            -- small furry things that sneaked around in the dark trying not to get eaten by dinosaurs --

            I thought they just hid in burrows waiting for an asteroid.

            1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

              > I thought they just hid in burrows waiting for an asteroid.

              Nah, proto-mammals were around for _ages_ running around under dinosaurs' feet.

              The first mammals evolved only 10-20 million years later than the first dinosaurs. They overlapped for something over 200 million years.

              1. David 132 Silver badge
        3. LybsterRoy Silver badge

          -- If you're red-green colour blind, won't it look monochrome anyway? --

          It depends. I'm red/green/brown colour blind (found out at school when we were playing with the test book and I saw different numbers) but I can distinguish some shades - traffic lights are a good example - I can tell the difference in the colours as well as the position. Many things my wife will say "what a lovely shade of greeb" and I go "but its brown".

          It can be great fun when wiring something up - it takes two people.

          1. LionelB Silver badge

            I have a rather fine greeb jumper myself ;-)

            Recently had cataract ops in both eyes, and have subsequently had to apologise to the missus for all those blue/green arguments. Spoiler: it was always blue.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              After Claude Monet had his cataracts removed, he had to be physically restrained from destroying most of his existing paintings and you can easily see the spectrum change in his subsequent works

          2. John Robson Silver badge

            "It can be great fun when wiring something up - it takes two people."

            Knew a plumber who used to do electrical work on early xerox machines.... colourblind as anything and picking through a bundle of thirty wires to find the right one... it's a miracle he ever got it right.

            1. David 132 Silver badge

              Plumbing, electricity... it's all currents, right?

              1. stiine Silver badge

                Eddie, is that you?

          3. Alan Brown Silver badge

            "brown" is for all intents and purposes "very dark orange", so that's not overly surprising (Technology Connections has an in-depth YT video on how brown is a pain in the ass for signage, particularly illuminated signs)

            My father (I've written about his issues elsewhere in the comments) absolutely insisted on picking housepaint colours despite everyone else's objections - resulting in some "interesting" features he insisted were green or red but to us looked like shades of brown. At one point he repainted my mother's red car "in the same color" - it came out mud-brown. Just as well it was a clapped out 1950s Simca

            He also repainted my (absolutely gorgous) native wood drawers and dressing table in matt white because he found the original colours jarring. Even as an 8yo I was mightily pissed off

            Not to mention swapping red and black on power cables (occasionally red and green)

        4. Alan Brown Silver badge

          "Red and green are so widely used for stop/go good/bad that I think it's hard to argue for another default"

          A statistically significant portion of all populations cannot see red AT ALL (protanopia) and red lights in particular may as well not exist in the worst cases (partial Deuteranomaly as well - resulting in the ability to see green, but insensitivity towards yellow/orange)

          That's a pretty good argument IMO

          People who don't suffer colourblindness assume many things and the idea that a red light is simply seen as another colour is one of them

          It isn't helped by most printed representations of colourblindness using ink colours (7 colour printing) that sufferers _can_ see

          "I didn't see the brakelights/stop lights" is often the first sign that someone has crippling (in modern society) levels of vision restriction, not an indicator of inattentiveness - and a helluva good reason for revisiting the use of red/green

          (This is WHY Japan used/uses blue lights as "stop" in traffic signals and why stoplight lens filters started incorporating blue in the late 1960s. Such filters work but they STILL result in people witjh protanopia struggling to see stoplights)

          My father is one of these people and our home town has a particularly high percentage of men with this issue (over 25% protanopia and a substantial proortion with additional deuteranomaly) He can't tell if a traffic light is red, amber or dead, so he treats them all as red and because he can't see brakelights or most amber turn signals, stays _well_ back from vehicles in front - this is a cmmon coping strategy for most sufferers.

          Led vehicle/traffic lights are an absolute menace for people with this issue - coloured filters let SOME other colours through from a white light source. Leds are monochromatic

      2. Fred Daggy Silver badge

        Breaking change ...

        Better still, the other way. Default is plain text. So grep, awk, and and other tools can easily parse it without needing to send out another flag.

        Color flag is nice. Some method of specifying colours even nicer. But not at the expense of usability.

    2. AMBxx Silver badge

      At least it will be no worse than what they're used to where everything was the same colour.

      Let's all be glad that the fashion for pale grey text on white background has now gone.

    3. Korev Silver badge

      > but half of it disappears against some other background.

      Yep, for example the blue for directories on black you get whilst using PuTTY's defaults is extremely hard to read

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        1. LionelB Silver badge

          He, he. I spent a happy afternoon a few years back trying to match the rather hideous Matab default palette in Gnuplot (Gnuplot does much better-looking plots*, but a co-author on a paper insisted the colours had to match their Matlab plots). That was surprisingly non-trivial.

          *To the point that I actually wrote a Matlab interface to Gnuplot. Second-most-useful piece of software I ever wrote.

          Of course Matlab changed the default palette in the next release. (I actually like Matlab, but they break stuff. All the time.)

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            "rather hideous Matab default palette"

            Perhaps that's an unsubtle way of forcing people to use a better palette?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      fuck colourblindness

      Its not the best because some times, developers will just be stupid.

      Does anyone remember installing CentOS 5.5 (perhaps), for the first time, on a four year old server? I must have re-downloaded and installed the CentOS ISO ten times, again and again because some fucktard at RedHat decided that making the "output ${Version}" statement change the colour from Cyan to Red, and all of my experiences with colour-capable computer systems, going back to the 1970's told me that red was used for errors, to get your damn attention. This meant that every time I downloaded the ISO, and subsequently launched the installer, I would simply watch for any red text to go by. No reading and no comprehension required, if you see red, you fucked up the settings and its broken...just try again. I finally convinced myself (or simply gave up) and booted the vm, and it actually worked.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn't there used to be a principle

    that you didn't override a users preferences ?

    Obviously a quaint footnote in history will all the shitty "apps" that decide on font colour and sizing and stuff your settings.

  3. perkele

    Will they follow Apple's seemingly new design mantra, so it will be dumbed down, work less, and be full of emojis.

    So you get an urgent update to security with a few red serious emojis, a regular update with a thumbs up, and so on...

    Maybe they'll borrow from Microsoft too, so there can be an advert in between the upgrade listing or something as well.

    2026 can be the year of the Linux desktop :)

    I just hope these "enhancements" can be deactivated. What's wrong with the current display?

  4. karlkarl Silver badge

    There was a website once that specialized in all of the ways to remove naff colors from common CLI programs. It means that you had a consistent monochrome experience.

    I am trying to find it now to share but I can't seem to track it down. I thought it might have been jcs@ from the OpenBSD project but after a scan of his website, it seems not.

    Edit: Ah it was jcs@

    And luckily Apt is indeed in there supporting the global NO_COLOR environment flag.

  5. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

    Is it just me...

    Or is DNF a poor choice for a pckage manager? I read it as "did not finish", which is the very last thing you want to see when you're upgrading libld, the kernel, etc.

    Quite fond of aptitude myself, like apt but less painful.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Is it just me...

      We probably all read acronyms differently. DNF doesn't read as anything to me. I just see three random letters. In fact, though I've been using it for years, I had to look up where they got the name. Wikipedia says it comes from "Dandified YUM". It also tells me that YUM came from "Yellowdog Updater, Modified". Maybe I was correct to assume that they didn't stand for anything useful and I could continue to view them as random letters. So many terminal commands are randomly chosen and just have to be memorized that I've stopped looking for patterns. For example, in Arch, the package manager has rather a good name, Pacman, but the update command is pacman -Syu. I could try to remember that -S means sync (which in English means install), that -y means refresh (I guess they ran out of letters), and that -u actually does stand for update, but I mostly just memorize what the letters do and ignore what unmemorable mnemonics they're supposed to have.

      1. PRR Silver badge

        Re: Is it just me...

        DNF is definitely "Did Not Finish" in race-car results. "DNF, lap 13, crash" Yeah, yet another acronym might be nice.

        > for those of us with working color vision

        I am glad so many of us are aware of the issue. Would it be possible to invent some totally new way to make text stand out? Like maybe fatter ink? My typewriter had a key to <u>draw lines under words</u>. (Sadly forgotten today.) I have even seen squiggly underlining (as Liam says, spelling AND grammar). My typewriter would laboriously [___] box words. I hate reverse video but on truly MONOchrome machines it still worked.

        1. nijam Silver badge

          Re: Is it just me...

          > DNF is definitely "Did Not Finish" in race-car results. "DNF, lap 13, crash" Yeah, yet another acronym might be nice.

          Who cares? It's just for Red Hat stuff.

        2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: Is it just me...

          Random fact: both bold and underline were totally new ways to make text stand out. Neither are traditionally used in professional typesetting where you would normally see italic or small caps, but both came about because they were easy to do on typewriters, as you've so aptly (sorry, seems appropriate for this article) pointed out.

        3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Is it just me...

          My typewriter had a key to <u>draw lines under words</u>.

          Unfortunately, underline is not one of the html-options allowed/supported on this forum, unlike bold and italic.

          NB: I really would like it to be allowed/supported.

  6. ghp

    Was hoping they'd use red for backdoor infested applications, like Zyklonb, err, sorry, Systemd.

  7. PM.

    No AI infusion

    Phew, what a relief. Will remain rock solid then!

  8. mdava

    More than just colour changes

    Having browsed elsewhere for screenshots of the new APT, it is more than just colour changes - there is a more structured, less dense presentation of what is being installed and removed that seems a material improvement to me at least.

  9. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "the most common form, affecting some 8 or 9 percent of men"

    In my home town, it's over 25% - many of whom can't see red _at all_, including stoplights and brakelights

    This discovery was a major revelation for decoding the high percentages of traffic incidents for a relatively small area

    (Polynesians also have higher-than-average rates of red/green colourblindness and the ancestry trail is fairly easily discernable back to Formosa)

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