[Haskell-cafe] When did it become so hard to install Haskell onWindows?

Irfon-Kim Ahmad irfon at ambienautica.com
Mon Apr 27 15:10:29 UTC 2020

I think that one thing that's come up repeatedly but seems to not be 
getting enough attention is this:

The existence of (any number of) simpler ways to install the software is 
entirely moot in terms of the new-user experience if the typical new 
user is unaware of them. In short, when considering attracting new users 
to the platform, the ONLY method is whatever the download-for-Windows 
instructions on haskell.org displays. All other methods do not exist.

This is where I think some of the sense of elitism can come from: A lot 
of responses assume that everybody at every level of exposure has full 
access to all the knowledge embodied in the community. Furthermore, the 
goals as they were laid out early in the discussion (make it easy to 
have multiple versions installed at the same time, make it easy to 
update the components separately) are things that matter only to 
experienced Haskell developers, not new users, and those experiences 
Haskell developers are both more likely to know about alternate methods 
available and more likely to be able to manage to figure this stuff out 
on their own.

Given that, I believe basically the complaint (and I'm here paraphrasing 
for others, so correct me if I'm wrong) is that the method that appears 
front and centre on the download-for-Windows instructions on haskell.org 
should always be the simplest method for entirely new users with 
minimal-to-zero knowledge of Haskell to use. (Of course, there's no harm 
in having a link to "advanced" instructions for those that want them.)

Think about Python, as an example of a language that has tremendous 
outreach, is often recommended as a great first language to learn, and 
garners new adherents daily. If you go to Python.org and mouse over 
"Downloads", it says "Download for Windows" and there's a single button 
labelled "Python 3.8.2" clicking that gives you an executable installer 
that you run, click next a bunch of times, and you're done. They don't 
even bother asking if you want 32 or 64 bit up-front. It's as easy as 
installing a game. Anyone who's used Python knows that there are myriad 
other ways of getting and updating it, myriad other components you can 
also install, etc., etc. But that's left to advanced instructions or for 
people who know where to find those resources. The core "get you started 
as a new user" experience is something that anybody can navigate trivially.

On 2020-04-27 5:30 a.m., Adam wrote:
> Hi Anthony,
> I'll quickly say that I don't approve of the tone of your email; it is 
> needlessly inflammatory ("abhorrence", really?), and indeed incorrect: 
> PowerShell _is_ a standard Windows tool as already addressed in this 
> email chain. I personally don't like it as a tool, but that doesn't 
> make it any less standard. With that said, I'll move on:
> If you're not a fan of Chocolately (me either!) there's another tool 
> called Scoop that gives you a package manager for Windows but avoids 
> global installation. If on the other hand you're simply not a fan of 
> package managers in Windows, see Richard O'Keefe and Mikhail 
> Glushenkov's replies regarding installing Stack/Cabal respectively in 
> a more direct fashion.
> I do think you highlight an important oversight that I think is 
> especially important for new users: each additional step required 
> before having a working Haskell environment will exponentially reduce 
> the number of people exposed to the language in a meaningful and 
> helpful way - it's a problem of UX more than technology, but a very 
> important problem nonetheless.
> Richard O'Keefe mentioned using Stack, which I find is a very easy 
> route to running Haskell as it gets the compiler and (helpfully) 
> restricts the package list to packages that interoperate, thus 
> allowing students new to the language to avoid any superfluous 
> problems while trying to focus on learning. 
> https://tech.fpcomplete.com/haskell/get-started/windows should have 
> you covered. In an ideal world we wouldn't need even that extra Stack 
> step in between plain Windows and Windows+Haskell, but that ideal 
> world would be ignoring the meta-problem of package compatibility that 
> can be thorny, so it seems like a decent trade for now. What are your 
> thoughts on this?
> With regards GHC error messages versus Hugs I'm not familiar with the 
> latter, but do struggle with the former, especially when compared to 
> other (albeit simpler) languages like Elm. I recently saw an article 
> on a (fairly recent?) capability to tune the error messages that GHC 
> emits: https://kodimensional.dev/type-errors - and I hope that as more 
> people take this on the ecosystem as a whole will become a bit 
> friendlier and easier for me to understand :) I wonder whether Hugs 
> was able to emit friendlier errors because the language was simpler 
> then, or whether it's just that we're in an inconvenient time 
> in-between having both a more powerful set of abstractions/inference 
> and having human readable errors!
> One thing I find that helps whenever an error message has type 
> variables in it (`a1` etc.) is to enable `{-# LANGUAGE 
> ScopedTypeVariables #-}` and tell the compiler what I _think_ the type 
> should be in a few instances, and that tends to iron out my 
> misunderstandings.
> Cheers,
> Adam
> On Sun, 26 Apr 2020 at 01:23, Anthony Clayden 
> <anthony_clayden at clear.net.nz <mailto:anthony_clayden at clear.net.nz>> 
> wrote:
>     Remember GHC's motto is 'avoid success at all costs'. Then
>     naturally it is prohibitively difficult to get to use GHC.
>     For students/people who you want to encourage to love Haskell,
>     especially on Windows,
>     I'm astonished you're not using Hugs, especially WinHugs (2-click
>     install).
>     Despite being over a dozen years unsupported it is still
>     orders-of-magnitude more friendly than GHC,
>      and has plenty of functionality (in Hugsmode) for undergraduate
>     level.
>     What's more Haskell from the intro texts just works on it;
>     whereas GHC throws all sorts of obscure advanced type errors.
>     I don't think powershell is a 'standard tool'. I use mostly
>     Windows machines,
>     I'm aware of powershell, I've never used it.
>     Chocolatey is an abhorence. Fortunately I've never had to use it;
>     I don't know why GHC would inflict it on anybody.
>     Increasingly, GHC HQ is a cult/elite that doesn't want any new
>     members.
>     The difficulties in trying to use GHC just show how exclusive it
>     has become.
>     AntC
>     > I appreciate that these things are standard tools for Windows
>     developers, but it's worth noting how much harder it can make things
>     for completely new people (either new developers or new to Windows).
>     > At the start of the year, I prepared install instructions for university
>     students who would be using Haskell as part of a first year CS
>     course. We needed to use GHC 8.6.5 because certain libraries were not
>     available for GHC 8.8.x (their base upper bounds hadn't updated, which
>     ruled out haskell-dev), and tried to use Chocolatey as an experiment.
>     > It was remarkably tough to get students set up on their own machines. I
>     was planning on recommending the Haskell Platform installer for Semester
>     2 this year, and am disappointed to find that it no longer exists.
>     > If it becomes too hard for students to install Haskell on their own
>     Windows machines, it may become too hard for us to use Haskell as an
>     educational tool, and I'd consider that a tragedy.
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