Wednesday, February 20, 2008


unix snob

I'm kind of a unix snob. I was already using it when Microsoft Windows and Macintosh were introduced. I was a hardware engineer and the garage tinkerer toys were on "Windows" while the serious tools were on unix RISC machines, so I never had an employer demand that I use the MSFT junk.

I had a gig where I generated Powerpoint slides for a few months. I picked a set of window decorations that looked like MS-Windows 95, and Applixware for the slides. The boss and the IT department didn't notice I wasn't using "Windows" until the Melissa worm came through and knocked down every computer in the office except mine.

I know their customers demand it, but I can't understand why a company that calls itself an IT expert consultancy would fool around with "Windows" for its own email and other critical systems. An auto mechanic would never depend on a $5 Chinese socket set from the flea market. That job takes professional quality tools. But here we have the company whose rooted box spammed me yesterday exposing a "Windows" email server on a routable address. They'll have a hard time cleaning the box up, and they'll put it back on the net to get rooted again. They think that's normal. It's the Chinese socket set of software and they're trying to run their business on it. Happens every day.

This week I helped a local peace activist graduate from Web-TV to Ubuntu GNU+X+Linux. Except she didn't need any help. The only thing that didn't "just work" was when she entered the wrong password for her dial-up service. Ubuntu didn't have an error indication; it just failed silently. (Which just reinforces my preference for KDE over GNOME. KPPP usually "just works" including error indications.) It's a good thing nobody'd told her "linux isn't ready for prime time."

It won’t be wrong to call a software company backbone of the IT sector. But off late this backbone has suffered major setbacks that have reflected in the overall depression that the IT sector went through. Though in many countries like the US the sector went through a downward slope in certain other countries it has managed to be stable at the plateau stage.
The Open Group has issued Apple a lovely certificate of compliance. I suggest that all Leopard users frame it and hang it in their server rooms and Mac-blessed cubicles as a reminder to Linux weenies that there are pretenders, and then there is the real thing.
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You asked why anyone uses windows boxes, so I thought I'd share some perspective. I work with a guy over at IBM's ethical hacking group tasked with exposing OS vulnerabilities. It turns out a well configured MS box is just as secure as a unix box -- less so in some cases, but more so in others. The vulnerability has its roots in software.

Now windows boxes allow all kinds of users to install all manner of what not. To make sure its friendly to every single computer literate or nor user, the OS has to try to ID problems on its own. The OS f's this up from time to time. So go with Unix?

Only if you hate money. In general the financial loss from a worm is about 10K or so, but it can get into the millions. The worst consequences I've seen from a worm or the like is on the order of tens of millions of dollars -- no chump change to be sure.

However, for a company large enough that tens of millions of dollars of loss is possible, the loss of productivity on unix boxes is on the order tens of millions each year. Now I can already hear the angst as you read this, because you are a unix snob. Yes, unix can do everything windows can do, but better. Agreed. But without question the learning curve for non unix kiddo's is very high. Training employees on unix is damn expensive.

Moreover, even for engineering projects I feel that y'all unix snobs miss the point in extolling the benefits of Unix. You make arguments about the value of individual security issues and the simplicity of some coding project. Agreed, but who cares? Unix environments are not competitive in dealing with large scale project management. There are so many ways to do things in a unix enviroment that hiring and firing and giving promotions is a major problem. In a 20,000+ person company, this is a nightmare.

What I'm trying to express is that if you are wondering why we stay in the windows and .NET world, its because UNIX is f'ing expensive. UNIX is great in places where labor is the cheapest element (high schools, countries where minimum wages are less that $3USD/hr, etc ...) or where 90% of the users are and will continue to be UNIX-savvy (server backends, etc...), but for proper companies with a sense of the big picture (I.E., not focused on one single computer), its a poor choice.
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