Ziggy Admin and the OS from Mars - Page 2

By Deann Corum | Posted Nov 21, 2005
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Continued From Page 1

The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell
In Charlie Schluting's recent piece on Windows vs Linux/Unix server operating systems, he asks: "For beginners, Windows makes it possible. Should beginners really run your servers though?"

Because Window makes it possible, the answer to that question can be a resounding 'yes' for very small shops or family-run business without the funds for a highly experienced system administrator where one person must serve multiple functions, a system administrator being only one of them.

However, that capability also suggests that anyone who uses or supports Windows as a server or desktop operating system must be a beginner who doesn't understand the technology behind the GUI. But that's not the case with Windows any more than it is with Unix. Certainly there are some beginner-level Unix/Linux system administrators out there as well. I'll bet a few of them are even working in some of those small or family-owned businesses, particularly now that many Unix-based operating system installations have become much easier.

Most Windows system administrators I know are highly experienced and very much understand the technology behind the point-and-click interface. Many of them have been around as long as I have and they still must know the underlying technology in order to know where to look first when there's a problem. On top of that they have to determine how Microsoft, specifically, handles those technologies. Sometimes that's possible and others it isn't, leaving the administrator with having to devise ways to get the operating system to work with those technologies or vice-versa. However in the past three weeks in my new role, I've seen Unix system administrators have to do the same thing (they're called shell scripts) in order to customize an application to work as needed.

Because of the GUI, Windows servers can be more efficient because they're easier to configure. That doesn't mean they always are. There are often fewer separate services to configure due to the bundled and proprietary nature of the Windows OS. Setting up a new system, service, or application in Unix often involves at least several lines of cryptic commands at the prompt, then modification of one or a slew of .conf or other files, and/or custom-written shell or other types of scripts. With Unix, the necessity for this as well as the ability to do it, are both an obstacle to "newbies", and a boon to those with experience.

While Windows is an opaque operating system which causes untold frustration when what it does "behind the scenes" isn't evident much less pretty-- with Unix everything save the network interfaces themselves, is pretty much a file. Windows system administrators can spend as much or more time picking through that hairball trying to find out what Windows is doing "back there" when there are problems, as they save with the convenient point-and-click GUI when there aren't. I've been there. It was ugly.

You Got To Have A Job
For Windows and Unix system administrators, employers generally hire us because of the experience we have with that operating system and the underlying technology, rather than our lack of it. While a GUI makes Windows easier for someone who's inexperienced, that doesn't automatically mean that anyone who uses it IS inexperienced. Conversely, anyone who uses or supports Unix isn't necessarily an experienced guru, though I've seen people almost come to blows over this never-ending debate.

I've never thought Windows is somehow "better" than Unix or vice-versa. When an organization chooses to use one instead of or in addition to the other can depend on application requirements, what type of legacy systems and users must be supported, the experience of those who will be tasked with administering the systems, security and performance, and the preference to support open source operating systems and applications. I have often gotten better support with open source software (it's called Google) than I've gotten with Microsoft. I had to pay for Microsoft's support and sometimes never found out exactly what the problem really was. I find that bothersome, to say the least.

Personally, I'm looking forward to life sans GUI for a few more reasons: the fact that Unix-based operating systems don't evolve as quickly (save Fedora Core) as Windows-based OS's do, so I'll have time to become much more knowledgeable about the services involved and be able to use them longer before they're totally obsolete; the fact that while Unix involves more time at a command prompt, it's bound to be simpler than trying to poke through a proprietary GUI to find out what's going on when there's a problem; the fact that if I were to become certified on Linux or Unix, my certification is less likely to become obsolete so quickly; and finally not least, the opportunity to support open source applications and operating systems rather than proprietary ones.

We'll see if I still feel the same way in a few weeks when I write Part II...

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