Ziggy Admin and the OS from Mars

Making the move from Windows to Unix involves a few changes. Here's a diary from someone making the move.

 By Deann Corum
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Editor's Note: This is the first installment in a periodic series ENP regular Deann Corum will be writing on about her experiences moving from a Windows-centric environment to a new job with an emphasis on Linux.

This crusty old curmudgeon started futzing with computers in the 1980s, way back in the days of 5.25" floppies, DOS and DOS batch files. When I started messing with personal computers, it was because someone walked up and took away the typewriter I used as a secretary and replaced it with a Radio Shack TRS-80 (aka 'Trash-80') Model III. It had two 5.25" floppy drives. It was the latest technology and no one in the office knew how to use the thing including me. So, I set about learning what made the thing tick, learning first to install and use the software that was necessary to do my typing and other work, then how the operating system (TRSDOS) and floppy drives worked. I was eventually the only one in the office who had a clue how to operate the machine and I trained others. Being the opportunist I am, I put this experience on my resumé. The next job involved even more computer work, including an old DEC PDP 11 and the humongous disk packs it used. They held 67-256MB of data, I believe, which was a lot at the time. We also had a few IBM Personal Computers in the office - again with some DOS-based word processing programs and a couple of floppy drives. This experience also ended up on my resume.

Oh You Pretty Things - Came the GUI
Until the early 90s when Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1 and Windows NT 3.1 came out, that was how life was: floppies, various flavors of DOS and DOS batch files, cryptic diagnostic beeps and messages on a CRT screen was all we had to diagnose any problems that cropped up in the software, operating system or hardware. I had one more job as a 'secretary' before getting a job whose title better matched the type of work I was actually doing - and was most interested in doing. Windows NT 3.5 and Windows NT 3.51 came out in 1994 and 1995, respectively. But Windows was still very much just a colorful face slapped on top of DOS and did as much to thwart and obfuscate its usefulness as anything else. In addition to having to know what DOS, the dodgy "network" (i.e.: workgroup) protocols, and the applications and hardware were doing, we also had to know what the hairball we've not-so-lovingly come to know as Windows was doing in front of it all. I eventually got a job with a technical title at a printer manufacturer, then a medical software company. Somewhere around this time was the beginning of that huge 'Internet' era when TCP/IP would become so important to the world outside of academia and government. It's hard to imagine that even when Windows NT 4.0 came out in 1996, TCP/IP still wasn't even installed as a networking protocol by default. It had to be installed separately, and it was a pain in the keister. I won't say what I really thought of that omission or that installation routine. They won't let me publish that here. Since then, I've had a few more jobs doing Windows-based server, application, and network support. I managed to avoid Windows 98 and jump straight to Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 which finally have TCP/IP built in, but the network fist-fights with workgroup-based NETBIOS and WINS servers still exist if you're unfortunate enough to have Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 9x clients around.

Rebel Rebel
Out of geeky curiosity and due to ongoing animosity between Windows and Unix camps in some of the high-tech companies I'd worked at (Who'da thunk it?), I got my hands on a Linux distribution about ten years ago and decided to install it on one of my three or so systems at home. This was Slackware and it was about as much fun as installing TCP/IP on a Windows NT 4.0 system. I continued playing with various distributions and around 1996, I got the opportunity to learn a little bit of Solaris, futzed around with NIS, rlogin, jump-start, Unix-based print servers and a few other things that were Unix-related. But I got rebellious and set up a sorely needed Windows-based print and DHCP server that serviced some of the Unix clients in our department. Those experiences were enough to keep me interested and curious about Unix. I've installed a various flavors of Linux more times than I care to admit and Solaris a few times as well. Red Hat and Solaris have since made their installations fairly painless. I have a hosting server that now runs Debian and used to run FC2. I had installed and configured the operating system, services, and applications myself for a few years, but eventually moved to a managed service to save myself the trouble.

Continued on page 2: Is 'Administration for Everybody' for Everybody?

This article was originally published on Nov 22, 2005
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