Something odd has been happening this last few years and even by talking about it, I am in danger of accidentally walking across the front of a religious war.
In computing terms, I probably class as somewhat experienced. Back when I used to do computer things, I used to systems manage whole countries and in my time, I have managed networks with hundreds of thousands of machines on them of all different types. I was almost certainly one of the first systems manager in Europe to be perfectly happy managing VMS and Unix Systems on the same network with no preference to which were there – If I wasn’t the first, then I was certainly the only one who would ever admit it and talk about it at the DECUS conferences.
In terms of systems management, PRIMOS was my first, on a 2250 in the early 80’s, and Unix my second, on GEC 63/30’s in the later part of the 80’s. By the early 90’s I had started managing bigger VAXes and in 1992/93, I started doing DECUS presentations on managing VMS and Unix on the same network. After that I had started writing more on managing large networks as it was becoming commonplace for the old single-flavour networks to be picking up VMS, Unix and various PC Network Operating Systems. At British Rail in 1994 I don’t think I could even count the number of systems and lightly connected networks there were all over the country. In the last few years Unix has got a new lease of life with BSD and Linux going open-source, Sun pushing more and more into various places and now even Apple getting in on the bandwagon. I haven’t really kept up but Unix is Unix is Unix.
I run Windows on all my machines at home. Well that’s not strictly true, I run Ubuntu Linux on my nameserver, but pretty much everything else is on Windows. This seems to shock people and I don’t understand why. Because I have experience with all these other systems there seems to be an assumption that I would run some sort of Unix clone on my PC but I don’t understand why; especially since I learned to hate the thing before most of the people who assume this were born.
So now… For my convenience and so that I don’t have to explain myself once a month, I will write it in here.
Yes. I use Windows (currently XP, I am sure I will go to Vista one day when enough people have told me that it is any good) at home. Yes, I rather like Windows even if I do think the logo has an obvious Swastika in it. On the whole, it does what I want it to do and it does it fairly smoothly and easily. I admit, I have to fiddle. I admit, I swear at it a lot, I admit, I get pissed off with it and blame it all on Bill Gates and yes, sometimes I despise every atom of Windows’ being. It’s not perfect, but for a desktop system it’s the best I have found and for the vast majority of people reading this, I have used a lot more than you to make that comparison. When I want software I can usually find something free that will do what I want; if not I can usually download a trial version that will do it anyway. Stuff I buy in shops (or at carboot sales) usually comes with a Windows Driver on a CD and plug and play no longer seems to be “Plug and Pray” as long as you have decent USB hubs.
I have a whole room full of VAXes, SGI machines, Suns and other odd machines. The operating systems these things run were good for what they did, but I really have no urge to fight with them any more. I am happy to let Windows win. I miss not having a simple command line interface sometimes but then again I have add-ons to Windows that let me do a lot of that now. I have tried to use Apple machines but honestly, I just can’t bring myself to feel “Holier than Thou” enough to be an effective Apple User, my Sanctimony Quotient and available money are too low for me to be an Apple User.
I have tried most of the mainstream BSDs and Linuxes; they annoy me. They are all subtly different and most of them won’t install on most of the (not very complicated) hardware I have. The fact they all seem to want to put the configuration files in different places and in different formats is really irritating. I installed Ubuntu Linux on my nameserver to replace FreeBSD (which as Unixes went, was the most consistent of the new ones) when FreeBSD failed miserably to install on the new machine. Ubuntu worked out of the box and was easy to install and run but I got locked out of the machine for 6 months once because of some ridiculous crapness on its part, and eventually had to reinstall when I needed to upgrade something. It works now, as long as I leave it alone but I really don’t like using it, even with the windows looking user interface it feels like stepping back 10 years.
Just so we are clear here – I am talking about Desktop machines, not servers. Servers I tend to login to once every few months for no more than a few minutes, hopefully. If I can avoid that and have them managed automagically, then even better. I don’t give a toss what operating system a server runs as long as it is the best one for the job and it does it quickly, securely and effectively. I don’t understand why Unix seems to have come out as the modern multi-user server OS. A few years ago, Unix was something that was there to quickly hack something up on, it was quick and dirty but effective. It was a Swiss Army knife as opposed to a Metric only Snap-On Socket Set. For serious stuff, Unix wasn’t much use, everything about it was too general purpose and hacky and all the bigger operating systems had their own specialisms and did their own thing much better. For the last 10 or 15 years a large amount of very clever people have been sucked into trying to make this hacky little operating system something it isn’t; adding more and more functions to the blades on the Swiss Army knife without realising that they are weakening the whole thing beyond belief. They aren’t doing any original research here, I heard them announce clustering a while ago, something which you really can’t beat VMS for. How about virtual machines. IBM anyone? It seems to be that every single little application on a modern Unix webserver needs to have SQL installed but if someone had worked out a decent Record Management System by now, there would be no need for a web counter to suddenly need 2 sources of data management. Don’t get me wrong here, Windows isn’t the thing for this, Windows is a good Desktop System and even though NT was developed from VMS, I have never been at all impressed it as a server. Just think though – If all of these young programmers who have wasted 10 or more years of their lives and seem set to waste another 20 had all collaborated on a project to develop a new operating system where could we be now? The networking, filing system and security of VMS, the virtual machine capabilities of CP, the security models of TOPS and PRIMOS, the Database capabilities of the AS/400 – need I go on? Think of all the things they COULD have done, instead of wasting their time with a pissy little operating system that wasn’t even much good for anything when it came out. Think of it in terms of Microsoft taking DOS, adding a windowing system to make it into Windows 2, adding some networking and multitasking to make it Windows 3.11 and then stopping pretty much there and doing nothing else to it.
Rewriting Minix (an old and obsolete small Unix system) was something that everybody who studied Operating System Design did, that’s what it was for. It was lovely as a teaching tool but about as far from rocket science as you can get in computing terms. When a Finnish chap called Linus Torvalds developed and released something called Linux as a result of one of these rewrites it seems that nobody told him he should be locked up in Luddite Prison for crimes against the development of new technologies. Torvalds and his cronies have naively and unwittingly put us back years in terms of development, especially when they all started taking the ever important commercial dollar. It is an easy and cheap path to fame to work on making somebody else’s wheel a little bit better and a little bit more round but never forget, even though it looks somewhat more hexagonal now than the square it once was, it’s the same old wheel. It’s a dangerous game criticising the historical development of Linux; its many rabid fans often make Scientologists look open-minded. As soon as you say something like “What’s the big deal? All he did was to do what everybody else was doing in school at the time.” you are instantly open to responses like “Yea, you are just bitter because you didn’t think of doing it.” – On my part, no, I didn’t think of doing it. I never for a moment believed that in the 21st century, people would still be using Unix and it would still look pretty much the same. There are people today struggling with Unix clones who have no idea of the wonderful things that older operating systems had in them that have now all but been forgotten. Oh Brave New World which has such obsolete shit stuck in it. All you clever kids, stop tinkering with somebody else’s rusty old steam engines and get out there and build us some fucking space ships!
To close, and at further risk of mixing even more metaphors and upsetting all the loonies, religious zealots and narrow minded know it alls; I am quite happy to be Windows user. No amount of nagging me is going to change my view on this and I can’t foresee anything else coming along that will budge me from this path until attitudes and religious beliefs change. For my usage, it is the currently best desktop operating system there is and until those days come, I am sticking with it, through bad and good.