Originally Published: Monday, 8 May 2000 Author: Tom Dominico, Jr.
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Comparing Apples and Oranges

"NT sucks!" "Linux sucks!" With those words, yet another flame war begins. NT users appreciate its ease of configuration. Unix users prefer to know the "guts" of their systems, and appreciate the stability and flexibility that their OS has to offer. When these two sides meet, they clash.

"NT sucks!" "Linux sucks!" With those words, yet another flame war begins. NT users appreciate its ease of configuration. Unix users prefer to know the "guts" of their systems, and appreciate the stability and flexibility that their OS has to offer. When these two sides meet, they clash. What both sides need to learn is that they are coming from totally different paradigms. As Linux users and advocates, we have to respect and understand these various backgrounds, and use that knowledge to help improve our own OS.

Linux users typically enjoy learning about the "guts" of their systems. There's no denying that this does take more time than using some sort of point-and-click tool, at least initially. More research is involved, but generally your reward is greater flexibility. Because the configuration files are text-based, and stored in a logical hierarchy, they are easy to access and process with command-lines tools and scripting languages.

Now, contrast this with the NT way. Configuration is generally simple, using graphical tools. Command-line configuration is sometimes possible, but not the preferred method. For people who don't have the time or inclination to become full-fledged sysadmins, NT sometimes appears to be an attractive option. In places such as small businesses, etc., having an experienced sysadmin is not an option. They want to keep their costs low, and they don't mind having to reboot every so often, as long as they can set the system up themselves.

It seems to me that this is one of the markets that Linux should be targeting. It's fast, free, stable, and runs on inexpensive hardware, which is perfect for small businesses. So, why not add more user-friendly configuration tools? We already have a few, but the ones I've used seemed somewhat clunky. I know that some seasoned Linux hackers are shaking their heads right now and scoffing at the idea of such tools. However, it seems to me that if Linux is really about freedom of choice, then we can't be hypocritical and insist that everyone take the more difficult route to system configuration. Sure, people using such tools won't be quite as knowledgeable about their systems, but perhaps they're not interested in that. And perhaps in time, as they grow more familiar with Linux, they'll become more comfortable with configuring it by hand, and learn to appreciate the flexibility that this offers. Some people require smaller steps than others, especially when coming from different backgrounds.

One idea that I've seen floating around is to store Linux configuration data in XML-based files. These could be easily edited by hand, and could also be easily interpreted by graphical configuration tools. While some "old-school" hackers may not find this necessary, this idea has the potential to make both sides happy.

If we are serious about infiltrating the traditional NT market with Linux, then we must be prepared to make some concessions. Supporting those users who prefer user-friendly graphical tools, while at the same time retaining some sort of text-based configuration files, is where we need to be headed. If we choose not to take this route, then we'll have to accept the fact that Linux will remain a "niche" OS, reserved only for those with the time and skill to configure it properly. Linux should be for everyone, not just the "elite" - let's help to make that a reality.

Tom Dominico (tomd@linux.com) is a programmer, database administrator, and Linux convert. Cursed with insomnia, he spends his sleepless nights chatting on IRC, tweaking his Linux box, and reading everything he can get his hands on.