Yesterday, David Williams posted on ITWire’s Linux Distillery an article about how Linux is keeping Microsoft honest. The real meat begins with a discussion about Windows PowerShell, Microsoft’s newest scripting language. ‘New’ is a relative term, as Williams points out that the scripting concept is not only a very old one, but that the punch cards of computer lore could be considered the first form of scripting. Williams points out that the Windows trend of ‘dumbing it down’, creating GUI tools to replace thousands of keystrokes, may be reversing. The focus of PowerShell, a CLI, is to replace thousands of mouse clicks with scripts. Williams continues with the revelation that PowerShell is becoming ‘entrenched’ in Microsoft’s server offerings, including a headless, GUI-less mode for Windows Server 2008. He attributes this shift in design philosophy to Linux.
I think this is great news for Windows, because as systems grow, especially online offerings, effective system management depends on efficiency. Ultimately, this means automating as many maintenance functions as possible. With Linux and other *nix platforms, this has never been a problem, but the Windows CLI has been fading into obscurity for many years now. The DOS shell sat right on top of the kernel, but beginning with NT, the ‘command prompt’ became just another application that had to operate through various other layers, such as the oppressive NT HAL, diminishing its power. Moreover, the range of CLI utilities remained unimpressive. Thankfully, products such as MKS Toolkit, Cygwin and Sourceforge’s UnxUtils have helped to fill that gap.
Let’s not forget that the CLI is useful for far more than executing OS-related functions. In my experience, all the best software applications offer a CLI interface. I implement systems that help IT managers manage the activities of their staffs, including helpdesk and other customer issue management suites, source code control and software media distribution centers, and project/programme management repositories. I always look for software that provides a Unix release, even if the target platform is Windows. Why? Unix-based applications almost always include a CLI which is almost always ported to the Windows release if one exists. Not only is the CLI of great use to me from a user’s and administrator’s perspective, but I know that the existence of a CLI usually indicates that the software has tested more thoroughly. If an application has been designed well, then the CLI functions call the same underlying subroutines as their GUI counterparts – this allows the vendor to easily write (and more importantly, to execute) scripts for regression and load testing. Nightly smoke tests of new builds are possible without the maintenance of complex GUI-based test harnesses. Don’t misread me – the GUI must be tested, just not to the same extent as when the GUI is the only interface available.
Where’s the FUD? For years, Windows zealots have denounced Linux for being arcane, hard-to-use, and backward. Heavy reliance on the CLI for administration was cited as a failure to progress (through obstinacy, ignorance or both). Now, it appears that Microsoft is admitting that a powerful shell is indeed useful, forcing its fanboys to dine on crow tartare.
The return of a powerful shell is a step in the right direction for Windows! Is this really due to Linux? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Ok… I know, I know… it’s been over 7 months since my last post! I have been busy with my personal life, work, and Visual Basic .NET night classes that I’ve been taking for work, which barely left me with a social life, but classes are done now and I think I’ll have more time. I have been commenting or replying to others as much as I can, though.
Oh, and Happy New Year!
With the New Year comes a new thing: a new writer joins this blog in my quest to squash FUD towards Linux. Brandon lives in the Dallas Metroplex in Texas and has much more experience than I do in Linux… and lives much more south than I do! We have very similar technical backgrounds and I’m sure we’ll work well as a team. He will post whenever he can on no particular schedule… like me!
So let’s welcome Brandon to the team! And if you are interested in joining us as a part-time or occasional writer, contact us.
– Kevin Guertin
Greetings all! My name is Brandon, I use Ubuntu exclusively for my personal computing, and I’ve volunteered to assist Kevin in maintaining the Linux FUD blog. By way of introduction, I would like to share my own conversion story.
My experience with computing began in the era of the Commodore 64 and the Apple IIe. I never had to use punch cards, but I do remember saving data to cassette tape. I learned how to program in BASIC on our home computer, which ran on MS-DOS 2.1! Over time, I migrated through the various releases of DOS and graduated from BASIC A to the more procedural QBasic. I tinkered with assembly language, removed the sound commands from gorilla.bas on the school computers (my apologies, Mrs. Hanes), and even learned how to add mouse support to a batch program.
In a nutshell, I “grew up” on DOS and BASIC. I was not a fan of the early members of the Windows family, however. Windows 3.x was slow and Win95/98 was buggy. The stability and security of NT 4.0 won me over and I became a huge fan of NT. For a variety of reasons I continued to use it without major upgrade for nearly a decade.
My interest in Linux began around 1996 or so, when two individuals, a coworker and a schoolmate, independently tried to convert me away from NT. I was vehemently resistant at first, but the more I read about it, the more I entertained the thought of switching. I eventually bought (yes, actually paid for) a copy of Red Hat Linux 5.0, but my experiments with it and subsequently with Slackware were less than successful. Though I was unconvinced that Linux was good enough for daily use, I did see its potential value as a platform for computation-intensive applications.
A few years later, a work assignment presented the perfect opportunity to show off some of those QBasic skills. To my surprise, beginning with Windows 2000, QBasic was no longer being bundled with the OS. To complete my project, I gained access to one of the Solaris machines and learned Perl as a replacement language. Though this had nothing to do with Linux per se, I became much better acquainted with Unix in general and eventually traded my Win2K work laptop for a shiny new Sun Station…ok, the “shiny” part was a joke, really, but it was new. Besides Perl, I started making heavy use of awk, sed, and other utilities. I finally had my command line back and with some very powerful tools to boot.
The more I read about the state of Linux over the years, the more I was impressed and I started running Knoppix to try out the new OS before committing to it. After that, there was no question left in my mind that Linux would be my next platform of choice. I was still not impressed with Red Hat, however, so I narrowed my short list to Suse and Ubuntu.
When I purchased a new laptop in 2006, I decided to try Ubuntu first. I thought that I would end up with SUSE in the end, but Ubuntu was making serious headlines and, true to its word, everything “just worked”. I never did install SUSE. Since then, I’ve converted my wife and my parents to Ubuntu and have had several friends express an interest in the recent past.
I do not think my conversion story is all that unique and it is certainly not entertaining or inspirational. No, I wanted to tell my story because it illustrates fear, uncertainty and doubt at various levels. Fear that Linux will not survive long-term. Uncertainty that it will suit my needs. Doubt that I will be able to see my data later if I decide to switch again. The decision to convert 100% was neither quick nor easy. When I look back on it, I recognize that the decision was swayed in both directions by the articles I read and the people with whom I spoke.
Therein lies my interest in contributing to this blog, to help eliminate FUD, both intrinsic and intentional. More on that to come.
Until next time, Happy New Year!
No, it’s not a swear. It’s an acronym for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. FUD. These are all feelings a (potential) new Linux user feels. You can add stupidity to that list, too.
That’s how I feel. Stupid. FUDS.
You see, I consider myself to be a Microsoft Windows guru. I’ve been using/working with computers since 1991 (of course there was Commodore 64 and the likes before that). Remember MS-DOS Shell? How about QBasic? The original Nibbles? I’ve been using, studying, and tinkering everything “Microsoft” since its infant years. I know my stuff.
I’ve grown to hate Microsoft (for all the usual reasons), but still love it at the same time. Then I ask myself, “Honestly, is it really love?” Nah… I think it’s more like a habit or a security blanket. Stick to what you know.
And then there’s Linux, tugging at the security blanket, charmingly threatening to take it away and offer better things for free. It’s convincing, and I’m starting to let go of that blanket.