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In Defense of Unix (and Linux, of course)

I wrote an article very similar to this in 1991. I recently found that in a pile of old papers, and liked it enough to update it for today.

Warning: This article contains strong language and unpopular opinions. Reading of this material by Windows advocates may cause severe gastric distress followed by a desire to strike the author sharply about the head. As the author does not enjoy being pummeled, such persons are kindly requested to return whence they came and do something else.

Yes, we're going to use that four letter word (and the five letter variant) that raises blood pressures everywhere, that strikes fear in the hearts and souls of Windows users and tech people alike.

Unix! Linux! There, I did it. AOL will undoubtedly block this page, and I'll be blacklisted by the Citizens for Web Decency, but I refuse to use euphemisms. No more "U-word" and "L-Word" for me: Unix! Linux! SCO! HP-UX! Solaris, AIX, RedHat, Suse, BSD, Mac OS X! Unix, Unix UNIX!!!

There. That was therapeutic. It's best to bring these things out in the open. Big bad Unix is tromping down the highway, threatening us with command line interfaces, cryptic commands, and belittling truth, motherhood, Apple pie and especially Bill Gates.

If you don't have a Unix or Linux server in your company now, you probably will have soon. You may never see that awful character based interface, but underneath the pretty colors and graphics, it's still there.. waiting. Waiting for you to type awful commands, commands no Windows person would ever use: grep, awk, sed.. and worse.

You may rail against it. Stomp your feet, lie down on the floor and kick your legs, hold your breath and pout and fume, but it doesn't matter: you are fighting the inevitable. Unix and Linux are coming. Cheap, fast, adaptable, reliable, infinitely customizable, transparent, open, powerful yet simple, and more. And you really never have to use that awful command line if you don't want to.

I said cheap, right? I don't just mean Linux, which of course you can get for free. Both Linux and Unix are cheap because you get more bang for the buck from your hardware. Unlike Windows bloatware, you don't need super powerful machines to do the job. Although an extreme example, I have a teeny little HP desktop machine doing mail at a a site that does 40,000 messages per week. Most folks wouldn't even want this puny little box on their desk, but it handles that load with ease. I'd like to see Exchange do it on that hardware!

Not only that, but properly configured Unix machines often need very little attention. Sometimes they just chug along for years and years with absolutely no maintenance, adjustment, fiddling: the darn stuff just works. I couldn't begin to support the number of Unix clients I have if they were running NT, and many of my customers have either no IT staff at all or have a single person who has other responsibilities too. Listen to the little birdies: Unix and Linux are cheap, cheap, cheap.

But what good is cheap when there's no software? Everybody knows that: maybe it's good for mail or web servers, but not for anything else, and certainly not on the desktop. No software.

Well, it's true. You Windows zealots can stop reading now and go back to baby sitting the NT servers. There is no Unix software, your jobs are secure, there's nothing to worry about. Thanks for visiting, have a nice day and all that. Ciao.

Ok. Are they gone? Good. I lied.

Yes, it's a given that there are 18 gadzillion Windows software applications out there. However, (don't bother to argue with me!) 17.73 gadzillion of those are junk: useless, broken, incomprehensible or so niche specific that only three people in Omaha and two in Seattle would ever buy them. Another .2 gadzillion are little utilities and stuff that you either don't need because Unix/Linux don't have whatever problem it is these fix, or because the function is already present and you don't need to pay extra for it. Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Database and more are all not only available for Unix and Linux but often they are low cost or even free and - gasp! - sometimes the darn things are actually BETTER than the Microsoft equivalents!

Almost cinched the deal right? But just in time, you remembered that awful command line. Grep. Awk. Ugh!

Darn it, another one gets away. You are so right: no normal human being would want to use those awful commands. Guess what: you don't have to. You CAN, if you really want to whip that OS into submission and bend it to your will, but you can also configure, control, and use most Unix systems through graphical wizards and panels, just like Windows. Really.

By the way, Unix happily co-exists with Windows, Novell, and just about anything else you might have lurking about. Samba and related products put Unix resources right out there in Network Neighborhood - you can't tell the difference. Samba can be your PDC too if you want it to be: you really don't need any Microsoft servers at all (which of course means no outrageous Microsoft licenses to buy).

So there it is: The ogre turns out to be a rather friendly fellow. Don't worry, be happy: get Unixed.

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Anyone who puts a small gloss on a fundamental technology, calls it proprietary, and then tries to keep others from building on it, is a thief. (Tim O'Reilly)

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