There's plenty of stuff out there that tells you why you
should embrace Linux and make it your own.
That's not what
this is: if you want to run Windows, go ahead. You
may be perfectly happy with what most of us Windows non-users
think is pretty awful stuff. Great - by the way, why are
you reading this? Maybe you think you are missing out on something?
Maybe you should use Linux or OS X or BSD because that's what all
the cool kids do?
Maybe. But I use Unixish operating systems for other reasons.
A little personal history
First, a bit of history. I have been doing 'puter stuff since
1967. Back then it was punched cards and expensive hardware, but
ten years later I bought my first computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80
Model 1. I had Tandy Model III's after that, a Model 16 running
Tandy Xenix, an early IBM clone running Windows, and as I
have been doing computer consulting full time since 1983, I have
worked on just about everything you have ever heard of. When
I say "worked on", I mean used and programmed, not took apart
with screwdrivers (though I've done that too).
So, I have seen it and used it: Sun-OS, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, SCO Xenix,
Microsoft Xenix, Tandy Xenix, Novell, CP/M, TRS-DOS, Pick, DOS, Wang,
Windows, GEM, Macs, Coherent and of course many flavors of Linux and BSD.
Been there, done that, paid my dues.
And here it is flat out: I like Unix OSes. All of them, though obviously
the newer Unixes are better than the old. I dislike Microsoft Oses. All of
them. I don't know where I'd have to draw the line and say "Yeah, I'd
rather have XP or Vista than THAT", but it would be pretty far back.
I'd definitely take even a crappy old SCO 5.0.6 machine over Windows XP,
and trust me, SCO 5.0.6 would be a painful choice.
So why? Why would I suffer a ten year old badly done Unix rather
than a modern Windows system? Remember, I'm not ignorant of Windows:
I actually attained MSCE certification at one time (NT days, see
I use Windows machines almost every day at customer sites and I have
Windows XP running in a Parallels VM on my Mac. It's not that
I haven't given Windows the opportunity to win my heart - I have,
but Unix always wins.
A powerful command line is absolutely necessary or I will be
very unhappy. Even Microsoft belatedly has recognized that, though
in my opinion they screwed it up completely.
Why is a shell so important? Because I don't wait for other people
to write the tools I need. No, I don't mean accounting apps or
word processors; I mean the day to day stuff. Maintenance, analysis,
slicing and dicing, trouble-shooting. Little tools for little
jobs. These could be written in C or whatever, but the shell is
quick and handy. It's often much quicker to bang out a shell script
than to do anything else.
Open and available source code is important. It lets me fix
things, it helps me understand things. There is more Unix/Linux
open source than a Windows acolyte can even begin to imagine. Now
it's true that some Unixes are NOT Open Source (SCO, for one), but
even then you can find source that's probably pretty darn close -
it's better than nothing. And nothing is just what Windows gives you.
Those two things alone are enough to make me dislike Windows and
cast my lot with Unix. That's all it takes: everything else either flows from
there or is of minimal importance. I have other reasons to dislike
Microsoft: their rapacious and immoral business practices disgust me,
their piss-poor record on security is abysmal, and the glacial
slowness of their OSes is always a source of annoyance, but none
of that is as important as having a strong Unixish command line
and available source code.
But there's more. There's what we call the "Unix Philosophy",
which is that small tools should do one thing and do it well, while
being designed so that they can get whatever input they need from
the output of something else and vice versa. It's pipelines,
stringing together little tools to get big results. Windows programs
just are NOT written with that in mind - if they do allow command
line use at all, they spit out too much on the output side and aren't
even smart enough to do so on a different file handle so that you
can pick what you really need. That's why working at a Windows
command line is so frustrating.
So, Windows fans, enjoy your insufficient OS. I'm sure most
of you will never understand why it is deficient - you don't see
the advantage of a command line or pipes and most of you wouldn't know
what to do with source if you did have it. So wallow in your
In the meantime, we'll be over here, using REAL operating systems.
Yeah, I know, that sentence is harsh. It's the way I feel. Windows
is a poor excuse for an OS, for me at least. If it meets your needs,
good for you. It's hard for me to imagine how it could, but so many
of you use it, that must be the case, right?
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© 2012-07-07 Anthony Lawrence