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Unix vs. PC again

© July 2004 Tony Lawrence

Referencing: Are Mac Users Smarter Than PC Users?

The article referenced above light-heartedly asks if Unix users are smarter than PC users. The "style" program, which rates writing samples, is used as a measurement tool, and the author concludes that, if not smarter, Unix users certainly do write better.

That doesn't surprise me. I commented on this before at Unix - Love it or hate it? - I think the issue partly is as simple as this: people who like to use words like to use Unix. Smarter? Nope. Just people with different preferences.

Though all of us here ARE smarter than PC users, right? And taller. Not to mention better looking, more successful with the opposite sex, and all that. Those loser PC users.. ooops: I'm using a PC to write this! I can feel IQ points dropping with every keystroke..

Anyway, the article is worth reading, and "style" is always fun to play with. Perhaps we should run it against samples from the various authors here and find out who's the biggest Unix geek?

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"...people who like to use words like to use Unix."

I think a lot of this comes from the early days when slow-moving Teletypes were the principle means of interacting with the computer. In such an environment, economy of expression was very important: one could quickly develop a bad case of numb fingers banging away on the Teletype's clunky keyboard. Also, one's patience could quickly wear thin waiting for the system to respond, only to realize that a botched command resulted in a digital rebuke.

However, a lot of the wordsmithing that seems to be characteristic of UNIX types comes from the background of UNIX itself. UNIX was developed in a laboratory environment by some very well educated folks, who were, by nature, academics that reveled in precise expression (you see a lot of that in the content of UNIX man pages). It followed that UNIX would reflect that nature, and those who subsequently learned about UNIX, mostly at colleges and universities, would absorb the economy and precision of expression that their instructors, many of whom were UNIX experts, used every day with the computer.

Sadly, with the ascendence of Windows in academia, wordsmithing of the quality typified by seasoned UNIX users seems to be a lost art, especially amongst the younger generation of computer users. I'm often amazed at just how badly a lot of on-line stuff is written, often by supposedly educated writers. Is this because the writers find it difficult to press the correct keys? Is it because they simply don't care about the quality of their prose? Or is it because they simply don't know how to express themselves with the economy and precision that we older UNIX jocks learned to use so long ago?


---July 17, 2004

I think it's more than just economy of expression. People who like to write use words as tools. We all do that, of course, but some of us just grab any old screwdriver that halfway fits, and some of us dig out the RIGHT tool.

The Unix philosophy is all about using the "right" tool. Windows isn't about tools at all, so those who like using tools have an innate disadain for that paradigm. Likewise, the folks who don't appreciate having the precise tool for the job to be done certainly don't appreciate Unixes tool building philosophy.

I'm going to leave that last paragraph "as-is" as an example of what I'm talking about. I don't like it. It's not quite "right"; it doesn't precisely convey the thought I have in mind. It bothers me: if I weren't leaving it as an example, I'd rip it out and rewrite it. I think that personailty trait is what makes me like Unix/Linux. It's all about control and precision, isn't it?


---July 18, 2004

Precision and control are natural extensions of economy of expression. My point was that the economy of expression that is innate to UNIX can only be achieved with precision and control -- a circular relationship, indeed.

The problem with Windows tools is not only the general Windows disdain for using tools, it is the quality of the available ones. In the Windows workshop you will find one or two hammers, a bent screwdriver (bent because it was used as a substitute for a crowbar), and some worn out files and saws. You can obtain a cheap electric drill and a 12 inch ruler from Microsoft, but only if you purchase the workshop improvement service pack. Using these tools demands little of the user and -- predictably -- the results are usually low quality and feeble performance.

In the UNIX workshop, on the other hand, you will find not only a complete set of quality hand tools (including several different sized hammers for reparing broken Windows) but a Bridegport mill (equipped with an X-Y-Z digital readout accurate to .0005 inches), a South Bend engine lathe (also with a digital readout), a Chicago brake press, Starrett micrometers and snap gauges, and a 250 amp Miller TIG welding setup for those really heavy fabrication jobs. Efficient use of these tools requires more basic knowledge and a much higher skill level than needed by the Windows tools. However, the skilled UNIX fabricator can produce an almost infinite variety of things of high quality and performance. If he needs a tool that is not on hand he can use what is available to make that tool. That's where the real strength of the UNIX shop becomes apparent.


---July 18, 2004


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