jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Regarding OS Zealotry

Today I found myself in the unfortunate situation of defending Linux to a man I think I can honestly describe as a Windows zealot. I hate doing this, as it leads to religious wars that are ultimately of no use, but it’s really my own fault for letting myself be sucked into it. It started when we were attempting to increase the size of a disk image in vmware, while Red Hat guest was running. It didn’t work, and we couldn’t find any tools to rescan the scsi bus, or anything else to get Linux to recognize that the disk was bigger. I was getting frustrated, and the zealot began to laugh, saying how easy this task was in Windows. Obviously, I felt slighted since I’m one of the Unix admins at $work, and decided I needed to defend the operating system and set of skills that pays the bills here at home. And so, we started trading snide remarks back and forth about Linux and Windows.

At one point, I told him that since Windows was so easy, MCSE’s were a dime a dozen. This is probably wrong, I don’t have anything to back it up with. Really, the entire argument was wrong, and I was dragged down to the level of grade school arguing about who’s OS was “better”. The entire thing was pointless, and wound up costing more time and effort that should have been spent on the task at hand. After giving it some thought while doing yard work this evening, I’ve decided to get out of OS debates all together.

I’ve worked as a Windows admin in the past, I even took a few tests and earned the MCSA certification back in 2002. I don’t have anything against Windows, but I don’t personally feel that it’s a technically superior server to Linux or even AIX. Windows has some administrative tools that make me drool in envy. I wish I could set up group policy, I wish I could get a Linux host to authenticate centrally as easy as it is to have a Windows server join a domain, and evidently disk management is extremely easy now. However, the real strengths of Linux are not that it is easy to use, or easy to administer. The strengths of Linux is in its stability and security.

Case in point: I’ve personally seen web hosting environments built on a default install of SLES 8 that were not patched for four and a half years, and never had a problem. Best practice? Of course not, but it worked. I’m not sure I could say the same for Windows in that same situation. Another example, another place I worked had a Linux web server who’s root partition was 100% full. This particular server was not built with LVM, so we couldn’t just extend the disk, and we also couldn’t just delete data, since we didn’t know what was needed and what was not. This server kept up and running for at least a year, and may still be running now, happily serving up web pages with a full root partition. What happens if you fill up the C:\ drive of a Windows server? I’m thinking that it crashes, but I’m not sure.

So, is a Linux server “better” than a Windows server? Is Windows “better”? In this, as in most things, the answer is: it depends. Both systems come at things from a different direction, and each show their strengths and weaknesses differently. In my experience, I’ve gained a respect for both. I prefer Linux, because honestly, I think it’s more fun.

I’ve really only worked with one other Windows zealot, and we used to argue over the use of Linux on the desktop. Linux on the desktop and Linux on the server are two totally different animals. Sure, they use the same kernel, and same basic userland apps in the shell, but other than that, they have different purposes. Arguments against using Linux on the desktop are more often than not aimed at Gnome or KDE, and not at the actual Linux OS underneath. I come to the same conclusion there as well though, certainly some things do not work as well in Linux as they do in Windows. Some things work better, but all in all, I just think Linux is more interesting.

I think what our argument came down to today was that he doesn’t understand why anyone would use Linux, since Windows, in his opinion, is so much better at everything than Linux. I think a little bit of professional courtesy would have gone a long ways here, but its just as much my fault for continuing the argument as it was his. My position on the comparison is this: yes, some things are much, much harder in Linux than in Windows… but, it’s so much more fun managing Linux. A stripped down, well oiled Linux server can be a screamer for performance and reliability. Is it easy getting there? No, but it’s worth the extra effort.

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