Compatibility - Feedback from Solomon Rutzky

Tue, 19 May 1998 16:49:45 -0500

Hello John, my name is Solomon (as you might have guessed by the address on this email) and I wanted to comment on your article. First, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found it comforting that this information is out there. I have worked with computers for a good 13 years now and work in the computer field doing web development, database administration and programming, and systems administration for both NT and UNIX. I started out on an AppleII, moved to a TI 99/4a, and then to a wonderful AT&T 8088 with a huge 640K ram and 10 Meg harddrive. I have sinced used Macintosh, MVS (TSO mainly), OS/2, and VAX to minor degrees each. I have worked with UNIX for 4-5 years now using AIX, Linux, Solaris, and a little HP-UX and BSDI. PC wise I started with DOS 5.1 and have used Win3.1x, Win95, NT 3.51, and NT 4.0. And I too am a Microsoft Certified Professional (for NT Workstation Administration). I don't mean to bore you with details, but I think I have a well-rounded experience and I feel that UNIX is most often the best solution, though I can still see a place for Mainframes and MVS in the 'enterprise.' I thought your article was balanced enough but I do have some constructive ideas:

1) I think the issue of 'compatibility' should be brought to light. While the Microsoft world (or Micro$lo$h as I prefer to call it ;) would have it, you must run their applications. If you have an X server such as eXceed, then you can run X binaries, but I would consider that answer to be more of a word game because anyone who knows how X works knows that Windows (95, NT, etc.) is not really running the application: the power is still on the UNIX side. Conversly, UNIX systems can run Windows applications without requiring a Windows OS somewhere on the network to serve or process the application. Sun has WABI (Windows Application Binary Interface) which is a software x86 emulator and some vendors even make x86 compatibility boards for faster processing of Intel-based code. Better yet, a freeware distribution called WINE (WINdows Emulator) can run Windows 3.1, 95, and NT 3.51 applications the last time I checked (and that was over a year ago now!). I have compiled WINE on Linux a few times and that is certainly no difficult task. I would be willing to bet that it can now emualted the NT 4.0 realm as well. And even better still: there are Macintosh emulators for Linux and even DOS emulators. I think the Mac emulator was called Pilot but I never looked into that. The DOS emulator, DOSEMU, was also easy to compile in Linux and did a good job of running 16 bit DOS applications. I had no problems running WordPerfect 5.1 and only minor problems with WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS under the emulator. So, the question remains: what benefit does investing in NT get anyone?

2) In terms of Linux as a fair comparison to NT as it runs on the same hardware, a criticism in favor of NT is usually: "I can't find any applications to run on Linux." This is mostly false and becoming less of an issue each day. Outside of the obvious answer--Windows and DOS and Macintosh emulators allow for most packages to be ran on Linux--it should be noted that more and more applications are being ported to Linux all the time. The article concerning Digital Domain and the movie _Titanic_ that you have a link to at the bottom of your report shows that businesses are starting to invest heavily in Linux and are willing to port appliactions over themselves if need be. The makers of InterBASE just ported over to Linux and Informix had formal plans to do so (from what I read) before finding themselves in financial troubles. I have heard through the grape-vine that Oracle and/or Sybase will be ported over soon. In fact, I know that Oracle does have a port to SCO UNIX which runs on an Intel x86 chip and I have been told that the Caldera distribution of Linux has a SCO emulator and can thus run Oracle already. Once these companies and more port their applications over, there will be more reasons to go with a Linux solution and less reasons for investing in NT. I firmly believe that if Oracle were already out for Linux that many companies would have already invested in it as the OS is cheaper, faster, and more reliable. This is why it boggles my mind that these companies have not already ported to Linux. They might not listen to me, but I would be willing to put money on that being a guaranteed market with nothing to lose and a good deal of money to gain.

3) One reason that I hear companies (and even the Air Force, :-( God help us!) are going with NT is that they think it has a lower cost of administration. As you already pointed out, in general UNIX admins are more computer-savvy than their NT pseudo-counterparts (I have a hard time giving someone who only knows NT the benefit of the doubt in terms of really understanding the computer that they are administrating). However, bean-counting, foolish managers who mistakingly look only at short term costs will think that hiring UNIX administrators is too costly when they can install NT and pay some kid with point-and-click experience a much lower wage to install print queues or some applications or even fix minor problems. They then realize that it takes more than that to REALLY administrate an NT machine and are forced to pay good money for a Microsoft Certified something-ruther. These days those Microsoft Certified Professionals/Solution Engineers/Solution Developers are getting salaries that are not too far below those of UNIX administrators. But now they need more NT administrators since no administrative tasks can be done from a single console or even remotely.

4) Microsoft advocates and people who simply do not know any better often charge the UNIX community with being too diverse and that working with Solaris doesn't mean you know HP-UX or IRIX or OSF/1 or AIX or whatever. While there is SOME truth to their being differences in each flavor, I do not feel that it is a down-fall of the UNIX community. That would be the same as saying that Protestants and Catholics and Baptists and Evangelists and Methodists and Apostolics are inferior because they are too diversified. But I think they would mostly agree that if you believe in God, Jesus, the resurection, and that whole sin/forgiveness thing that you are Christian. Sure, AIX will have some different features than Solaris and BSD varieties of UNIX will be slightly different than SYSV varieties in terms of how they handle run-levels and the flags for the ps commands, etc., but anyone who knows UNIX can get around ANY flavor of UNIX and more importantly they will at least know how to learn the differences via man pages and other information sources.

Well, that is it for my soap-box evanglising for UNIX, but I thought I should point out a few things that might need correction in your paper:

1) In paragraph 4 of the "Functionality" section you state that, "Although NT provides basic password security, it only provides file-level security..." I think you should clarify that as it can be misleading as NTFS does provide for directory permissions as well as file permissions. It also provides for the concept of file ownership, though it is hard to tell if any use of this is ever made.

2) In the 3rd paragraph of the "Performance" section I think the word 'Corporation' is mispelled. I think if you search on 'Cporporation' you will find it right away. :).

3) In the "Some Common Misconceptions" section under "UNIX is outdated, cryptic..." you state that "FVWM, a freeware GUI that has many similarities to the Windows 3.1 GUI..." You might want to ask around more, but I have been using FVWM for 3-4 years now both on Linux and Solaris and find few, if any, similarities to Win3.1x. In fact, I think FVWM is much much more robust and powerful and configurable; it is my preferred window manager. :)

Well, that is finally it. I am sorry that this is such a long read, but I find this subject very interesting and I have been trying to tell people for years that UNIX is better than NT in every way from an enterprise/server point of view. Sure, for home-office use Win95 is just fine; i am using it right now (to run Netscape!) as well as other software packages. But I also have Linux installed and prefer that. And for people who are not computer-literate and don't have time to learn then it is a good and easy-enough tool to use. But to run mission-critical applications and/or databases on? Not a chance in hell.

Take care and good luck with the paper,

Solomon Rutzky

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