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Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

Supplicating to the Hershbergers

Dane and Rayna Hershberger found recent posts on my blog that seemed to get them mightily indignant, based on his and her comments, which absolutely horrified me, because they’re my favorite IT people on the face of the planet, and I would never want to offend them. I’ve calmed down some from my initial panic because the first thing I did was pick up the phone and call them, as Dane expected.

Dane said he found my site by Googling his own name (something I’ve done on a regular basis since I discovered Google, and a practice I highly recommend if you have any concerns at all about privacy. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has an even more complete list of research you should do on yourself.) I guess getting mail from me in the past with an email address ending in this site’s moniker just didn’t pique his curiosity.

I guess my characterization of the reaction to Linux on the part of most Windows-certified network engineers is based primarily on my experience of their disdain, so I wasn’t surprised to see the MS-minion flavor of their comments, but I was hurt to think that Dane felt he needed to defend the work he put into almost single-handedly creating Corrpro’s WAN. He shouldn’t feel that way, and he should in no way interpret any comment I make as a criticism of his efforts. For the record, I think he, Rayna, and the other folks at the old Corrpro IT department (which was replaced by outsourcing to IIG, which has since been bought by TechniSource) did an awesome job, even without considering how few personnel they had and how hamstrung they where by limits on equipment and software expenditures. I think that if they wrote a book or a website about the experience, it would make a great field reference for other oppressed IT professionals to use as a guide.

Still, I’m not surprised that when the TechniSource folks came in, looked at the existing setup, decided that they had a lot of work to do “building an Enterprise class infrastructure.” Their position is probably flavored by their experience as consultants, coming into existing networks of all different types of configurations, and apparently they have the influence with Corrpro’s refinancing specialists to leverage the investment that the Hershbergers didn’t. I don’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of setting up a WAN to understand it all, so there’s no way I can judge (or even know) what they’re trying to do. I am, however, surprised that they consider the expired security certificate on the intranet site to be a low-priority item.

One thing in my postings that I will attempt to defend is my justification on why it did no harm for me to attempt to set up a Linux client on the MS network. I asked to do it on my own time and virtually without support. The only questions I was asked of IT was how their setup was configured – stuff like the name of the Kerberos realm, and why my Windows client always got the same ip address when it was set to DHCP. I don’t have network administration privileges, so nervousness about any damage I could have caused only reveals insecurity about the fundamental soundness of the system. When I couldn’t get my Linux client to require me to authenticate as system user with my first attempts, I backed off from the haphazard guidelines I had found on the Internet and set out to read and understand the entire Samba manual – all 900+ pages of it.

As to the question to I am so often confronted with – Why? I guess you had to grow up with Windows to be ignorant of the fact that some people have never used it and don’t want to. It’s for all practical purposes a different language. The GUI was stolen from Apple, who stole it from PARC, so there’s nothing new there. I had used several different operating systems before Windows was ever released, and I wasn’t impressed with it at all when it came out. Win95 came out before I stopped using the command line interface all the time on my 3.1 machine. I ran NDOS on top of my older DOS machines, so I didn’t see much advantage in point and click, especially when it crashed on a regular basis.

I’m willing to admit that Linux may have just as many security holes in it as Windows, but when you’re assessing risk, you have to factor in the probability of vulnerabilities being exploited, and the Windows vulnerabilities are too many and too well known. It’s one place in particular where the open-source model shines – vulnerabilities are published, and the patches are often available later the same day. Microsoft, if you’re lucky, will wait at least until their next monthly cycle, and there are plenty of known problems that have been sitting out there for months, going on to years. When I have to use Internet Explorer, I feel like I’m walking around naked with a “Do Me Up the Rear” sign on my back. For the bottom line on systems security, I’d have to defer to the opinion of the world’s biggest consumer of high-end secure systems – the NSA. What do they use? Hell, they wrote SELinux.

In a corporate environment, the whole idea of IT boils down to productivity. If I’m more productive and creative using Linux, why shouldn’t I be allowed to use it? Graphics design and art production houses would shudder at the idea of giving up their Macs because it’s what their people know best. As open-source solutions gain more and more acceptance, you’re going to see an increasing number of talented people who can crank work out on a Linux desktop, but fumble around in the dark when confronted with Windows. I’ve run across several applications that only work in Linux, and I’m going to start actively looking for them in preparation for my planned project request for my own IT Steering Committee. Open-source solutions have been embraced by such luminous names as IBM and Sun Microsystems, and governments around the world are trying it out. IBM has a redbook on migration to Linux that gives a great analysis of the reasons a corporation should consider doing so. If anything, voices like mine are driving the lumbering MS behemoth to be more responsive, and a good free-market conservative should be able to see that.

My little enterprise was along the lines of a pilot project, independent and self supporting, so I think it’s unfair to level criticism against it as opening the doors to anarchy. I guess I don’t see the case for uniformity. What are we trying to preserve? I’m not talking about changing the system, just the way I interact with it. I can provide my own hardware and driver support. All systems users are not equal – I’ve never manned a help desk, but I can see that. There already is a class system for users out there (and 90% are peasants!), and the systems have already been built to accommodate that. Even support systems are multi-tiered. In my small office, we have four different operating systems currently in use, all MS, each with its own quirks. For years, I couldn’t print in landscape to our color printer from my NT 4.0 machine, so I had to go to a different desktop to print charts. Yes, drivers are harder in Linux, but if you work at it, you can generally get things to perform, and you always learn something in the process. One thing I was offering was to write the howto on connecting a Linux box to the existing network. Based on my incoming and return traffic to my wireless card documentation, I think I’ve earned some credentials there. The beauty of the open-source system is that you can get a lot, and it only takes some people putting some back for it all to work.

I could get really worked up about all this, just as my esteemed friends could as well. I think both sides make valid points, but if we sink into debating the relative merits of our cases, we’re wasting our time. Everything is evolving faster than we can prepare our talking points, and the reality on the ground is not going to be changed by anything we say or do. In twenty, thirty, or a hundred years, the MS way might be looked back upon the way we look at the 19th century railroad companies today. I’m going to stop writing and go back to figuring out how to get my Prism2.5 chipset working under Fedora. Dane and Rayna can continue to shake their heads; I just hope they’ll still like me and keep in touch.

P.S. I put in a link to GreatMountain. Keep an eye on your PageRank!

P.P.S. If you guys used Mozilla, you could take advantage of the great SpellBound extension!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, My Website, OS at 23:44 PST

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