Open Source VS Windows: Reality of a Better Paradigm
This is an Opinion/Editorial article by Mark Rais provided as food for thought.
One afternoon while serving as a Linux consultant, I made a very disturbing discovery. Having had my head sunk in the trenches, working day to day on computer problems and solutions, I had not taken the time to think over the ramifications. But one Thursday evening, I realized once and for all that the world of Linux/Open Source represents far more than simply another tool among tools.
One of my colleagues approached me and asked if I could help him. He had seen me fiddling with the Linux server I was setting up for the office and wanted to know if I could assist. He wanted me to help him change his font size since his eyes were straining and he needed to finish a report. I gladly volunteered and sat down in front of his Microsoft Windows based computer.
A few clicks of the mouse button and then... shock! I was speechless.
The "managed operating system" did not allow me to change the font size of my colleague's desktop. I tried several different paths. No matter what I did I could not change the font to be larger. He had hoped I knew how to change the setting rather than having to call computer support and ask them to change it. "I hate calling those guys, they're so busy," he shared. I could not imagine why system administrators would limit someone's rights to their own PC to such an extent.
As I stood, still puzzled by the curious level of security, my colleague asked if I could at least change his default web browser page to start on www.google.com. I agreed and again began with a few mouse clicks to try to change his default web page. But it was locked. I could not make the change.
It was so peculiar that I stepped over to another colleague and asked if we could try it on her system. "Perhaps its a glitch with his user login on this managed system," I thought optimistically. But it was not. Every person in the office had been "managed" right out of controlling even their own desktop.
At this point I felt obligated to contact the computer support manager. He was very open to meeting and invited me over to his office. As I walked towards his office later that day, I noticed a number of support personnel running in and out of the computer room, back to their desks, then hurriedly talking amongst themselves. They were consumed by some issue and didn't notice me knocking on the manager's door.
After a few minutes of introduction we got into the thick of things where I tried to understand the methods for managing user rights. I was certainly no expert with Microsoft Windows and ADS, although I had several years of experience with similar servers. He explained to me that users tend to "break" the system by doing foolish things. That the countless trojans and other hacks were a major destabilizing element and that the core role for computer services was to "keep the network available and operating." I asked him about user desktop rights and how someone's desktop font sizes could influence the environment.
His response: "Look, you never know what can destabilize the infrastructure. Our role is to give only as much access as is essential to the job so we can keep this thing operational."
I was speechless. I knew how hard he and his team worked. I knew how many hours they put in each day, often on weekends as well. But for the life of me, I could not figure out how controlling users like this could help him deal with the fire fighting.
He finally admitted to me that he did not have to implement such rigid controls, but that he felt it was prudent to do so. It was becoming obvious that the OS environment was somehow influencing the attitudes.
As I started to ask another question he abruptly stood and walked over to the door. "Look, I like talking with you but I'm sorry we've got a lot of priorities today with the SP2 patch and the Exchange server disks running low. I just don't have more time right now, maybe we can hook up for lunch in a few weeks."
Just then one of his support staff ran into the office yelling about a major security problem.
As I walked out of the office it occurred to me that so many issues and problems I had seen over the past years were a direct result of this unique paradigm.
In the Microsoft Windows world, where the operating system's very
roots come from a monolithic design (thousands of lines of code on
top of code), control maybe the key. Control the environment, control the
users, control the settings. Perhaps it's primarily about control.
How uniquely distinct this is from the UNIX realm where the operating system's very roots come from a component based structure (each component must do it's core task well and inter-operate with the other components). Back in the 1980s I was using a mainframe running a UNIX variant that had almost five hundred simultaneous users and never went down. I would then drive home, turn on my PC and encounter a number of failures and reboots simply trying to run one single program.
Twenty-five years of a monolith has influenced people. The tool has changed the way we work. The mechanism has affected the very attitude and focus of system administrators and support technicians. These professionals did not intend to live out their lives running around offices constantly fighting fires, patching patches, and controlling even the desktops of their users. But somehow, overtime, as a result of many things, many of their lives are now dominated by control and survival.
In the Open Source realm, principles of user rights, managed software, and network security have been integral for many years. From the very earliest UNIX systems, and highly integrated into Linux and GNU tools are the principles that allow users flexibility and creativity while maintaining a stable environment. No one needs to control my desktop interface for fear I could screw up something so badly it costs the overall organization.
If we must choose a side in this unique polarization of ideology, then perhaps it makes reasonable sense to choose the side that grants users their value. Perhaps we should choose the side that allows for the fostering of intellectual creativity, sometimes even at the cost of giving up some control. Perhaps it makes reasonable sense to support the side that chooses to give, rather than to protect.
Open Source is a paradigm shift in the way that we envision the future and the world. It is not "socialist" because it is not an economic tool. It is an empowerment tool. A device for utilitarian purposes that resolves user needs. It is not "fringe" because the tool is applicable daily, successfully helping many organizations and large corporate entities including Google, Amazon.com, IBM and Walmart.
I personally choose Open Source because it benefits the individual, endowing me with freedom and creativity that sadly I see diminishing elsewhere. If it were possible to have this same empowerment, freedom, and creativity elsewhere I would seek it and apply it. But unfortunately, over the past twenty-five years the characteristic of the monolith has not changed. It has not allowed the very core of what I desire as a computer user. Over time it has shifted from being my tool to being my master.
Today I freely choose a better paradigm and a better tool that restores value back to me, the user. I choose Open Source.
This brief opinion piece should not be construed as factual information, and only contains the opinions and personal experiences of the author at the time of publication. Reallylinux.com could not find information in this article that at the time of publication was inaccurate. However, the opinions and personal experiences that have been posted do not express the opinions of Reallylinux.com and are not endorsed in any way. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. Microsoft, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft ADS and Windows are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation both in the United States and Internationally. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this opinion piece belong to their respective owners.