% fortune -ae paul murphy

The Linux Killer Application (Beta 2)

I usually draft these blog entries on Sunday afternoons, but today is a Monday - Canada's Thanksgiving holiday and one of the things I'm thankful for is intelligent reader feedback via the talkback columns on these blogs.

Unfortunately this means that readers sometimes get to tell me that I'm, well not wrong - that could never happen -;) but maybe somewhat less right than the flat earth society.

In the particular case of my September 27th blog "The Linux killer application" I have to admit that even George Ou, who delights in telling me his version of the brutal truth at every opportunity, got it right when he said nobody understood what I was getting at.

So, herewith, another run at it -

The basic proposition: if there's a proven GUI tool, it's silly not to use it.

The corolary: that means you should always administer Unix via a big graphics display - not a character based tool like telnet (or ssh, or putty, or any other tool of that kind.)

And a consequent argument: since the cheapest, most reliable, big screen GUI tools are X-terminals and/or workstations running Unix, that's what should be on the Unix sysadmin's desk.

Notice that this says nothing about using the command line. You're going to do that -within an X-window. This is all about using the right tool, in the right context, to achieve the right results.

In the original blog I told the sad, but true, story of a command line slinging consultant who took about a week too misconfigure two HP machines -something any veteran user of HP's volume manager can testify is pretty easy to do- and compared the time required and the results obtained to what happened when we started over using two simualtaneous SAM sessions on my 21" workstation screen. The point, of course, is that SAM doesn't make mistakes, get confused, or lose track of physical disk names on directly connected storage.

There's a simple bottom line: if the right tools exist, use them.

But, of course, there's more to it than simple efficiency. The overwhelming majority of people who have Unix system administration responsibilities execute those from Windows PCs using a dumb terminal interface - effectively seeing 2005 Unix (whether Linux, BSD, or Solaris) through a 1982 filter.

In most cases that toolset is foisted on them by management - and it's beyond stupid: it knowingly gives away more than twenty years of progress in the development and use of system administration tools in favor of a prejudice that says everyone's desktop should meet the same corporate standard -no matter how ineffective that is.

That's why telnet, or its clones whether imagined to be more secure or merely prettier, is The Unix Killer application - the refusal to use available graphical interface tools increases error, invites misuse, and grossly misrepresents the state of the product.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.