domingo, dezembro 07, 2014

The Operating System Wars: “Learning Old School Linux” by Edward Harnett

Learning Old School Linux  - Edward Harnett
Book published on the 23rd of November 2014.

My reviews can get quite philosophical at times. Not so here. What you’ll get here is a nuts-and-bolts review…This book is about Operating Systems (OS), Unix Culture, sed, find, and curses, and a lot more in-between. Read at your own peril, if your natural disposition does not tend to keep these matters at a distance…

I’ve always been immersed in a Unix/culture. I didn’t know any better.

I first came in contact with Unix in 1986 in a VAX-System at the university. It was my eureka moment. Since then I’ve come a long way. I’ve tried lots of other OS (windows, FreeBSD), but to me the way to go is the Unix/Linux way.

Professionally speaking, I’ve lead projects in Delivery and Service Management with Windows, Midrange, Mainframe in scope, but my OS of choice will always be Unix/Linux.

Is this book for anyone? Nope. It’s not light literature. Maybe it's not even literature. It’s written for geeks, sysadmins, IT project managers, and the likes. There’s a bunch of gold nuggets here, under all the praise of the Unix/Linux-related culture, and the bashing of the Windows frameworks.

In later years, I’ve come to know the Windows culture and its technology a little better. Not all is bad. As with any other commercial product, there’s always a downside to the creation of an Operating System, and that downside is the fact that the company in question wants to make money out of it.

If you’re of a geek persuasion, this book is unputdownable. Really. The geeks will carry on reading it through everything: breakfast, lunch, dinner. He or she will probably cut off people in mid stride to ask things like "Could I use sed to this and that?" or "How can I use emacs to this and that?" (let’s admit the person reading it is a geek, but his mindset is not very Unix/Linux-oriented).

What I’ve always complained about Windows, was its lack of out-of-the-box scripting tools (I’m not including here something like “Windows Scripting Tools”, because it’s not native to the OS).  For me the power of Unix/Linux does not rely solely on the awesomeness of each tool doing one thing very well and combining all these little tools to achieve my objective. It helps but it’s not the point.

Back in the day when I was a SysAdmin, I used to surprise my Windows friends with some voodoo incantations. I asked them to give me the files in any form they liked (usually ascii files), and I’d do my magic on those files, and I was able to produce anything they wanted, usually some kind of statistical output. I made a few “friends” this way…lol. As long as anyone makes the effort to learn a few of the basic Unix/Linux tools, the sky is literally the limit. Not so with Windows. Proficiency of a few simple Unix/Linux tools allowed me do everything I wanted. At the time I used to hear guys complaining about the Unix/Linux’s steep learning curve. What utter nonsense! Personally, I find the existing number of Windows tools a high learning curve. Between Python, gawk, diff, find, sort, regular expressions, and a couple of minor utilities or built-ins, I could literally rule my world, ie, I could do everything I wanted.

With Windows most of what I needed to do hadn't been anticipated by the suppliers of Windows programs. Schadenfreude on their part! I still think Windows lacks orthogonality. And this reflected on the way we sometimes needed to install n-tools to achieve what we really wanted. Not so with Unix/Linux; it’s all in there. We just had to “learn” how to read a freaking manual and implement it!

Nowadays I’m more open minded when it comes to discussing the “best” OS in the market. Back in the day not so much. I think there’s room for everyone. Of course, my preference is, and always will be for the Unix-Linux OS.

Harnett’s book is very readable and addictive. Harnett’s belongs to the SysAdmin lineage that assumes what they do is somehow pretty important to Western civilization. I wouldn’t be able to disagree. In fact I quite agree with him (smile).

Now, I’m just an IT Service Manager, and I just don’t do this sort of thing for a living anymore…Just at home, which isn’t the same at all.

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