From time to time, people ask me if there is objective information that compares NT, Linux and NetWare. The requests usually come from people in organizations that are converting from one of the operating systems to the other and want the information for one of two purposes.
Most of the information on the subject is published by the vendors, market research firms or the magazine publishers. Clearly, information supplied by the vendors is suspect. A Linux or NetWare enthusiast views any words on the subject from Microsoft as an outright lie. NT enthusiasts feel the same about Novell but are often left wondering about Linux since there is no one vendor to distrust.
The objectivity and competence of research firms and magazines has been called into question recently in light of the "benchmark wars" that have produced literally unbelievable results. Typically, Microsoft makes a claim on their web site which is usually backed up by a report from some market research firm or independent testing organization. When they claim that NT outperforms NetWare, Novell cries foul and responds with counter-claims backed up by other marketing organizations that have pro-Novell inclinations. When they claim that NT outperforms Linux, the Linux community responds but sans support from research firms.
The trade press adds to the confusion by publishing articles that are highly polarized. Some articles are quite good and it's clear that the author has a good grasp of the issues. Unfortunately, there is far more written by people who are either clueless or have a definite political agenda. Some authors simply follow the herd - praising or criticizing a product or vendor depending on what's fashionable at the time.
This has led to the following not-so-funny jokes.
Q:What's the best way to increase your productivity?
A:Drop your subscriptions to the trade magazines.
Q:What's the best way to increase your company's overall
A:Cancel upper management's subscriptions to the trade magazines.
Without objective information, we can't expect management to make decisions based on technical merit. So, they're left with marketing hype. The best marketeer wins their business. Perception becomes the reality.
These days are over for many companies. Upper management now makes important decisions without help from their own computer literate people. It's reminicent of the Vietnam war where the Johnson/McNamara White House made the day-to-day decisions rather than the on-site commanders. Like the Vietnam soldiers and airmen, today's computer folks are expected to implement whatever management decides whether it's the best course of action or not.
The question is whether this state of affairs is good for you and your career. If you enjoy working with technology, chances are good that you won't be happy working with stuff that you think is technically inferior. But hey, it's your job and many people aren't happy with their jobs. That's why we call it "work". But your career is a different story. Happy or not, you need to know that you'll have a job in the future.
If your employer has you working on things that you think will not be marketable skills in the future, you're putting your career at risk. Far fewer people nowadays are in cradle-to-grave jobs. We must protect our futures by developing skills that our future employers will need. But exactly how do you determine, for example, what operating systems will be popular in the future?
If products become popular for reasons other than technical merit, then there's no way to know. The marketplace is too fickle to be predictable. Unless you can keep current on all possible contenders, you're gambling with your career. If, for example, you now spend all of your time managing a NT-based network with an Exchange-based email system, what do you do when the company decides that converting servers to Linux is a better deal?
Given the popularity of Linux these days, this example is a particularly plausable one.
What's needed is a source of technical information that is free from political bias that technical folks can use to stay on top of the details and the facts. Information that is easy to grasp for those, such as upper management, who don't want to know or can't comprehend the gory technical details. While this seems like an impossible goal, things have happened recently that may now make this possible.
The stunning success of Open Source Software has inspired people to take this attitude beyond software development. Many people have started "projects" in other areas. Projects have been started that create standards for both software and hardware. These standards increase compatibility among vendor products and reduce our costs. As grassroots support for these standards takes hold, vendors are compelled to follow them or alienate a growing portion of their customer base.
I, for example, will no longer buy a hardware device that does not have support for Windows and Linux and, where appropriate, for NetWare because I use all three operating systems. This morning I learned that the vendor of a video chip set refuses to release the technical details to the Linux community. This means that Linux video drivers must see this card as a lower performance generic video card. I'll no longer buy video cards or computers based on the chip set (or that vendor) and I'll encourage others to do the same. If enough people participate in the boycott, we'll force the vendors to have "open hardware" standards. See the power of projects?
It's time for a project that evaluates network operating systems and publishes objective comparisons so we don't have to rely on the vendors and the the press. People can use these comparisons to help their careers and help their companies decide on their future direction. Members of the press can use the comparisons to get the story right more of the time.