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Linux / UNIX / Open Source Beats Windows - 8/7/00

Today I came across an example where Linux / UNIX / Open Source clearly beats Windows. I found a reference to a paper on stateful packet filtering that I really wanted to read. I went to the web site to get the document and then focused on the filename which ended with _ps.gz. I thought oh great, this is going to be a Postscript file. Why would someone make a file only available as a postscript print file on the web? Not everyone has a Postscript printer.

I went ahead and downloaded the file anyhow and tried to unzip. Gunzip said it was the wrong format so I took a look at it with a utility viewer. Oddly enough, despite the filename it was not compressed at all and was clearly a Postscript file. As I thought about how I could use this file it occured to me that most UNIX systems come loaded with a variety Postscript tools. I wondered if there might be something to convert this into something I could use.

I got onto my Linux machine, which has by far the most complete install of my UNIX like systems. "man -k postscript" had masses of output. It only took a couple of minutes to find "ps2pdf (1) - Ghostscript PostScript to PDF translator". The man page showed "ps2pdf [ options ] output.pdf". That looked real simple but I wondered if it would actually work.

I moved the file to the Linux system renaming it to end with .ps and ran ps2pdf. A second or so later the command prompt was back. I put the output back on my workstation and opened it Acrobat. Result: perfectly formated PDF file. It looked like what I wanted and printed it without any problems.

This goes to something I've mentioned several times elsewhere. Windows systems simply aren't complete. This case was a very nice frill. As a practical matter you cannot put a Windows NT Server into a production environment without adding at least several utilities just to make it functional. Some like Arcserve or other production backups aren't cheap. In contrast, there are all these other add-ons that come with nearly every version of UNIX. There is just so much more total functionality built into these systems. Linux, and probably the Red Hat version in particular, is especially loaded with extras. You get everything you need to build any one of several different kinds of computers. Today's disks have room for everything but there is no possible way for one person to ever use everything that comes with Linux. Even with the most minimal possible install of OpenBSD 2.7 for my firewall, I removed hundreds of programs. Some of these are powerful full featured servers and others postscript related utilities.

What's the value equation here? Zero cost times n times more built in functionality is infinite. I know in a business environment you have to factor in staff costs but it's not clear that this always or even usually works in Windows favor either. It surely does not in some environments and circumstances. Windows systems generally some advantage in ease of learning. This is frequently confused with ease of use which is entirely different. It's usually easier to do something the first time on Windows. It's usually easier to do it the tenth time on UNIX, if you have to do it at all. Virtually everything repetitive can be scripted on UNIX systems. Without the addition of third party products Windows scripting capabilities are severely limited.

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