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Linux, OpenBSD, Windows Server Comparison: Windows GUI Interface Hampers Administrators

Administering systems using only complex graphical programs also contributes to reliability issues. Such programs are harder to write and therefore are more likely to contain their own bugs than comparatively simple command line programs. Since Windows often provides no alternative interface, if the management program has a bug there may be no way to perform the necessary operation.

As an example, on my recently deceased NT server, the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) dropdown that is supposed to control the log file format appears empty with no choices. I've reinstalled the Option Pack several times but nothing I've been able to do will make this control appear properly. The dropdown should display the Microsoft log format, the common log format and the combined log format. IIS logged to the Microsoft format which I didn't want. I wanted the combined format but there was no way to select it. In IIS 3 I never had a problem with this.

If Microsoft had left the IIS configuration settings in the registry with most other programs, I could likely have used Regedit or Regedt32 to fix the problem. For no reason comprehensible to me, Microsoft decided to put most IIS 4 settings in a new location. This is a physically separate file with yet another proprietary binary format, metabase.bin, for which there are no tools except MMC to access its contents. If this was in a text file or even if Microsoft followed their own standards, I could fix this. As it is, I'm helpless and have to live with a log file format that's worthless to me.

This raises one other Windows' problem that occurs from time to time. Microsoft decrees a "standard" that software developers are supposed to follow when developing Windows software. The registry as the proper location to store program configuration data is one such standard. Then Microsoft ignores this "standard" in one of their own major products. I'd love to hear any rational explanation, or even rationalization for the reason for putting IIS configuration data in a new separate file with a unique binary format.

In the UNIX world, essentially all administrative tasks are performed by relatively simple command line programs that do only one specific thing. When there is a GUI interface, it is nothing more than that, an interface. It hides the need to know cryptic and often arbitrary options of the command line program from the user, and instead gives them the now widely accepted menus and graphical widgets for selecting options.

The actual system changes are still made by the command line program. The graphical interface creates the correct command syntax from the users selections. If however, something is broken in the graphical interface, the experienced administrator does not need to wait for a vendor fix. They can normally use man pages and the command line version to make the necessary change.

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