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Linux, OpenBSD, Windows Server Comparison: Usability Conclusion

Microsoft maintains its systems are easy to use, meaning easy to learn and at least at the novice levels there is much truth to this. Hopefully I've succeeded in showing that as tasks become more routine and repetitive, Windows and GUI systems in general, are at a significant disadvantage compared to text based, command line systems, that are easily automated through scripting.

Within a single generation of Windows products it's worth remembering that under a superficially similar surface, Microsoft hides very different products. The superficial similarities can confuse even experienced professionals, regarding very important differences that actually exist. Otherwise, the author of a serious technical book would not and should not be able to miss the fact that Windows NT includes sophisticated file and directory security system. I will gladly take transportable knowledge of UNIX systems and concepts and willingly deal with the different varieties of Linux and flavors of UNIX over knowledge of superficially similar Windows user interfaces that hides fundamentally different systems with different capabilities under the surface.

It's worth remembering that about every five years Microsoft does a near complete revamping of their "easy to use" graphical user interface. About the time that nearly everyone has become used to the old, Microsoft gives us a new and improved that we need to learn all over again. In about 18 years, Macintosh has never done this. Each OS release adds some new capabilities and I assume, sometimes changes or drops a feature, but I don't think Macs have ever had a major, all at once facelift where fundamental user interface conventions are simply changed. Changes are evolutionary so experienced users can adapt over time.

These new interfaces may be an improvement over the old, from the standpoint of a novice user but I seriously doubt the new learning experienced users go through, is ever paid back in increased productivity. In fact I suspect the reverse. Each change has moved further along the path of hiding underlying computer realities from the users. I think this makes it harder for the more experienced users. I don't recall customizing new Windows 3.1 machines immediately after installing them. I know I spend one to two hours on every new NT machine, revamping the start menu to include very frequently used programs and doing a new desktop with moderately frequently used functions, mirrored in an Explorer window that's always open so I can get to these frequent and semi frequent functions with a hot key or mouse click. If I were to ever use XP, from what I've seen and read, I'd expect to spend even longer.

When an X Window system is placed on text based UNIX (desktop) system it doesn't in any way reduce any of the underlying command line or scripting capabilities. Instead it enhances them by making it easier to manage more virtual text terminals. A new UNIX administrator can use their desktop GUI to help their transition into command line and scripting techniques. The GUI doesn't need to be and should not be installed on servers where security is important. If an environment insists on using X Window clients on server systems (X Windows reverses the normal client server terminology) any administrative tasks that can be performed locally via the GUI can be performed remotely, in contrast to Windows, which still limits some administrative tasks to the local console.

Microsoft changes are not limited to the GUI. Over several years I acquired a solid knowledge of the Windows 3.x .INI files, what went where and how to troubleshoot a variety of related problems. When Microsoft dumped the .INI files and adopted the registry, a major piece of my knowledge of the technical underpinnings of Windows systems simply disappeared. Over 5 years, I've learned all the registry basics, some sections of it are quite familiar and I know the tools to manipulate the registry. Once again, Microsoft made a major technical change and my hard earned skills have again become useless on an Active Directory based system. I'm tired of spending time and money to feed Microsoft's latest revenue transfer scheme. In contrast, anyone who worked with UNIX since the early 80's would have developed an ever more valuable body of technical knowledge. UNIX changes but it's evolutionary. UNIX learns from its experiences while Microsoft makes major changes that have no valid technical reason.

If Windows systems were as easy to learn and use as Microsoft ads claim, why are there so many third party tutorial books? Why does Microsoft itself have such a large library of supplementary documentation, which is sold at premium prices? Why does Microsoft have multiple certification programs? Not only does Microsoft have significant revenue generating certification programs, but they de-certify those who do not keep up with the current products, forcing professionals to take a steady stream of expensive courses. Persons who have achieved MCSE certification in the past, before mid 2001, have said the training did not include security. How can a GUI be so extensive that a "Microsoft Certified System Engineer" doesn't get to the security components during their training? What does this say about Microsoft priorities. So much for Windows ease of use and security. In fact, everything about Microsoft's business model and product line is designed to strongly encourage, if not force, customers to buy a never ending series of upgrades, including both licenses and training materials, once any Microsoft product has been purchased.

Microsoft can keep their "easy to use" GUI and always changing Windows systems. It's built for non technical end users, not professional system administrators.

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