I was first exposed to Unix on a Radio Shack Model 16. It was running Tandy Xenix and up to that minute I hadn't even read anything about Unix. That may sound odd, but this was almost thirty years ago: Internet access was rare and just starting to be available to people not in government or academia and computer books and magazines were equally scant. The computer revolution was just starting and so was my Unix education.
I can well remember mistyping commands and getting trapped in a ">" prompt. Some Tandy engineer in Texas explained what that meant. I found some books, I read a lot of man pages, I experimented.. I learned my way around.
Most of what I was doing then was writing programs in something called "Profile". It ran on Tandy Model II and III computers and although it was very weak by today's standards, it was pretty cool stuff at the time. It got even cooler when it came out as "Filepro" on Xenix. I saw that first at a newspaper who had managed to get an early beta of that and wanted a sales input system developed.
There was a lot Filepro couldn't do that my customer needed. My earlier explorations allowed me to do a lot of those things with shell scripts: awk, sed, grep.. a little C.. we could get stuff done.
Of course I was seeing Windows here and there too. It didn't really get a lot of traction until Windows 286 - I can well remember the first time I saw that, too. clumsy, slow, troublesome.. how could anyone possibly think this was good? People did, but I stuck with Xenix. Windows was single user - I couldn't write useful business applications on that and it didn't have the tools I needed anyway. I bought a Windows PC clone fairly early on; I even sprung for the Microsoft C Development System because I had to do some Microsoft work, but my heart was never in it. Clumsy, inelegant, difficult. I'd use it and program for it when I had to, but it always made me grumpy.
Many of my Tandy Xenix customers started buying SCO Xenix so of course I started learning about that. As time went on, that became SCO Unix. I had already started picking up on SunOS too and a little HP/UX and AIX - it was all Unix, it had the tools, I could get things done. Microsoft was getting strong on the desktops, but it was still mostly single user. There were things like MultiDos but compared to Unix, it was still all pathetic.
Windows started to have possibilities with NT. They managed to pique my interest enough to buy books, to dig in and learn a bit. I actually did get an MCSE at that time and seriously thought about moving into the Microsoft world. But it was still so clumsy, so annoying. So many of the things that I could do so easily on any Unix platform were so difficult on Windows.. and so much rebooting! I just couldn't get my heart into it. Too hard, too weak, too fragile. One day I just made up my mind: no more Windows work, period.
That was it. I knew it wasn't necessarily the right financial decision. I was already moving away from programming into support and troubleshooting and there was no question where most of that work was. That's the problem with Unix from a support perspective: set the systems up right initially and you might not hear from your customer for years. Windows systems offered much more potential for income, but I just didn't like working on them. They didn't have the command line tools, a lot of stuff crashed and burned so easily: it was just all so unpleasant to work on. I turned my back on Windows.
Of course that was never 100% true. I wouldn't write Windows programs, but I still had to put up with the damn things in the context of other work. They were replacing dumb terminals left and right and TCP/IP networks were becoming cheap and common. These stupid beasts were going to be talking to my Unix servers and I sometimes had to deal with their problems and deficiencies. That remains true today - I can't totally ignore Windows.
But I don't have to like it. Sure, Windows has gotten better. I haven't seen a real BSOD in years (though having to reboot is just as common). You can get just about any tool you want. But the basic philosophy of Windows still offends me: the weak command line, the ridiculous Registry, the point and click mentality for everything, the secrecy, the undocumented crap.. that stuff is still there and always will be.
Windows apologists sometimes like to paint Unix as a dying dinosaur. That just shows their ignorance: if anything, Windows is the dinosaur in danger of being wiped out by Macs and Linux. While I might have put a lot more money in my bank accounts had I walked the Windows path, I'm glad that I didn't. I LIKE Unix. There's still nothing for me to like about Windows.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2012-07-11 Anthony Lawrence
We are questioning more than the philosophy behind our dependence upon limited and limiting systems. We question the power structures that have grown up around such systems (Frank Herbert).