Puakma: Under the hood

I'm Brendon Upson, jack-of-all-trades, master of one or two. I'm talking about life running a small ISV tackling business issues and leaping technology hurdles in a single bound.

webWise Network Consultants is based in Sydney, Australia and develops the groundbreaking Tornado Server technology.

The experiment

Filed under: by Brendon Upson on 2005-06-23

A week ago I decided to run an experiment. We had a new developer start and when we gave him his laptop we decided to see what would happen if we made him use Linux (Fedora FC4, the latest and greatest) as his desktop machine. It was interesting.

My theory was that if we were forced to use open systems (no vendor lock-in), then the solutions we provided to our customers would be more open also. Win-win. I personally use an Apple OS X Powerbook, so I figured "I'm using *nix now so how hard could it be to run Linux on x86 as your daily machine?"

...the initial install was simple, but then things went south.

This post is not a "Linux sux" post (so lay off the flames ok?), I am merely stating how our personal experience trying to use it as a web developer's personal desktop was not a resounding success. Did it work? Yes, functionality-wise the system operated and did so moderately well. The problem was the setup time. It involved literally hours of tweaking. We have all seen the Microsoft Windows TCO charts etc saying how much cheaper Windows is. I am now a believer that in our case, Windows is a cheaper solution. Sure it costs us dollars up front to buy XP Pro, but we now have a machine installed and configured with all the software we need in 4 hours. The Linux test had taken 3 days already and was still not working reliably. We pay this guy by the hour - admittedly he didn't waste the full 3 days setting the thing up, but this still represents a substantial chunk of lost productivity for us.

The biggest issues we had were VPN setup and JVM setup.

The standard JVM that comes with Gnome is gij. What the hell that is I don't know. It's java but the commandline parameters are just that bit different to Sun's that all our scripts needed a tweak to make them work. So we decided to install the Sun JVM (we need 1.4.x). After install we can't make network connections due to some obscure error (SocketException). This looks like a known problem with Fedora FC4. Sun JVM 1.5.x works fine. Except if we compile using 1.5, it will break our customers 1.4.x installations. More tweaking.

The VPN had to be made from source (...of course it does) and runs in a command shell. Fine. Except on connection the DNS server addresses did not get pulled down correctly. The VPN worked, but only if we specifed everything by IP address. More tweaking... Meanwhile the Gnome UI still looks cheap and clunky.

And so the tweaks mounted and the time ambled on. At midday today I pulled the plug and we installed a spanking new copy of Win XP Pro SP2. It took 4 hours total to install the OS and all the apps. No tweaks, no glitches. We now have a productive employee.

We love Linux servers. If I were installing an app server tomorrow I would definitely recommend Linux over Windows. On the desktop? Windows still rules. It's gonna take a while to knock MS off it's perch as top dog. Apple is the only company at this point who looks like even coming close to doing it.