Monday, March 10, 2008

So where does "techgnostic" come into it?

From my title block:

  • gno·sis (no-sis) n. Intuitive apprehension of truths, an esoteric form of knowledge.

  • ag·nos·tic (ag-nos-tik) n. One who is doubtful or noncommittal about something. A skeptic.

  • tech-gno·stic (tek-nos-tik) n. Intuitive apprehension of technology truths, a skeptical take on technology knowledge.

Why append my name with such a title?

I have worked over the years on many flavors of Unix (Sun, HP, SG, BSD and Linux), different incarnations of the Mac OS (from when the whole OS ran off a single floppy in my Mac 512e) and DOS/Windows since the XT. There are zealots in every camp, and strong reasons for their biases. Untold billions of characters have been typed into computers during flame wars about the "best" OS, programming language, editor, database, you-name-it. There is only one thing that can be said for all of this.

All computers suck, equally. I'm not the only person who thinks so.

A bit glib, I admit, but nice and pithy and with enough truth in it to allow it to stand up. Each "platform" of hardware / software / applications was created to solve a particular kind of problem and usually accomplished its mission. When an attempt is made to repurpose it to another task it often fails. From a certain perspective, any other platform equates to "sucks".

So, beyond appearing to be a technological dilettante, so what?

My own technological belief is to use whatever tools, platform, etc. make sense for your own situation. Again this seems like just giving in, but it is not. There are still fundamentals to keep in mind in terms of getting support, safeguarding your data, etc. but they can be enacted on virtually any platform. For all the flak that Microsoft Windows takes it can be locked down quite well. For all the raves that the Mac gets for style there is a closely controlled platform that stifles some kinds of development. For all the intellectual purity of most Linux versions there is still often a steep curve for the computing novice. For all the vaunted stability, etc. of the mainframe there is a prohibitive cost and lack of common support in the workforce.

If you or your company already employ a bunch of Windows admins and everybody is used to Windows there is not much point in having a Mac or Linux jihad because of some perceived superiority. It just does not make sense in that situation. Similarly, if you have a Unix setup and all is well, why upset the system to introduce a single Microsoft application when there are ways to integrate it into your existing setup?

All that said, strong arguments can be made for using standardized PCs, running open source software in "clean sheet" situations where low cost is an overriding concern, such as with the One Laptop Per Child project, or indeed for any other organization who only needs certain kinds of generic functionality, not tied to a particular software package.

The techgnostic part of all this is that in an ideal situation where the platform has not been dictated there are many options to solve your technology problems and we should not shut ourselves off into any one camp. The personalities and business practices of the players should not play a major role in our decisions - what works for us in our situations should be front and center.

That is being techgnostic.

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