User speaks out on why he switched from NetWare to Windows

* Why the University of Coventry ditched NetWare for Windows

A month ago, I told what I considered to be the sad story of the U.K.'s University of Coventry switching from NetWare to Windows. My thoughts were based on a news story I'd read in a U.K. publication coupled with some speculation on my part. Some of it I got right, but not all of it.

The story I read at quoted Colin Bruce, "IT manager at Coventry University." Last week, I heard from Bruce. Here's what he had to say. Words in square parenthesis ([ and ]) are additions from me.

"I read your article about our switch from NetWare to Windows, and I thought you might like some comments.

"First thing is, Silicon got a few things wrong, which I tried to correct before they went to press but for some reason they didn't make the changes. There were no serious errors, though, but I should say that I am not the IT manager just a dog's body [Britspeak for a lowly tech] that does as he is told. There were also press announcements that a company called Lynx was doing the work. I don't know if you saw them but they provided very minimal help which was of little value.

"The main reason we moved from NetWare to Windows was because the Vice Chancellor said so. The Vice Chancellor is the boss of the University so it is kind of difficult to resist. [That should sound familiar to most of you.]

"You said you thought we were seeing lots of Microsoft sales people. In fact, we have never seen any. Despite our move they have shown no interest at all. I don't know if you know much about the British University system but in case you don't I should explain that there is a lot of snobbery in it. We are at the lower end of the league tables [British sports term - think NCAA rankings] so we don't get much attention from the press and big companies such as Microsoft no matter what we do. If we spend 500K no one takes much interest. If the University of Warwick or Cambridge spends 5K it is mentioned on the front pages of all the press. To be honest, I prefer keeping out of the spotlight so that suites me fine.

"On the other hand we had several visits from Novell people both sales and technical, and they did something that I cannot forgive an organisation for, which is to push a technical solution which happens to be wrong because it generates more income for them. I won't bore you with the details, but that finished Novell for me. [Anybody else have this experience?]

"I was never a fan of NetWare. We had so many problems and so little support over so many years that it got me down. However, I was responsible for getting the University to have an IT policy that said open source (in the most general terms) should be the first choice and until we moved to Windows it was me who pushed that to the limits. We used Linux for almost all of the machine room services (mail, DNS, Web, etc.) and had over 1,000 PCs with both Windows and Linux installed on them.

"As part of this I wrote a system to do printer accounting using my own code as well as MySQL, and LPRng, an authentication system for various systems such as the printer accounting system, our intranet and the desktop Linux systems. I also wrote a cloning system for PCs and servers. I developed our own Linux system based around Slackware [a Linux distribution] but with lots of additions, and designed and built a highly scalable, resilient e-mail system using Linux and DRBD [clustering technology]. However, what do you do when everyone is demanding shared calendars from within Outlook, and no one wants to use the Linux desktop? Most of our students and staff would rather do without PCs entirely than have to use something new.

"The Windows installation was much easier than the NetWare one. I can assure you of that. We migrated 20,000 people and 5,000 PCs in a long weekend. That included building a clustered e-mail service with 8 servers for all these people. It just worked! We have never done anything like that on NetWare, but much simpler operations on NetWare have almost always resulted in major downtime and needed help from Novell engineers to fix the directory, etc. I keep hearing people saying how wonderful NetWare is and how bad Windows is but our experience of NetWare (which goes back to Version 2) has not been that good. We'll see what Windows brings.

"I still use Linux on my desktop and will continue to do so as long as I can. However, I don't have the starry-eyed view of Linux that others have. It too suffers from feature bloat, and that is not a good thing. I use KDE, but when it takes hours to compile it and I find the same coding errors carried from version to version (which I have reported) I don't take the view that it is wonderful, either.

"I hope you see that I am not some 19-year-old Windows fanatic. In fact, I've been using open source and its predecessors since around 1982 when I installed Kermit on a DECSYSTEM 20. The DECSYSTEM 20 and its operating system (TOPS 20) remains my favourite system of all time and neither Linux, Windows or Novell come anywhere near it. Still they have all gone to the great machine room in the sky now.

"Your comments were not as bad as some which I ignored. However, I thought you might like to know some of the reality rather than guesswork."

That may be even more worrying than the original story. Thank you, Colin.

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