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dutky's Journal: ASP's wet dreams and simplified sysadmin

Journal by dutky

After posting this comment to the article Why Microsoft Should Fear Bandwidth I wanted to write a little bit more about making system administration easier: I didn't want to leave the topic as vague assertions.

Other people have written elloquently on this same topic: all I want to do is point to some possabilities for solving the most serious administrative problems.

  • Software Installation: Rather than rely on install/uninstall scripts, all the components of a piece of software should be contained in a single bundle or package that can be installed or removed as easily as copying or deleting a file.
  • System Installation: I'd like to ignore this, on the grounds that it doesn't happen often, but I think that Linux system installation could still use some work. At the very least, an installation using sensible defaults should be doable with munimum fuss: user's shouldn't be forced to choose partitioning schemes, swap space size and select what software to install from a list of dozen's of inadequately documented options. Unfortunately, I don't have any pointers to good examples of system installation done right: maybe it is just an inherantly complex task.
  • Network Administration: A prudent selection of default settings whould go a long way toward eliminationg network administration for most users. I think the OS X network and sharing preference panels are pretty good implementations, but still a bit baroque for my tastes.
  • Printer Administration: As noted above, Eric has already written on this topic: his observations are accurate and his points are cogent.
  • Backup Management: Here is one case where I think a reasonable business case might be made for a leased service: users could pay for a remote system to connect to thier computer periodically and copy and modified files, producing a set of CDs or DVDs which would be mailed to the subscriber. Obviously there are some serious privacy issues that may scuttle the whole enterprise.
  • User Administration: This is also a relatively infrequent task, which could be justly ignored. However, I don't think it really needs much more than a simple UI over the existing flat files.

Rather than concentrate on making complex tasks easier, it may be better to try to eliminate as many administrative tasks as possible, in their entirety. In the early days of personal computing, this was the general case: personal computers were just much less complex than the centralized systems and users could handle them without much difficulty. Unfortunately, as personal computing has matured, administrative tasks have accumulated and made things more difficult to maintain. It's not clear to me that all of this complexity is really necessary, but eliminating it may mean some hard work for programmers and administrators.

Ma Bell is a mean mother!

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