Confessions of a platform agnostic

After last month's column on cross-platform software applications, I received a variety of comments from my more vocal friends and associates. The Mac mob gave me a hearty "welcome back to the fold" slap on the back (unspoken subtext: "we KNEW you'd be back..."). Windows users seemed almost cavalier in their attitude towards losing yet another user to the Mac mob (unspoken subtext: "You never really were one of us anyway..."). The Linuxtistas simply shrugged and said: "Dude, why don't you just switch to Linux, you're already halfway there!" (unspoken subtext: "It's inevitable-give in."). The more objective in the crowd simply said: "Oh you switched? So which one is better?"

I've a confession to make: I don't care what OS my computer is running as long as it works. Call me shallow, call me socially irresponsible, call me a traitor to the open source creed, but I say: "Hey, if it works, then it works for me."

As I look around my office, I see one server on Linux, one on Windows, a handful of desktop PCs running Windows, and one dual boot Windows/Linux desktop. Notebook: MacBookPro. I run proprietary software on open source platforms. I run open source software on proprietary platforms. I run Linux and Windows-sometimes on the same box. Heck, I am even looking forward to the (official) release of BootCamp so I can run Windows on my Mac!

Let's face it: I'm a shameless hussy. My portable hard drive and I live by the mantra of plug-and-play. It's like a buffet: I sample all tastes and take a little of each. And frankly, if you don't, you're probably missing out on some good experiences.

For years I ran Mac and nothing but Mac. Then one shining day the dramatic drops in PC hardware prices proved too much temptation; I decided it was time to learn DOS and Windows 3.1. In a complete 180-degree shift, I went from being a Mac fanatic to a DOS freak.

The cracks in my Microsoft resolve didn't appear until nearly ten years later. The first indication that my days of serial monogamy might be over began to appear on my servers as I found Linux to be a painless and cost-effective option for scaling up boxes, particularly dedicated servers. Then, like an unfaithful spouse, I start trying out Linux desktops on the side-nothing serious, just a taste. But as happens, I kept trying them (and dumping them) and then one day, one stuck. A penguin now has a permanent place in my digital harem.

The arrival of the MacBookPro was the last straw. Although I was initially cautious about adding yet another OS to the collection, the initial adjustment period is behind me and I now love it. As a result, I am hereby formally abjuring all claims of faithfulness to any one platform. To heck with it, I'm dating them all!!

Let's take one more step down this path. You know what software gets my vote? If you read my last column, this comes as no surprise: The stuff that is just as platform-agnostic as I am.

If it runs on my Mac, on my Windows box, and on my Linux box, you can bet it has my complete loyalty. Of course, in this day and age I don't expect to find many applications as indifferent to their partners as I am, but the list is growing. In addition to simple browser and email programs, I find gems like Apache and MySQL to be faithful companions. I run LAMP on my Linux boxes, WAMP on my Windows boxes and XAMP on my Mac and guess what: it all works.

And now for the evangelical portion of today's program: like me, you should become a platform agnostic. Why? Because it is not just convenient and useful, it's flat-out inevitable.

This trend is not just about operating systems and the related software applications-what's really pushing this trend is the web. A website doesn't care what OS you're running; if you have a browser, you're good-to-go. As more applications are delivered via the web, the only thing that will matter is a sturdy Internet connection. The web will convert one and all to its heretical humanistic approach: by delivering what people want.

Let's look at this same idea in a different context: I've got a car, a motorcycle and a bicycle. Sometimes I take a taxi or even the bus. They are all ways of getting me from point A to point B and therefore competing technologies.

Is there a conflict in owning and using multiple modes of transport? No way; the goal is the thing, not the tool. I use the tool which best suits my mood and needs at that particular time. Why should my computing environment be any different?

So what's the best platform to use? Why, the one that does what you want, silly.

Any more questions?

Ric Shreves is a partner in Water&Stone, a firm specializing in open source content management systems. He speaks and writes frequently on the subject of Internet technologies in general and on open source in particular. Contact him at ric@waterandstone.com.

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Ric Shreves

Computerworld
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