Anyone who has spent time in the TechRepublic forums is well acquainted with the ongoing skirmishes and philosophical conflagrations that IT pros often engage in. Jack Wallen looks at 10 of the most enduring battles being waged in the IT world.

If you’ve been involved in IT over the past few decades, you know that the flame of war has always burned strong. It’s like the best rivalries in sports, with camps residing on opposite sides of the field. Chances are, you’ve been in at least one of these flame wars over the years. You might still be deeply entrenched in your camp’s battle for ultimate supremacy.

In this article, you may very well find the flame war that has been a part of your IT world. If not, let us know what your favorite troll bait is.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Linux vs. Windows

In my personal world, there has never been a bigger “cause” to send me scrambling to my soapbox. In the mid to late ’90s, Linux was all about “World Domination,” and it wasn’t afraid to say so. It needed that credo because it had what seemed like an un-winnable fight on its hands. And although many still see that fight as un-winnable, Linux has done the unthinkable by taking Windows down a peg or two — and not only because of the Apache Web server. The Linux desktop has proven to the world that it knows how to create interfaces and desktops to one-up nearly all of the competition. But Windows keeps the world in its stranglehold. The hardest (and most influential) market to crack – the enterprise.

The battle cry for these camps? Linux: “Freedom!” and Windows: “Market share!”

2: Mac vs. PC

If I asked why there are so many battles involving Windows, I believe the answer would be a resounding “Market share!” (see above). And yes, Mac is included in this. However, it goes beyond the operating system. This battle is as much about aesthetics as it is about a working piece of software. To Mac lovers, their machines are finely tuned, beautiful pieces of art that must not only be used but be displayed prominently at their desks or on the table at the coffee shop they frequent. To Mac haters, the Mac is nothing more than an overpriced, underpowered toy that can’t do nearly what their machines can.

The battle cry for these camps? Mac: “iLove my Mac!” and PC: “Half the cost!”

3: Cloud vs. local

Anyone who reads IT-related news has run into cloud computing. To many, this is just another way to repackage thin clients. Those who worked in IT in the early ’90s will remember thin clients well. And most of these memories are not good. So those who remember thin clients amid a cloud of horror will see cloud computing in the same insufferable way. But to those managers of larger enterprises looking to save money and manage machines with a finer lens, cloud computing can be a boon. Most likely, this battle will be fought between IT pros and either upper management (seeing the power that cloud computing could bring their company) or the sellers of the hardware. Cloud vs. local is a “those who do” vs. “those who talk about doing” conflict.

The battle cry for these camps? Believers: “Single point of administration!” and nonbelievers: “Single point of failure!”

4: GNOME vs. KDE

If you are involved with Linux, you know that the GNOME vs. KDE battle has been going on for a long time. Now in most flame wars, you might find a few in both camps who support both sides. Not in this battle. The GNOME vs. KDE clash is a vicious one that never has and never will see a pleasantry tossed across the DMZ. GNOME users hate KDE and KDE users hate GNOME. This battle goes beyond the interface and slithers its cold, hatred-filled finger of doom down into the very tool kits used to create the widgets.

GNOME users hold on to the fact that the KDE tool kit (Qt) was once proprietary. Qt is now released under the LGPL which makes that point no longer valid. Both camps also claim the language used to write the other side’s desktop is inferior. GNOME uses a lot of C and KDE uses a lot of C++. Both languages have their pros and cons. Ultimately, it comes down to look and feel for the end user, and that’s all personal opinion.

The battle cry for these camps? GNOME: “KDE 4 looks like Windows!” and KDE: “KDE 4 looks like Windows!” You do the math.

5: Social networking sites vs. managers/haters

There is no denying it: Social networking is HUGE now. Everyone you meet blogs, has a Facebook page, tweets on Twitter, and is LinkedIn. That is, of course, unless you are someone who shuns modern communication tools or you are a manager. Social networking sites are vast time-suckers. On the other hand, they’re also one of the best forms of networking and/or advertising. Those who hate social networking sites see little to no value in them. Those who have friends do. Facebook has a certain value, but does it have value in the workplace? That is one of the key issues in the battle. Can people be productive with a social networking site open in their browser?

The battle cry for these camps? Social networking fans: “i haz 500 friends! LOL” and managers/haters: “You’re fired! LOL!”

6: Vi vs. emacs

Let’s go old school for a moment. The flames of this war, for all but a few, have died away. But that is not to deny the power, hatred, and anger this battle pulled out of otherwise normal human beings. I remember attending a LUG (Linux User Group) meeting a long time ago and nearly getting kicked out because I wouldn’t join one side of this battle or the other. I was a Pico user, and I was scorned by both sides.

What I’ve always found interesting about this battle is that both tools work very well — once you know how to use them. And that is the key to this war. It always seemed to me that the vi vs. emacs battle was more about which tool was harder to use. After using Pico (and now Nano) for years, vi and emacs both seemed a bit much for an editor. Ah, I can feel the burning stare from the remaining members of both camps as they flare up to yell, “It’s not JUST an editor!”

The battle cry for these camps? Both are done in overly complex regular expressions that can’t be understood by mortal man.

7: Google vs. everyone else

The interesting thing about this battle is that those who oppose Google usually can’t cite a justifiable reason for their hatred. Most spout hatred for SEO or the fact that “Google” is now a verb. But while these people espouse their hatred for the search giant, they desperately long to see their sites rise to the top of Google rankings. And with good reason! Google is the number one search engine on the planet, so they need high rankings.

But at the same time, there may be something to support so many folks tossing cries of “foul” and “evil” at the search giant. Take this anecdote, for example: As I write this paragraph, I am using Google Chrome on Fedora 10. Every time I use Chrome with the search string “why hate google,” the page I click on winds up crashing the tab I am using. So Chrome doesn’t want me searching for reasons to hate Google. Interesting. Very interesting.

The battle cry for these camps? Google: “We will own the world!” and everyone else: “Let me Google that. Oh wait, you didn’t hear me say that!”

8: Firefox vs. IE vs. Chrome

Ah, the browser war. During the ’90s, this was certainly a fun battle from any side. It didn’t matter which camp you were in. Even if you weren’t on a side, this battle was fun. The best part was listening to those who spouted off a litany of what they thought was “fact” when in reality, few people back then knew where Mozilla came from or why one browser was better than the other. Most people were just amazed they could type something in a text field and a Web page would appear as if drawn from Merlin’s wand itself. That battle had all but died away when Google Chrome came about. Now the flames have been reignited with a vengeance by a browser that blows the others out of the water (with respect to speed). Will we get to see a resurgence of the mid-90s browsers wars? I hope so.

The battle cry for these camps? Firefox: “We are the true innovators!” and IE: “Resistance is futile!” and Chrome: “We are the future of browsing!”

9: P2P file sharing vs. tried-and-true consumerism

This is one of those battles waged mostly between end users and ISPs, businesses, and the recording industry. The problem is that it gives P2P a bad name. Oh sure, the majority of P2P file sharing involves DRM’d content that should, in all honesty, be purchased. But there are plenty of users out there who employ P2P clients to download legal files. Take Linux distribution ISOs, for example. These files can be anywhere from 600+ MB all the way to 4 Gig files. Downloading them with a torrent client is much easier than from within a browser or wget. But that doesn’t do anything to lessen the flames of war brought about by file sharing.

It mostly boils down to artists getting paid for their product. And they should. But as has been proven over and over, where there’s a will there’s a way. This battle will be won only if a compromise can be drawn. Those downloading DRM’d files should pay some sort of fee so artists are getting their fair share. Who knows what that fee is and how it will be enabled? Not I.

The battle cry for these camps? Fans of P2P file sharing: “Avast matey!” and everyone else: “The RIAA will sue you for trillions of dollars for downloading that copy of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.”

10: Administrators vs. end users

How could I not end this list with one of the most beloved battles of all — us vs. them? It’s all about end users stretching the already-thin strings of patience of the administrators. It’s teacher vs. student. But in the end, it comes down to the job description — which most often includes supporting end users. Does “supporting” translate to “babysitting”? I guess that would depend upon who is doing the translating. But someone with multiple degrees in computer science having to show end users how to click a mouse vs. end users not being able to get their job done because their computer has been infected with a virus can make for a heated battle.

The battle cry for these camps? End users: “My computer won’t work!” Administrators: “I have real work to do!”

Pick your battles

These 10 flame wars have been raging for decades (at least in some instances). Which ones have you been a part of? Did we miss a battle or two? Tell us your side of these (or other) battles that have touched your IT life in various ways.