When Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote Inferno, their update of Dante’s description of a trip through hell, they described new types of sinners and the punishments that awaited them. In one chapter, they imagined the fate of extremists on both sides of the environment vs. development debate. In their section of hell, there was a half-finished bridge spanning a river. The developers were trying to finish the bridge, and the environmentalists were trying to tear it down. As a result, both sides worked furiously, but nothing much got done.

To my mind, that kind of behavior characterizes entirely too much of the Linux vs. Windows debate. Judging from the conversations I have, as well as the interaction here at TechRepublic, too many people stop thinking of this as a debate about technology platforms and start thinking of it as a kind of religious argument. In this column, I’ll explain what I mean and give you some suggestions on how you can get past these kinds of squabbles and get some work done.

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In our Discussion Center, we’re talking about managing the “religious warfare” between Linux and Windows devotees. To add to this discussion, post your comment to this article. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to an Artner’s Law column will win a free TechRepublic coffee mug.

The battle rages here at TechRepublic
You can see this Linux vs. Windows debate here at TechRepublic. Jack Wallen, Jr. writes about Linux and infrastructure for our TechProGuild subscription service. I’ve marveled at Jack’s ability to find ways to slam Microsoft in everything he writes. (For an example, check out Jack’s explanation of an open source download.) In a sense, you have to admire how up-front Jack is about his beliefs. I mean, who else would title an article about viruses “I love you, Linux!”

Taking the other side on this issue is Jack’s boss, Erik Eckel, the editor in chief of TechProGuild. Erik is our Microsoft certification expert and recently spent time trying to uncover what Whistler is going to mean to existing certifications. I don’t want to say that Erik worships at the Redmond shrine, but rumor has it that he’s trying to get his name legally changed from Erik Eckel to Erik Eckel, MCP+I, MCSE.

While Jack and Erik get along fine, they clearly have different views of the world. To Jack, Linux isn’t just a superior operating system, it is the vanguard of the open source revolution. It follows, therefore, that for Jack, Microsoft represents the Forces of Darkness.

To Erik, on the other hand, Windows NT and now Windows 2000 are more than just the most popular network operating systems in the world. Windows serves as a validation of his professional training.

For both of these guys, their livelihood is tied up with the success or failure of their respective operating systems of choice.

The problem comes in when you have to manage people with such radically different views. How do you make decisions and move forward? After all, when you choose a vendor, it’s not often an emotional decision. You create a requirements list and compare the different options. By choosing Vendor A, you’re not implying that Vendor B is evil, just that they couldn’t meet either your needs or your price.

At root, a lot of the Linux vs. Windows debate isn’t about technology at all but about how you view the world. It’s a battle between rival groups of True Believers. It’s almost a theological argument—you know, the kind of thing your parents told you not to talk about in the office.

Getting out of the quagmire
If your organization is currently struggling with Linux vs. Windows debates, here are some strategies for moving forward with a minimum of fallout:

  • Identify everyone’s agenda. There’s nothing wrong with feeling strongly about a particular technology. In fact, you need people to care passionately about what they do. However, you also need the members of your team to be up-front about their feelings.
  • Discuss the issues calmly. Don’t allow one person to demonize the views of another. This strategy is just common sense, of course, but you’d be surprised how often common sense flies out the window during these kinds of arguments.
  • Treat it like any other platform decision. To the extent possible, try to look at Linux vs. Windows deployment issues like any other platform or vendor decision. Create a list of requirements, and see how the different options stack up. After you’ve done that, look at the costs—all the costs, including hardware, training, and support.

By taking the emotion out of the decision, you won’t eliminate all your problems. However, you may be able to minimize the sniping and second-guessing that comes from making any tough call.

Coping with the OS debate

How does the debate over Linux vs. Windows affect your shop? To add to this discussion, post your comment to this article. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to an Artner’s Law column will win a free TechRepublic coffee mug.