Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do real people actually use Windows Server?

Tonight I got one of many tech e-mails I get at school. In this case, the issue was related to a printer being down -- actually, a number of printers. If enough printers fail, it's a high priority issue, because it means teachers and students walking long distances to get print outs, and that's a lot of lost time at school (students may be thankful for the exercise and chance to socialize, but that's not really what we're aiming for).

Anyway, I decided it would be worthwhile to go into the server remotely and see what I could about the condition of the printers, so I could prioritize how important it was to get to fixing these printers soon. But the server is a Windows 2003 server. Our standard way of accessing it is over VNC or RDP, both of which can be really slow in the wrong conditions.

I've been waiting a good 30 seconds to get a response to each click remotely, which makes my "quick check" not so quick. This raises the question: why on God's green earth am I "clicking" anything?

There are lots of reasons why it doesn't make sense for a server to run a GUI. Among them is this: it's incredibly inefficient to transmit a picture of a whole desktop, and mouse events, etc., just to find out some basic information. If this thing were simply a *nix commandline, a 1200 baud modem would have sufficed to complete my inquiry in a few minutes. As it is, I'm giving up after a half hour (for what it's worth, I've been doing other things while I wait for responses from RDP). Do real people use this crap?

More and more I've been missing the commandline as I have to do admin work. I know that clicking is (theoretically) faster than typing commands, but between the ease of doing things remotely (I've spent hours programming on a remote system in emacs without noticing any difference from working locally) and the scriptability inherent in the commandline, I'm finding it hard to believe that people who administer machines for a living could ever do without a decent shell as their base of operations.

(Note: I know windows has a command prompt, but it's a pale shadow of bash, and as far as I know out of the box Windows Server does not have an ssh server enabled)