Coming To Terms With UNIX And NT

Many classic comedy pieces are based on conversational confusion. So, why isn't it funny when UNIX and Windows NT admins and application developers try to communicate. These two groups of "experts" use very different dialects of "computerese." But who's fluent in both? Better yet, who's on first?

Terms like bridge, router, memory, adapter card, crash, backup and bug are nowuniversal. Of course, this only adds to the confusion by making it appear that we speakthe same language. For example, when a HP-UX or other UNIX person uses the word Domain,they are referring to an organization in the Domain Naming System (DNS) used on theInternet, like The NT crowd might mean the same.

Or they could be referring to an NT Security Domain, which is a grouping of computersusing the same security scheme. There must be a computer, called the Primary DomainController, that stores and serves this security information. There can be many NTSecurity Domains in one DNS domain. This makes the term Domain Server rather ambiguous.

Bytes Of Confusion

Issues like that can lead to secondary terminology confusion. For example, suppose youwant to make a computer into a server for some network functionality, like being a Domain(DNS) server. Under HP-UX, you would edit several files; or use SAM, to make a client intoa DNS server. NT Admins call this a poor design. Under NT, if you want to make a computerinto an (NT Security) Domain controller, you must reload the operating system. UNIX Adminswould call that a poor design.

Suppose you want to make an NT server a DNS server: you could use a wizard. Whoops,that's another loaded term. UNIX people refer to a knowledgeable administrative person asa wizard. NT people using the term wizard are referring to a program that helps with theconfiguration. Programs that help you configure something in UNIX are called useless byUNIX wizards.

Go Con-figure.

In NT, the term remote access has a specific meaning, usually referring to the RemoteAccess Service (RAS) software, which allows for dial-up connections. Among the UNIX crowd,remote access is a much more general term, used any time a resource of one computer isaccessed remotely. Which software, protocol, or network is used doesn't matter.

There are also many things that are very similar in functionality, yet go by differentnames in the two camps. Take a program, that when running allows access to some computer,service, or data. UNIX-philes call these programs, when executing, daemons. NT people callthem services. Amusingly enough, an expression as simple as "stop a service,"means different things. In UNIX, it means to terminate (or kill) the daemon process. UnderNT, there is no such term as stop.

Sanity Pause

Pause sounds similar enough, but it isn't. A paused service continues to run, but doesnot accept any new requests or connections. And even a popular term like "bug"that basically means the same thing, you fix with a hotfix in NT, but use a patch in UNIX.A group of patches, or enhancements is called a Service Pack in NT, but goes by themoniker of Extension Software in HP-UX. Usually, everyone calls them both a pain.

Then, there are many non-technical words that take on specific meanings when used in acomputing context. A problem arises when only one camp has assigned a technical meaning.Take the word trust, for example. There is no technical meaning under UNIX, so theconventional meaning is assumed. For example, if UNIX admins says a particular user istrusted, it might mean that they are honest, reliable; or even that they have been giventhe administrator (root) password. Under NT, a trust relationship defines a specificsecurity configuration. NT trust means that users from one NT security Domain can accessresources in a Domain where they do not have an account. One NT Domain can trust anotherdomain's users. Just like in real life, trust is not always mutual, but Domains can be setup to trust each other.

Us Versus Them

To an NT administrator, the IT department means US. To UNIX people, it often meansTHEM. Migration is another common word that takes on specific meaning when used bycomputer professionals. With NT administrators, it means replacing UNIX machines with PC'srunning NT Workstation or NT Advanced Server. On the other hand, when used by UNIX peopleit means going from one release of the operating system to a newer one. It can also meanthe act of changing all the servers in the network back to UNIX boxes after they hadearlier been migrated to NT servers.

--Fred Mallett is President of FAME Computer Education (CorpusChristi, Texas), and teaches a variety of classes on UNIX and Win 32 subjects. He alsowrites our monthly HP-UX Admin Man column.