Professional History and Viewpoint (2/1/1996)
Let me introduce myself and relate some general attitudes I have acquired from experience.
I have been studying and working with computers for 36 years. I was a computer clerk and operator for a year during my Senior year. For 15 years I was part of the CALIDOSCOPE development and maintenance team on the campus CDC 6400 (job input/output, remote terminal, and control statement subsystems). I purchased my first home terminal and modem in 1969 (a Teletype KSR and Prentice 300 baud modem). I was co-developer and implementer of the first computer network on campus, the Remote Computer System (1970). I assembled my first personal computer in 1977 (an IMSAI 8080 CP/M system) and have worked on PC communications and networking since 1982. I was a contributor to MS-Kermit for the PC (and CP/M Kermit and CMS Kermit), and a front line warrior in the struggle to network Macs and PCs on campus (and to get some respect for them). When I go to a computer museum, I see my life in review ("been there, done that", tubes to VLSI :-).
This long experience is also why my statements may seem over definitive or dogmatic. When you have seen it and touched it a hundred times you no longer doubt the general rule and the general rule becomes a simple statement of fact.
A second point, perhaps hidden in the above history, is that I have had to abandon cherished technologies many times. Most notably mainframes, CP/M, and serial terminal login. This is the nature of technological progress. The campus must constantly be laying new technology in front of itself, making best use of it, and then moving on to the next step.
It is important to note that these technologies did not vanish. Each still has appropriate use or has evolved into an advanced form of itself. Each is still part of our toolkit, just no longer the main trust of advancement. Note that desktop systems have passed their zenith too, and are now subsiding into the humdrum of daily activity as we realize that they are just the desktop component of the larger information system.
Although I have made these changes, I am not prone to jump off a precipice just for the thrill. I do however prefer to cross the bridge before the rush :-). So my advice is not likely to be either hasty or retrograde. I test and use everything that I recommend.
Another important change during this time, was the loss of access to technical information about the computer products that we use. In the "good old days", a computer was delivered with complete technical documentation, and the operating system and software came with full source code. Now, complete technical information is almost impossible to get, and source code is flatly refused. Can you imagine an auto industry where your local mechanic had to call a 900 number to service or repair your car - one question at a time! So next time when we cannot solve your problem, try to imagine our frustration at having the skills but little access to the information or any means of repair.
The foregoing is the basis of my general recommendation to stay as close to the vendor's standard installation and recommendations, and to purchase only name brand products (if they won't put their name and address on it, they sure as heck won't be of any help later). If you stray from the main path, you'll be out with the lions and tigers and bears with no one to guide you back.