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Choosing Your Tools

What sorts of questions does one ask when choosing a tool?

I’m running into issues right now in my own head when it comes to choosing the tools I want to use for my work. It doesn’t matter if it is for my day job as a sysadmin or at night attempting to somehow fall into becoming something approximating an iOS developer (maybe … perhaps … somehow … ). It is hard to choose tools if you don’t have any questions to ask when you are choosing them.

Since sysadmin work is something I do more often at the moment, I’ll just list off some of the questions I ask when trying to evaluate a software package or any other kind of tool.

  • What is the license? This is where I start with systems stuff because licensing is a pain and often full of different ways to try and “get” you in the end. Microsoft seems to change its licensing scheme every few hours and SMART Technologies is doing the same sort of thing with their SMART Notebook software. Even forgetting the issues I have with interactive whiteboards (don’t get me started, they are a support nightmare), just dealing with licensing is a pain. If something is open source or has a pretty easy-to-understand license (thank you Attachmate), then I am more likely to look in that direction.
  • Does it have a web component? We have some things on campus which lack a web component and it hurts at times. What a first-class web component does is allow me to choose other tools (like my operating system) based not on if I have the proper software, but if I want to actually use something. “Enterprise” software is the worst with this because almost everyone has some Windows-only GUI you are almost required to use to do anything worthwhile.
  • This is a new one, but here we go: Does it have a mobile component? This is becoming more important as I use my phone for more and more sysadmin work. I can do a lot of stuff while on the road, but often mobile is an afterthought. Currently Request Tracker is the one tool I wish had a better mobile access to their excellent issue tracking software. I know these things will come, but it would be nice if it was sooner rather than later.
  • Does it force me to choose an operating system? I want to use my Linux distribution of choice and something forcing Windows on me or only “supporting” Ubuntu really doesn’t make me all that happy. I’m not going to toss it aside automatically, but I’m also more skeptical from the start because the tool is attempting to dictate infrastructure choices I would rather be able to make myself.
  • Is it in active development? Pretty self-explanatory. I want to see life before I start using a tool for something important.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place I can start when trying to evaluate options. I left off some obvious ones (I assume that the tool will do the job and do it well), and there are many I automatically use even if I don’t think about them. What are some thing you need to consider when you are looking at tools?

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