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Linux Servers Are the Smart Business Choice - page 2

FOSS is Friendly

  • February 9, 2011
  • By Carla Schroder

Best Insurance

FOSS is your best insurance for the future. Your document archives won't be orphaned as long as you use open document formats, and even when formats become obsolete you still have the source code, so your archives are always recoverable. FOSS has a strong culture of interoperability even as proprietary vendors exert considerable resources to foil interoperability. There is no lock-in other than you like it and it works for you.

Interop

I think that all IT staffers should be fluent in Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. Or at least familiar enough with all three platforms to understand how to integrate them into a network, and to understand that one does not fit all. Nobody who makes decisions of any consequence should be less than expert in all three.

Learning Mac costs money. All you need to start your Linux education is a spare computer. Install a free-of-cost Linux on it, get some good reference materials, and away you go. Virtual machines are popular test environments these days, but a standalone PC is simpler and easier to troubleshoot.

Which Linux should you start with? I favor Red Hat as the best commercially-supported Linux distribution. Red Hat offers a free 30-day evaluation version. You could also download a copy of CentOS or Scientific Linux for free to get an idea of what Red Hat Enterprise Linux is like, because these are free RHEL clones built from RHEL source packages. (Yes, this is perfectly legal, and Red Hat still prospers.)

If you're looking for a high-quality managed Linux desktop Red Hat has this too, and there is a free evaluation version. While Red Hat offers little you can't find in other Linux distributions it has great integration and management tools, a rock-solid distro, good documentation, good support, and they fund a significant amount of Linux development.

Novell's SUSE Linux is also aimed at the enterprise and offers various support levels, and in typical Novell fashion a bewildering array of options. If you like building custom Linux images check out SUSE Studio, a slick tool for quickly creating custom builds.

The two distros that I believe are best for IT professionals to become proficient with are Debian and Fedora. Debian and Fedora are the parents of most other Linux distributions; the majority of Linux distros are based on one of these. Fedora is sponsored by Red Hat, and unlike RHEL it is bleeding-edge, with a frequent release cycle that incorporates the newest developments. Debian is one of the oldest distros, and the biggest, supporting more packages than anyone. It is 100% volunteer-driven. Debian pioneered sophisticated dependency-resolving package management, supports the most hardware architectures, and despite the rise of glitzy Debian-based derivatives like Ubuntu is still the most important and fundamental Linux distribution. Debian and Fedora use different software management systems and a different configuration and service management structure. When you know both of these you know how to administer most Linux distros.

What Next?

In part 2 we'll look at good stout Linux mail and groupware servers. Friends don't let friends use MS Exchange; there is a vast universe of superior alternatives.

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Book of Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.

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