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Underground Linux: More than Just the Web

Looking Past the Web to Where Linux Excels

  • April 12, 2000
  • By Jay Fink

In today's e-biz, e-trading, e-living e-world (getting sick of it yet? I know I am) we often forget those "other systems" along with "those other people." What I am referring to are the "brick and mortar" (to steal a phrase) systems that are not Web-enabled or are Web-enabled but simply do not fit in the cool category (you know, like content-driven Web sites).

Oddly enough, we never see or hear much about such systems in the mainstream news. Everything coming down the pipe seems to revolve around handheld devices, Web services, or a weird combination thereof. This is probably because...well, heck, they are more interesting. But there are other systems out there that do other things.

(The seasoned UNIX user can probably stop reading now. You already know this, and in fact you knew this a long time ago. Novices should read on.)

The History of an Uncool Administrator
The very first UNIX system I ever laid eyes upon was quite cool. It did not have a Web server, e-mail, a browser, games of any sort, a window manager or any of the elements commonplace on a Linux distribution. As a matter of fact, the only way to access the system itself was to use an RS-232 cable and telnet client, no LAN. Nevertheless, it was cool. It was a piece of government equipment that, without giving too much away, reformatted radar images for use by other systems.

At the time I had no idea what UNIX was, all I did know was I liked it. Luckily for me I had only worked on proprietary mainframe systems up until that point, so I had no personal computer preconceptions either. Those factors were very important in my development (although I didn't realize it at the time). I was basically going in fresh.

The next UNIX systems I maintained I focused on networking since they were networked workstations; still, however, no Web stuff, no email and X-11 with CDE on the maintenance workstations. The glorious window manager I had on the user workstations was mwm.

It was around that time I decided to give Linux a try. The reason I tried it, of course, was so I could learn more at the best price in town, a reason many other folks were getting into Linux at about the same time (1995).

Finally I ended up maintaining a pure production system and its networks. I do maintain Web servers but they are very dull compared to most. I enjoy it, however, a great deal. Production systems can be just as complex as a php3 datamart.

A Wrap on the Systems I Maintained
First, I'll give a quick rundown of cool systems I maintained that were not even connected to the Internet (I have to admit sneaker-net did get tiresome):

* The radar image reformatting system mentioned above.
* A Graphic Overlay Clustered LAN--did just that, overlaid graphics onto "primitive" consoles.
* Another radar converter but this time to actual images (I didn't get to do much with this though--but it was still cool).

The production system I work on now is not all that cool, but I still enjoy it.

Cool UNIX Systems I Have Heard Of
Industrial Lights and Magic (ILM) used Silicon Graphics IRIX at one time, I do not know if they still do.
NASA, can you say Beowulf?
Simulation Systems

Cool-Sounding Systems but the Pressure Has GOT to be High
Airport UNIX Systems
A lot of stock market-type systems

Just Plain Cool Systems I Thought of (and Probably Exist)
Robotics Systems
Cool Research and Development systems at colleges
3D Modeling Systems for cars
The PEZ Counter Mainframe

Okay, the last one is a stretch.

Point Is, It is Not ALL Web
When I first went into full-time administration, most people I knew who were administrators did not maintain Web servers. They mainly worked on production-controlling systems.

The bottom line: if you want to work with Linux but are not necessarily interested in Web services, there is more out there--all you have to do is take a look.

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