February 17, 2019

.comment: Leveraging Linux - page 2

Due Diligence

  • November 14, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

There are two ways -- two and one-half, actually -- to prepare for the inevitable day when "anything but Microsoft" is the anguished cry from the legal department. They depend on whether you're currently in a corporate IT department or not, and, if you are, how that department is run (friends in these positions tell me that the choices are "poorly" and "unbelievably poorly," though there are bound to be a few good ones around).

It's important to let the higher ups know, and let them know that you know, that Microsoft systems are vulnerable -- and that there is an alternative that is both cheap and effective. Yup, Linux. When reports of vulnerabilities surface, cc 'em to the powers that be. At the same time -- and here diplomacy is the order of the day -- point out the alternative that exists in the Linux world, and how for no or next-to-no money a way around the vulnerability can be had.

And keep copies of it all, every note, every response.

With luck, you'll be putting the wheels in motion for first a pilot project, perhaps a server or two, then a gradual migration to Linux, ultimately to the desktop. Linux is ready for it, but most IT departments aren't. Again, diplomacy is essential.

If your luck is not quite this good, never mind. Bide your time, keep that folder of printouts of all your messages and the responses safe at home, and wait. Don't jump rank, but be ready to step in when your boss is having his personal pucker factor cured via some sort of reaming device. Be ready to be the hero when a hero is needed.

Of course, this requires that you be current as to Linux, which your reading this suggests that you are or want to be.

What follows applies to everyone, currently employed in the IT world or not.

Choose a distribution and really learn it. Subscribe to its mailing list, its security mailing list, its announcement mailing list. Make friends there. You'll find a range of users from the single-machine hobbyist to the SOHO networker to people from some astoundingly big companies. You'll likely encounter people who actually participated in putting the distribution together (though they're seldom there as official company representatives, so if you want to confront the distributor about something, take it through other channels). There is a wealth of knowledge on the mailing lists that cannot be found anywhere else, and it's all free of cost.

Learn everything you can about configuring the interesting stuff and the boring stuff, too, because the boring stuff was written with someone in mind, and that someone is companies. Get to where you can put together a solid firewall as easily as you can put in a new motherboard. Read with an eye toward security. Bob Toxen's Real World Linux Security is a good text, but this doesn't free you from staying current as to the latest exploits and the fixes for them.

Be armed with success stories -- places that have taken the leap and lived. Largo, Florida, is one such place, though the move was from UnixWare to Linux. And have in mind a definite plan for a migration to Linux, with special attention toward it being as undisruptive as possible. This probably means moving servers over first, then desktops, a group or department at a time. Be prepared to smile during enormous griping, because any change will be met with griping. (So, come to think of it, will no change at all.) Again, your skills as a diplomat and teacher will be among your most important tools.

Only when you have gotten this degree of knowledge can you be confident that your sponsorship of a move to Linux will be a career enhancer and will do good for the company involved.

If you're not in the IT business yet but want to be, once you've gotten fluent in things Linux you can and should go ahead and make your pitch. Your goal is to replace all those MSCE drones who are being paid way too much to call Microsoft tech support. There are scads of businesses who get their IT work from outside contractors. You need to sell not just yourself but Linux as well, making the job doubly difficult. One of your best selling points, fortunately, is Microsoft itself. Do not go marching in with some political screed about how intellectual property is wrong and so on. Instead, be prepared to point out the things that are especially good about Linux -- low cost, high security, the inability of one user to screw up the whole system, long uptime, a wide array of high-quality software, quick bug fixing, and so on. You're there to solve a problem that the company may not know it has.

And if you don't get the gig right off the bat, don't worry. Microsoft is positioning itself to become just about as unattractive as possible. And that hypothetical lawsuit looms -- it will surely come to pass. And when it does, you'll be amazed at how popular you've suddenly become.

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