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Linux in the Enterprise Closer Than You Think - page 3

Meeting the Enterprise

  • December 12, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

Besides applications, there is a clear need for other sucesses to get Linux adopted in the enterprise. After talking to some of these people at ELF last week, here are three of the items that came up in my many conversations.

Standards

This one was a big one, and it was heavily mentioned at the event by attendees. One of the biggest problems in migrating from one platform to another was the jump in file standards one had to make. For many at the conference, the open-source adherence to standards was a big selling point for Linux already.

What made it hard, the people I interviewed said, was the fact that outside of Linux, these standards were little used. No one was naive enough to think that this was anything but delibrate on the part of Microsoft and other proprietary software companies.

But even though Linux has open standards already, there is something it could improve in this area.

"If the Linux community could do one thing better," one gentleman told me, "it would be to advertise the hell out of the fact that open source also means open standards. That message has got to get out more."

This sentiment was confirmed by others. Open source was easy enough to grasp: it means open access to the source code. Standards, though, are only implied to be open. IT managers, sick of being locked into forced product upgrades when proprietary file formats are upgraded, would love nothing more than dedicate their files to open standards.

So, for those of you investigating Linux for the first time, let me be first to let you know: many of the file format standards used by Linux applications are open.

Drivers

Linux needs more drivers, of that there is no question. All of the varied and sundry pieces of hardware out there in the corporate world are screaming for driver creation.

In one conversation I had, a senior research computer scientist from the United States Courts summed up the problem with driver creation quite neatly.

"Drivers," Robert Borochoff said, "are boring."

While writing a driver that worked well was a relatively simple thing, the bulk of the work in drivers is the tedious coding of error handlers within driver, Borochoff explained.

But it is exactly this kind of tedious work that is needed right now, he said.

He has a pretty good point, too. Driver work is not fun, and there's very little glory in it. Not to mention the incessant patent and copyright problems that are always cropping up.

This latter may soon be less of an issue--independent hardware vendors are standing on the brink of Linux support, waiting for just a little bit more adoption before jumping in. Once their decision to support Linux is made, then there will be a clear market for dedicated, meticulous developers to start integrating drivers with Linux.

Education

There are two kinds of education surrounding Linux. People not involved with Linux clearly need to be educated about just what Linux is all about. I can think of several DC-based pundits that could use a real strong education right off the top of my head. Not to mention some analysts.

No one knows everything about Linux, but there is a clear need for Linux users to deliver a single, unified message about what Linux is, what is the difference between free software and open-source software, and why the GPL license is not viral.

It's not that these are hard questions to answer--it's just that there is no central organization that is handling this kind of knowledge. That has been Microsoft's one true strength: the ability to deliver its message from a single, unified source. Many may not like the message that they are sending, but you have to at least give them that point.

Without such a central organization, then it's important for people knowledgable about Linux to get the message out on their own. Deeds, such as setting up a Linux-based network for a local charity or small business, are always better than words. But if words are to be used, it's no longer acceptable in any way to toss out "RTFM." If you want to be cool and aloof, that's your problem--don't make it Linux's.

The second kind of education is the more formal kind. People need to get trained up in Linux particulars as soon as possible. I spoke with Evan Leibovitch in Boston and this is something that the Linux Professional Institute is working hard to achieve with their top-of-the-line Linux certification programs.

LPI has recently overtaken the Red Hat certfication program in terms of most desired certification and after meeting Leibovitch, I can see why. This is an organization that wants to get as many people formally trained in Linux as possible--but not at the expense of stuffing the numbers.

For instance, Leibovitch is very proud of the fact that the LPI certifications have a high fail rate. When I first heard that, I was glad my kids were 800 miles away. But as he continued, I realized that this was no sadistic ogre before me. The high fail rate is good because everyone in the industry will know that the people who do pass LPI certification exams are clearly going to know their stuff.

LPI is going to be expanding its efforts around the world in the months to come--a story for another day. But their presence today is a strong plus to solving the problem of formal Linux education.

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