"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

Linux is Better Here

By Trenton G. Twining

In the past months Linux has gained momentum in corporate acceptance. Recent announcements by IBM, Netscape, Oracle, Sun and others have triggered a new degree of recognition for Linux. However, many major corporations may have been using Linux without fanfare, as we are in the offices of a Regional Bell Operating Company (RBOC).

Our project involves producing application program interfaces used by UNIX applications company wide. The developers were all initially supplied with PC_compatible workstations with MS Windows 95 or NT. On each machine was installed one of two commercial communications packages. Developers could request an X server (optional with one of the communication packages).

Before I became involved in the project, at least two developers had installed Linux in lieu of NT. As a Linux advocate, I was delighted at the acceptance of Linux in a corporate setting. I had met with only rare success in convincing other shops to use Linux on the desktop. At this RBOC, I found a willingness to allow innovation on the developers desktop. I wasted little time installing Linux on my desktop machine.

It was more convenient for me to retain NT in order to support users of some Windows-based applications. Hint: Be sure you know what you are doing before attempting to make NT part of a multiple operating system scheme. It is not particularly difficult to accomplish, but it is not at all intuitive.

One of the greatest benefits we enjoy as Linux users is X11. The various X servers in use on Linux were uniformly more stable, more complete and offered better performance than the NT-based X11 servers. While I found one of the Windows-based X servers acceptable on NT, it did not perform as well as either of those I tried on Linux (on the same machine).

The built-in support for NFS was another big plus. When we received distribution media for software, I could mount the CD on my drive and all the UNIX/Linux-based computers in the project could install without a need to keep track of who had the CD last. This was particularly helpful for installing software on our HP server. This machine is in another building and I do not have ready access to it. Thus, mounting a CD as an NFS volume was an important capability.

The Linux users installed Netscape Communicator, giving us a familiar and easily configured communications suite. (We had already been licensed and using it on MS Windows.)

The biggest benefit for me, as a UNIX system administrator and Perl programmer, is the ability to write and test programs locally. Some of my programs have the potential for bad side-effects. If tested on our HP server, my team members could be (and I'm afraid have been) adversely affected. With Linux on my desktop, I have a dual opportunity. First, I can write and test programs on my desktop machine. If I accidentally make the root directory permissions ``drwxr--r--'' (which I once did when invoking a poorly written Makefile), only I am unable to use my machine, rather than 20 users being locked out. Second, I am motivated to make my programs more adaptive by making sure they will run in the BSD-like Linux environment as well as the SVR4 worlds of HP-UX and Solaris.

Our team presently has Linux installed on four PCs with two others as likely prospects. We also have it installed on three Sun Ultra 5 desktop machines. Linux performance (particularly X11) is breathtaking on the Ultra 5. Several people on our project and neighboring projects have installed Linux on their home PCs after seeing it the workplace. For these people, learning UNIX has accelerated markedly.

The accelerated UNIX acclimatization is a plus for the company. Any company involved in migration from legacy systems to a UNIX platform will have a significant cost in retraining. We saw people learning UNIX at an accelerated pace after becoming Linux enthusiasts. This certainly appeared to be a productivity boost and training cost reduction.

If your company could benefit from having UNIX workstations on employee's desks, look at the low cost of entry into Linux. All it takes is a PC (you've probably already got that) and a Linux distribution (not very expensive). Make life better where you are--get Linux.

Copyright © 1999, Trenton G. Twining
Published in Issue 45 of Linux Gazette, September 1999