Try it, You Might Like it.

    May 13, 2002

Most of you know that although I am certified under Microsoft products, I am an advocate of Linux. Linux and the BSDs (that sounds like a bad rock band– and here they are for your listening pleasure, Linux and the BSDs…) are consistently gaining ground in areas that have been dominated by proprietary operating systems. It is for this reason that I would like to make a suggestion. If you have no experience with Linux and/or BSD and you are serious about IT, now is the time to get some exposure to these alternative operating systems (OS).

Free (as in speech, not beer) operating systems have made inroads into the telecom industry, wireless devices, mainframes, handheld devices, ISPs, and much, much more. With a user base that is growing rapidly and rates of development that proprietary systems have a difficult time keeping up with, it is easy to see why this is happening.

Many very large corporations are putting their weight behind Linux. Linux is making headlines daily; sooner or later you are probably going to be asked by the higher-ups in your company whether or not you have evaluated these systems. IBM, Dell, Compaq, Hewlett Packard, and Sun are just a few examples of big-name vendors that deal in Linux.

The customer list for Linux includes some heavyweights as well;,, Merril Lynch, Dreamworks, Intel, and Industrial Light and Magic, to name but a few. Linux is also being used in many government offices around the globe. There has even been evidence of a growing trend in government to switch to Linux.

If you want to talk about scalability, Linux has been used in clustering scenarios for many years, beginning with the Beowulf project at NASA. This was long before Microsoft ever considered parallel computing as a viable platform. One of the worlds ten fastest supercomputers is now being built by Hewlett Packard. It is a Linux cluster with 1400 CPUs that will be able to make calculations at speeds up to 8.3 Teraflops.

In fact, Linux is gaining fame as a Unix killer. Because Linux is so similar to Unix in many respects, porting Unix applications to Linux is relatively easy. Also, Linux does not require expensive, proprietary hardware to run. In fact, Linux clusters are a popular replacement for Unix mainframes. Even if the hardware is not changed, IBM is reporting that mainframes running Linux perform on par with the same hardware running Unix. This being the case, there are no real advantages to choosing Unix over Linux.

ISPs have been using variants of BSD for years. It is rock solid and secure; what more could you ask of your mission critical machines? In fact, when Microsoft bought Hotmail it was being run on BSD and as of December, 2001, there was still BSD at Hotmail. You don’t have to take my word for it, check out the article on OSOpinion…(see below).

In order to be able to service these customers, you will need to be familiar with what they are running. In order to inter-operate with these systems, you will need to be familiar with them. That is, unless you don’t want or need these customers and you don’t ever plan on working for these types of customers. Personally, I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket.

Now, I am not talking about removing Windows from your users desktops, yet. I believe that time is coming, but you probably don’t want to be a pioneer (or do you?) unless you have good reasons for doing so. I hate to admit it, but much of the business world has become dependent on Microsoft products. You will probably have to keep at least one machine running Windows to act as an interpreter for some files for a long time to come.

I am not talking about replacing mission critical machines with alternative OSs either; at least not until you are more familiar with them. What I am talking about is replacing or supplementing Windows file, print, and web servers with alternatives, or better yet, trying out alternative OSs running these types of services in a lab environment. These types of services are relatively easy to setup on alternative OSs and these are all areas that alternative OSs excel. These are also the types of services that are transparent to the end user; as long as it works, you are in good shape.

In summary, there is already a trend to replace Unix on mainframes with Linux. Many countries are implementing Linux rather than Microsoft’s products into their government’s infrastructure. FreeBSD and Linux are proven performers in many enterprises. If you think you won’t ever need fluency in these technologies, you may want to reconsider.

For those of you who have no Unix/Linux experience, I would like to suggest a few Linux distributions that should make the adjustment period as painless as possible. I am going to present my list from easiest to install and configure, based entirely on my own experience.

1). Lycoris Desktop/LX
2). Mandrake Linux
3). RedHat Linux
4). SuSE Linux

All of these offer free downloads of the operating system, although SuSE does not offer *.iso images (which you download and make the installtion CDs from). If bandwidth is a problem, and you don’t want to invest in a full boxed set (which comes with support– this may be a better choice depending on whether you want installation support or not), you can always order burned CDs of the download versions online. There are many sites that offer this service, however the only one that I have used and can vouch for is Edmunds Enterprises…(see below). At $2.49 per disk, including postage, this is an economical way to try out several distributions.

You can also order BSD disks at Edmunds Enterprises, although for first-timers I think the installation of any of the BSDs may be a little intimidating. All of the Linux distributions that I mentioned have a nice graphical interface during installation; the BSDs have no such installer. In my opinion, the Linux distributions that I have mentioned rival Microsoft with respect to their installers– even though no two are the same.

Jay Fougere is the IT manager for the iEntry network. He also writes occasional articles. If you have any IT questions, please direct them to