Using Linux in a Training Environment

One company's experience using Linux as the operating system of choice for their training classes.
The Price of Tools and Add on Packages

As mentioned earlier, most, if not all, Linux distributions ship with a multitude of packages which would cost you extra from some commercial vendors. A third party Motif derivative for Linux runs far less than the asking price from OSF. In fact, one of the reasons that I became involved with Linux was the steep-pricing structure issued by SCO. I am a former employee of a SCO VAR, reseller and software development house. I decided that I would purchase SCO for myself and run it at home on one of my spare machines. I laid out $1,500 just for the base operating system, only to discover that to add TCP/IP and the Developer Kit another $1,500 would be in order—not for me.

Lack of Technical Support

This is truly the most pressing battle you may need to fight. Since there is no central technical support group for Linux, internal staff are responsible for all maintenance and support of the system. If you don't have a true Linux fanatic around or someone, who plans on becoming one in a hurry, you might be better off with a commercial solution. We have two Linux mongers on our instructor staff, with another dozen or so in our local consultant base—works out rather nicely for us.

Lack of Commercial Solutions

Up until now, most commercial software developers and vendors shied away from marketing Linux native tools. However, a new trend is coming into play. Thanks to some key players in the industry (Caldera, WordPerfect, etc.), more and more tools are becoming available for Linux proper. I expect this trend to continue, as more and more Linux machines appear in the workplace. In addition to the Linux native packages which are becoming available, another option exists. Under the freely available iBCS2 emulator, binaries for other iBCS-supported platforms can be utilized under Linux. In fact, we have had great success running the SCO versions of many packages under Linux, including WordPerfect/X and Oracle 7. While a further discussion of iBCS2 is an entire series of articles in itself, it is something you may wish to explore further at least as an interim solution.

Implementing a Linux Solution

In order to assist others in putting together a Linux solution, I have put together a list of tips and pointers to give you a good starting point. Some of these areas are discussed further in the wonderful white paper by Caldera, Inc., “Using Linux in a Commercial Setting.” The primary focus of your effort is probably to convince management that a freely available OS is a viable solution. This is rarely an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. If you have strings in the company, plan on pulling them.

Getting a Game Plan Together

Before presenting your case to management, be sure to have a game plan in order. Don't jump up and shout “Let's run Linux.” at the first project meeting. Corporate ties with commercial solution providers often run deep, so be careful. Put together a detailed implementation plan, complete with a cost savings analysis and time schedule. There are a number of things you can do to help yourself in this regard.

Actively research the necessary areas. Provide solid numbers for commercial solutions. Be sure that you have accommodated all aspects of the project within your proposal. Make sure that all issues of connectivity and software facilitation have been addressed. Think of it as a legal battle—leave no loopholes in your argument.

Obtain and maintain high-level contacts in the industry. Meet with other folks who have successfully implemented a Linux solution. They may be able to provide additional insight into your argument. Planning on running the latest and greatest version of “product X” under Linux? Chances are, someone else has already driven the Linux wagon down that road—investigate.

Establish a good flow of incoming information. Actively participate in the various Linux newsgroups. They are a wonderful resource for obtaining contacts and production information. Subscribe to Linux Journal. Helpful articles and vendor information are in abundance with each issue.

Hardware integration—make sure that your proposed hardware will function once its all together on-line. If you can't do it yourself beforehand, try to find someone who has. The worst thing in the world is to win the battle with management and run into hardware issues which require additional purchases to patch a problem that you didn't foresee.