Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Administrators

A look at the themes, myths and clangers reported by the next crop of system administrators.
Clangers

There's not much to say by way of commentary here, as these statements speak for themselves.

Clanger #1: “Linux will never threaten Windows on the desktop because it is command line driven and doesn't even have a GUI”. What can I say?

Clanger #2: “Linux has poor device-driver support and doesn't even support USB”. Not so, officially, as of the 2.4 kernel (regarding USB). And driver support with Linux gets better every single day.

Clanger #3: “Linux lacks good software development tools, unlike Windows which has plenty.” It's hard to comment on this without imagining the good folk at the Free Software Foundation blowing their collective tops at the very idea that someone could think (let alone say or print) such a thing. Also, despite the fact that Visual C++ is the “industry leader” when it comes to C++ development on PCs, my experience with final year software engineering undergraduates indicates that Visual C++ is a dog of an environment to work with.

And the final clanger was that many of my students thought Linux was a company!

Now, I'm the first to admit that my informal survey of these 31 students may be flawed (from a statistical sampling point-of-view). However, I'd bet that the views and opinions expressed by my students are typical and representative. My original goal in setting the assignment was realized: my students now have a better understanding and appreciation of what Linux is.

Of course, I was shocked by some of the views of my students. However, on reflection, I'm not surprised that some of the views were voiced. Microsoft can afford to throw a lot of money into its “Linux Myth Campaign”. And, as everyone knows, if you throw enough of something, some of it is bound to stick. Education is a, if not the, key defense mechanism.

And, what about my own view? I feel that although Linux may never threaten Windows as a desktop OS, increasingly it is becoming a viable alternative.

Paul Barry lectures at the Institute of Technology, Carlow in Ireland. He is the author of Programming the Network with Perl, to be published by John Wiley and Sons in early 2002. He thanks the 2001/2002 students of CW084-4 for inadvertently providing the raw material for this article.

______________________

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Re: Repackaging Linux

Anonymous's picture

Pick one (window manager), make some ease-of-use modifications to it, and pretend that the other one never existed and never even mention the name of the one you picked.

Well this part at least was tried.. by Eazel. Their code does live on even after they closed up shop at least!!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Well Im 25 Year old and Im glad I didn't get to see all theses funny university students.. :-) Im a French Canadian who got the chance to work a lot with unix servers and linux servers. I have over 5 year experience in the field and I can say that I succeed moving a complete company to linux servers. Yes I can say that the server is running linux server for : Windows Network application, Internet Services, appletalk services, database services. Also further to this I made sure to install the opensource office application free of charge for all computers. It first cause some problems as the employees where used to their good old outlook and office but then after sending them to all the articles about country and government choosing the same solutions it made their ideas changes.. slowly indeed but they did changes... I can say that people are all "brainwashed" since they begin to play games on their windows machine... and until they take the time read a good linux introduction book and install themself the linux server they will not see anything...the most important point of linux is : FOC (Free of Charge), then Super Fast, Efficient, Bug free(well hehe most of all) but each section that they want to install they will need a book to read.... maybe your students should go make a real hard study inside Microsoft offices to see what programmers really use.. and what they prefer...

If they tell themself that they are IT students.. and they dont care for linux/unix... well too bad for them they will fall for all theses stupid Microsoft Brainwashing "convention" so stupid theses developpers day :-) you see the ceo running on the stage.. trying to convice you that Microsoft is Hip hahaha and at the same time loosing his breath... as this video went on the internet :-)

and blue screens.. yes.. it didn't only happen to our good friend bill once.. to all other presentation it happen... I find it sad to see that.. and to see that MCSE certification is really a way to turn your mind into a religion believe...

Of coz they will have some moments that I will offer microsoft solutions.. but really not often... normally customers always go for the free stuff.. then it's your responsability to make it work correctly so that it work as good and as easy under linux.... I dont say that it will be bug free but at least you will not have to pay 200$ US with credit card per case that you put thru ms tech support line.. you will open your pine and will send an email on a group discussion and millions of readers in the world will respond to you very quickly.. and about going thru the same prob and how they saw the solution...

Well reading this article made me realize that indeed it's true that a lot of Canadian workers are working in USA....that's why lots of Unix/Linux company are able to work correctly on daily base...

:-) well good day everyone...

whenever I see a good teacher making their student work their head to see the reality.. I think it's a good things.. I learn that university student are funny :-)

Well Enjoy your day all

Nicolas

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I've heard worse "clangers" -- a girl in our local middle school who has been using linux for several years was told by one of the boys on her schoolbus that Linux was ILLEGAL

and that only hackers used it. True story!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Kids today, eh? What can I say?

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

first of all hats of to the girl.

i am impressed.

as to use of being linux being illegal,

would you belive that a very respected

auditing company (u one which one i am

talking abt right ??) told one of our customers

that it was dangerous to allow some employees to

use linux as they can use it for hacking.

some auditing indeed.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Girl? Linux? Middle School? WOW!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Whoa!

I'm a male who's been using Linux for 4 years, since 7th grade, but this is a _female_? Must be a joke.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

What makes you think so? I don't necessarily think it is, and hope it isn't. I would be glad to see younger kids learn more about the *NIX world, and more about these machines which are becoming more and more part of our everyday lives (for better or worse).

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I agree that it is great for kids to learn *nix systems. This can be taken to an unrearonable extreme, however. I have a friend who is (otherwise) very intelligent and has been a computer professional for better than 20 years. He currently makes about $30k (DC area) because he flatly refuses to work with any Microsoft product. Not only will he administrate an MS machine, he won't USE an MS machine. As in, if your company uses Exchange for corporate e-mail, he will not work for your company.

Unfortunately, he is training his teen aged son to think the same way, which is going to hurt the boy's chances to get a good paying job.

It is important to have competence with as many OS'es as possible, even if you specialize in only one.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I generally agree with the above article; however,

I must say that I am dismayed to see the old

"linux is too hard to install" line again. My

experience in dealing with the general public is

that the vast majority of people who make this

claim couldn't install Windows from scratch

either; if I had a student who said this, well,

(s)he wouldn't pass my course either.

Given a pre-configured Linux box with a suitable

window manager (fvwm95, perhaps?) the average

person adapts and becomes productive in short

order; I have only seen serious problems

where ideology is a factor, namely in the

corner office, or among the MCSE types.

Teach your students to identify the problem

and then look for the most appropriate

technology, rather than starting with

Microsoft and then trying to bend the problem

into shape, and they will be much better off

in the long run.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Teach your students to identify the problem

and then look for the most appropriate

technology, rather than starting with

Microsoft and then trying to bend the problem

into shape, and they will be much better off

in the long run.

I could not agree more. Thanks.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I must say that I am dismayed to see the old
"linux is too hard to install" line again. My
experience in dealing with the general public is
that the vast majority of people who make this
claim couldn't install Windows from scratch
either
That's probably true but -- they don't have to. Using Linux almost invariably _does_ mean having to install it.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

With all due respect to the original poster, I must point out some things that many Linux zealots miss as well. I have used Linux for a few years (since 2.0.36) so I know that I am not old hat, but definitely have a bit of experience...

>My experience in dealing with the general public is

>that the vast majority of people who make this

>claim couldn't install Windows from scratch

>either;

I agree. However, a "vast majority of people" aren't as adept as we are at installing various operating systems. But, the statement is most likely a cop-out. Most people don't want to install an operating system because 9 times out of 10 it involves multiple hours of reinstallation of software that was already there before. Remember, there are a lot of people who use computers merely to work, write papers, email, and surf the web. Most nights even I only spend 15 to 30 minutes at home in front of a computer doing the same things.

>Teach your students to identify the problem

>and then look for the most appropriate

>technology, rather than starting with

>Microsoft and then trying to bend the problem

>into shape, and they will be much better off

>in the long run.

The exact same can be said for Linux as well. Yes, versatility is key. However, Samba still doesn't support BDCs, there isn't an Exchange-like server ready for Linux (go HP/Samsung OpenMail, and forget email, think about calendar, PIM, etc.) with Windows clients. Identify the problem. If you need a file/print server, firewall, VPN box, choose Linux. If you need to run an application that only runs on Windows (and it is the only/best application for your specific purpose), run Windows.

I agree that Linux is a great server environment. However, I agree that Linux isn't quite ready for the desktop for most users, but it isn't far off...

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

3minitboy's picture

I agree with almost everything you said except for one major point: "In addition to the usual 'Linux is hard to install' rubbish...". In my opinion, this is not rubbish, and to suggest that it is, in this offhand way, is (again IMHO) insulting. As a long-term user and advocate of Linux on the desktop, I still find installing a new distro the most challenging part of using the system - with the possible exception of administering and using Debian. (However, that point is, at least, distribution-specific). Particularly if one wants to use a flexible-partitioning scheme (or on the other hand, one has little idea of what a partition is), setting up a disk is one of the hardest parts of the install. Even in Mandrake Linux (v8.0), DiskDrake often fails to recognize changes made to (say) LVM volumes during disk partitioning, whilst trying to get the correct partition sizes relative to disk-size and expected data-volume is also tricky (even without, or perhaps *especially* without, dealing with LVM) and requires experience. Part of the problem is, of course, that M$-Windows can afford to simplify OS-installation because M$ still arrogantly expects to provide the only OS on a PC (overwriting MBR, etc). However, even given options in distros such as Mandrake to automatically partition the disk, it is still advisable to RTFM to make sure the program "does exactly what it says on the tin". Several reviews/discussions of Linux/Windows v Linux I have seen still ask the question, "Why would a (generic, non-expert, non-computer-savvy) user expect an OS (or any program) to be easy to use if it isn't even easy to install? Can anyone think of a reason why? And as for upgrade installing, that's another story.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Well I don't really know why one should talk about partitioning anyways. Of course it's easier to just use the complete harddisk for Windows or only create one single partitiontype. But try solving some of the partitioning problems with windows (not using additonal expensive software like Partition Magic). If you can only do a few things it's simple. Linux fdisk can create just about any partitiontype I know of. That makes a lot more options to choose from wich makes it "harder". Well, not really, you just have to know a little more what you are doing. Computers are still complex pieces of equipment. Taking away possibilites doesn't make life easier. It just cripples what you can do with them. In some cases this renders things to the point where you can't solve the problem at hand.

That leads to the general problem. Joe user who can't program his VCR will never be able to install an operating system without problems. There are just too many things that can go wrong. He might be lucky and everything works right the first try but this is usually not the case, not with Linux and not with windows. A little bit of knowledge even gained through trial and error is needed for every interaction with a PC.

The sad part of this is that the people addressed in this survey should not be the average Joe user. Hell, they are studying computer science. If they finally got a life, they'd notice most problems they get to solve will be much harder than installing an os (doesn't matter which).

The problem is they probably installed windows some dozens of times. That's no wonder since you have to do it quite often anyways. They learned what to do and what not to do. I'd bet that during this learning stages not everything went right the first time it was tried. There are just too many glitches with drivers and messed up autodetection for that to happen. Then they try to install linux. The installationroutine looks different (difficult ?!?). Other questions have to be answered and right away they scream difficult, difficult, difficult, throw it away and continue to use windows.

I started with Linux with a 12 disk Slackware years ago. It failed to install. But I was just too curious to give up before I spent like 3 days or so fiddeling around with it. Then I gave up. I waited for a while and then there was the first version I could get to run. I'd never seen a UNIX like system before and I must say I was quite lost at the command prompt, so I started to read some of the documentation that came along the package. It took a while to find my way around but I managed. I'm a regular Linux user since RedHat 4.0 and right now I'm running linux from scratch typing this text in konqueror. There is a dead Windows 2000 still left on my system but I didn't use it for a year or so and don't miss it either. It suddenly decided I wouldn't need networking anymore. Packets go out, but nothing comes in. Deinstalling the device and reinstalling doesn't work, since nothing really get's deinstalled in Windows. Now that is easy. It might be hard to understand but I like the concept of changing a configuration file and see the changes take effect right away. Doesn't matter what you use to change the file. I prefer the editor but there are a lot of nice frontends to set up a Linuxsystem without too much of a hassle. What makes Dialogs easier to use when they don't let you do everything that is needed to make the changes that work? I really don't get it. I know a lot of people that reinstall their boxes because of problems like the one I described after trying for hours to get it work without reinstalling and rebooting a thousand times.

What I want to get at is that people should be free to choose. If they don't spare a little energy to learn something new (not necessarily more difficult, just different) and are happy with their operating system of choice, let them be. In case of windows, let them reboot their systems after crashes, let them reinstall every fortnight because the system got fucked up and slow. This is obviously easier than getting to know a stable operating system without those problems.

IMHO Linux doesn't need Joe user using it. Like most UNIX systems it's designed to be efficient for those that know it. It might not be intuitive for the newbie but it's definately more efficient than any windows can ever be once you figured out what was the idea behind the design. And Linux especially is one huge learning ground for everything related to networking, programming and security. You get a load of languages to develop for free, you get networking protocols galore, you have firewalls, intrusion detection, portscanners and what else you might think of. There is documentation en masse and a very active community that will help you as soon as they figure out that you tried a little before asking.

All of this makes makes Linux my operating system of choice and made me interested in other OSes as well, be it Beos, BSD, Solaris, QNX, Plan 9 etc..

Windows XP is hell for a lot of experienced people I know. They don't really want to be treated like a three year old. Why would you have to confirm every blink of an eye?

Now that was my little flaming about windows. But as I said before. Everybody has different ideas and wishes about his computing environment. I really dislike the clumsy Windows without being able to move around efficiently not always switching between keyboard and mous. Others have different requirements. Everybody should be free to chose. I wouldn't want Linux to be another windows. It's so much better in many areas already. For those of you who are not interested, there is plenty of choice even though I believe most people will go with the flow and don't even think about alternatives to windows.

If you are interested to learn a little more than clicking on icons try it out. Make yourself want to solve a problem if it arises. If you really can't do it, ask, there will be someone who can solve it or give you the hint that let's you fix it. The spent effort is definately worth it. You'll learn a lot and maybe even appreciate what makes linux more difficult on the first glimpse.

2 words: Baloney!

Anonymous's picture

Obviously you have not done an install of SuSE Linux in the last year or so... the graphical install is easy to use; IMO it is MUCH simpler to set up a machine with a recent copy of this distro than it ever has been with windows... you forget: with windows you have to install the basic OS; THEN you have to go find the drivers for your various pieces of hardware (VGA adapter, soundcard, NIC, etc..) and THEN, finally, you have to install your software; Individually! All of that is simplified in the yast2 installer (One single program, mind you!) including a robust auto-detection of hardware... and yes, the advanced functionality is just a couple clicks away if you want it.

the line '"Why would a (generic, non-expert, non-computer-savvy) user expect an OS (or any program) to be easy to use if it isn't even easy to install?"' is simply ludicrous, and barely deserves discussion! This is the same as saying "Why should a person expect a car to be easy to drive if it isn't easy to fix the brakes?". We are discussing two completely different aspects of interacting with a chunk of software.

To be blunt: My mother (or even a monkey with a keyboard missing everything but the enter key) would be able to install SuSE Linux without much confusion on a machine, whereas the multi-step process of installing windows would have my mother (and the monkey) up a creek without a paddle in no-time.

Also, from your discourse on partition sizes and MS's bootloader practices, it is obvious to me YOUR idea of installing an OS includes dual-booting, customizing disk settings, etc., which is not a paradigm most users (especially new-users) will be trying to mess with.. besides is installing Windows 98 and 2K on the same box any easier? I rest my case.

T'narn Bloodbane

tnarn@hotmail.com

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I also agree that there are still some complications to installing Linux, however, Windows installs don,t actually do much beyond a minimal install. Linux is ALMOST as easy to install inspite of the fact that its installatiion programs carry a far greater workload. I have to have a stack of cdroms and floppys on hand to completely reinstall a Windows system (with all those KEYS)--while a Linux distro usually takes care of alot of that during the initial install with 1-3 disks.

RTFM

Anonymous's picture

I don't /want/ to insult you, but I have never had trouble intalling linux. My experience extends over 2 years, not an old-timer, but not a n00b.

Even slackware, with an obnoxios curses-based install menu reminicint of an adventure novel, isn't without guidlines and appropriate defaults, so you could jsut stand by hiting enter till you got to the part about the root password( where I imagine oyu may have hit enter as well) and your good.

And with a little practice Debian is *easiest* to maintian. Thats the point.

All in all, I think Linux has faster installs and more reliable software system maintanance than windows.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

It has been said many times before, installing a MS OS to a fresh disk is equally difficult. The major difference between the two here is inertia. Because nearly every major PC manufacture ships MS products, the average user usually needs to repartition before installing a Linux distribution. (I know there are several methods of getting around the repartioning, but they generally are not used as a "primary" OS when Linux is installed on top of the FAT filesystem)

The point is if the tables were turned and every PC shipped with some universal hypothetical distro of linux. People would say the EXACT same thing about the difficulty in installing Windows.

-BDP

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Sorry - the last thing I wanted to do was insult anyone. That wasn't my intention.Please see my reply to the last comment on the "rubbish" line. I agree with your comments and welcome them. The bottom line is that for the "average user" installing Linux is hard, but for the "techically competent user" it's not really. It is harder than it needs to be, but not much. Again, as I said earlier, I get mad at my students when they complain that it's hard to install Linux. I refuse to accept this as an excuse from final year IT undergrads.Thanks for your comments.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Please excuse my disbelief that you intended no insult.

You clearly have a crystalline agenda that bends for no supported opinion or even fact. The best service you could perform for the future IT industry would be to retire immediately. I've seen technical geniuses have difficulty installing LINUX on standard SCSI hardware, let alone interesting newer devices. Ordinary competent users choose FreeBSD for saner POSIX support, stability, and security. LINUX is a programmer's playground -- and nothing more.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Leave our lecturer alone

Signed

The Class

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

That almost brought a tear to my eye ... and, no, Class, you cannot have extra marks for this! :-)

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Yea you stupid nerd, Stop telling our Lecturer to retire, Then we'd all have to fail our course and never become the moany sad git that spends their time arguing with computers, just like you.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Ok. Read it more slowly this time: I did not mean to insult anyone. That said, I got a real chuckle out of your advice: "retire immediately". :-) Were this to happen, I don't know who would kill me quicker - my wife or my bank manager! ;-)

Thanks!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

LINUX is a programmer's playground -- and nothing more.

Thanks for the FUD, that one's going on the list.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's intolerant, reactive posts like this one. I haven't seen a technical genius that couldn't install Mandrake on standard hardware yet. Hell, pop over to www.mandrakeuser.org and watch as complete morons install it daily. I think you need to actually *try* and install a newer distro than to blindly spout FUD.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

For the most part I agree with your comments, but I think some of your students' 'myths' and 'clangers' have more merit than you allow. I am an experience linux programmer using it daily for embedded development but I certainly don't see it through rose color glasses. I agree with your students that linux is hard to install. This isn't rubbish - it is one of Linux's major problems to general acceptance. Another concern I have is that you are unjustly exaggerating the reliability benefit of Linux. It has been a long time since I have seen a windows machine 'crash'. Windows NT and 2000 have many of the memory protection mechanisms of Linux and if a user is experiencing 'daily' crashes - it is being caused by some application ware other than windows. Certainly we need a viable alternative to MS but to get there, we need to give an honest look at Linux itself, and improved it so it can succeed in the main stream.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Hmm...

RedHat 7.3 is absolutely stable on my laptop. Win2000 (no service packs, I have to admit) is pretty unstable on the same laptop. I did't see "blue screen" yet, but had to reboot it several times because of IE5 ceased to work. Also sometimes it hangs during boot (I believe becouse of my external USB mouse). And about installations. It is now so easy to install linux. Click, click and click. Try any modern distributions (SuSe, RedHat or Mandrake). I tried to install win98 on the same laptop (wanted to play one old game) and failed miserably. Even win200 is MUCH MUCH harder to install. And one more comment on the article regarding Office. At work I run winword and excel using stock wine. Works just fine for me. Cross Office allows you to run outlook, IE and some other stuff as well.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I will disagree with your statement. Not many users have privilage to install Windows. Recently I have decided to make linux machine to mainly because of lack of MS windows performance and reliability. The red Hat 7.0 loaded just fine as a workstation, I had modem installed and got to my ISP much easier and faster that when I was fighting with NT 4.0. To this date NT cannot handle Serial port well, and handle more than two tasks iddle at 99% and occasionally browser.

On conmtrarry it was a refresher getting system back to do what I want it to do and the way I wanted it to do. I feel bad that I did not started sooner.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

"..easy to install..." In my opinion it depends on the distribution. I really was not able to install debian from the net until now. But I was able to install SuSE without any problem. It's even easier than installing a MS OS.

A reasonable installation took about one hour even on a Laptop. For w2k I need about one day for a desktop and 1.5 day for a laptop for a reasonable installation (if I find the drivers :-( ).

Tobias Dahinden

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I agree with you on the stability bit - it's no where as bad as people make it out to be, although in a server envrionment, I have found that whilst NT doesn't crash every day or every week, it does fall over every couple of months or so, whilst the same software (generally Oracle products of one sort or another ) on the Linux boxes does not crash. Window 9x falls over as a matter of course every 3 or 4 days of continuous use due to memory leaks. Now whether this dues to the nature and quality of the apps I run at home, and the fact that they are laucnhed and closed time after time, whereas a server's process list is fairly static (on NT anyway), I can't say - but it does fall over. My RedHat desktop box and ancient Slackware server just stay up till the shutdown command is issued.

I disagree with you about the ease of install. RedHat 7.2 is an absolute doddle to install - taking far less time than NT4 server (I haven't tried 2000 server). If you go for default install on both, RedHat 7.2 can basically be left to get on with it - you only need to come back to swap the CDs after 20 minutes - no rebooting.

This may sound cruel - but I think if a 3rd year student couldn't install Linux they were probably going to fail their course anyway - I had a guy come to work for me on secondment from our call centre - he had no IT experience at all other than as a user of Windows 95. He wasn't especially clever, but was keen to learn. After 3 months in the dept. and a couple of weeks learning about Linux, he was quite happy to install RedHat 6 on a variety of hardware.

Owen Lloyd

Technical Services Manager

Citi/AFCC UK

CLIs, GUIs, and Linux Installation

Anonymous's picture

I'm a senior MIS undergrad from the US, and an experienced computer user... I can believe the comments about students, since many of my peers became MIS majors 'to manage the techies (with the implication that tech people can't dig their way out of a paper bag) and make lots of money (with the implication that they wanted to graduate knowing as little about computers as possible)'.

While the article (and some of the preceding talkbacks) were interesting, I have a few things to add.

'CLI intuitiveness':

It's intuitive for those of us who grew up with it. Personally, Windows without the Run prompt and cmd.exe is a pain in the rear. It's the one thing that has allways had me rate Win32 over MacOS Classic (not X though).

Single GUI:

Not possible, since (a) OSS projects rarely die, and (b) both projects have different goals and use different technologies. The best (and IMHO a better) solution we can hope for is standardization of config-file and config-folder locations and formats across desktops and distros (MANDRAKE! GET! RID! OF! /usr/share/applnk-mdk!). With this done, they'll all work the same anyhow (since an installer app will be able to modify a 'standard' config without knowing which desktop it's installing to. Also, standard locations for the config/control panel would be nice. The rest makes no difference anyhow.

'Linux Installation'

This one has gotten better and worse at the same time. I, for one, consider RedHat's text-menu installer to have been the 'peak of Linux Installers' as far as usability and simplicity, on-par with Windows NT and 2k's (also text-mode, albeit blue and white, ala MSDOS setup) install routines. The GUI installers have added bugs, problems, and instability to an otherwise simple install routine. They're also slower.

However, at the same time hardware detection/support, disk partitioning/RAID, and X setup have improved, largely due to general improvements in Linux and it's supporting software. If we had the RH6.2 installer coupled with these features, linux would be a 5 text-menu install OS (pick your language, pick your method, partition, select preset-config, setup graphics (resolution, colors, or 'default' 1024x768x16). That's even simpler than Windows...

As for these 'future sysadmins', I'd like to ask if any of the 'linux is too hard to install' individuals ever tried to install it. Also, it's not to encouraging that a 'future sysadmin' finds a linux install difficult - unless they're the 'call vendor support when it needs a reboot' type...

BAH!

Anonymous's picture

The problem with all of this is that given enough time, anyone trying to serve up any public web anything using Microsoft will get nailed, and hard. Of course, you're not totally secure with Linux either, but at least there is constant development trying to reduce the number of exploits, and a great number more minds working on the problems. Microsoft is trying to extend the capabilities of its software far faster than their ability to debug it, and it is just gaping wide. Linux just does not have that level of exploitability.

I also think that these students need to understand that server systems, no matter the type, are hard to use. If it seems easy to you, I guarantee you've been doing it for more than 5 years. What it all boils down to for me is that these IT students are nothing more than cannon fodder. They're the kid taking your order for french fries in a digital world. So I guess in the end I really don't care what they think of Linux. It really doesn't matter, because if they actually allowed themselves to be stopped by a linux installation (which while it may not be easy, is only *kinda* hard), well, they're really not going to go that far in the IT world anyway.

Of course, there's always the further issue that Linux isn't the most tip-top super-duper OS out there, either. What about BSD flavors? Although I do notice that this isn't called BSD journal. But if you're talking secure, solid and cheap, Free or Open BSD's just the way to go.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Some counterpoints here. 1. Anyone who feels linux is hard to install hasn't installed it in the past couple years. The installation systems shipped with Red Hat and Mandrake have gotten better and better with every release. You can have a linux system up and running after only a few keystrokes, and only one reboot is necessary at install time. One of my coworkers even ran into a hardware configuration that 2000 and XP choked on, but RH7.2 merrily went onward. 2. Windows machines crashing: yes, it is more stable than NT4.0 or 9x, but your statement tells it all: it is being caused by some application ware other than windows. An app should NEVER be able to take out the OS. As for Linux improving, it has improved significantly. Anyone who remembers having a stack of 50 slackware floppies can attest to that. Is it perfect? No. Can it improve? Certainly. But it's getting there, and getting there quick.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

You are right it is usually a 3rd-party program that crashes windows and linux. But the thing is under linux it generally doesn't take the entire system down when it dies. Opera 6 crashing all the time for me in Linux and Windows but when it crashes under linux it dies quietly, under windows BSOD/reboot.

I have had only one "serious" crash under linux and all that program did was take X down. No reboot necessary, just login at the command line fire up XDM, and it is all back up.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I work in a "all microsoft" company and managed to introduce a linux server for heavy calculations. I bought a HP workstation with RedHat pre-installed. Support is available for the regular fees. Generaly speaking it worked from day one (thx HP, keep up the good work!), I just had to install a new driver for my graphics board. The main problem I have is the Windows sys admins not knowing how their network is configured (or not willing to tell me out of fear for their own job) so that I can't get the right info for my samba config, without accidently becoming a master domain controller (maybe the best thing that can happen to our network :).

A major thing in industry is the responsibilty factor. If there's a bug in Microsoft software you know who to blame (they haven't read the EULA of course :-) while you can't acuse anyone for a serious error in Linux, do you? I'm not saying I agree on this but that is the general opinion among industry IT managers. They think the risk (for their job) is too big if they advocate linux. The should know that a lot of bugs in MS Windos are never fixed, even after they are found. If you find something that poses a problem to you but MS things it's not a big deal, you can forget it that MS will do a rebuild for you, something hilarious to the linux community.

Apart from that, I have been working with linux for almost ten years now. It has become much much better. Suse and Redhat install very easily (and faster than Windows 98, don't know about the others). For special things you still need to be bold though and look at the scripts. Some people think that's a good idea, try explaining that to my father. He doesn't even know what "script" means.

The configuration for X remains a problem, certainly if your hardware is brand new. Getting hardware producers deliver device drivers for linux (as they do know for windows) would certainly help (putting a big sticker on the box saying "Linux ready" would do too). Otherwise your brand new flashy graphics board might be just running in 256 colors :( This is changing, thanks to the fact that they see a growing market and some are even happy that there's an alternative for Microsoft.

Also, many consulting and training companies earn their money from giving consultancy and training on Microsoft stuff (MCSE etc.). They have to pay a lot of money to Redmond to do so. With Linux they wouldn't have to pay a dollar. It always puzzled me that these companies seem to be the strongest advocates for MS even though they complain about the costs. Habit, fear of losing their license? I can't blame them if they don't want to drop MS (they have to deliver what the customer wants, that's how our economy works) but would expect more vision from some of the bigger companies.

A key door to the desktop market is made of apps. Apart from Office (Star Office runs under Linux and Windows and uses the office doc format but needs some familiarisation before you can easily use it) I think the most important ones are the games. Billions are spend every year on computer games. Hell, the only reason I still have a Windows PC is for the gaming! Loki is doing a great job, porting games to linux, but that is still restricted to opengl based games. A lot of new games are based on DirectX and there's no alternative for that on linux, for as far as I know (prove me wrong programmers!). As long as games for Linux aren't readily available in the shops, I guess Linux doesn't stand a chance there.

Anyway, most people want a PC that looks like the one they have at work. They want to be able to use Office and want the kids to be able to play a game or two (actually the parents don't but the kids do :-) Most people know how to start a computer and an app and that's it. And they know how to do this because it's the same as at work. It's like left-handed or right-handed driving. They might both be equally good but would you be happy if you had to change it from one day to another?

I'm quite happy with KDE, although some thing need improvement. My "start menu" always contains a lot of apps I didn't install and KDE doesn't tell me anything when I click one one of them. Apps appear to take more time to load but I guess Windows starts by showing a window on screen while it is still loading the program. Under Linux, I can start working with a program the moment it comes on screen. Some configuration programs also don't do their job properly. My firewall is completely configured and yet the firewall configuration tool doesn't show me any rules. I like the real multi-tasking and the multiple virtual screens though. Ever tried working in Word while you're printing or copying some huge files?

And now I definitely have to stop because I can write a book on this.

Regards,

Ollie

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Loki did Direct3D-to-OpenGL conversions on a couple of the GL-based titles. It can be done, but it's a big job.

Re: (uptime) / Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate S

Anonymous's picture

"Another concern I have is that you are unjustly exaggerating the reliability benefit of Linux."

snausage:~# uptime

6:40pm up 379 days, 6:42, 1 user, load average: 0.00, 0.01, 0.00

That machine has made about one and one-half million dollars in web commerce sales in that 379 days. It's a Debian box, administered by me.

'Nuff said?

Re: (uptime) / Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate S

Anonymous's picture

so what? A windows box would have brought in the same $. Worst case it would crash a couple of times. Worst case. You seem to think (or imply) that since windows is less stable, you would not have made this money.

Lots of ecommerce systems run on Windows and make money. Its a fact.

Re: (uptime) / Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate S

Anonymous's picture

I know of an ISP's shell machine that is 100 days past the jiffy clock overflow. The machine is on the Internet and is available to all the ISP's customers.

Re: (uptime) / Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate S

Anonymous's picture

if you have a load of 0.00, 0.01, 0.00 they you don't have many people accessing that site. we reboot our UNIX servers after 150 days, just on principle, to clean things up.

Load factor versus how much work is being done.

Anonymous's picture

We have a web server at work that averages 1 to 10 page views a second during the busy part of the day and never goes over 0.05 load. And almost all the pages on it are interactive, database driven applications, not just static content.

A dual PIII-750 with 512 Megs ram doesn't have to work hard at running a 10,000 to 100,000 pages a day web site.

Also, a lot of sites that sit at load factors of >5 all day have some damn poorly written code in them, I know, I've seen the insides of enough of them to shake my head in despair.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

First, while I have rarely seen the NT/2k/XP line of Windows simply die, there *are* things that cause it. CDR drivers have killed an NT box and a 2k box that I know of. I've seen Windows not hard freeze, but get to a point where the screen is black or scrambled and one cannot log out or cleanly reboot.

Neither XFree86 or 2k are perfectly stable with 3d use for *any* hardware/software combination that I know of. Start playing a bunch of 3d games, and you *will* freeze up or kill your Xserver and 2k.

Explorer, arguably part of the OS, definitely does have bugs. It's not that uncommon for it to crash. I don't use Nautilus or gmc, so I can't compare to Linux. A friend has Konqueror crash occasionally -- I'm not too impressed with it.

Linux may not be too hard to *install*, but I've spent a long, long time setting up some software. I just got quake 2 working on my g400 with fullscreen/GL/no mouse cursor visible, not dying at startup...but it took a few hours. On Windows, installers may hide stuff and cause problems behind your back, but they generally do a fair job of doing setup.

Productivity applications *are* an issue. What there is sucks and can't interchange perfectly with Office. Pretty big issue for offices.

OTOH, there are benefits. The cost is a benefit. The flexibility can be a benefit -- I've seen so many hacks at the universities I've been to to set up a "campus-wide computing environment" on non-UNIX boxes, and it's incredibly ugly. Scripts to copy Netscape prefs on login, programs to copy back all modified files on reboot...

I'd consider IT costs on a Linux box to be much cheaper. You really can find problems pretty easily. The last time someone asked me to fix a Windows problem an installer had evidently messed up their registry, creating half of an extension mapping, and making file associations act oddly. Figuring out why Windows programs crash on start involves getting filemon, regmon, praying a lot...

Furthermore, while I agree that there are some awful misconceptions about Linux (it isn't a company, there *are* companies that do corporate support), I think that the sense of usability is reasonable. Linux is incredible, just *wonderful* if you know how to use its UNIX side. Gorgeous development platform. But for the rest of us, it's a little cheaper, more efficient, and more stable. Not a huge difference. And people aren't trained in it.

This really is a big deal. My prof (a hard core Solaris fan who does consulting) said that he'd never recommend a Solaris setup for a non-mission critical system over Windows if he had a choice. Why? It costs $35-45k to hire an MSCE to push the buttons on a Windows installation. Sure, maybe they can't fix anything...you give 'em a number of a tech support company if something goes wrong. As long as you give 'em a nice list of instructions, you've got a cheap worker. Putting a UNIX sysadmin in place would cost about $20k/year more. That adds up.

Plus, worker training costs money and productivity. There are a *lot* of people out there trained to use Windows to at least some degree. The colleges and high schools keep churning out more (okay, a *few* schools have student Linux boxes, but they're precious few). Why try Linux when you can just use Windows, get a big pool of experienced workers, and live with an expensive upgrade cost and a few license restrictions?

For programmers, Linux is great. I wouldn't dream of using anything else. But to really make things worthwhile, I'd say that you have to code a bit and like tinkering around with computers. Then you really get the full benefit, and Linux's 'drawback' -- lots of complicated flexibility -- won't put you off.

And I've seen a lot of people who don't want to put up with it. I'm talking about Carnegie Mellon CS students in my dorm -- they try Linux, say "Oh, neat", run it for a while, but don't want to really learn all the neat features they have, don't want to spend an hour setting something up that doesn't set up automatically or tweak something to work exactly the way they want...and in a few weeks, they're back using Windows for everything, with a rarely-used dual boot Linux install or a older, secondary box running Linux.

Want my suggestions on where these IT folks should be using Linux?
* Any headless computers.
* Anywhere you want a server if you consider them important enough to actually pay the higher salary of the sysadmin.
* Anything in-house or department-specific. If you have a specialized backup system, hacking up something on Windows (probably based on VB or similar) is ugly, and usually not all that reliable. You're going to be messing around with the system anyway...might as well ensure that you're not going to be running into any walls ("Well, you can *sort* of set up a script to do that in Windows...")
* Any low-end tasks (think list servers, infrequently used fileservers, NOC systems) where you can take an "obsolete" Windows box going into the dumpster, pop Linux on the thing, and have everything work wonderfully.
* Anything using Solaris that you don't really want to pay a premium for Sun support.
* IT systems. Use Linux yourself, or at least have one box in the office. The first time you need to run something on the network in an automated manner, or need to do something with text processing, or something, you're going to be awfully glad you have a Linux box around.
* Diagnostics. Linux is *really* handy on a self-bootable Zip disk/CD-ROM (see ZipSlack or similar) to figure out what exactly is wrong on a computer, especially one that won't boot, one where Windows has decided that it shouldn't delete a file that needs to be deleted, etc.
* Anything that's being remotely administered. If you're using VNC, you should think about UNIX instead.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I don't know about 2k or XP. But I'd say you

were lucky with NT. If I ran only a minimal

set of applications I might keep my NT system,

when I had one, up for a few weeks before it

mysteriously crashed for no apparent reason.

When I ran more than a minimal set of

applications, I'll grant it may have been the

applications that took NT down even sooner.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

For probably >98% of computing tasks, a couple weeks of uptime is more than enough, only servers REALLY **need** greater reliability than this. It'd be nice to have, but its certainly not needed.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I agree with some of the "issues" being discussed - but as a Linux SysAdmin - I'm gonna tell you all:

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF MY JOB IS UP TIME.

My friends who look after NT/2K boxes that are live on the net _all_ have been woken up in the middle of the night and have a huge task to revive some server before people start work the next morning.

I have *never* had to do that - ever!

Thankyou to the person who posted their uptime - I don't care if people who use windows don't believe it - I have seen some boxes online (and constantly upgraded) with longer uptimes than that. It is true guys, and no need to malloc/free memory or close threads etc to keep it that way - it just works....why....because the people who write the kernel #1 care, #2 aren't afraid to scrap a whole section of designed code and re-write it. It works.

Uptime is #1 - but unfortunatly, the issue with commercial applications - well that is an issue.

But if you can find a Linux alternative (85% chance that you can!) - you're better off choosing it.

There are also other issues noone has bought up - but then again - most of these percieved issues are complete nonsense.

Using a bad video card was an example - yes it *might* freeze xwindows - but it doesn't crash the whole damn computer - thats why its good to have a descent command line in such times. You can schedule th downtime, and repair it when you're the last to leave the office at night. Noone even notices :)

Installation - ummm....please join us in 2001 - use a new distrobution like Mandrake, RedHat or SuSe. And to be quite honest - just because they're graphical that just makes it more intuitive. Debian is easy to install really (except the HDD partitioning might seem weird at first) - but you partition at the beginning - if you screw it up - well do it again - very little time lost at all! And if you can't get it done in 3 goes - well - you really should read the help screens a bit before you walk in thinking you know everything :)

People are trained in Linux - every kid at uni/college these days is using it or at least has exposure to it - and all the older admins can pick it up quickly, because UNIX was all they had! There is a middle band of early gen-x's who need to sharpen their skills - but you're all out numbered in the long term.

Basically - if you need to run a server that is only available for windows - of course - you have to use a Windows box. But if you want file sharing, use XFS with Samba (with the XFS patch - available as an RPM in Mandrake and RedHat, and I think SuSe) - it has the same ACL's as NT.

If you need a normal firewall/VPN - use Linux (or BSD if you're really keen - it is worth learning for this purpose) - just install something like pmfirewall, or Bastille - they are both *really* easy, and complete. BTW: Bastille with IPTables is as good as any BSD firewall. The only drawback is banks and financial institutions. There is some amazing (and bloody expensive) hardware out there for these guys, and until CISCO and the rest make the full details available for these systems, no open source product will ever be as good. But we are talking about firewalls that use those funky mice with fingerprints to add tokens to the IP packets to allow restricted access etc....this is serious security.

Dial-in Server - Linux is fine.

Mail Server - now here we have issues. Some companies do need exchange - but unless you have +50,000 users on a LAN (not an ISP) - you do not need it. IMAP/LDAP solutions are just fine. And you can use stunnel or something for extra security.

Web Server - well netcraft has been reporting for a long time Apache is ahead in this - and usually that means Linux is there - and yes you can use ASP pages with Apache - but why bother - you'll probably find more development and grads with PHP than ASP - or you can compromise, and pick JSP - at least you won't be locked into only ever using Apache (can't wait for Apache2).

Database server - well you can get most good databases for Linux (Oracle/DB2 etc) - these are real databases, and if you need scalability - IBM can tailor boxes to suit your needs. And they have excellent support. Ofcourse Sun can do the same for Solaris, and in certain circumstances they actually might be a better option - but not always so - I'd talk to both, and see what they have to say. Access never was, and never will be as good as Postgres. But Postgres might one day be up there with DB2.....I doubt it will ever catch Oracle.

You have to understand - your client side NT/2K/XP experience means absolutly *nothing* when you are talking about server that are online 24/7/365.25 - potential hackers scan any live box hundreds (if not thousands) of times a day - even if you havn't registered a name for the IP. They flood the box with crap - and make it fall over - accidently, or just for fun. I'm telling you from experience, Linux isn't the be all and end all, but it makes my life sooooooooo much better - it's always going to be my #1 choice in OS's for any backend.

Oh and btw - terminal services is good, and 2k's routing has finally made it up with most good UNIX's. They are using UNIX technology to update their OS's people. Why do you think that is? Maybe because UNIX has a 30 year development history. Linux is an art worth your learning.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Rakshasa's picture

An "application ware" should crash an OS. Just cause I run a buggy program doesn't mean that the OS should crash.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I agree with your students that linux is hard to install. This isn't rubbish - it is one of Linux's major problems to general acceptance.

Two words: Mandrake Linux.

Hell, the install is even more graphics-mode than Win2k!! (blue screen of disk partition anyone?)

Mandrake is about as easy and pleasant an install as you can do of ANY OS ever created, INCLUDING MACOS! No joke!

And as for the rest of it.. Thank goodness there'll be a windows monkey glut.. Leaves more room on the tech and salary top-end for me!!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Good God, everyone talks about the difficulty of a Linux install like we've only just seen the 2.0.0 kernel and Red Hat 5 or Suse 4 is the latest distro.

I've only been using this OS since the heady days of RH6 and Suse6.4 and I've been on Suse ever since (no particular reason besides a whopper of a manual and great support)

At that time I found everything about the OS difficult, because it was new to me. But like the old command line days of dos I got used to it and it became familiar. Then you HAD to use text editors to modify config files by hand just to get X running.

Look at the latest distros. Autodetect nearly all your hardware, Live partition re-sizing. A whole community bursting with answers when you want to ask questions. And if you should RTFM; there is dozens of them. Howtos, Mans, the distro handbook.

It WAS hard work, and challenging to install, but it has improved beyond belief and is getting better all the while.

You are also lucky with your crash status of your windows installation. How many days uptime? hmmmm. ; ) I started using Linux when I'd re-installed Winblows for the fifth time in the same week, and getting cheesed off with it. And more recently I totally rebuilt the machine, I was dual-booting win98, when it came to boot up, Linux took it all in it's stride. A few hacks here and there for a new mouse on usb, and life was normal. How did Win98 cope with a new Mobo and Processor? RE-INSTALL .... Oh Joy!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Linux, hard to install? Some of the install routines, such as those for newer versions of Mandrake and SuSE, have almost an "autopilot mode" that absolves the user of all responsibilities. The real problem, though, is not the difficulty of installing Linux but the fact that it has to be installed at all. MS has used its OEM contracts to prevent any non-MS O/Ss from being available from the bootloader; make the average user install *Windows* and this complaint will quickly go away.

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