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Linux for Mortals: Linux and its Benefits

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of posts about Linux written by CBT Nuggets’ Linux expert, Shawn Powers. Check the blog each week for his latest installment. 

There’s a bunch of ways to describe Linux. The purists would have me say, “Linux is Freedom!” or perhaps, “Linux is Choice!” Those are both great answers, but from a practical standpoint they don’t really offer much description. So I’ll try my best to describe what people are talking about when they say “Linux.”FB-2

Linux is an alternative to Windows or OSX. It’s the operating system or the platform on which applications run. It’s also very stable, very flexible, and very free. We recently devoted a NuggetCast episode to Linux, and I highly recommend watching it (not just because I was in it!).

That’s really only half of the story, however. Linux is great for the desktop, but it’s far more popular in the server room. As a server platform, Linux is stable, scalable, popular, affordable, and oh so powerful. So when I answer the “who would benefit from it” question, it really has to be in two parts.

On The Desktop?

If your job requires you to use a particular Windows or OSX application, then Linux isn’t the right choice for your desktop operating system. If you need Microsoft Word, it simply won’t run on Linux. The real question is, do you truly need Microsoft Word, or do you just need a good word processor?

It’s true that most computers come with Windows or OSX pre-installed, so installing Linux is often more work than to just stick with what you have. In a corporate environment, however, Linux on the desktop can offer some advantages. If you need your employees to have a web browser, and email client, and a word processor — Linux provides all of those things (Firefox, Chrome, OpenOffice, etc) without the need to worry about licensing. I’ve worked in a large environment and keeping track of licenses and versions can be a full time job. With Linux, you can generally keep all your systems up to date with the latest software and not worry about upgrade costs, per user licensing, product activation, and all those frustrations that come with installing a Windows platform. Linux isn’t always the right choice for the desktop but it’s often overlooked simply due to lack of knowledge, not lack of its effectiveness.

The Server Room!

While I’m a proponent of Linux on the desktop when appropriate, I’m almost fanatic about Linux in the server room. Whether you’re only using Linux to host an Apache web server or you’re managing your entire user base from an Linux OpenLDAP server, Linux has a place in everyone’s server room.

Historically, one of the system administrator’s secrets was to use Linux in the server room and not tell anyone. It was quicker, easier, and far less complicated to set up a quick mail or web server using Linux. Since protocols like HTTP and SMTP are standardized, the end users never knew if their website was hosted from IIS or Apache. For years, many of us have hosted Microsoft file shares from Samba servers, without telling anyone. My point is not that it’s a good idea to deceive your users, but rather to stress how well Linux fits into server rooms.

If you’re just getting started with Linux, the server room is the perfect sandbox. Set up a web server. Set up a proxy server. Create a few file servers, and learn how to interact with other operating systems over the network. A lot of the training I’ve done at CBT Nuggets is for new Linux users, but mainly because so many people are unfamiliar with Linux, and they need to get a solid start before they are confident using Linux as their main server base. Avoiding Linux isn’t really an option anymore, especially with the advent of cloud computing.

Linux Rules the Cloud

I have nothing against Windows Azure. I really don’t. When it comes to cloud computing, however, Linux is the king. It makes sense too, because the same Linux that has worked so well in our individual server rooms is doing the same thing in huge cloud infrastructures. Linux provides services instead of servers, and it’s those services people need.

Answering “What is Linux” is always a tough task. Answering “Who can benefit from Linux” is much simpler: Everyone. Whether that means directly using Linux on your desktop, using services provided by Linux from the server room, or leveraging massive computing power from a cloud provider, Linux affects everything we do in the modern technology world.

If you’re not familiar with Linux, or thought it was too complicated to learn — I urge you to look at some of my training here at CBT Nuggets. I guarantee it’s not as scary as you might think, and I promise I’ll do my best to prepare you for whatever level of Linux interaction you might be interested in!

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