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Inside Linux

The Penguin is taking the IT world by Storm. The open-source OS offers enterprises an alternative to high-priced Unix and Windows systems, and was cited by 75 percent of poll

But those accustomed to living in a Microsoft world filled with GUIs and eye candy can be wary of jumping into the domain of true multiuser systems and CLIs (command-line interfaces). To be fair, the same can be said of some Sun Solaris, Hewlett-Packard HP-UX and IBM AIX administrators, who find many of Linux's quirks annoying.

The conundrum is that resistance to change can inhibit your company's ability to migrate to less expensive or more efficient systems of any kind--not just Linux--unless you're willing to replace balky personnel, losing technical expertise and business acumen in the process.

Further, hiring can be problematic: Unix skills are pricey across the board--in 2003, the average base salary for a Unix systems administrator was $96,163, compared with $67,355 for a Windows NT administrator, according to Meta Group.

To ensure you're getting what you're paying for, look for a Linux certification--RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer) and LPI (Linux Professional Institute) are examples. But admins holding such certs are scarce; those you can find are pricey. One of Windows' attractions is that while many administrative tasks can be performed via the command line, GUIs often make these chores less onerous. In response, Linux has evolved an extensive set of management GUIs, both Web- and X-Windows-based, that provide the same capabilities. It's possible to administer some Linux distributions without ever touching a command line or digging through a manual to find the location of a configuration file.

But beware: You'll hit a wall. Some applications simply cannot be configured or managed without using the command line. And in many cases, an ISV (independent software vendor)-developed application will preclude user-interface-assisted installation, even if its Windows counterpart offers such a nicety. Expertise in vi, a Unix text editor, is no longer required, but a working knowledge of the command-line environment is still de rigueur for those serious about Linux.

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