Linux Management Remains Overlooked by Wintel Trade Press

Posted by dave on Aug 6, 2004 4:48 AM EDT
LXer; By Karl O. Pinc
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the Wintel trade press is waiting to get their slice of the desktop Linux vendors' marketing dollars before they'll connect the dots and recognize the value of thin clients.

InfoWorld believes “Linux [is] nearly ripe for the enterprise desktop” but “for now, administrators are applying mass changes to deployed desktops via home-brew methods”, so it’s not really ready yet. They seem quite insistent on this; “ Manageability is a must for Linux to succeed on the enterprise desktop”, they say, making “obvious comparisons to Microsoft Windows -- including Active Directory, Group Policy objects, and Microsoft Exchange”. Oh dear. These sorts of comments make experienced Linux/Un*x folk smile sadly and turn back to their screen, happy to be as far away from Microsoft’s products as possible.

Why? Because these “obvious” things exist to solve problems Linux does not have. Perhaps the exception is Microsoft Exchange, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with “management” but rather has to do with allowing people to share calendars with people who use Microsoft Outlook, something that Linux does just fine now that Novell (aka Suse) has released Connector for Exchange under the GPL. It’s already available to Red Hat users via download, and will be a fully supported part of Red Hat Enterprise Linux by the end of August. No doubt other Linux vendors have similar plans; should they not act quickly enough your local Linux support company is always ready to help. I’m sure they’d be even more ready to support a shared calendaring and email solution that’s not Microsoft based, but we’re getting far afield here.

It’s not entirely accurate to say that Linux/Un*x does not suffer from the very same problems addressed by a plethora of Microsoft’s products and features; rather it’s that the Un*x world solved these problems years ago. Back in 1987, 5 years before the MS Windows 3.1 (the first usable version), the most recent version of X Windows was released. X Windows means X Terminals, the original thin client. InfoWorld recognizes that Suse supports this type of “thin-client [sic] installation, which is intended for a minimal installation on slower hardware to be used as a terminal services client.” Yup, not only do you not have to buy all new hardware to deploy new desktops you don’t even have to deploy new software to desktops because all the users are running their software on a single central server, or better yet cluster of servers so when a server dies the users just login again and continue where they left off. Of course when a thin client dies the worker can just move to the next desk until a replacement arrives. Centralized desktop management, enterprise desktop backup, distribution of application updates, redundant system fail over, the regular rip and replace hardware upgrade cycle, even network wide user authentication, many problems vanish when you abandon the Wintel approach.

The obvious question is: “If thin clients are so easy to manage why isn’t everybody doing it?” Wintel users don’t do it because Microsoft licenses their software in a manner that makes it too expensive; apparently the Wintel vendors find they make more money if software must be deployed to high-powered single-user “desktop computers”, the same computers many now use as Linux servers. The traditional Un*x vendors couldn’t do it because, as they say, “they don’t have the applications”. But Linux does, and people find Linux thin client savings exceeded 37% in just 8 months.

“We are seeing that support costs -- we’re not talking about licensing -- have gone way down,” Dr. Echt said. “The system no longer requires physical tech support. There’s nobody on the floors anymore, there’s nobody running around troubleshooting.”
With ongoing operational savings like this companies are treating Linux thin client deployments as a strategic asset and keeping quiet about them, or they should.

Being part of the Un*x world since 1987, there are many ways to setup Linux thin clients. The traditional Thin Client: New User Guide weighs in at 8 pages. As with any mature tool, organization’s are best advised to tailor their use of thin clients to suit their individual needs; no need to shoe-horn in a one-size-fits-all solution when many choices are available, and supported, out of the box. Powerful “home-brew” indeed. Still, some methods are more popular than others. The Linux Terminal Server Project has been working since 1996 developing and documenting the deployment of Linux based thin client solutions, and Novell is basing their next Suse Linux desktop on it.

Oddly enough, InfoWorld is sure that “Sun Microsystems has the right idea with the Sun Java Desktop System Configuration Manager” (link not in original), the tool used to manage Sun’s Linux thin client desktop. Perhaps they’re thinking that a powerful management tool can only be used by the IT administrator population if it’s got one massive GUI and a name with some marketing muscle behind it. I’d thought that by now everyone had long acknowledged that Linux comes with good GUI configuration tools, all you need when your desktops are all on a single central server, but if you feel the need for a all-in-one program you can always use Webmin. In the end, could it be that “Management continues to be Linux’s greatest weakness” because the pundits have been right all along when they’ve said that Linux requires a better class of administrator, one that can see things the pundits cannot? Nah. I think it’s the same reason you so rarely see a review of Free Software, or any other software that’s not got marketing dollars behind it; the Wintel trade press is waiting to get their slice of the desktop Linux vendors’ marketing dollars before they’ll connect the dots and recognize the value of thin clients.

After all we are talking about the Wintel trade press. You don’t piss in your own pool.

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» Read more about: Story Type: Editorial; Groups: LXer, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, Sun, SUSE

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