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What users want from Linux

By and , Network World
October 20, 2003 12:14 AM ET

Network World - Enhanced system management capabilities, better security, support for third-party drivers and more unity among the various distributions top user wish lists when it comes to Linux. They also would like to see more of their peers embrace the open source operating system as it evolves into a platform capable of supporting even the most-critical layers in the data center.

"One of the biggest hurdles that Linux has to overcome to be a bigger player in the enterprise is FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt]," says Timothy Kennedy, a senior projects engineer at content-services firm YellowBrix in Alexandria, Va. "As Linux continues to prove itself in the enterprise, corporations are becoming more confident of the performance and savings that Linux offers. And with corporate support available [from companies like Dell, HP and IBM], it provides some peace of mind."

What follows is a wish list compiled from discussions with more than a dozen network professionals and Linux aficionados:

1. Monitoring tools

With Linux being deployed in more areas of the data center, users are looking for better ways to manage Linux systems - and easier ways to find those tools.

"When a machine hangs, I'd like to be able to create system dumps for analysis by others or myself. System tracing tools also would be very helpful in pinpointing problems," says Jeff Davis, technical lead at petroleum firm Amerada Hess in Houston. "Tools may exist, but I'm not aware of them. Better marketing of features of the Linux kernels would probably make locating new features easier for the busy systems administrator."

Davis adds that he'd like to see management tools focused on networked Linux machines that would enable him "to completely automate management of a large number of systems, reducing the day-to-day administration tasks and allowing me to focus on value-added tasks."

"Tools are becoming available and Linux is inherently open to this kind of management," he says.

2. Reliability

New versions of the Linux kernel have improved the operating system's reliability, but users say they could always use a more-hardened platform. Disaster-recovery options should be expanded, they say.

"LVM 2 [Logical Volume Management]/EVMS [Enterprise Volume Management System] and back-up software need to be improved," says Russell Coker, an engineer for a software company in Melbourne, Australia, that he asked not be identified. "Commonly used applications such as OpenLDAP need to be made cluster-aware."

3. Security

Security continues to be a big issue as backers position Linux as a Unix or Windows alternative in business networks. Efforts to steel the operating system, including the National Security Agency-backed Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) project, need to be embraced by vendors.

"Security is a problem. SELinux, plus better training of administrators, is needed," Coker says.

Bill Rugolosky, director of Telemetry Investments in New York City, agrees. "SELinux promises to make Linux a whole lot more secure, and given [recent attacks on Microsoft systems] events . . . very attractive to those currently . . . using Windows," he says.

4. Simplicity

Linux has the reputation of being overly complicated, and Linux users would like to see that image softened.

"It has long been perceived by some that installing and configuring Linux is some sort of impossible task, and only for experienced computer enthusiasts and professionals," says Peter Baylies, a computer consultant in Durham, N.C. "I don't think that this is necessarily the case anymore. The perception part of the problem can be remedied through appropriate marketing and training." Intuitive interfaces and good documentation would help create a more user friendly Linux, he adds.

"My ideal Linux operating system would be very user-configurable and responsive, and would have a standard and consistent interface for system configuration," Baylies says. "It would allow a novice to customize the environment as much as possible. Also, it would need very little maintenance, while still keeping the system up-to-date."

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