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Five urban legends that scare a Linux beginner

The Linux server platform is fundamentally open. Admins migrating from Unix will run into a lot of misinformation when they start out.

As more Unix systems are replaced with Linux, Unix administrators have to adjust their skills. While the two may...

look similar, there are some major differences.

Unlike a typical Unix operating system (OS) for servers, Linux is fundamentally open. In some cases, that developer-friendliness makes Linux appear as a disorganized OS, but this is offset by the additional opportunities that open source affords.

For the Linux beginner, here are five myths you'll hear about the server OS and why they're simply not true.

Linux myth 1: It's just like any other Unix server

It's true, Linux is related to Unix, but in the way that you are related to your grandparents: same blood, but a lot of different features. Linux administrators that come from Unix environments tend to get overwhelmed by the richness and speed of development on tools and features and wonder: "Why don't we just have one decent tool that does this?"

The answer is simple: because it's open source.

On your favorite Unix server platform, the OS vendor decides what's inside and picks the best tool. Linux is a compromise operating system, so it offers many tools to accomplish the same task. As a new Linux administrator, you'll pick tools from a vast amount of available resources.

Linux myth 2: All tools are structured the same

Due to the different origins of Linux tools and utilities, many aren't organized in the same way. For example, the ssh command offers a different method than the scp command for the same step. The ssh command lets a Linux administrator establish a secured remote connection, whereas scp copies a file over a secured channel. To specify which port the server should use, ssh relies on -p while scp goes with -P.

Linux beginners tend to get mad about that; why don't they just use the same option for the same functionality? The answer is simple: because of the different origins of both. The longer you work with Linux, the more examples you will find.

Linux myth 3: A functionality provided by the kernel always works

The Linux kernel is continuously under development. New features come out rapidly, and it's the community's responsibility to develop a tool or framework to work with these features. In many cases it happens; in some cases it doesn't. In Linux, you'll find a large list of attributes (for example, see man chattr, a command to change file attributes), of which many were never implemented.

Attributes are only one example of features that never made it to the daily reality of the system administrator. It's just one of the issues that come with an open source operating system, and a Linux newcomer has to deal with it as it transpires.

Linux myth 4: It isn't as powerful as Unix

I've never met a Unix admin who didn't think that Linux can be as powerful as Unix, and yet the myth persists. In fact, Linux is more powerful than most Unix platforms these days. Eighty percent of the world's supercomputers run Linux as their default operating system, which proves just how exciting the Linux kernel is.

The Linux kernel is so powerful because it is so accessible. For example, the /proc/sys file system gives direct access to hundreds of tunable elements. If that's not good enough, it's always possible to recompile the kernel to include new features.

Linux myth 5: It's a one-to-one replacement for Unix

A common mistake that Unix administrators make when migrating to Linux is that they treat the open source server as a replacement of their Unix server, and stop there.

Many Unix servers host mission-critical applications, from home-grown applications to SAP and Oracle. These apps run on Linux too, but the OS suits many other things.

Most of the servers on the Internet and most of the servers hosting the cloud run Linux. There's a whole new world of possibilities once you adopt it.

About the author:
Sander van Vugt is an independent trainer and consultant based in the Netherlands. He is an expert in Linux high availability, virtualization and performance. He has authored many books on Linux topics, including Beginning the Linux Command Line, Beginning Ubuntu LTS Server Administration and Pro Ubuntu Server Administration.

Next Steps

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This was last published in October 2014

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What myths do you hear about Linux? Security? Performance?
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Probably the biggest myth is that an entire distro (distribution or complete Linux-based system) IS Linux. Technically, Linux only refers to the kernel. SUSE, Fedora, Ubuntu etc. all those are distributions that use the Linux kernel but they are not Linux Even with this BASH (aka ShellShock) vulnerability many are saying it's a Linux vulnerability. But it is not. It's a BASH shell vulnerability. BASH is part of the GNU utilities and is NOT Linux. Yes, like many other distros, appliances and other systems that needed a shell, Linux uses BASH as its default shell. Even that can be replaced by a good half a dozen shells.
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Myth 1 - I don't understand what the point he is trying to make here. The OS vendor decides which tools to include much like the owner of the Linux distribution decides which tools to include. The fact that Linux is open source is irrelevant. There are open source tools available to run on Unix platforms as well.
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Myth 2 - There is the same issue in Unix. For instance, some file manipulation tools use -r to recurse directories, while others use -R.
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Myth 3 - the example he uses here is not a kernel function. chattr is a utility found in /usr/bin. You would have the same issues between different versions of Unix, as it would depend on which version of a utility an OS vendor will include with their version of Unix.
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Myth 4 - The term power is such a subjective term. I am not sure what he is trying to compare here.
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Myth 5 - I am not sure what his point is here. Doesn't Unix suit many other things as well?
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How about another myth.  'You need a separate system to learn Linux on'... With the advent of virtual machines (like virtual box, or vmware) you can now practice with linux without having to figure out a dual boot for your current machine, or messing with your main partitions on your dev machine.
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