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Windows to Linux basics: Analysts say transition from Windows to Linux isn't easy

Analysts describe some of the hardship and early learning that Windows administrators will need to absorb in order to initiate a move to Linux.

Microsoft's new Licensing 6.0 scheme may drive Windows NT shops away from proprietary systems and make them at least consider Linux and open-source software, but several industry analysts contacted by warn that the transition won't be easy.

"These are very different skill sets," said Tony Iams, vice president and research director for Port Chester, N.Y.-based D.H. Brown Associates Inc. "Once you find out [Linux] is basically Unix -- that it's managed and run like Unix -- if you're a Windows guy and you don't like Unix, you're not going to like Linux. It's not the same [as Windows]."

Iams points out that Linux, like Unix, was not designed for user friendliness.

"It's command line driven and script driven," Iams said. "User friendliness is not the No. 1 design point with Unix and Linux. With Windows, you get GUIs and Windows to help you along. You're starting to see some of that with Linux but, at the end of the day, it's all about command lines."

Windows admins are advised to download open-source software and familiarize themselves with the utilities and basic system services.

"I suggest they practice, practice, practice," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. "Download some open-source software, compile it, tinker with it."

Kusnetzky points out that a Windows administrator would need to be aware that Linux environments are designed to support development, in many cases.

"The operating system will comply with anything you tell it to do. You won't get any back talk, like you would with Windows," Kusnetzky said. "It's very easy to remove all the files, for example. [Linux] will delete everything because that's what you told it to do. Windows will ask if you meant to do this. A developer would be annoyed by these prompts."

Kusnetzky recommends two resources for learning Linux basics: Windows NT & Unix: Administration, Coexistence, Integration & Migration a book by G. Robert Williams and Ellen Beck Gardner; and Microsoft Windows Services for Unix, client software that provides cross-platform services for integrating Windows into existing Unix-based environments.

"The thing that's really important to remember is that Linux is designed from the ground up to look like Unix," Kusnetzky said. "It's not Unix, but it's a good mimic of Unix -- sometimes the utilities look like Unix. Any book [on] Unix for Windows should be helpful."

Iams also suggested that Windows admins get to know Samba.

"Samba is the kind of thing that will interest a Windows administrator," Iams said. "It turns any Linux server into a virtual NT file and print server. That has immediate value for a Windows shop."

Iams points out that Samba will not give Windows NT shops Active Directory capabilities found on Windows 2000, but it does match the capabilities of an NT server. Samba, Iams said, uses the domain controller functions that an NT administrator would be familiar with. And a Windows shop would not have to pay client-access licenses from Microsoft, Iams said.

In the end, moving from Windows to Linux is a massive undertaking that would require significant retraining, as well as application and data migrations, said IDC's research director for system software, Al Gillen.

"Training is a key point, but equally important is to do piloting," Gillen said. "Put a [Linux] pilot program in place, get some running time with the operating system and open-source software and make sure it's doing what you want it to do.

"From an application perspective, look at Wine (an open-source implementation of the Windows 32-bit API on x86-based Unixes and Linuxes) and CodeWeavers (a software vendor that offers products that transition companies from Linux to Windows).

"This is not a tactical decision. This is a long-term strategy."

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Learning Guide: Linux basics for Windows pros"

Archived Featured Topic: Linux versus Windows

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