Enterprise Linux: Tools and Distributions

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No one can say that there aren’t enough Linux distributions to go around. As of press time, the total count for maintained distributions (those for which updates are regularly released) at www.linux.org was 361. That looks like a lot to choose from, but for enterprise users, the number of alternatives is vastly smaller. In fact, most Linux experts concur that there are only four real candidates for enterprise adoption and use, because of the quality of their code, the level of support and the infrastructure that surrounds them:



  • Red Hat: A longtime vendor to the enterprise community, Red Hat offers what many think is the most mature and best-supported Linux distribution around. Additional surrounding infrastructure includes a top-notch multi-level training and certification program, along with strong technical support and an active user community. For more information, see www.redhat.com.
  • Novell SUSE: Prior to its acquisition by Novell, SUSE had established a strong position in the Linux world. Post-acquisition, the product remains widely available and highly regarded. Novell offers two Linux credentials as part of its certification program. It also supports the platform with a wide set of resource management tools built around ZENworks (plus numerous plug-ins that target or support SUSE Linux). See www.novell.com for more information.
  • Fedora: An open-source project based on code and technology originally developed (and still sponsored) by Red Hat, Fedora encompasses many initiatives and capabilities, and boasts an active and vigorous user community. Offerings and capabilities include various servers (including a security-enhanced model), desktop components, an installer and even a stateless OS version that specifically targets computer-based appliances. See fedora.redhat.com for more information.
  • Mandriva Linux: Though neither as large nor as well supported as the other Linux distributions, Mandriva is the only platform that supports automatic OS updates from the Internet using its Mandrivaonline facility. Server and desktop versions are available, as well as specially packaged commercial versions that target enterprise customers. See www.mandriva.com for more information.


Given the significant number of other Linux distributions available, many others might seek to argue that they too can compete for enterprise business. However true this may be, the four distributions listed here constitute the best-known and most-often-used enterprise Linux. That said, although it’s not really a version of Linux (it’s based on BSD UNIX, an earlier offshoot in the UNIX family tree), some experts are watching Apple’s Mac OS X closely, especially now that Apple has announced its plans to migrate to Intel x86-based hardware before the end of 2005. Given Apple’s small but long-standing presence in enterprises, it too may make a run at this marketplace.

Enterprise-Class Productivity Applications
Inside or outside the enterprise, everyone knows that the operating system is just the platform on which other applications must run to justify the time, effort and expense that goes into creating and maintaining any kind of IT infrastructure. What tends to get the most attention in this area are productivity suites that run on Linux and UNIX versions, and that offer capability (and usually, at least some interoperable file formats) much like category leader Microsoft Office.

While there are many competitors for this spot in the Linux world, only a few big names typically garner much serious attention. Primarily this means Sun’s StarOffice, or OpenOffice.org, both of which originate from the same code base. Sun’s StarOffice is a highly affordable, powerful and well-maintained commercial productivity suite. OpenOffice.org is a free, open-source project-based offering that supports numerous hardware platforms and many different human languages. Both experience occasional hiccups trying to handle images, presentation file formats and especially, Microsoft Office macros or Visual Basic extensions, but a growing user base for each of these packages professes itself ready, willing and able to work with these packages, both inside and outside the enterprise.

Other offerings that register on the Linux productivity application radar include:



  • Evermore Integrated Office: EIOffice is a package written in Java that runs on Linux, Windows and other platforms, and offers a single integrated office environment rather than a federation of related applications.
  • CodeWeavers CrossOver Office: This is a Linux desktop productivity tool that supports Windows productivity applications, including Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Lotus Notes, among others.
  • NeTraverse Win4Lin: This application permits users to install and run Windows 98 on a Linux machine, so that native Windows applications—including Microsoft Office—may be used. Aside from performance issues typical for an “OS within an OS” approach (lots of disk space, RAM and CPU power, please), this turns out to be a reasonably workable solution.


By hook or by crook, those departments or organizations that convert to Linux manage to find cost-effective and practical ways to enable their users to get their work done, and to employ various packages for office productivity needs.

Development Environments and Tools
Linux-based offerings have long had quite a shine within application development, and have consistently given Microsoft and its partners a run for their money. Linux is a platform where open-source projects and Java are probably the biggest players, but also is where a positive Tower of Babel has long pervaded the use of programming languages, from Python and Perl to just about anything you could name.

The popularity of UNIX (and Linux) in the academic computing community helps explain this profound strength. In fact, computer scientists and programming language experts have cut their teeth on and built their careers around this conglomeration of platforms all the way back to the days when AT&T not only ruled the world of telephones, but owned UNIX as well—that is, for more than 30 years now.

That’s why you’ll find tools and languages for just about any kind of development project or platform you could ever need. Quick visits to developer powerhouses like the Apache Project or SourceForge show everything from application development environments to source control platforms to software management and update deployment toolsets galore available. This is an area so rich with possibility that it makes sense to let one’s Linux distribution help narrow the field of choices before investigating toolsets that make the most sense for the resulting IT infrastructure.

User Interface/Window Manager Options
For both desktop and server Linux implementations, some kind of graphical windowing environment is incredibly helpful to those users who must work on such machines. As in the desktop world, the two leading packages in this space are:



  • GNOME: The GNU Network Object Model Environment, or GNOME for short, is a graphical user interface plus a set of computer desktop applications (including basic productivity applications) for Linux, developed under the auspices of the Free Software Foundation.
  • KDE: The K Desktop Environment is an open-source graphical desktop for UNIX and Linux computers, which also includes a file manager, a help system, a configuration system, tools and utilities, and various applications (such as KOffice, another Linux-capable productivity suite).


Other options that have their share of enthusiasts and proponents include Blackbox, Enlightenment, Fluxbox, ICEWM, WindowMaker and XFCE. GNOME is relatively simple and streamlined, without lots of bells and whistles to distra

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