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WatchIT Releases Linux Education Series

Learning about Linux

WatchIT, a rich media company that produces education on demand, recently released a six-part series of interactive programs titled "Linux Education Series," targeted at executives and others who would like to learn about the Linux platform and the world of open source. The series consists of six programs ranging from high-level overviews of Linux to some fairly specific steps for Linux security.

I recently had the opportunity to review this series. When taken as a whole, the series provides helpful information for viewers who want to learn about the Linux environment. However, some programs appear to be somewhat out of touch with the reality of the Linux and open source landscape. These programs hurt what otherwise is a valuable series of educational programs.

As reviewed, the series consists of six CD-ROMs (which require Windows in order to play) bundled into a CD folder. The titles are:

  • Linux at Work: Case Studies and Perspectives
  • Understanding Linux
  • Linux and Database Management Systems
  • IBM's Linux Development Environment
  • Linux in the IBM Production Environment
  • Linux Security for Mission-Critical Applications
In general, I was pleasantly surprised with the value of the information in the series, with one notable exception. Each part stands on its own and some were better than others, therefore I'll review each one separately.

The Bottom Line: Linux at Work: Case Studies and Perspectives

This program examines three organizations that rely on Linux for some aspect of their business: Boeing, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Mindbridge Software. It provides a very helpful look at how Linux has been deployed at these organizations as well as some of the hurdles that these organizations overcame in deployment.

Technical Briefings: Linux Security for Mission-Critical Applications

I'm naturally skeptical of any program on computer security and even more so with a program on Linux and open source security. However, this program provides thorough coverage that's quite refreshing to see in this format. The basics of Linux security are covered but the program also goes much deeper than I had hoped. Briefly mentioned were things like LIDS, chroot, and kernel patches such as GrSecurity.

Any viewer who knows some of the basics of operating system security but wants to learn or at least get a grasp on some of the more advanced topics would be well served by this program. Since the programs in this series are around 45 minutes, you won't get the level of detail that tells you how to patch a kernel, but you can certainly gain insight into the subject and learn what your next steps should be if you're interested in learning more.

Technical Briefings: Linux and Database Management Systems

Like the program on security, the Database Management Systems program provides insight into areas of importance for the platform. Some of the popular database systems on Linux are examined, including MySQL and Oracle, and their strengths and weaknesses are discussed. Important distinctions are made for the viewer as well, including what to consider when choosing a database platform.

Technical Briefing: Linux in the IBM Production Environment and Technical Briefing: IBM's Linux Development Environment

Reviewing these programs together seems acceptable because they're both geared toward IBM shops. IBM's Linux Dev Environment program included some good information on development in Linux, but its strong IBM focus makes it seem as if IBM is one of the central players in the development of Linux. While IBM is certainly a player, you can't help but think of all the development in the Linux and open source world that has absolutely nothing to do with IBM. I feel that the Linux Education Series would have been better served if it had included a more generic program, such as Development on the Linux Platform.

The Linux in the IBM Production Environment program was entirely IBM-centric, which should come as no surprise based on the title. Like other programs in the series, you can't help but question how this fits within the landscape of Linux and open source as they're deployed in the real world. For an organization that relies on IBM, this program would be a great benefit, but it may be of lesser value for those who don't.

WatchIT is a very responsive company and the two IBM programs were produced at the request of their customers. To that end, these are both helpful programs if you're working in an IBM-centric environment.

Straight Talk: Understanding Linux

The final program that I'll review is Understanding Linux. The goal of this program is to educate viewers on what Linux is as well as what role it plays in the computing world. Unfortunately, this program seems to be more of an opinion statement than a statement of fact. For example, with quotes like, "I think it's fair to say that the open source community hasn't produced a great deal of technical innovation," the credibility of the information throughout the program comes into question. Many other opinionated statements are included, making the program less valuable and far from helpful in understanding Linux.

The program also offers to educate viewers on the security of Windows and Linux but fails because it provides misleading comparisons. The viewer is led to believe that he or she has been given an apples-to-apples comparison when in fact the comparison is only Microsoft-produced software against all open source software, regardless of whether the software runs on Windows and Linux alike; it excludes all other closed source software that runs on Windows. While the goal may have been to show that no operating system is secure, comparing all open source software to one manufacturer's products is misleading and says nothing about the security of either operating system.

If misleading information is given about security, the program also seems out of touch with the open source community in other key areas. For example, the viewer is walked through the reasons that organizations deploy Linux and open source technology. Included among these reasons are philosophy, availability of source code, security (which was discounted for Linux based on the misleading information given about security), IBM's influence, and, the most important reason cited, that Linux costs less than its competitors. Absent from these reasons is what many consider to be the most important reason for deploying Linux: Linux is simply better. Granted, for every reason that you could produce for deploying Linux, another person could produce a reason against. However, it's important to realize that the list of reasons given in this program is presented as factual, not as opinion, and is therefore incomplete.

Since the quality of the material in the series as a whole is good, it's unfortunate that the Understanding Linux program was included. I should think that anyone wishing to learn about Linux or the open source world would be better served by looking at Web pages such as NewsForge or Slashdot rather than viewing this program.

Summing up the Series

When taken as a whole, the Linux Education Series offers some value to organizations considering Linux and open source. The majority of the programs in the series are quite valuable. However, the viewer needs to be aware that some programs may be of less value and that one program, Understanding Linux, is more of an opinion statement than a factual examination of Linux. I would like to see the second version of this series include a better program to help people understand Linux and open source, along with more generic versions of development in Linux.

More Stories By Steve Suehring

Steve Suehring is a technology architect and engineer with a solid background in many areas of computing encompassing both open and closed source systems, he has worked with a variety of companies from small to large, including new and old economy, to help them integrate systems and provide the best use of available technologies. He has also taken a hands-on approach with many projects and frequently leads teams of engineers and developers, and has written magazine articles as well as a book on the MySQL database server. He has also performed technical editing on a number of other titles.

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