Linux, beyond the enterprise server

An underlying theme at last week's LinuxWorld Expo was that there's more to Linux than just an inexpensive enterprise server operating system.

In one session, independent security consultant David Allen discussed how Linux is being deployed along with powerful open source security tools to sniff out intruders and lock down networks from internal and external attacks.

"The best security tools are open source security tools," Allen said. As opposed to proprietary systems that perform packet sniffing or intrusion detection, Allen said tools such as Prelude, Tripwire and Snort (which is available as a commercial appliance, too) are better because the code has been through the open source peer review process.

Allen said such tools appeal to many security professionals because of the openness of the software. "People who run security want to look under the hood and get their hands on the code of the system they're using," he said.

Linux on the desktop was another hot topic at the show in light of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s recent move to offer Linux on all its Evo business PCs, hints from Sun of an upcoming Linux desktop and a new Red Hat beta for corporate desktops.

A 30-workstation Linux lab for students at Indiana University's theater department was given as an example during one session on how Linux on the desktop can win over end users.

"If you want people to switch from Windows to Linux on the desktop, you have to make it as easy for them as it would be to move from one version of Windows to another," said Corey Shields, Unix systems specialist at Indiana University, who oversaw the Dell Computer Corp.-based Linux desktop deployment and plans to roll out Linux to other labs on the 94,000-student campus in Bloomington.

Linux desktops such as KDE and Gnome - both of which ship with most Linux distributions - often cram many applications and icons onto a desktop and in menu and task bars, Shields said. That can confuse end users who may just want to surf the Web or edit documents.

"To design a desktop for Windows users, you have to see things through their eyes," Shields said. The key, he said, is using tools within Linux to clearly label what programs certain icons launch and paring down the number of icons end users can see.

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