Linux Support Services: Page 2

Posted December 9, 1999

Dan Orzech

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Doing It Yourself

There are still plenty of technically-savvy Linux users who see little point in paying for technical support. One reason for that is that the source code for Linux is freely available. "With Linux, access to the source code is your technical support," says Sgt. Fred Wissing, Senior Unix System Administrator at the New Jersey State Police. "If you have a problem, you can look at the source and figure it out yourself."

The New Jersey State Police have been using Linux for about four years, according to Wissing. The department now runs about ten Linux systems for DNS, mail and intranet servers, as well as for applications such as the National Instant Check System for gun purchases. Gun dealers across New Jersey use that system to make sure they're not selling guns to convicted felons.

Supporting these applications is made easier by Linux' stability, says Wissing. "Anything I deploy on Linux, never breaks," he says. "It's not susceptible to viruses, and I don't have to continually lay patches on it to fix things." The New Jersey State Police DNS server, for example, has been running for 456 days without being shut down.

On the rare occasions when the Linux source code is not enough, Wissing turns to the Web. While he's familiar with the Usenet newsgroups on Linux, Wissing usually starts with a search on Yahoo, Google or another Internet search engine. "If I have to post a question on a news group," he says, "that means it's really hard to find, because usually I'll hit a Web page with the information I need right away." That's probably because there's a wealth of Linux information available online.

Going online

There are a plethora of portals focusing on Linux, including LinuxPorts, Linux International, and Linux Online. Linux Today is a good place to find the most recent news and press releases about Linux. Linux bug fixes and other code changes can be found at Freshmeat, an online software repository for Linux and other Open Source software programs.

In addition, there's the Linux Documentation Project, which aims to be the central location for Linux information. The site has the Linux manual pages, along with books such as the Linux Installation and Getting Started Guide and the Linux System Administrators' Guide. There are also more than 200 shorter guides called HOWTOs, which provide detailed information on specialized topics such as how to set up a firewall using Linux and where to find a computer consultant who can support Linux.

And then there are the Usenet newsgroups, online discussions where anyone can post a question about Linux. Two newsgroups useful for Linux newcomers are comp.os.linux.answers and comp.os.linux.advocacy. The only Linux newsgroup to allow commercial postings -- comp.os.linux.announce -- is a good place to find information on new products for Linux, both commercial and Open Source. Newsgroups such as comp.os.linux.system and comp.os.linux.networking are forums for discussions of more specialized topics.

Dan Orzech is a Philadelphia-based technology writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and computer publications such as EarthWeb's Datamation.

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