Open Source

Windows admins: Learn Linux quickly with this book

Microsoft's actions in regard to Windows Product Activation and its MCSE program has upset a lot of administrators and caused many of them to begin experimenting with Linux. All of these Windows admins who want a solid foundation in Linux should check out this book.

Numerous factors in the current IT environment are pushing more and more administrators toward Linux, and many of them are experimenting with using it to manage critical services in their organizations. However, a lot of these administrators come from a background of administering Windows NT/2000 and have little or no experience with UNIX, which can often make their initial experience with Linux quite discouraging.

Fortunately, one of the world’s most well-respected Windows experts, Mark Minasi, has written a book on Linux from the perspective of a Windows administrator. We’re going to examine what Minasi’s Linux for Windows NT/2000 Administrators has to offer and see how it can help admins get up to speed on Linux in a hurry.

A new kind of Linux book
Along with the lack of UNIX experience, Windows administrators trying to learn Linux are hampered by a lack of good resources that can help them quickly master Linux administration and learn how to set up basic Linux services (file servers, Web servers, mail servers, etc.).

Although tons of Linux books are now available, a typical Windows admin has to read about a half dozen of them to have any idea about how to set up and administer a Linux system. And while many of these books claim to be an “introduction” to Linux, most of them unconsciously make assumptions about UNIX experience or simply do not explain Linux’s unique features and quirks very well.

That’s where Minasi comes in. If you read my review of Minasi’s book on Windows 2000 Server, you know I like Minasi’s writing style. I generally trust him as an objective writer who doesn’t pull any punches but doesn’t hit below the belt, either.

In this case, Minasi has delivered a much-needed book for the droves of admins who come from a Windows (or even NetWare) background and who are currently interested in learning Linux. One of the great things about the book is that it’s clear that Minasi is fairly new to Linux, and he addresses many of the issues and answers many of the questions we all face when we first work with the penguin operating system.

However, Minasi also enlisted the help of coauthors Dan York and Craig Hunt, both seasoned Linux experts, to make sure that the book is accurate and provides sound advice in setting up and managing Linux systems. The result is an excellent Linux resource that can serve as a solid foundation for any Windows administrator who wants to begin working with Linux.

Let’s take a closer look at where this book is especially strong, as well as a few of its shortcomings. Figure A shows the book’s table of contents.

Figure A
Table of contents for Linux for Windows NT/2000 Administrators

Kudos and caveats
Undoubtedly, the best part of this book is the perspective from which it is written. It anticipates and answers the natural questions that Windows admins will have when approaching each topic. It also takes Linux concepts and technologies and puts them in Windows terminology or compares them to the way similar technologies work in Windows. Let’s look at a few examples.

One big difference between Linux and Windows involves file and directory permissions. Linux simply applies permissions for the file’s owner, the group associated with the file, and everyone else. In Windows, multiple groups can have permissions associated with the same file or directory. Minasi asked five Linux/UNIX experts if there was a way to associate multiple groups with one file or directory in Linux, and the answer was no. Only someone writing from a Windows perspective would have thought to ask this important question.

Another area where Minasi’s Windows perspective helps clarify matters is in his discussion of working with NIS (Network Information Service) to centralize user accounts and provide network login capabilities. Here, he takes the NIS terms and compares them to Windows domain terminology. He says that a master NIS server = primary domain controller, a slave NIS server = a backup domain controller, an NIS domain = an NT domain, and a map = a SAM file. With this comparison, most Windows admins will immediately understand the significance of the various pieces of NIS.

Minasi’s book really shines in what Minasi calls “step-by-step cookbooks” for setting up various Linux servers. These include DNS, mail, DHCP, FTP, Web, and file servers. Minasi had the most assistance from his Linux expert coauthors in this area, and it shows. These tutorials are helpful for any administrator who wants to quickly build a Linux server running these valuable network services.

Minasi also provides some valuable insights on integrating Linux into a Windows network, including a section on setting up a dynamic DNS on Linux so that it is compatible with Windows 2000 Active Directory. In addition, he offers advice on where and when adding Linux to your network can bring considerable value.

Alas, I need to offer a couple of caveats here, too. First, as good as this book is, it is not the only Linux book you will ever need. I doubt whether there is such a book. While the server “cookbooks” are good, you will definitely need more in-depth information about each of these services if you want to become a fully competent Linux administrator. Still, the book ultimately provides the best foundation for Windows admins who need to get up to speed on Linux. After completing this book, Windows admins should be able to install and work with Linux and then confidently move on to more advanced resources.

Also, the book comes with a CD version of Linux-Mandrake 7.1. Although I’m not a huge Mandrake fan, Mandrake is probably the most Windows-like in terms of its installation and GUI tools, so it’s probably a good fit for many Windows admins who want to learn Linux. However, Mandrake 7.1 is already pretty outdated. So I would recommend that admins wanting to experiment with Linux obtain a version with the 2.4 kernel (such as Mandrake 8.0 or Red Hat 7.1, at the time of this writing).

Final analysis
The subtitle for Minasi’s book is The Secret Decoder Ring. I think many Windows admins who have been unsuccessfully trying to learn Linux will find that turning a few pages in this book will have magical results in clarifying a number of Linux issues.

What's your favorite Linux book?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.


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