Open Source

The application of Linux simplification

Have you taken a shortcut in Linux that only resulted in more work? Jack found one that caused a client to spend more money thanneeded. Read on to find out why simplification is sometimes a bad idea in Linux.

Recentl, a new client called with a Quickbooks issue. I should probably mention that I do a LOT of Quickbooks (POS and Financials) troubleshooting. Most generally this work is done in Windows. Sometimes, however, we get a call about a Quickbooks Linux server. That was the case this time. What was going on was the client's machines were all losing connectivity to the server. So they called me in. I gained remote access to the server and started poking around.

The first place I poked was the Quickbooks data server configuration file. I found nothing out of the ordinary. I ran netstat to check the health of the network. Nothing (at that moment). My last stop was Samba. Unlike the Quickbooks server manager on Windows, the mechanism for serving up files in Linux must depend upon Samba. After all, these are Windows clients accessing this file. This is where I found the first issue with the setup.

The admin that set this system up decided to bypass the normal Samba setup (smb.conf) and opted to share out the directories using the GNOME file sharing mechanism. This method of file sharing is great if you are going workstation to workstation. But server to workstation? No way. First of all - it's harder to get much configuration out of this method. You can get some granular control (and that's great for desktops), but to really fine-tune a setup you really need to go the traditional route of editing the /etc/samba/smb.conf file. Because Quickbooks is so finicky about connectivity, the last thing you want is to use a shortcut in setting up the server. This will only end in frustration and a re-configuration. I am all about making Linux easy. I am a big fan of using the GNOME and KDE shortcut methods of sharing folders with Samba - WHEN IT'S APPROPRIATE. Serving up financial data files is not an appropriate time for this. You need better security, you need reliability, and you need fine-tune control. That is what /etc/samba/smb.conf gives you.

NOTE: Ultimately the issue was a combination of the Samba setup and a network bottle neck. I did everything I could on the Linux end; the main admin of the company took over for the networking issue.

The simplification of Linux is very important. It is, after all, the only way Linux will be embraced by the new users. The simplified file sharing system is a perfect example of how far it's come. But this doesn't mean that Linux administrators should be neglecting the standard methods of setup. If you are sharing mission-critical folders from a Linux server on a network, be prepared to do the work. Don't take the shortcut. If you are sharing desktop folders within a department, no problem! Take that shortcut.

This fundamental truth should also apply to security. If you have data that must be secured (say for government regulations), then don't install a dumbed-down GUI to set up your firewall. Either create your firewall chains by hand or use a full-blown front-end for iptables like fwbuilder.

There is a time and a place for simplification and shortcuts. Make sure you know those times and places. Don't apply shortcuts to your Linux machines if they aren't necessary. These shortcuts will only make more work for you (in the long run) and stand to make Linux look bad in your organization. As a Linux administrator, your job is a special job. You are charged with not only deploying Linux for the right tasks, but also in the right way so to ensure that Linux install will live up to the reputation Linux has as one of the most secure and reliable operating systems available. Don't tarnish this name by taking shortcuts that won't, in the end, work.

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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