Linux

YaST2 and the state of Linux administration


Recently I was asked to write a series of articles focused on setting up Linux servers strictly via GUI. The other stipulation: using OpenSuSE and GNOME.

No problemo.

So I did a full install of OpenSuSE 10.2 (all five CDs) and fired up YaST2. My immediate impression? WOW! Those boys at SuSE/Novell have an idea or two about administering Linux. Every tool available worked well. Quite well. In fact, I would have to say for those options available, YaST2 might have been the easiest configuration tool available. Without further installation I was able to set up Apache, DHCP, DNS, Samba (and many more) right out of the box and within the GUI. Now I've set these services up before via command line (so I'm no stranger to how they function), but I can only imagine being new to the world of Linux how editing .conf files would seem...daunting. But YaST2 solves that problem in many ways.

But it's not perfect.

I was really surprised by the lack of an FTP server installed. The only installed FTP service was LFTP (which is not even remotely useful as a server.) Also missing was any means of configuring a mail server. YaST2 does allow the configuration of Sendmails' MTA ability - but nothing more. And since YaST2  does not have a Dovecot module the setup of a mail server had to be taken care of by Webmin. Now outside of command-line, Webmin was my favorite all-around configuration option available. And without Webmin I would not have been able to complete the series without dropping into command line (and that wasn't the point.)

So, from this new perspective, I have to make a call out to open source developers: You know what Linux needs (outside of games thank you) to take it one more step further. Linux needs a single tool that will enable administrators to set up everything they need. YaST2 is excruciatingly close. With the addition of  mail server configuration, ftp configuration, and LDAP server configuration (there is a module you can install for this, it should just be included by default) YaST2 might very well be the perfect Linux administration tool. 

But it confounds me why these services were left out. I realize that because there are so many options for some of these services, sticking to one might keep some administrators from using SuSE all together. To that end, the developers of YaST2 could just create modules for the more popular services and offer them for download. Wouldn't that solve a lot of issues?

I remember the days of Linuxconf. The very first time I ever fired up that tool (it was ncurses based at the time) I thought I have found the mecca of admin tools. It had EVERYTHING. But find a distribution that actually ships with linuxconf installed these days. You probably won't. Fedora Core uses a bunch of individual tools located in /usr/bin. The system-config-* tools are good, but the problem is, if you use a Window Manager like Enlightenment (as I do) instead of the usual KDE or GNOME, you have to know the names of each command to fire them up. 

 

system-config-authentication 

system-config-date

system-config-display

system-config-keyboard

system-config-language

system-config- lvm

system-config-network

system-config-network-cmd

...

You get the point.

It amazes me that SuSE gets it and Fedora Core doesn't. And this only highlights where this is coming from: With so many varying tools, it's no wonder so many people shy away from Linux. Maybe it's time for the Linux community to come together and create a single, user-friendly administration tool that can be added to every distribution and would allow administrators to hop from distro to distro and know exactly what they were doing. 

Don't get me wrong, I often love the challenges offered by Linux. But I also know that most don't enjoy a challenge when they are feverishly working to get a corporate-level server or desktop up and running. Admins having to deal with that situation want simplicity and efficiency. Having to jump around from one admin tool to another, in my opinion, does not paint the most efficient picture.

So here's my cry: Open source community, if you're listening, get together and create a single, powerful, user-friendly administration tool for as many services as you can. Then the Linux operating system will start drawing more corporate-level users out of their Windows. 

About

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 getjackd.net.

10 comments
Styopa
Styopa

Bear in mind that openSUSE is geared towards the enthusiast rather than the enterprise. If you're running an enterprise network I would say your needs are probably too complex and specific to be dealt with by an all-purpose tool such as YaST. Also, YaST is in the nature of a work in progress - it does a lot more, and does it a lot better, in openSUSE 10.2 than it did when I first encountered it in SuSE 8.3. One problem with tools like YaST is that sooner or later any serious user will want to move beyond what they do - e.g my current BIND and Postfix setups (Postfix is the default in openSUSE, not Sendmail) can't be maintained in YaST. Then you have to work out how to deal with the interaction between what you do in YaST and what you do outside - not always easy.

jimfdz
jimfdz

I took a linux sys-admin course a while back using Fedora and it seemed like we did everything the hardest way possible with incomplete information. I had never heard of linuxconf until I read your account of Yast2 administration. A Google search on linuxconf turned up the Linuxconf home website: http://www.solucorp.qc.ca/linuxconf/ I will try that out in the next few months along with the Suse and Mandriva approaches.

stress junkie
stress junkie

You asked why some obvious applets are missing in YaST2. I don't know because I lost interest in Novell SuSE but it is possible that the applets that you didn't find in OpenSuSE would be available in their retail versions. I think that Novell is positioning OpenSuSE to serve as a demo desktop distribution with the idea that if you want more you may find it in their non-free versions. If that is the case then it makes sense that they would not include server service configuration tools in a desktop distribution. I'm just speculating but it makes sense to me. I was always positively impressed with YaST2. I had worked with Unix and Linux distributions for a long time and had to do things the hard way, learning which configuration files to edit or create for each function. That is just stupid. YaST2 was the first good Linux system administrator's tool that I found. (I discovered SuSE Linux just before Novell purchased them.) I loved SuSE Linux mostly due to YaST2. These days I'm using PCLinuxOS which uses the system administration tool from Mandriva. I'd say that the Mandriva system configuration tool is very comparable to YaST2. The thing that I like about it, as it is used in PCLOS v93a, is that you can easily configure wireless network cards. This area is one of the last sticking points keeping people from using Linux on notebook computers. Heck, I didn't even try to configure the wireless network card on my own notebook before I tried PCLOS. It just seemed like too much trouble, and I've been using Linux for a long time. In summary, YaST2 is very good. It is possible that the retail versions of SuSE would include the server service configuration applets that are apparently not inluded in OpenSuSE. My preference these days is for PCLOS, but we'll see if that remains the case when the new PCLOS (v94) is released. I'm nervous about what functions PCLOS might lose with the new version.

jlwallen
jlwallen

and i would like to think that larger corporations, with larger IT staff, could take advantage of the open source nature of the software and roll what they need into the administration package. and then of course share it. ;-)

jlwallen
jlwallen

and it's still a great tool. thing is it's not included in any distro that i know of. it used to be standard fare for most releases.

Haas
Haas

But I am hopeful that they will come up with a much refined tool in the near future. As a consultant I try to recommend open source to my clients as a cost effective way to deploy technology in their biz. Since time is money, I cannot afford spending my time doing my work from the command line, I like to use the GUI tools, fix the problem, and move on. It's faster and efficient. Currently I am testing CentOS for a client and I do like it a lot. Check it out. It's great for web, ftp, mail, and more. FYI, CentOS is an open source project that takes the source packages Red Hat Inc. offers to users as a free public download under the GPL.

Justin Fielding
Justin Fielding

I must say I'm not a fan of SUSE nor YaST. I administer quite a few SLES servers but always find YaST cumbersome and at times quite irritating. As I've become more experienced in administering Linux machines I have found I prefer to use Debian and configure everything from the command line (I don't install X too often) as I then know exactly where everything is and how it's configured.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You beat me too it though. I'm a Windows convert so the GUI tools have been indispensable while learning the cli way of doing things. It's particularly nice that the drake tools function in both X and the console. The author has a good point though; there are some things that would benefit from more uniformity.

stress junkie
stress junkie

Long ago I used to run MS-DOS v3 machines and I would edit the autoexec.bat and config.sys files. Then I started to use Windows v3 and I edited the win.ini and the system.ini files. Once Windows got GUI system administration tools I didn't see the point of looking for files to edit. I take the same view to configuring Unix and Linux. If I can find GUI applets to edit all those horrible little files for me then I'll use them. :)

jlwallen
jlwallen

I've been running Linux for nearly 10 years now. I started with the command line and will probably end with the command line ("In The Beginning" reference here anyone?). But, because I write for companies that need to show the GUI, I have to use the GUI. And in the process of using the GUI I have grown, well, accustomed to them. I think if Fedora would take all of their "system-config-*" tools and house them in one tool they might come up with a winner. But I'm not sure I see that coming in the near future. Right now Fedora is too consumed with getting their new "Spins" right on FC7 - which I think is a mistake.