Open Source

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.

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