Recently I was asked to set up a groupware-like solution for a small company that had no budget. Of course the first thing that popped into my head is not reproducible in this blog. But as soon as the initial reaction faded away I was left with one thought: Linux.
The small company (one owner and roughly seven employees) needed a web site (they already had the domain and the DSL), email, shared calendaring, and notes. At first I was looking at solutions such as Share360, but the cost of the the applications ruled them out immediately. Eventually I started approaching this problem one step at a time - which ultimately lead to the perfect solution. I first decided to approach the email issue. The employees wanted to be able to access email from pretty much anywhere, so web-based email was going to have to be deployed. This was fortunate because those needs sent me to SquirrelMail.
It wasn't too far into the installation of SquirrelMail that I discovered the available plugins. After a cursory look I realized that SquirrelMail might be my total solution for this client.
After injecting a bit of creativity into the equation, I had my solution. And of course this made me think of how I have managed to solve problems in the past.
I don't know if many of you have used Linux in your IT worlds but I can tell you, after about ten years of solving issues with Linux I am happy to say that the open source flagship has pulled me out of sticky situations non-open source software would manage. Why? Because Linux stretches and flexes beyond description. After all these years I have come to the conclusion that Linux is only as limited as your imagination.
Of course I am fully aware that most IT professionals aren't hired because of their imagination. Quite possibly you were hired because of your ability to stay within budgets, or your solid understanding of networking or your grasp on Microsoft Server. And I would say many of you probably scoff at the idea of creatively solving problems.
But then...aren't geeks naturally drawn to creative problem solving? Wouldn't you rather be praised for your prowess of thinking than praised for your ability to read a manual and set up any given MS product?
Creativity is where Linux shines above all the rest. You give a good Linux administrator a problem and that administrator will come up with countless ways of solving that problem using software often not intended to handle such problems. I've seen uber-level Linux admins solve problems in ways I never thought possible. It's MacGuyver at its best. It's an operating system, a paper clip, and a wad of chewing gum to solve network security.
I applaud anyone who considers creativity one of their tools in their toolkit. And if you use Linux, you know that creativity can be stretched in ways your computer science degree never prepared you for.