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Issue 53

6 tips to use GNU/Linux on your corporate machine

Marius Botiș
iOS Developer @ Tora Trading Services



Attila-Mihaly Balazs
Software Panther @ Synapp.io
PROGRAMMING

We, the authors, have over a decade's experience in running GNU/Linux in a corporate setting and we would like to share that with you, to make your journey easier. However, first, why would you want to run GNU/Linux at work rather than the operating system supplied by your employer? We don't know, but here are some of our reasons for running it:

Tip 0: Know what you're getting yourself into

Not to sugar-coat it: you certainly will need support for this. You are either technical yourself (including some understanding of hardware architecture and networking) or you have colleagues who can help you with those things. GNU/Linux (and the software available for it) have support for a lot of things, but sometimes you need to know the specific technical terms to search for, to discover it.

On the bright side: finding solutions for problems is much easier with GNU/Linux than with other operating systems. Most of the error messages are text (rather than a dialog box), which can be copy-pasted into a search engine to find a solution. There are also a lot of free support resources available.

Tip 1: Always check with your IT department!

This is about the machine (laptop/desktop) you use at work. It's the company's property. Don't try to "sneak it in behind IT's back". Check with them if they have security policies (such as the hard-drive needing to be encrypted).

In our experience, using GNU/Linux has never been a problem for IT if two things were respected:

Any problem (as in "I can't print") is our problem unless you can reproduce it under a supported operating system

IT still has access to the machine (for example they have an account under GNU/Linux with sudo rights, they can install their monitoring/inventory solution, etc)

Tip 2: Pick a widely-used distribution

Using a widely-used distribution like Ubuntu or Fedora will make it much easier to find solutions to problems. Sidenote: problems under GNU/Linux are much easier to describe, precisely because you can just copy-paste the error log (and conversely - when you're searching - you can just search for the text, for the error log) than other operating systems.

Also, the software you might want to use is much more likely to be available for these distributions.

So pick a popular distribution. If you need to decide between multiple ones (like Ubuntu or Fedora): pick the one which you'll find the easiest to get support for (for example, if your colleagues are already using Ubuntu, pick that).

Related to this: prefer the newest release as opposed to the "stable" one. Stability is great once you confirmed that everything you need works. However, you probably will need to interact with a lot of proprietary solutions which are a moving target for the free-software implementations and you need a newer version of them to avoid problems.

In addition, try to resist customizing your GNU/Linux as much as possible - at least in the beginning. Running only the software, which the distribution came with, will make it easier for others to help out.

Tip 3: Don't make it an all-or-nothing choice

While almost everything will work just fine under GNU/Linux, there will always be that 0.01% which is just too hard to get working (for example changing your Active Domain password). For such cases, you should keep your original OS (be it Windows or Mac) installed and install GNU/Linux in a "dual-boot" fashion (that is you can choose during each power-on which one to use). This is also useful for troubleshooting (for example if a printer is not working you can just boot the original OS, try it from there and if it still isn't working - contact IT).

Some specific tips:

A final tip for not making an exclusive choice: for most GNU/Linux distributions there are live CD / DVD / USB versions available. You can try them at zero risk and see how well you can do your daily tasks (ie. connect to the network, browse the web, access the file shares, print, etc) in your corporate network even before installing it to your hard-drive.

Tip 4: Be aware of the learning curve

While running GNU/Linux will almost certainly make you more productive (especially if you're doing development) in the long-run, be aware that, at the beginning, your productivity will decrease and you'll often find yourself frustrated and saying "I just want to do X. Why can't I simply do X?"

As such, we do not recommend switching to GNU/Linux when there are extra pressures on you (like delivering a big feature).

Tip 5: Look for alternatives and alternative implementations

When switching over, the ideal situation is that the same software should be available for GNU/Linux. This is becoming more common (and for web applications - like JIRA, Pivotal, Confluence - this is the case by default). However, if this is not the case, then you have a couple of options. Sometimes the alternative solution is preferable even when an "official" version is available (see the Cisco VPN/Skype examples below):

This is it for now and good luck with running GNU/Linux 100% of the time. In addition, if you run into speed bumps, please document it (and hopefully any solutions you found) publicly, so that the next person will have it easier.

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