If you think Linux is the choice of geeks only, think again. Many of the large software vendors are now shipping Linux versions of their software. In this article I'll take you through some of these product offerings. Be prepared, though: if you're new to this Linux world you're going to find some interesting facts. The majority of vendors are bringing their wares to this new and exciting platform.
Before you can begin to use Linux, you'll need to find a platform on which to run the beast. Contrary to popular belief, you're no longer restricted to the Intel-PC platform. Yes, Linux runs largely on a PC platform, but many other hardware manufacturers have recently been helping the Linux revolution come to their doorstep.
If you have a Sun UltraSPARC, you'll be able to run Linux on it. Although Sun Microsystems doesn't support Linux directly, it did help the team that ported Linux onto the UltraSparc by providing free hardware. For more information visit www.sun.com/software/linux/ultralinux/index.html.
If you run primarily on Solaris, all is not lost if you desperately want to run Linux applications. Sun has embraced the open development project lxrun. This platform sits on top of the Solaris platform and performs various translations on the Linux-Intel executable to allow it to execute without modification. For example, it cites Linux-Quake as an example of this working-with-no-problems. Sun tried such translation layers before with its WABI product, but dropped it from their product line in the summer of 1997. For more information on lxrun visit www.sun.com/software/linux/lxrun/.
IBM, not to be left out, also offers a Linux solution to its Netfinity and X-Series of servers. Unlike Sun, IBM has completely embraced the Linux revolution. The company offers full support from installation and start-up for up to 90 days after you purchase a server. This is very good service, especially as the first steps into the Linux world can be daunting. It's good to know that one of the world's largest computer companies will be there, at the end of a phone, to assist. It's this sort of support that's helping Linux gain ground over many of the alternatives. For more information on the IBM Linux initiative go to www.pc.ibm.com/ww/eserver/xseries/linux/index.html.
If your budget is a little more modest and you don't want to go for either Sun or IBM, one of the world's largest PC manufacturers is
shipping Linux-ready servers. Dell is shipping their range of
PowerEdge servers with full Linux support. For more information visit www.dell.com/us/en/bsd/topics/segtopic_linux_002_linux_center.htm.
You can always convert an old PC to Linux, of course. You'd be surprised at the performance an old P233 will give you with Linux installed.
Whether your Linux system is going to be used as a server or a desktop machine, chances are you'll want to look at a database solution for it. The news in this department is good. The major database vendors haven't left you out in the cold. Take the world's richest database vendor, Oracle. They can now offer you Oracle8i for the Linux platform. Be forewarned, though: to install Oracle you need to have both a Java and Window Manager installed. This is a little shortsighted of Oracle. Many Linux installations that are destined for a server environment don't have the x-windows installed as it just takes up disk space and unnecessary processor cycles. For more information visit http://technet.oracle.com/tech/linux/.
If you're not an Oracle fan, try Ingres from Computer Associates. They're now shipping a beta of their best-selling database for the Linux platform. The good news is that CA is offering support for the beta. Find out about it at www.ca.com/products/betas/ingres_linux/ingres_linux.htm.
Not to leave them out, Sybase is also doing their bit for the Linux platform with their Adaptive Server Enterprise database. Go to www.sybase.com/products/databaseservers/ase/ for more information.
In the original spirit of Linux, there are a number of free databases that are more than up to the job. MySQL is one of the more popular choices and shouldn't be overlooked. Go to www.mysql.com/.
With the database angle covered, let's move on to the next category.
As I hinted at earlier, in the majority of cases Linux will end up running as a server, quite peacefully and undisturbed. Its up time is quite remarkable - in my own experience, once it's up and running you can pretty much forget about it. The majority of the application server vendors have Linux releases and I'll go through a small number of the more popular ones.
Oracle ships its application server for Linux featuring all the functionality that you've come to expect from Oracle's solution. For more information you can read the document at http://technet.oracle.com/tech/linux/htdocs/AppServer_datasheet.pdf.
IBM's WebSphere application server ships on all the major platforms including Linux. WebSphere is a fully featured application server with more functions than you can shake a stick at. Count them at www-4.ibm.com/software/webservers/appserv/.
Silverstream is another major vendor that's begun shipping Linux versions of their application server. More information at www.silverstream.com/website/staticpages/solutions/products/applicationserver/systemrequirements.html.
I have to say that I couldn't find any information on whether or not another well-known application server vendor, BEA Systems, ships their WebLogic application server on Linux. If they do, they keep the information well hidden on their Web site.
Allaire ships their JRun product on Linux in addition to all the other platforms they support. For more information visit www.allaire.com/Products/JRun/.
There's some confusion about whether Sun Microsystems ships their iPlanet server on Linux. If you go to the Sun Web site, they claim they do. However, if you head over to the iPlanet Web site, there's no obvious mention of Linux.
I can't leave a section on application servers and not mention Apache. Apache is probably one of the world's most popular Web servers, thanks largely to its stability, flexibility, and - most of all - its price: it's free! It's well worth checking out at www.apache.org/.
Java Development Kit
Of course, not all Linux installations will end up as servers. Some of you may decide to use them for development and general day-to-day usage. Linux is a good choice for a development platform, and with it - once you've got Java installed - you're well on the way. First thing you need to do is install a JDK.
There are many places you can get a JDK for Linux from. IBM ships a version that always receives favorable reviews and comments. You can find out more about it at www.ibm.com/java/jdk/118/linux/.
Sun Microsystems also ships a Linux version of the JDK. This version is strongly based on the version that Blackdown.org was developing. For more information go to http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.3/download-linux.html.
In my experience the ease of installation and stability has been very impressive. Once installed, you can pretty much forget about it. A number of vendors rely heavily on Java for their installation programs. For example, InstallShield ships an installation program for Java that can run on any Java-enabled platform. As you can imagine, a number of vendors use this tool to deploy their applications on the Linux. So it's important to get a good strong JVM that you can rely on.
The development tools for Linux have moved forward significantly in the last couple of years. Gone are the days of using VI and having to rely on command-line tools. The wondrous world of the IDE has finally arrived on the Linux platform.
Sun Microsystems ships Forté for Java on Linux in addition to its Solaris and Microsoft editions. See www.sun.com/forte/ffj/ce/download.html.
IBM has a very strong IDE in its VisualAge product. They have continued to embrace the Linux community right through to their development tools. For more information go to www-4.ibm.com/software/ad/vajava/vaj35platforms.html.
If, on the other hand, you entrust your development to Borland's JBuilder, you can rest easy. They provide a Linux port of their popular IDE. Go to www.borland.com/jbuilder/jb4/sysreq.html.
Sadly, I could find no information regarding Visual Cafˇ on Linux, but with IBM, Sun, and Borland all shipping Linux versions, you have a lot to choose from. This of course isn't your lot. Many of the smaller IDE vendors also ship Linux incarnations of their products.
If you're thinking of moving away from your familiar MS Windows desktop toward Linux and are concerned over losing some of your more popular desktop utilities, fear not. Granted, Microsoft doesn't offer their Office Suite on Linux, but Sun Microsystems can offer you a compatible alternative through their StarOffice product. Find out about it at www.sun.com/products/staroffice/5.2/get.html.
I've given you a small taste of the offerings from the "big boys" of computing. As you can see, the platform for geeks is no longer confined to the recesses of the hobbyist. The Linux platform offers a cost-effective and flexible solution to the world of computing. The availability of software isn't a problem anymore.
Linux has blown open the doors, with really only Microsoft choosing not to enter. History alone will show whether this is a wise or a strategically suicidal move.
If you are one of the people sitting on a fence about Linux, please - come off it and have a look. It may surprise you.
Ceri Moran is chief technology officer for a Java consultancy company based in the UK. She is responsible for recommending and deploying client projects.