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Sysadmin blog Asking a Windows administrator to give Linux a chance as a server operating system is doubly difficult. To a Windows admin, the Linux world is a hostile place, a collection of dozens of different operating systems sharing the same basic kernel.

So then a junior sysadmin will often turn to the internet for help. Posting on forums, in IRC channels or simply doing a Google search for your Linux problems can be the most disheartening experience in systems administration.

The Linux community is hostile to newcomers.

Veterans frequently respond to questions by pointing rookies at a dense and difficult to understand man page or responding to any requests with a snarky “let me Google that for you.”

Learning to administer a new operating system is intimidating. We are expected to combine home experimentation, job experience and vendor certifications to get any real understanding of how operating systems, applications and devices work. With a few exceptions, education programs provide little more than a cursory overview of operating system admin. Major strains of Linux place files in different locations, use different configurations for fundamental tools and are based on different package managers. Many of the skills learned in one major strain will port to another; but coming to grips with the differences is not easy.

How can we take greenhorn Windows admins and get them comfortable enough with Linux to see production deployment in their environments? My answer to the shock of Linux fragmentation is Webmin.

Webmin is a web-based configuration tool for Linux. You install it using whatever package manager is appropriate for your strain of Linux. Drop the firewall for just long enough to go here. Go to Network, Linux Firewall, create a firewall rule allowing port 10000 to communicate with your administration computer and turn the firewall back on.

Once set up, all of the critical elements required to administer any Linux system are available to you. You can adjust the network or firewall configuration, manage partitions or run updates using the native package manager of your distribution. There are modules for most major applications. You can load third-party modules for any project that chooses to code one.

Webmin abstracts the differences of the distributions from one another. You can have virtual appliances or file servers running Debian, RedHat or SuSE and, as long as they have Webmin installed, it doesn’t matter: Webmin provides a common administrative interface to all of them. No need to ask yourself which distribution, package, text editor or what-have-you is better suited to the task. Thanks to Webmin, Linux is Linux is Linux; leave the differentiation and infighting to someone else.

To enjoy the bountiful harvest of functionality that Linux provides, you must overcome the fear of its differences. Webmin is an excellent solution to this problem. And once you’ve become familiar with it on Linux, Webmin supports Solaris and Windows as well. ®

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