Can open source still be a 3000 stream?
Leading An Offer of an Enterprise Group

Can Linux lead to open doors?

Yesterday we took a peek at what the HP 3000 is facing to remain a player in the open software environment. Training and experience play a big role in making a 3000 customer confident to use software such as perl and PHP with the MPE/iX environment.

Making perl modules install and run as expected can fall short of expectations for 3000 customers. For example, CPAN installation packages, designed to save time for new perl functionality, sometimes don't work, pushing the persistent administrator into manually installing perl packages.

That might seem like a demerit for the 3000, but another perspective is how much of this thrashing is a common part of many an open source odyssey. Yes, the HP 3000's perl fell behind the latest release this summer, when HP's Mark Bixby had to beg off his volunteer updating efforts. But even work with the latest release of an open source standard like RedHat's Linux can become a genuine time-sink.

HP 3000 software developer and entrepreneur David Greer shared an insight with the NewsWire this week about how inscrutable the Linux experience can become. On the other hand, Guy Smith, a 3000 veteran who's built a healthy tech marketing consultancy, reminded us that MPE and IMAGE offered lots of head-scratching in their earlier days, too.

Greer reported:

I’ve been playing with Red Hat Linux ES 3.0. I chose that distro because Dell would ship me a machine with it installed (I was not offered any other options).  I recently needed to update a bunch of Perl stuff and it wasn’t in RPM format.  I lost five hours before I knew it. And I never did get my machine updated the way I wanted. I feel that Linux looks simple on the surface.  When you try and get it to do useful stuff, it sometimes shines and sometimes just sucks a lot of time.

Reports that Linux can be a time-sink and fairly geeky to administer don't encourage the belief the OS is going to step for a lot of 3000 sites — at least not in the present state of these Linux "distros." If Linux can suck up five hours at a crack from a developer with Greer's pedigree, I shudder to think what less-experienced computer administrators might require to keep Linux in good shape.

Not so fast, Smith said in a message he shared with the NewsWire. Linux isn't any more complex than the 3000 in its worst spots:

The amount of time required is variable on (a) the tool being managed, (b) the common wrappers around the tool and (c) the education of the administrator.

MPE had plenty of mystical and mind numbing oddities that required an admin to tinker about.  And when new features were introduced (networking, Posix, etc.) we all slammed our collective foreheads into our desks.

Linux is no different.  And the amount of pain is reduced mainly via (a) directed education (we all went off to HP’s classes at some point, or at least spent hours upon hours updating and reading those paper binders) and (b) the wrapper.

I have SUSE Linux 9.x running here.  SUSE continues to add more and more admin GUI functionality to the product.  There are not many common tasks that a server admin needs to do that are not supported for the command line-shy.

The tradeoff in IT (especially larger enterprises) has been between talent and performance.  IT gets a long of bang for the buck using Linux, and needs to spend the same (or maybe a little less) on Linux training.

As for that perl problem that sparked Greer's comment, Smith said "the real problem is when you step outside of the tidy CPAN world. Rarely does using CPAN cause problems, but hand-installing perl modules can. Again, education proceeds success."

So perhaps Linux can open some open source doors. But it's no different than any other enterprise contender: It needs IT pros trained in its nuances to ensure success.