Linuxconf is not the first project targeting linux
administration. Probably not the last. The principle behind it
is the key to its difference.
The basic principle comes down to this: The quick and easy way
won't do it, be prepared for a major undertaking.
The basic principle comes down to this: The quick and easy way won't do it, be prepared for a major undertaking.
Availability of good admin tools for Unix/Linux has always been a problem and has always been a show stopper for most Unix new user/admin/whatever.
Here is a talk about this. This is fairly generalized and we put everything in the same bag. There are exceptions to all this, but we pretty feel this describes the general state of affair. Comments are welcome.
This talk is merely an enumeration of bad things and later we present how Linuxconf tackles the task of fixing this.
Administration tools so far available are user interfaces to manage configuration files. This is true for all OSs. This is true for Unixes and this is true for Windows and friends. While some administration package are nicer (good looking) than others and some manage more things than others, all these tools are this: User interfaces.
In the Unix world, it looks like this task was never too much took too seriously. We put this on the fact that the market was not much mass market oriented. This is the polite statement. The truth is "Poor marketing". See the "When too much is not enough" section below for a smaller scale example of the concept.
So in Unix, the promises for better administration tools were generally not kept. Even if the market was crying for this for several years, even if everybody was claiming that Unix was difficult to administer and this was giving a hard time to marketing people, not much was done. After providing a tool to create user accounts and potentially configuring the printer, it seems that the efforts were stopped.
Sure enough this is over-simplification. Some admin tools found on some Unixes are not so limited: HPUX can do many things, even configure UUCP, but forget about sendmail, DNS, filesystems, ...
Most admin project on linux (at least) have started around this concept. Just pick a cute user interface tool kit, tcl/tk for example, and do some screens, some validation and this is it.
Unfortunately, providing quality, robustness and many other features required by an administration system is not simple. This is a large software project. Which programming tool you pick is debatable but not the issue: Be prepared for a large project. Linuxconf scores now at 40,000 lines of C++ code. Again, most admin project were started with a limited target (configuring one thing and see if something else may fit there).
Many software packages available for Linux are so flexible, so powerful, have so many options, have so much documentation available that in the end, they are almost worthless to many users. This is true especially if the default configuration delivered with the installation is not meant to be used directly.
The best example we have is Sendmail. While Sendmail is the undisputed standard for sending mail over the internet, you will find many people so much frustrated by Sendmail that they claim loud and clear that one is lucky if he manages to send email with it !!!!
This is a state of affair for a proven standard which has been around for many years. Just imagine how fast an unknown package with many many features and a sophisticated configuration file will be thrown away by new administrators.
On most Unix system, the sendmail.cf comes from god. Some unixes deliver two preset sendmail.cf depending of the type of workstation you have (Satellite or mail server) and that's it. We all know how those sendmail.cf were done: Either by playing by hand, or by using the generation utility available in the latest Sendmail sources.
Those Sendmail.cf are generally highly documented (full of comments). They generally have so much comments, that the user has to skip several pages of text just to find the options he wants.
Without a user interface to guide people around those features, they just won't look and jump on anything (potentially no that good) which provide some dialogs. Bye bye Sendmail.
(And let the user read the man page if he needs more)
To activate the IPX network(configure the interface only) on linux, on most systems (Client systems), just execute the following command
This is really enough for most linux workstation. So a user interface to control this could be done this way.
Enable [ ] IPX networking Autoconfigure ( ) primary Autoconfigure ( ) interfaces frame types
The idea is simple: If you have features, why not show them and provide simple defaults at the user interface level. This is a marketing operation: Show what you can do. People are always happy or impressed when they owned a car doing 200 MPH (320 km/h) even if law prohibits speeds above 55 MPH in some places. Sure enough this is not quick and easy and be prepared for major undertaking.
You need to show the features. The sad things about linux is that is has so many. Don't be shy. Show the new user that his system can do many many things if needed.
We bet that most linux user do not know that they have a working POP server and ftp server on their workstation. Most simply don't know that ftpd do have many features: It just work and this is it. (On a sad note, Linuxconf is still not touching this ... yet).
Microsoft product are not as flexible and the only user interface is the graphical one. This is a problem in Unix because doing just the graphical one pretty limit the usefulness of the administration tool. We have chosen to provide different user interface for Linuxconf in that order:
This is the universal one. It is available from a telnet or on the console or whatever. Further, this is the only one available at boot time and Linuxconf is fully operational to configure the system. This interface was needed first.
The general state of affair about system administration is that most user don't manage their workstation (or barely). An administrator or technical guy generally do the low level tasks such as installing and configuring new software, setting up the network and so on. This is true for all OSs. Remote management has always be a strong point of Unix (everything can be done using a telnet): The HTML interface make this much more appealing.
This is not done at this point (Although many prototypes have been done). It will probably work with tcl/tk.
Linuxconf is expected to enter new fields of administration. We call it "personal administration". A GUI is really needed to better fit the desktop. While the HTML interface is nice, the HTTP protocol is not carrying user id so it is difficult to use proper default based on the user id. A GUI version of Linuxconf would be much nicer to use.
It is also expected that some functionality of Linuxconf will only be available with this interface.
An admin tool must use the same kind of concept/interface across the board. It must potentially be boring.
Linuxconf is an activator and in some way a validator.
Linuxconf locate (/etc/resolv.conf) the DNS and send a request to it. It waits 4 seconds to get a reply (The answer is known locally by any DNS so the reply should be fast). If the reply is not coming then Linuxconf offers you to abort the network activation/probing since good DNS connectivity is key to proper networking activation (Server activation generally).
This is the kind of test and inspection that Linuxconf is already doing. We believe that the amount of tests will grow in the future.
At this point, we would say that doing this project was more like
Somebody has to do it, this is a pain to do, this is needed, somebody has to do it ... and it sounds like we will do it :-(
Then we saw the lights. We saw that many features of Sendmail were really not known very well. All of a sudden we were working for the marketing section of Linux (Virtual section) and not the system section anymore. Changing hats, we realized that Sendmail was not a pain anymore but indeed Sendmail was a salesman dream.
Most marketing people and salesman are always asking for features. Features, we need more features, to differentiate ourselves from the competition. More features, more ...
Sendmail is so configurable that you can invent features. The Complex user routing of Linuxconf (see the menu networking/Mail delivery system of Linuxconf) is one key feature which come very handy to handle the new requirements of the virtual web hosting business. This is the 200mph argument. When building a mail server, this is good to know that under the hood, there is something to achieve a lot of tricks if needed, things like
Seen this way, Linuxconf is now a very exciting project.
Linuxconf is now a powerful framework to integrate new systems. With so many systems already managed by Linuxconf, plenty of examples are there to teach how new systems should be integrated.
If you are looking to do a configuration utility for your package you may want to talk to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) about it. We have always said that it won't be easy. Doing it in Linuxconf is easier though :-)