The Unofficial 5-Step Guide to Keeping Up With Linux
Keeping up with Linux is a time-consuming endeavor. Linux is frequently changing, and it's so large and widely used that it is nearly impossible to keep up with all the evolution. With open source communities come power, productivity and efficiency; so much that it is difficult to know what is happening.
Keeping pace with a speeding penguin is no simple task. Learn where to find the latest info to stay current with this constantly evolving operating system environment.
This article will illustrate you five ways you can keep up to speed with various aspects of Linux. Linux means different things to different people. There are Linux desktops in the home, Linux servers, Linux software development, Web servers on Linux, mainframes running Linux and the interesting business aspects of Linux. We will try to cover the spectrum.
Linux User Groups (LUGs) are an excellent resource. Topics on these mailing lists or group meetings generally range from home desktop use to scripting and enterprise Linux issues. Most Linux professionals, be they developers or sys admins, tend to frequent their local LUG mailing list. For the systems administrator, the high ratio of non-enterprise chatter can get frustrating at times, but most LUG groups have just enough to keep the sys admins around and interested. You can actually learn interesting things from reading about (or helping) desktop users, though it may not me immediately obvious at the time.
There are currently 247 Linux User Groups listed for the United States at http://www.linux.org/groups. Chances are, you have googled for an error message or problem and landed on a LUG mailing list archive at least once in recent times.
Official Mailing Lists
If you're interested in Linux development, you'll find the Mailing Lists page at linux.org very helpful. The most popular list is probably the linux-kernel list, also known as the LKML, which is for general kernel discussion. People submit bug fix patches and questions, and partake in heated discussions about the general direction of the Linux kernel here. There are also other mailing lists for nearly every Linux topic you can think of.
It has been said that for every one person that actively posts to the LKML, there are probably another 1,000 people or more silently reading and absorbing the information without actually participating themselves (AKA "lurking"). Learning about how the kernel is progressing and being exposed to the difficult design decisions that kernel hackers make allows a Linux sys admin or developer to make well-informed decisions about how to apply the technology. It may be terse and difficult to understand at first, but it's well worth the time investment to become more familiar with how Linux actually works.
DistroWatch has been tracking news and statistics about Linux distributions since 2001. The site is an excellent resource for both news and research. When a new version of a Linux distribution is released, DistroWatch will post screenshots and a summary of the new features or important bug fixes that accompany the release.
As far as research goes, DistroWatch is the premier source of up-to-date information about Linux distributions. You can find out exactly what package versions of common GNU software is installed, and it even shows you what versions came with which release of the distro. This is very useful if, for example, you must run a server that to be supported by vendor software requires exactly PostgreSQL version 8.2.4.
You can also use DistroWatch to quickly find out the "vital statistics" about a particular Linux distribution. Things such as processor architectures and file systems that a distribution support are not always the easiest to find, but DistroWatch makes it easy.
For Enterprise Distros
For enterprise Linux customers, such as RHEL and SLES, there are specific resources that you want to be aware of. These fall into the category of vendor- or distro-specific information, so the same thing applies for other distros as well. If you're an Ubuntu fan, you'll probably want to frequent the popular forums, for example.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or RHEL as everyone calls it, is the most popular enterprise-ready Linux version. The RHEL resource center is surprisingly quite useful. You will find links to many resources: documentation, articles, forums, and even sales pitches (it is a business, after all). One can't-miss resource is the Red Hat Magazine. Red Hat Magazine is full of articles that explain new features, provide insightful hints for dealing with common issues, and keep you current on all things RHEL-related.
Many RHEL and CentOS (the free version of RHEL) users also run Fedora Desktop on their workstations. Features generally make it into Fedora much sooner than RHEL, so this is a good place to try out technologies before they’re available in RHEL. Keeping current with Fedora's direction also enables you to know what’s coming up in RHEL.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, or SLES, is Novell’s offering in the enterprise market. The free counterpart is OpenSUSE. There are not many great resources for SLES aside from the Novell forums, but OpenSUSE forums and mailing lists are just as useful, for most topics.
The great part about these open source but commercial distros is that the free counterparts generally have mostly the same software. CentOS, for example, has everything RHEL does, excluding the trademarked logos and maybe one or two binary-only packages. OpenSUSE is similar, which means that asking questions and participating in the larger free version communities makes sense even if you’re using the commercial versions.
Blogs, of Course
Everyone blogs these days, even Linus Torvalds. Whether you’re needing to know what the CEO of Red Hat ate for lunch, why the Linux kernel release was delayed, or what Ubuntu is planning next, blogs from the key people are an ideal source. They often contain personal and anecdotal information as well, which adds a bit of humanity to the luminaries or faceless corporate logos.
If you want just quick facts, blogs are probably best avoided. For that appetite, RSS feeds of most previously mentioned resources should provide sustenance.
When he's not writing for Enterprise Networking Planet, where this article originally appeared, Charlie Schluting is the Associate Director of Computing Infrastructure at Portland State University.