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Consulting FAQ

Bobcat Open Systems is a company dedicated to solving your computing and networking problems using "open-source" or GPL-ed operating systems, applications, and tools.

Why "open-source"?

What are the advantages?

What are the disadvantages?

Do you do custom software?

Can I replace my servers?

Do I have to convert my whole office?

Is anyone else doing this?

What's your experience?

How do I get started?

I'd really rather do it myself.

Open Source

"Open source" means that some entity holds the copyright to the source, but it is open to inspection, and to some extent, modification by others than the copyright holder. If the copyright holder goes belly-up, you can still fix or modify the source code, recompile it, and continue to use the software.


"GPL" refers to the General Public License (sometimes called a "copyleft") which means that anyone can sell, rent, or give away some given software, but they must provide the user, on request, the source code for it. Further, the user can similarly modify the code, and sell or give it away, but they must also provide the source code.

Why should I care?

What this means for you is that such software tends to get bugs fixed sooner, and in the hands of the user, usually at no additional cost, than with commercial software. In general, most such software is freely available (no restrictive licensing), costing little more than the price of the media and shipping. In fact, I can install the latest version of Linux (the operating system), a suitable windowing system, and a suite of applications and tools on your computer(s) without violating any licensing restrictions.

With commercial software, you pay up front for a license to install the software on one or more computers, and that may include some limited customer support, but not usually for long. Bug fixes are usually part of the next version of the software, assuming the seller owns up to the bugs. And, of course, the next version upgrade will usually cost more money.

Ok, so what is your angle?

What we are selling is our expertise in installing and using Unix (Linux is a variant of Unix) and the associated applications and tools. We charge by the hour or by the project, depending on the customer's needs.

What do I gain?

  • Lower upgrade costs, and usually lower installation costs.
  • Freedom from the threat of viruses.
  • No more "blue screens" or spontaneous or "therapeutic" reboots. You need to reboot only for an operating system kernel update.
  • Choice of a wide variety of window managers.

Ok, I'm interested, but be honest. What's the downside?

You may not be able to replace some of your specialized applications that are designed to run on the Windows OS. But most Linux distributions come with several word processors, spreadsheets, web browsers, and email applications. There's even a freeware work-alike for Quicken. Also most Linux distributions come with a Windows emulator that may well load and run your Windows application. But, if you must have your Microsoft-based application, you can set up the computer to have both Windows and Linux installed, so that you can either boot to one OS or the other, or you can install a commercial product, VMware, to allow both OSs to run simultaneously.

Do you do custom software?

We certainly do, as long as it's for a Unix or Linux platform. At the risk of overworking a phrase, "We don't do Windows." We work primarily in C and Perl (and Perl/CGI, Perl/Tk, and Perl/DBI).

I take it I can replace Windows on most of my workstations. How about my:
mail server?

Yes. Most Linux distributions include services for incoming and outgoing mail, using Sendmail or Postfix for SMTP, and servers for both POP3 and IMAP.

file server?

Yes. There is the standard NFS server as well as an SMB server that emulates an NT server.

web server?

Absolutely. The de facto standard of web servers is Apache, and is in use in more than half of the web servers in the world. This system, of course, is using Apache. If you are serving up HTML, CGI, PHP, or Java, Apache will handle it just fine. If you are doing ASP or some other proprietary arrangement, it won't work, but can probably be converted to another (better?) method.

database server?

If you are running Oracle, Oracle will be happy to sell you a license to run it on Linux. Most other databases will need to be converted to something that runs on Linux like MySQL or PostgreSQL, but that's not rocket science.

Do I have to convert everything in my enterprise?

Absolutely not. You can convert a workstation or one server at a time. As mentioned before, you can add Linux to an existing Windows workstation so you can work either alternately, or back out if you change your mind. Most linux-based word processors, for instance, can import and export .doc and .docx files.

Well, you're biased. Does anyone else think Linux is that great?

IBM has thrown their marketing power behind Linux, and, in fact, has ported Linux to their "big iron" mainframe computers, and ported their big-time database application, DB2, to Linux.

Oracle has started to convert all of their corporate computing to Linux, and heavily supports Linux.

You're familiar with the Google search site? It's all Linux servers.

The US Postal Service is converting all its office computing to Linux.

What's your experience level with Linux and Unix?

I've been doing Unix-based projects as a contractor since 1992. One of my most recent projects was to port a major application from HP-UX (Hewlett-Packard's variant of Unix) to Solaris (Sun's Unix) and Linux. I've been running Linux since 1997, and currently have six machines running Linux, including my workstation, my notebook, and our company's web/mail servers, file server, and firewall.

For a comprehensive listing of my qualifications and accomplishments, see my resume.

I'm interested. How do I get started?

Give us a call at 800-929-5513, and let's have a chat about your needs and what we can provide. The initial consultation is free. Email also works. See the links at the top of this page

I'd really rather do it myself.

Ok, you may well be able to handle it. Here are some helpful resources.


Linux distributions

Q. What Linux distribution do you recommend?

A. If you are new to Linux and coming from a Windows background, I understand that Ubuntu is very friendly to Windows users.

That said, the bulk of my experience is with Red Hat and its derivatives, CentOS and Fedora. Red Hat is a commercial product that you buy or download and install, but you must buy a support subscription to get updates or telephone support. Many businesses feel more secure with this kind of product, especially if their IT people are not well experienced in Linux. Minor version upgrades come out about every 18 months, and major version upgrades every few years. Red Hat is very stable and will work on nearly all hardware.

CentOS is nearly identical to Red Hat, derived from the same software base with only the product branding changed. CentOS is entirely free including updates, but there is no company support, so is more suitable for companies or individuals with more experience with Linux, or who contract with a consultant like us to support them. Version upgrades closely follow Red Hat.

Fedora is the cutting-edge testbed whose features eventually make it into Red Hat/CentOS distributions. For instance, Red Hat v4 was based on Fedora Core 3, Red Hat v5 was based on Fedora 6, and Red Hat v6 is based on Fedora 12. Fedora upgrades come out about every six months, so is probably not suitable for server use unless you like changing software often.

So which one? All of my servers and my clients' servers are running Red Hat or CentOS. My own workstation, however is Fedora because I like the latest and greatest, and there's a greater variety of software in Fedora than Red Hat/CentOS, and I don't mind the frequent upgrades as long as it's just one machine.

Text vs. GUI login

Q. I don't want a GUI login screen, just plain text. Where is that determined?

A. In /etc/inittab. There is a line that says


Use an editor (vi or nano or emacs) to edit that file and change the "5" to "3", then save and exit the editor. Then either reboot or

telinit q

The 3 and 5 are called runlevels. Here are the runlevels supported in Red Hat/CentOS/Fedora Linux:

0 - halt
1 - single user (maintenance)
2 - multi-user, minimal networking
3 - multi-user, full networking
4 - not used
5 - multi-user, full networking, X login
6 - reboot

Once you are in runlevel 3, you can bring up an X session with startx.

Connecting to your Linux box.

Q. I can't telnet or ftp to my Linux machine from another machine.

A. That is a Good Thing(tm). See the discussion of security.


Q. What should I back up, and how?

A. I recommend backing up /etc/ (your configuration files), /root/ (if you have anything important in there), /var/ (spools and other configuration things), and /home/ (arguably the most important). I consider the system stuff restorable from the distribution disks. I also have a /u partition, but I consider everything in there as replaceable or expendable.

I have a separate hard drive installed in my workstation and file server that is dedicated to backups. Early on Sunday morning an automated process does a full backup of the above-mentioned directories to the backup drive, and then I burn the backups to DVDs and move the disks to a storage building. The rest of the days of the week, the process backs up only the files that have changed since the Sunday backup. If you want anything more sophisticated, I recommend Amanda

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