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Enterprise Unix Roundup: Is Amiga Ready for the Enterprise?

Thursday Mar 18th 2004 by Michael Hall

Novell announced SUSE 9.1 is on the horizon, and Sun revealed plans to make Java Enterprise System available for Red Hat in the next 60 days, while the venerable Amiga operating system changed hands. Could Amiga have what it takes to become the new 'Insurgent Operating System'? For our Unix tip of the week, we dust off Expect, a scripting language that makes automating interactive software sessions a snap.

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We read a few days ago that the Amiga operating system has changed ownership yet again, this time to be brought back as some sort of mobile technology. The deal itself is somewhat old, but we were pleased to note in all the coverage that a new version of the basic operating system is due out some time this year. We couldn't be more relieved, and we intend to make it a point to mention this exciting development at every press party we attend. Why? Because it's high time something besides Linux dons the "alternative OS" mantle.

We're not gamblers (at least, we haven't gambled since losing the last office pool about SCO's next target), but we'd assign good odds that there's not a month that goes by without some Web site or print publication posting a variant on the headline "Linux: Ready for the Enterprise?" This has been going on for, based on our fairly unscientific calculations, well over six years. It was a reasonable question in 1997, a question with mixed answers from 1998 to some time in 2001, but it's just plain silly in 2004. This question then functions as a launch pad for even sillier questions, like: "Wouldn't Linux do better if it had more k-rad games?" or "Wouldn't Linux do better if the installer had mauve buttons?" The answers to these questions are "Only if we're concerned about the CTO's 15-year-old son putting in a good word for Linux at the dinner table," and "No," respectively.

We believe the problem stems from a tech press not dealing well with the fact that although there's always a new raft of point releases and incremental speed increases in software and hardware, the seismic changes that characterized the earlier years of the industry aren't coming as fast. We're stuck in a holding pattern waiting for the Next Revolution to occur. At that point, presumably, we'll accept the idea that Linux, which is conceptually ancient, has enough competent developers and enough useful input from actual enterprise computing experts to make it a safe bet for a lot of the components in that thing we call "the enterprise."

In the meantime, tech editors are clearly stuck in a rut, and promoting Amiga as the new Insurgent Operating SystemTM might be the best way to unstick them. We'll get the ball rolling by pointing out it can run Apache.

In the News

» The timing couldn't be better to help prove our point. Sun this week unveiled plans to make its Java Enterprise System (JES) available for Red Hat in the next 60 days. The company is still pretty insistent that Solaris for x86 is just as good, if not better, than Linux on low-end x86 hardware. However, an obvious comment is being made on the perceived market for Sun's integrated server software running on top of something besides Solaris. AIX, in the meantime, is not getting similar love: Sun says demand for JES on IBM's own Unix isn't there, even as it preps HP/UX and Windows versions.

» Novell late Wednesday announced the release of SUSE Linux 9.1, which the company crows is "the first complete commercial Linux [product] based on the 2.6 kernel." Well, it will be when the product finally becomes something you can actually buy on May 6. Linux 2.6 will be nice for outfits interested in testing or just poking around the new kernel, but we continue to hold firm in our stance that it's all anyone should be doing with the kernel at this stage in its life. More useful to many enterprise users is the news buried toward the bottom of the press release. It notes the inclusion of Samba 3, which provides access to Microsoft Active Directory services. The press release also speaks to the market emphasis of the SUSE Professional and Personal products: More ink was spent talking about the point versions of the included desktop environments, chat clients, and CD burners than anything else.

» IBM also stepped up its Linux support this week. The company announced new incentives for its "Value Networks" program. Value Networks are Big Blue's way of tying a collection of "distributors, resellers, consultants, integrators and ISVs" together to make solution shopping easier on SMBs. If Sun's JES is all about one-stop shopping, IBM's Value Networks are, with apologies to Monty Python, the autonomous collectives of the IBM kingdom, held together less by anarchist goodwill than plain old lucre: IBM partners that qualify as "Leaders for Linux" can qualify for $5,000 in telemarketing from IBM. If a Leader for Linux pushes a solution involving IBM's POWER architecture, there's a $2,500 bump, and if the solution in question is part of a larger Value Network, IBM will chip in $10,000.

» We have to hand it to SCO, even if the company goes down in a firey ball of litigation and ill will, it will have succeeded in stimulating the growth of the Linux Indemnification Industry. Case in point: The recently launched Open Source Risk Management (OSRM) group, which is busily trying to sell litigation insurance to companies concerned they may be next to -- if we may be permitted the introduction of a new verb -- get SCO'd. The insurance will also protect an organization if it were to be sued for something else related to copyrights, patents, or other IP issues.

OSRM walks an awfully fine PR line. On the one hand, the past year of SCO unpleasantness and resulting mushroom patch of legal defense funds has raised questions about just who will stand behind the integrity of open source software. On the other hand, those questions are best framed in a sensitive fashion, lest the person posing them sound like a FUDster. OSRM was wise to get approving grunts from open source figureheads like Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond before proceeding, not to mention its canny decision to hire Groklaw's Pamela Jones as "director of research."

Internetnews.com offers an interesting alternate take on how to react to a visit from the SCO legal team.

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Tips of the Trade

If you've ever needed to automate an application that requires some sort of user input (like telnet or ftp), you know exactly how difficult it is to do so. Shell scripts don't quite cut it, which is where Expect comes in handy.

Expect is based on the Tcl programming language, which is perhaps less well-known now than it was a few years ago, when many introductory guides to assorted "freenixes" included a bit of information about Tcl, and its X Window counterpart Tk, as a way to get users started creating Unix GUIs. Regardless of Tcl's current popularity, Expect can still handle many of the tasks that need user input that you don't care to provide on your own. This includes fairly mundane things like generating a password and assigning it to a given user, or changing a password across multiple hosts on which you might have accounts. Its most common use is probably automating password entry (which makes it a bit of a menace unless users are well familiar with Unix permissions and know how to keep prying eyes from simply reading all of their Expect scripts).

Although it does help to know Tcl, Expect has a pretty simple-to-understand syntax. Here, for example, is a script that automates logging in to a bulletin board system:

#!/usr/bin/expect -f
spawn telnet somehost.somewhere.com
expect "User: "
send "joeblow\r"
expect "Password:"
send "mypassword\r"
expect "Are you on an ANSI color terminal? (Y/N) ->"
send "y"
interact

Line 2 uses "spawn" to launch the telnet program, the "expect" commands on lines three, five, and seven all tell Expect to await specific prompts. Lines four and six send output (followed by \r, which is the same as tapping the return key). The last line, "interact," simply tells Expect to hand over control to the program session until it's exited.

Autoexpect, which is part of the Expect package, acts as something of a macro recorder: It watches an interactive session and composes a working Expect script from what it observes. So even if the idea of learning yet another language makes you twitch, you might be able to get away without learning too much to take advantage of this powerful tool.

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