Home Page


Notes on Linux Training
By Thiravudh Khoman

I'm a firm believer in the future of Linux (not to mention its present!), and after playing around with Linux for over a year, I decided that I should finally get serious. I had preached the Linux gospel to my friend Petch on many occasions and had even invited him to attend a few TLUG (Thailand Linux Users Group) meetings at Kasetsart University. Thus, it didn't take much prodding to convince him to join me for five days of Linux training at NECTEC (The National Electronics and Computer Technology Center).

Actually, the courses weren't taught by NECTEC but by the staff of Kaiwal Software, a company best known for its Thai distribution of Linux, "KW Linux". Kaiwal offers three courses:

  • Linux Fundamentals (2 days)
  • System and Network Administration for Linux (3 days)
  • Linux Software Developer (3 days)

For more information, check out Kaiwal's website (mostly in Thai) at https://www.kaiwal.com.

Actually, NECTEC offers Linux courses as well, being:

  • Unix/Linux Desktop Users (3 days)
  • Unix/Linux Installation and Administration (3 days)
  • Unix/Linux Internet Server (4 days)

For more information, check out NECTEC's training pages (again, mostly in Thai) at https://www.ite.nectec.or.th, or drop in at their offices on the 21st floor of the Thai Gypsum Building at the intersection of Sri Ayudhya and Ratchaprarob Roads.

The Kaiwal courses were taught in Thai and it is my guess that NECTEC's are as well (a NECTEC Linux course was being taught concurrently to Rajabhat staff in another room - in Thai). Whether English language courses are available is uncertain, but it's probably not very likely, except under very special arrangements.

Course: Linux Fundamentals

Petch and I only attended the first two Kaiwal courses. "Linux Fundamentals", as the name suggests, provides an introduction to Linux. It is suited for people seeking a hands-on experience with Linux and is a definite prerequisite to the more advanced courses. My guess is that many of the people who attended were not hardcore IT personnel (probably ditto with the Rajabhat course), but rather attended to gain some familiarity with Linux.

As someone who has worked in both IT and Human Resources, I'm of two minds about this. Training someone for something he/she may never use is hardly cost-effective and provides only marginal benefits as the skills learned will gradually be lost (albeit not entirely). On the other hand, the greater the exposure Linux receives, the easier it will be to implement it on a wider scale. At the very least, seeing and using Linux in person may dispel many of the myths surrounding Linux (especially its difficulty of use). But on the other hand, it may reinforce some of those beliefs as well.

NECTEC's facilities are excellent. There are numerous training rooms with rows and rows of computers with Pentium II CPU's and 64mb RAM, fully networked, a gateway to the Internet, large screen projectors, etc. Unfortunately, as it soon became clear, the computers weren't 100% Linux compatible due to their Winfast 3D display cards. While a workaround was available, this was a source of some instability for some people throughout the course.

After a brief introduction to the history of Linux, the current kernel versions, and the different distributions of Linux, the attendees were quickly thrown into the "deep end of the pool"; i.e. they were asked to install Linux on their computers. I've done this several dozen times before, including the KW Linux v3.0 that was provided free to all attendees, and except for the display card bug-a-boo, I believe most people found this exercise not too difficult (especially given that Kaiwal's excellent manual provided a step-by-step script). Although an accomplished computerist, Petch had never installed Linux before, but by the end of the course had re-installed Linux on his computer several more times and was fiddling with his settings with confidence.

The rest of the course dealt with learning to use the various Linux commands and tools, and ended with an introduction to the X graphical user interface, specifically KDE (The K Desktop Environment). For people used to Windows, Linux possesses certain conceptual differences given that it is a network operating system rather than a single user one like Windows. Thus, tasks like logging in and out, maintaining users, root privileges, permissions, etc. may be bewildering to many people. But perhaps no more difficult than a Windows 9x user coming to grips with Windows NT or a DOS user getting used to a Macintosh. It's simply a different way of doing things, a way which can be mastered with time, practice, perserverance, and an open mind.

Despite these differences, Linux takes great pains to get along with other operating systems. With some Linux know-how under my belt, I opted to use Linux's "joe" editor (a WordStar work-alike) instead of fumbling with "vi". I also used the Midnight Commander file manager, which emulates Norton Comamnder of the DOS world. Meanwhile, the so-called "mtools", allowed me to read and save my notes and sample files to an ordinary DOS-formatted diskette. Finally, there's Samba, which allows Linux and Windows machines to share files and printers under a Windows networking system.

All in all, this was a useful and enjoyable course, one that is well suited to the Linux neophyte. The course was well-paced and most of the difficult subjects were only lightly touched upon. As with a new car, you're only shown the user-operated controls, not the mechanical systems underneath the hood.

Course: System and Network Administration for Linux

Before proceeding, let me state that this is a much, much more difficult course. While I mentioned that the "Linux Fundamentals" course was a prerequisite to the more advanced courses, I believe that attendees need more than that. Without a solid background or at least experience in networking and the Internet, attendees could get lost very quickly. In my opinion, these two courses should NOT be taken consecutively. This was reflected by the fact that there were very few "repeats" from the first course. While Petch and I DID repeat, I had previous experience with about half of the material and had at least read about the other half. Petch found himself quite lost several times, but at least I was there to help him out. (We plan to hold our own refresher course next week.)

The topics covered in this course included the following:

  • DNS server (translates domain names to IP addresses)
  • Apache (web server)
  • Mail servers (sendmail, POP3, fetchmail)
  • DHCP server (automatic assignment of IP addresses)
  • Samba (file/print sharing between Linux and Windows)
  • IP Masquerading (internet gateway)
  • IP Chains (firewall)
  • Squid (proxy server)
  • Webmin (X-based configuration tool)

Only lightly touched upon were FTP (file transfer) and Telnet (remote login), and left out completely was NFS (Network Filing System).

The above list comprises Linux's crown jewels. To run a Linux server or even a single user Linux workstation without running or at least connecting to these applications is to ignore Linux's strengths. You may as well run Windows. Most serious Linux administrators will have to confront this wall of apps sooner or later. Such was my situation. I had managed to get several of the easier apps running on my own, but was stumped by some of the harder apps (DNS, Squid, IP Masquerading, etc.). My objective in taking this course therefore, was to look, listen and learn.

The course's biggest problem was a lack of time. Each app could have easily taken up a whole day on their own. With so many apps to cover (there was clearly a desire to cover all the major ones) and their technical difficulty, everything had to work perfectly to finish in time. Even with a handful of TA's (teaching assistants) to help, there was always a rush to get the apps working on the student computers in order to quickly move on to the next topic.

Overall, I found the course to be quite useful. Invariably, I had to return to my Linux installation at home to spend more time on what I had accomplished (or NOT accomplished) in class. But at least I had seen my "destination" and had obtained "directions" in getting there even if I didn't finish the "journey" in the case of each app. However, I do caution prospective attendees to heed the prerequisites that I had mentioned above. The course's shortcomings notwithstanding, it was clear that the instructors were very knowledgeable and I commend Kaiwal, a tiny software company, for their efforts in spreading the word about Linux. In the future, perhaps the course should be lengthened by at least a day or perhaps chopped up into two shorter courses.

Copyright © 2000, Thiravudh Khoman