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Caldera Opening Minds with OpenLearning:
by Michelle Head
Caldera Systems has announced that the doors to its OpenLearning school are wide open as of July 31. The educational slate is expected to grandfather in all of Caldera's previous education programs, and is aimed at preparing the student for the Level One certification exam offered by the Linux Professional Institute (LPI).
Caldera's decision to expand its educational offerings came from a sense of the growth of the Linux market and a need for the knowledge of "what Linux is and what it can contribute to an organization," said Shelley Couch, OpenLearning's director. The program is aimed at value-added resellers (VARs), Internet service providers (ISPs), and application service providers (ASPs) as well as IT professionals and consultants, a company release said.
Four types of courses are set up to address a range of users, from IT professionals and would-be instructors to vendors of Linux products to non-Linux related businesses desiring Linux training for their IT employees, according to the OpenLearning nformation page.
The courses are set up to be taught in physical lab settings at all of Caldera's 206 locations, making the courses available "around the globe, throughout the Asia/Pacific region, Latin America and Europe," Couch said. The number of locations is expected to expand as Caldera's incorporation of SCO's professional service division makes additional locations available.
Web-based courseware is expected to become available "in the near future" for OpenLearning's Provider Program, the Associate Provider Program and the Internal Provider Program, Couch continued.
Caldera wants to make it clear that these educational programs are not simply a promotion of its own products, Couch said. "These are vanilla Linux courses. "We want grow the Linux industry by supporting it," she added. "These are vendor-neutral certifications."
Caldera has no designs on supplanting other certification programs with its own, Couch said. "LPI is doing a great job. It is a critical certification," she explained. "We also support the new Linux+ certification offered by CompTIA.
Caldera is interested in growing the entire Linux market."
What Caldera offers instead is proximity. "What sets us apart is that we're taking education to eSPs [e-solutions providers] through OpenLearning Providers worldwide," said Ransom Love, Caldera CEO. "We don't expect people to come to our headquarters for education. Additionally, because our certification courses are industry-standard, we prepare users of any Linux distribution for LPI certification."
Those OpenLearning providers include companies such as Informatics and CompUSA, enabling Caldera to offer locations in such far-flung places as Singapore and South Africa.
While Caldera's classes are currently intended to be distribution-neutral, a Caldera-specific certification is not an impossibility, Couch said. "As Caldera grows, [it] will need specific support. But a Caldera certification would be a compliment or an add-on to an LPI certification."
The three-class certification series of courses is aimed at LPI Level One certification, Couch said. The solution series classes vary from one to two days each and are aimed at systems administrators and technical support personnel. The prerequisite for any solution series class is the two-day Linux Essentials course, she added.
Even though classes have just started and the demand from students is somewhat uneven, Caldera is getting overwhelmingly positive feedback from students about the program, Couch said. "They say it's the best they've ever seen."
A truly distribution-neutral Linux educational program could impact the way businesses and solutions providers fit the OS into their operational plans--and dispel once and for all the myth that personnel trained for Linux business support are few and far between.
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While the X-Men wrestled with super-villains like Magneto onscreen, the film's post-production special effects designers wrestled with computer-generated villainy of another type--but they expect Linux-based assistance soon from SGI, according to Bill Spitzak, lead software designer at special effects shop Digital Domain.
Founded by a team of creative professionals that includes James Cameron (Terminator II, Titanic), Digital Domain is still Cameron's special effects shop of choice--and Twentieth Century Fox, makers of the recent hit movie X-Men, contracted Digital Domain to make their movie magic work as well.
Unfortunately, Digital's work on the film didn't go as smoothly as the movie's effects might indicate. "Unfortunately, Linux wasn't really used for X-Men," Spitzak said. "The renderfarm was switched to [Windows] NT in order to run the LightWave renderer, and since we then ported our in-house stuff to NT as well, they seem reluctant to switch it back."
The fact that Digital's current favorite renderer, LightWave, runs on NT is a source of frustration for Spitzak. "LightWave is really a serious block to using Linux in production," he explained. "Almost every other tool we use is ported to Linux (at least as a rendering engine). The NT renderfarm is really a pain, it talks very slowly to our NFS [network file system] servers and the machines crash so often that usually one-third of them are down, and it takes hours to reboot anything."
While pondering this Linux-NT impasse, Spitzak has been trying to work out a compromise between the two systems. "About 90 percent of the problems were from trying to use NT as a renderfarm. What we really need is reliable command-line UNIX tools that we can run on a renderfarm, perhaps much more than we need desktop Linux. Because of our use of NT desktop machines we would also like to see identical command line tools compiled for NT (we run a tcsh port on NT here). All artists use a tcsh port on NT and we are trying every way to make the NT machines resemble UNIX," he continued.
Spitzak believes that a symbiotic relationship between NT and Linux or UNIX may be possible for the time being. "We also need a common solution to the fact that Microsoft refuses to implement symbolic links, thus making it impossible to have identical namespaces on UNIX and NT (this is obviously on purpose by Microsoft)," he said. "All our in-house software converts filenames between "z:/job/" and "/job/" to get around this, but this does not work for third-party software, and a common solution is needed," he explained.
This compromise, Spitzak said, would require work on both sides of the equation."Conversely, it would be nice if the NT method of accessing remote machines "//machine/blah..." was supported on UNIX without explicit mount points," he explained. "We also need all the software people to make their programs use forward slashes for filenames (which NT supports, by the way). With these sorts of fixes we will make it much easier to run scripts generated on an NT machine on a Linux renderfarm, and I think this is going to be necessary for Linux to be accepted as a renderfarm solution everywhere."
While eager for other solutions, Spitzak isn't holding out for the marriage of LightWave to Linux. "NewTek [LightWave's creator] has stated many times that they will never support anything other than NT (this seems odd as they were once an Amiga company)." Amiga currently has partnerships with companies that run Open Source projects; Sun Microsystems and Corel are two examples of Amiga business partnerships listed on the company's Web site.
Instead, Spitzak sees the Linux cavalry riding in from another direction. "On a brighter note, we are increasingly going to Maya, and that is going to officially support Linux. We are also investigating Linux desktop workstations, though I think we should get the renderfarm to be Linux first."
SGI's subsidiary, Alias/Wavefront, seems ready to answer that distress call. In a July 21 press release the company announced plans to port the entire Maya 3D software product line to Linux.
Maya's movie muscle was demonstrated most recently in Warner Bros. hit film, The Perfect Storm. Company officials said that the move to the Linux OS came in response to demands from special effects professionals that the software be made available to them.
"Customer demand for a Linux version of Maya has driven this development," said Bob Bennett, general manager of the Entertainment Business Unit for Alias/Wavefront. "The technical committee of the Visual Effects Society recently hosted a meeting of leading effects professionals to discuss the importance of Linux to their community. The consensus of the participants was that Linux will be a key operating system (OS) in visual effects work and urged software companies to be more forthcoming in support of Linux. We are responding to that call to action by announcing that Maya will be available on Linux. Our experience with UNIX has made this implementation of Maya both highly efficient and productive."
Spitzak is looking forward to seeing Maya in action at Digital Domain. "I am under the impression that Maya is superior to LightWave in most ways," he said. "Certainly Maya is immensely popular as an NT modeler, so the fact that it runs on UNIX is not the only reason for its success."
While Spitzak does not have hands-on experience with Maya, he awaits the software's availability for Linux, and does not anticipate any trouble pairing the software to the Linux OS. I was at Siggraph [an international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques]. I did get to see Maya running there; Linux, IRIX, and NT versions. They are nearly identical, the same as I have seen for other software ported to Linux from IRIX or NT."
The news of Maya's pending Linux debut comes on the heels of SGI's announcement that the company intends to produce Itanium-friendly servers in anticipation of Intel's Itanium 64-bit processor. While Digital Domain does use SGI's IRIX on approximately 100 of its 600 boxes, Spitzak continues to believe that the more options special effects professionals have, the better. "I think SGI should put some effort into alternative processors. One advantage of Linux is that we should not be forced to use Intel processors only. Despite worries to the contrary, I think even proprietary vendors may keep a machine around to compile for alternative Linux systems."
Spitzak may be right about industry professionals needing more creative options. But new super-powered tools for the technicians that gave Twentieth Century Fox's X-Men their box-office brawn seem to be to the audience's ultimate benefit.
Steve Coile explains how to get the best use out of fonts under Linux in a three-part guide. Coile deals with font scaling, Netscape issues and more, well worth a read!