In a previous post I had discussed whether the average lawyer could install the software for an Ubuntu Linux server. My concern then was that he or she would have trouble completing the installation and configuration of the system because the software installs without a GUI and leaves you at a command prompt. This is for security reasons. I had said that there are ways to add a GUI to simplify the process, and that I would look into that and get back to you. After looking into it, I have changed my mind on how this should be done, but not whether the average lawyer can handle it.

Ubuntu server does not install with a GUI for two reasons: 1) it presents increased security risks; and 2) the preferred and recommended way to configure and maintain a Linux server is to log on remotely from a workstation and either use a command line terminal window or the workstation’s own GUI. After installing the server software on an old desktop, I decided to use my Linux laptop as a workstation and set up a mini network between the two machines using an old router and some cabling. It was then that the fun began.

With help from a Linux book and the Ubuntu Linux Forums, I figured out, after a bit of frustration, how to 1) access the server’s files through Nautilus (Linux’s answer to Windows Explorer); and 2) log onto the server remotely. The former was a bit involved, as I had to know the IP address for the server and what connection option to choose (SSH) from the Connect to Server app I launched from the Places menu in Linux. Once I was connected, however, I was able to move around the file system on the server, accessing files with apps on the workstation. The latter was more complicated and involved more research in my book and online, but once I had the answer the procedure was simple: I launched the Terminal app and typed this at the command prompt:

ssh [server IP address]

The server asked for my password and, once entered, I was in, able to work at the server from my workstation. Naturally, this process is not intuitive to the average Windows-using lawyer. It also left me at the same command prompt I had trouble with as of my last post.

I then connected it to my home network to see if I could access the server files from my Windows machines (which is the ultimate goal in this scenario). I found it through a Search for Computer in the My Network Places window. However, once I found it, I saw that the only things that were “shared” on that machine were any printers or fax modems attached to it. There were no files. Ironically enough, I could access shared files on my Windows desktop from my Linux desktop without a problem.

So now I have a Linux server attached to my network but no way of accessing files on it from my Windows machines without configuring a server app called SAMBA, which handles the translation work for file transfers between Windows and Linux. This also does not solve the issue of setting up a server account for the members of your staff (or other lawyers, if you aren’t a solo), which is fairly simple and straightforward once you know how, but far from intuitive for the Windows user. For these reasons, I cannot see the average lawyer installing and configuring a Linux server for their office, although having a Linux server is something I recommend. On the other hand, a knowledgeable Linux consultant can do it without much trouble, and you will have an inexpensive, stable, secure, and versatile server in your office. It is certainly worth looking into. As for SAMBA and the other issues, I am continuing to work on it for myself and will post on it in the future for those of you intrepid enough to be up to the challenge.