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`Our goal is for Oxford to become the center of Linux knowledge,` founder says

Sair Linux training eyes on growth

OXFORD — It seems like the last couple of years have been choked with news of spectacular “happenings” of Mississippi businesses.

Arguably no company in Mississippi has had more news to tell recently than Sair Linux and GNU Certification, which creates, sells and distributes the Linux computer operating system, as well as exams, training manuals and technical textbooks on Linux (pronounced “LIH-nucks”). Activities included launching a Web site, bringing on a local marketing firm, development of a business plan, forming strategic partnerships and alliances, publishing textbooks and an acquisition.

The earliest roots of Sair Linux go all the way back in PC prehistory to 1969. That year a group with Bell Labs started work on a computer operating system they called “Unix.”Over its formative years, Unix stayed within the confines of Bell Labs until 1976 when it released Version 6 Unix and gained popularity especially among universities.

In 1978, Dr. Tobin Maginnis arrived on the campus of the University of Mississippi and began teaching computer science. (Maginnis remains an associate professor at Ole Miss.) Maginnis pioneered one of the first general purpose computer network file transfer programs. He also did some observing.

“I watched my students, and saw the psychological power of the systems they were using,” he said. “But over time, I also saw how difficult they became to use and some confusion and frustration.”

In 1991, Maginnis established Sair Inc. to provide tailor-made programs to business and industry, institutions and organizations, finding customers in entities such as Kraft General Foods and Arthur Andersen. Four years later Sair Inc. began utilizing Linux as a fire wall and network server, and Maginnis incorporated it into his curriculum.

Linux was created by a group of students and professionals led by Linux Torvalds with the goal of developing a Unix-like operating system. And the system would be open source, meaning that the source code for the system was given to the operator to use as he wants. Today, Linux is not one operating system, but a whole family with a common origin to Unix.

“The superiority of Linux can be summed up in one word — control,” Maginnis said. “As with all open source operating systems, users can upgrade or improve their system as they want. They are not limited by the system. They have total control over it and what they want it to do for them.”

In 1997, classroom discussion raised a question — Is there a certification program for Linux similar to those for other systems? Maginnis did some research and found his answer — no.

In August 1998, Maginnis launched a Web Site (www.linuxcertification.com) to help develop a Linux certification program by gleaning information from users. Using this data, Maginnis created a Linux knowledge matrix by putting the four primary system uses in columns and four packages in rows. Where these intersected, three levels of proficiency were established, with a fourth level incorporating the aforementioned three levels along with a comprehensive written, oral and hands-on test. The world had its first Linux certification program.

In January 1999, Sair recruited Oxford-based Vision Creek Enterprises Inc., a marketing and business development company, to assist in developing strategic partnerships, relationships with corporate training and testing centers, capitalization and other business needs and services.

The move proved prudent. In April 1999, Sylvan Prometric was awarded a contract to offer Sair Linux and GNU Certification exams. The following month, Sair partnered with John Wiley & Sons Publishers to produce test preparation guides.

In November 1999, Sair finalized a partnership with Compaq to provide training and certification materials to Compaq personnel globally. That same month, Sair signed an agreement with New Horizons Corp. to offer Sair training worldwide, as well.

And all of this was followed just last month by the announcement that Sair Linux and GNU Certification had been acquired by Wave Technologies International Inc. (NASDAQ: WAVT), a worldwide information technologies certification training and development firm. Sair Linux now functions as a subsidiary of Wave Technologies, benefiting from Wave’s brand name recognition and acceptance worldwide.

Far from through, Maginnis said future plans include more guidebooks with accompanying training manuals, establishing workshops and endowed scholarships and using Ole Miss and its Croft Institute to explore the somewhat fuzzy world of intellectual property.

“Our goal is for Oxford to become the center of Linux knowledge,” Maginnis said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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