December 10, 2002

Where, oh where is SAIR?

- by Tina Gasperson -
The SAIR Linux/GNU certification body has been keeping a low profile since it was absorbed into Thomson Learning. Not only that, but Thomson has been tight-lipped about the program - incommunicado. Whether that's due to typical corporate confusion about who's babysitting what, or to a deliberate effort, we're not sure. But a little-known .org has surfaced to rescue SAIR, and it is backed by some biggies who have a stake in the success of getting staff members trained on Linux.The search for SAIR began with a call to Thomson Learning's press contact. They told us to send an email to reply@course.com with our request and it would be "filtered" to the correct person. "Can I have an actual name?" I asked.

"No, we have to decide who is supposed to get it after we receive the email," the Thomson representative said. When pressed, she said that the reason it is so difficult to get in touch with a real person is that they are not sure what they're going to do with SAIR.

NewsForge never received a response to that inquiry. Likewise, it was difficult at first to get a response through the organization that the SAIR website points visitors to: the Linux Professional Group.

"Sair Linux and GNU Certification has moved to Houston, Texas and has been integrated into Linux Professional Group. Linux Professional Group is developing, promoting and managing the SAIR Linux GNU certification. SAIR Linux curriculum is available exclusively through Course Technology, Thomson at 1-800-648-7450 x8269. For all other information and requests, please email us at support@linuxpg.org or call us toll-free at (866) OK-LINUX."

We called the toll-free number and asked for the media relations department.

"I handle that," said the lady who answered the phone. I gave her my spiel, asking for statistics on pass/fail ratios, the number of people certified with SAIR, employment figures, etc. "Oh, I don't have that information," she said. "Let me give you the email address of the president."

"Can you give me his phone number?" I asked, remembering the recent "reply@course.com" snub. She insisted that she could not, but that if I sent my questions in email format to one Bill Patton, that he would respond in a day or so.

Making a mental note that the people who had told me that SAIR was toast were probably right, I took down the email address, formatted the questions, and sent them. Waited over a week for a response; called again and walked through almost exactly the same conversation with the same person. When she got to the part about emailing the president, I called her on it. "OK," she said, "email the questions to me and I will find the answers and get back to you by tomorrow noon."

Lo and behold, I get a phone call at about 5:10pm that same day from Bill Patton, the head man at the mysterious Linux Professional Group, who wants to answer my questions about SAIR.

"We have about 5000 people certified, including Linux Certified Administrators, Linux Certified Professionals, Linux Certified Engineers, and Master Linux Certified Engineers," says Patton. He adds that the pass/fail ratio for the first level exams is 60/40, and the ratio is about 50/50 for the Engineer level exams.

Patton says that the Linux Professional Group was formed at the behest of Thomson, who called Patton because he has been the head of SAIR's steering committee, a group that has included notables such as Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, Bruce Perens, and John Hall. Patton says that SAIR's founder, Tobin Maginnis, is the president emeritis of Linux Professional Group. Of Thomson's seeming inability to deal with SAIR, Patton says they "pushed it the best way they knew how. They didn't have too many people inside who were part of the Open Source community," and hence the confusion over how best to administer the certification body.

Interesting is Patton's assertion that several large corporations have signed on to the Linux Professional Group in hopes of bringing SAIR training and certification to their enterprises in a big way. "We've got people from Fedex, GlaxoSmithKline, HewlettPackard, [and others] helping us develop the courseware and the testing."

Why is SAIR any better than, say, LPI? According to Patton, it's the courseware. LPI justs makes the tests, and it is up to training centers and authors to create training materials. SAIR, by contrast, creates training materials using the same psychometrics and competencies it employs putting together the exams. Pattons says that makes for better training.

SAIR is targetting Fortune 100 and 500 companies that are moving from Unix or Solaris-based systems to Linux, says Patton. "Our test developers are from many corporations that are supporting Linux."

Little information is available about the Linux Professional Group - the website is unfinished and looks too homey to be backed by big corporate bucks. A June 27, 2002 press release calls the Linux Professional Group "a non-profit developer of Linux curriculum, training, and testing, to deliver the official Sair Linux and GNU certification and training materials," but it's apparent that little actual development nas taken place yet, almost six months later.

There are rumors that that other Linux certification body, Linux Professional Institute (LPI), had a problem with Linux Professional Group because the name is just too similar and could be a trademark violation. Patton denies that allegation; he says that he's had many discussions with LPI, but the subject of trademark violation has never come up. He believes the names are not too similar, and that Group and Institute are different enough to clearly delineate the two organizations.

Is there a rivalry between LPI and SAIR? If there is, it goes back at least to 1998, when Tobin Maginnis, Dan York, then president of the BOD of LPI, and Evan Leibovitch, current BOD president, exchanged a little vitriol on the lpi mailing list. Back then, when there was still talk of creating one central certification body for Linux, it was apparent the SAIR camp and the LPI camp weren't ready to work together. There's nothing to indicate they are ready yet, although industry insiders have said that there's a possibility if SAIR were to fall through the cracks at Thomson, LPI would be willing to scoop it up.

SAIR tests are still readily available through Thomson at local training centers around the globe. The tests are downloaded and administered on demand by proctors at the training centers. The average cost to take a SAIR examination is $100.

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