Specialized remote system maintenance tools are most useful when you want a dedicated and easy-to-use interface for administering a system from a distance. These tools can also be used locally ”Linuxconf has both local and Web-based interfaces, but any of these tools' Web-based interfaces may be accessed from the local computer. In fact, the main aspect of these tools' utility lies in their easy-to-use interfaces rather than in their remote access features. Conventional text-based and even GUI administrative tools can be used remotely via remote login protocols like those discussed in Chapter 13, Maintaining Remote Login Servers, and Chapter 14, Handling GUI Access with X and VNC Servers.
Many new Linux administrators find traditional text-based administration intimidating, so GUI administrative tools, including those discussed in this chapter, can help them handle a Linux system. Even experienced system administrators can benefit from such tools when configuring specific systems, since few administrators fully understand every detail of every subsystem on a Linux computer. Ideally, these tools can help prevent misconfiguration by eliminating the possibility of entering typos in critical configuration files and catching certain types of improper configurations. In practice, it's still possible to misconfigure a system using a GUI or remote administration tool, so you should still exercise caution when you use such a tool. Ultimately, a good understanding of the subsystem you're configuring and its interactions with related subsystems will help you more than any GUI administrative tool.
Two of the tools discussed in this chapter, Linuxconf and Webmin, are designed as general-purpose tools to administer many different subsystems. As such, they can be good for configuring the system in broad strokes, but they lack the features needed to handle the more subtle aspects of many complex subsystems. A few of these subsystems support their own specialized administrative tools. Samba's SWAT is one such tool; there's very little you can do by editing Samba's configuration file manually that you can't do with SWAT. As a Samba-specific tool, though, SWAT isn't useful for administering non-Samba features of a Linux system.
All of the remote administration tools described in this chapter operate using HTTP (Web) protocols. Thus, you access these tools using a Web browser. By default, these tools don't work on a standard Web server port, so you can use them even if the system also runs a Web server. You must remember the port number and include it as part of the URL, as described in the following sections for each tool.