As I was perusing the Linux forums this morning, I found a thread that was started by someone who was interested in learning about Linux server administration. He mentioned a (ahem!) certain commercial website that specializes in selling Linux training courses. His basic questions were, "Does anyone know anything about this outfit?", and "Are their training courses worth the price?" A few people answered positively, but a few others, who hadn't had any experience with this site, answered with "Why spend the money, when there are lots of free training courses on the Web?" These are all fair questions. Let's see if we can answer them.
It's true, there are lots of free Linux training materials on the Web. Some of them are darn good, too. But, for the most part, these are the results of a labor-of-love, which may mean that their authors may not have time to keep them updated as Linux distros change. (They need to work for a living too, ya' know.) So, you may end up learning out-of-date information. An example--
If you visit the Samba.org web page, you'll see that it links to free books that you can download and print out. These books are quite well-written, and, if you didn't know any better, you'd think that they're just what you need. But, if you know anything at all about Samba, you'll soon see that certain techniques that they tell you about just don't apply anymore.
In the chapter about printing, these books detail a procedure about how to set up a Samba print server. It sounds good, until you realize that the procedure only applies to obsolete print systems that are no longer used by any Linux distros.
In the chapter about setting up shared resources, the author says to use the "share" security mode. That may have been good advice some years ago, but nowadays, proper security measures would dictate that you use "user" security mode, instead.
Then, there's the issue of completeness. Even if the afore-mentioned Samba books were up-to-date and correct, they're still not very complete. To learn more advanced techniques, you'll need to consult other reference materials for each one. You'll probably find that they're not very complete either, and you'll spend a lot of time using the trial-and-error method trying to get everything to work. (Been there, done that. It's not fun.)
And, what if you get stuck and have questions? Sure, you can go to a Linux forum and post the question, and maybe someone will answer. But, then again, maybe not.
As you learn, you'll also need to experiment. You'll need to set things up and see how they work. Do you have a spare machine that you can afford to do that with? If you try it on a real production machine, can you afford to have it down if you make a mistake and screw things up?
Finally, there's the issue of--
How are you best able to learn? Some people can learn well by trying to research and figure things out on their own. Some people don't learn well that way, and require a structured, guided course.
Even for people who learn well on their own, I would still recommend that they consider taking a commercial course. Look for one with instructor support, and that offers real live practice servers. That way, you can ask questions about any concepts that you don't understand, and practice the techniques that you learn without fear of messing anything up. With the advent of new Web meeting technologies, such as TeamSpeak and GatherPlace, you can now attend live training lectures in the comfort of your own home. You'll be able to view the instructor's desktop as he demonstrates the techniques, and get on-the-spot answers to your questions.
Also consider, that those of us who produce Linux training materials for a living have a vested interest in ensuring that our materials are up-to-date, complete, and correct.
All-in-all, purchasing a Linux training course can be quite the time-saver, and can prove more effective that trying to do it yourself.