I am an unabashed proponent of GNU/Linux. The reasons are many:
- Switching to the OS saved my sanity at a point in my teaching career when I was dealing with 20 students from grades 9 to 11 and with a wide variety of levels of ability in Canada’s Arctic. I needed PCs to work in my classroom and hardly a class went by without Lose ’95 crashing. I used the divide and conquer approach to managing that classroom with several activity centres running simultaneously. I was spread too thin to have to help students with problems with IT.
I switched to GNU/Linux and had no problems of that kind for six months. It was a heavenly experience. Despite having never used GNU/Linux before, the biggest problem for me was downloading and burning an .iso to CD on a Mac. I had never done that before. The only data I required to do the job of installation was the sweep frequencies of the monitors in use. These days newbies don’t have to worry about such mundane matters.
- Within a few years I became a terror installing GNU/Linux on PCs all over the North wherever fast reliable IT was needed. I then became a “computer teacher” and the “goto” guy for IT problems in schools where I taught and I moved from one school to another almost every year. I set up my first LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) lab and was as amazed as my students that a good PC could run all the applications of 30 students and do a better job than Lose ’98 on thick clients. Students and I designed and built a good GNU/Linux terminal server for about the cost of a good PC.
- Soon I designed a whole IT system for a modern K-12 school for a modest budget that was the envy of teachers and students from other schools. About this time, rather than being the first person in the community to have ever used GNU/Linux. I began to meet teachers, students and community members who had seen/used it before.
- My last teaching assignment was typical. During the interview my knowledge of PCs, computing and using IT in schools was mentioned and that there was a “problem” in the school. It turned out that half the PCs in the school were piled in the lab, unusable. It turned out that most of these PCs were 6-10 years old but in perfect working order except that that other OS would not boot. I made images of typical hard drives and re-imaged these using CloneZilla. There were more PCs running XP working but still not enough to deliver the curriculum. We added “Computers for Schools” machines in two batches of 20. Eventually, the difficulty of keeping more copies of XP running became too much for me as a part-time IT person, so we began to convert the lot of them to Debian GNU/Linux. No more malware and better performance for $0! The students and staff loved it, mostly. A new batch of 12 XP machines came in and 3 teachers wanted that OS. The rest loved the speed and reliability of GNU/Linux. Students were amazed that our 8 year-old PCs running Debian GNU/Linux as thin clients appeared faster than brand new dual-core PCs running that other OS. I taught all the high school students how to install Debian GNU/Linux from CDs.
- Along the way I have encountered many problems: social, political, electrical, and technical and never has GNU/Linux let me down. Every problem can be solved with a little education and effort.
What makes GNU/Linux particularly useful in education and just about every field of IT is that it has no limitations. By that I don’t mean limits on open files or memory or processes but limitations according to rules imposed by external bodies. There’s no EULA stating that only
tenfifteen PCs may share (in order to sell server licences). There’s no capital cost so no budgets have to be massaged. There’s no legal entanglement in making copies so the OS can legally be installed on as many PCs as a school can find and students can do it with no accounting for numbers of instances. This same flexibility can be useful in any organization and for an individual, GNU/Linux is limited only by imagination.
GNU/Linux has come a long way in the more than a decade in which I have been using it. Where installation applications were just getting a bit of polish they now can run a full GUI in the process or allow one to install unattended from a wire, over the network, from a CD, USB drive or a hard drive. The unattended installation can even be done from PXE booting. What’s even more amazing is that businesses large and small are finding it in their interests to contribute resources, money, manpower, and space to build GNU/Linux as a cooperative project of the world. It can be bought pre-installed in retail spaces in many countries and runs on unknown millions of PCs and servers. Milestones were IBM investing $1billion, RedHat going “all-in” with a subscription model of supporting GNU/Linux, Canonical, Dell and ASUS getting the OEM ball rolling and then Android/Linux putting this Free Software into many millions of hands thanks to actual salesmen and distribution channels. This was over the horizon when I began using GNU/Linux.
There are several major components of GNU/Linux all very important:
- The Linux kernel which manages all resources in detail:
- The GNU system which provides all the tools a UNIXTM OS needs except the kernel (recently they added the HURD kernel but Linux is dominating the space). GNU also supplies tools needed to create and maintain software in the system. The Linux kernel is licensed under the GNU Public Licence which permits the recipient or user of the software to run, examine, modify and to distribute the software. If modified, the distribution must have source code available. That’s a beautiful system which minimizes costs and barriers to entry for organizations large or small, rich or poor. A huge benefit of this system of software-development is that a programmer doesn’t need to write a complete application, just a part of it, because the rest can be obtained by other Free Software components, called libraries. This prevents “re-inventing the wheel” and saves the world of IT untold $billions annually.
- On top of this fine structure occur many thousands of applications, libraries and services which can be integrated to make a computer useful. The system is so flexible it runs on mainframe computers, smart phones, PCs, servers, clusters of PCs, and computers of all kinds of architecture, for example Intel, AMD, ARM, MIPS, Sparc and other CPUs. There are huge repositories of Free Software on the web where anyone can acquire valuable software for the cost of a download.:
- Sourceforge – which has more than 4 million downloads per day. It hosts VLC media player, for instance, which has been downloaded hundreds of millions of times. Most of the more than 300 thousand Free Software projects here will run on GNU/Linux.
- GitHub is an even more popular repository of Free Software with millions of users and almost four million projects available.
- Debian, a popular distribution of GNU/Linux has more than 30 thousand software packages that work together to make a GNU/Linux system. There are packages of every kind and less than a tenth of the repository will give you a wonderful computer system. Copies of the repository are replicated on every continent except Antarctica. There are hundreds of repositories so one is likely to be near you. With Debian GNU/Linux it is easy to install GNU/Linux over the web using a minimal CD/USB/PXE installer to download the needed components.
Because there are no central authorities controlling GNU/Linux it is difficult to assess the popularity of GNU/Linux but we have some indications:
- Netcraft reports that about 2/3 of active web-servers run Apache web server, most likely on GNU/Linux. More than 30million other active webservers run nginx or Google so they may run GNU/Linux as well.
- There have been huge system-wide roll-outs of GNU/Linux desktops in education in Brazil, Russia, India and China, countries representing about 1/3 of humanity so the rate at which new users come to GNU/Linux is many millions per annum.
- Brazil (2009) 356K
By 2012, 35million students using GNU/Linux in 50K schools on 500K PCs.
- In 2010, the government of Russia instituted a plan to change over to Free Software by 2015. By 2012 the migration begins.
- The government of India is beginning to use GNU/Linux in its offices and in schools. Kerala put 1.5 million students on GNU/Linux, ELCOT ordered 300K GNU/Linux PCs from Lenovo.
- China is whittling away at that other OS installed as illegal copies. By enforcing copyright law, China is rapidly growing GNU/Linux. Many large banks and other businesses have switched from SCO UNIX to GNU/Linux thin clients.
“Intellectual Property Right in Standards and Solutions of Chinese Companies
WTO: International Forum (Beijing) on Intellectual Property Right in Standardization
Ni Guangnan (rp:Council Chairman of Chinese Information Processing Society of China)
V. Promoting critical open standards
In view that proprietary standards are dominating some key fields, some critical standards shall be implemented throughout the design, bidding/procurement, operation and performance evaluation of IT systems so as to break the monopoly.
Open standards for Linux platform shall be adopted in operation system field. de facto standards for Linux and Windows platforms have been recognized; the former is open and the latter proprietary. Apparently Linux platform shall be adopted widely in China. In view that these two platforms will coexist for a long time, a trans-operation system is required for applications. Existing applications and systems that only support Windows shall be rebuilt (or moved) to support the trans-operation system.
De facto standards for Microsoft’s Office have been dominating document format market, which has hindered fair competition and prevented manufacturers from getting access to public and important information. At present XML-based open standard ODF has been accepted as international standard and UOF similar to the ODF in China has good prospect of being an international standard. If the UOF get widely adopted, an environment of fair competition would be formed in Office market. The advantage of domestic Office operation systems in cost-effective would enable domestic Office software to be legitimized as fast as operation system does.
Open standards published by W3C shall be implemented in Internet field. Browser with open source code FireFox supporting open standards by W3C is superior in security over browser IE. In order for wide adoption of FireFox in China, it is necessary to seek for accreditation by the third party”
- Statistics from server logs indicate that a large and growing proportion of users of PCs run GNU/Linux. This is subject to bias as when NetApplications shows huge share of GNU/Linux usage in California by 10K employees of Google but ignores hundreds of thousands of students in educational institutions. This bias may simply result from the routing of the client PCs so that 100K machines are counted as one.
- Brazil (2009) 356K
GNU/Linux has come a long way and continues to grow. It is one of the great operating systems and a great cooperative project of the world. It is something to celebrate, to use, to enjoy and to be thankful for all the good people who contribute their time and resources to produce.