Celebrating GNU/Linux

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:

    Image map by Yandman at Wikipedia. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Linux_kernel_map.png

  • 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.

      Nevertheless, we can find reasonable platform-neutral and popular websites reporting a significant proportion of usage of GNU/Linux.

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.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
This entry was posted in Linux in Education, technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Celebrating GNU/Linux

  1. oiaohm says:

    Chris Weig spending time there is not 100 percent required to understand how the enforcement in the country works.

    The loss of companies and personal I have had dealing with in china tells some very big stories.

    Living there for three years does not match up to having dealing with that country for 25 years. I have seen longer term views. Three years you have a very narrow view of the long term there.

    Australian outback quite a lot do I get away from it.

    Chris Weig exactly why do I need substantial amount of time in china to know. Cases of people going before firing squad because they bribed and official you see there bank records they had done that many times before to the same official. Just happened todo it at a time when enforcement against bribing was on. Bad luck to them. The Official does not go before firing squad and gets to keep the money.

    Chris Weig this is not a one off case. China is very rule less. With savage enforcement. Its really simple for a person to start believing they can get away with anything in china. You know a dead man walking in china when you hear them talking like Yonah.

    High profile cases. Lot of the ones I know that went to firing squad were not High profile and its not lacking the money to pay the bribe. There are just times when paying a bribe in china equals death.

    Yonah is just in a period between corruption crack down. Its very much a cycle.

  2. Chris Weig says:

    Yonah I have over 25 year of dealing with china.

    Ahem, he lives there. When have you ever been away from the Australian outback? You’re telling us that of these 25 years you spent a substantial amount of time in China?

  3. oiaohm says:

    Chris Weig I don’t know everything about every culture.

    I have just seen a few of the people I deal with in china put to firing squad. As per this is an example to others. For items other people communally get away with in china.

    Yonah reality I have very good idea of how China enforcement works. You might get away with something for 10 years and then someone gets into a location with a bee in bonnet over it and decides to make it a firing squad offence. After many people are killed they get the idea that its a little over the top drop the firing squad and basically go back to not enforcing it again. Lost a few of my contacts over there that way.

    China law is very much do you fell lucky. This cycle in China law enforcement repeats over and over again. It is basically loto the except when your number comes up you are either spending time in jail or dieing.

    Yonah I have over 25 year of dealing with china. You have only been there 3 years. That is not enough time to see the bad sides of china law enforcement fully.

    Its like the Internet cafe one(2008). Someone go a bee in bonnet and started forcing cafes to run red flag Linux.

    Yonah 3 years ago if you time is correct you most likely missed the Internet Cafe enforcement. Less than 6 months latter they have given up on that idea.

    Part of being in china is being aware that you can break the law you most likely will get away with it. Most of the time if you get caught its off with a warning. Now if someone has a bee in bonnet about that particular issue you are kinda in big trouble.

    Its really how lucky do you fell over there. Yes if you read the The Art of War by Sun Tzu particularly chapter 6 kinda explains how the enforcement works over there. Many centires latter that book is so valid its not funny.

    Operating in china and you want to remain safe it is dot every i cross every t. Because you never know what law next will end up enforced by firing squad.

  4. Chris Weig says:

    Oiaohm knows everything about every culture. The Australian outback just happens to turn you into such a person. It’s inevitable. He co-wrote the screenplay of “Red Cliff”, then pulled his name because he thought that the movie was not true to history. Oiaohm’s mind has the power to go back in time and see historical events unfold before his eye.

  5. Yonah says:

    “China is serious about stopping illegal copying.”

    In the newspaper headline, yes. In reality, not even close. High profile cases are either a way to gain face or simply a case where a bribe wasn’t paid for whatever reason.

    “The question is do you fell lucky that you will not end up being used to be the one made example of by the sledge hammer.”

    It’s not about luck, my factually challenged friend, and I wouldn’t even waste the keystrokes trying to explain the complexity of living in this culture to a person who is immersed in their own specially crafted reality where one is bestowed with superhuman Wi-Fi bending powers. However, if you finally provide the proof that KHTML source code was at any time used in Opera… well then I might be willing to scratch your itch in return. 🙂

  6. oiaohm says:

    Chris Weig in fact its not Dirty Harry reference. Closest reference is from the of a Art of War. Covering how to control outcomes.

  7. Chris Weig says:

    Yonah china the law is not enforced then its enforced by the provable sledge hammer than goes back to being not enforced. The question is do you fell lucky that you will not end up being used to be the one made example of by the sledge hammer.

    Would this paragraph become meaningful, if you were to read it backwards?

    I can merely detect a faint “Dirty Harry” reference. Well, Eastwood talking to an empty chair has about the same quality as the oiaohm discourses.

  8. oiaohm says:

    Yonah china the law is not enforced then its enforced by the provable sledge hammer than goes back to being not enforced. The question is do you fell lucky that you will not end up being used to be the one made example of by the sledge hammer.

    Really you should have been able to point the person talking about security to some recent videos. They are quite simple to find talking about what has to be changed to fix X11.

    This is a really recent change.

  9. oiaohm says:

    That Exploit Guy also note that china population is large than the USA population.

    Income MS expects is 12 billion total from China compare to 51 billion from the USA.

    What is the difference why MS yield is so low.

  10. oiaohm says:

    That Exploit Guy read that report again. The rate is dropping. Interesting enough Microsoft sales have not increase in line with the piracy rate reductions.

    Either the reports are wrong or they are going else where other than Microsoft for OS or Office suite.

    That report raises more questions than it answers for Microsoft long term future.

  11. That Exploit Guy says:

    @Robert Pogson

    ‘There have also been raids and trials of ring-leaders for industrial-scale copiers.’

    For a population of over 1 billion, of course we are supposed to believe that a budget of $160 million and a couple of show trials to appease foreign investors really do something to the actually problem.

    On the other hand, reports still show piracy rates of above 50% in China. As usual, I expect you to reject such statistics off-hand in your blog, because that will be just so you, Robert Pogson.

  12. Yonah wrote, “This part made me laugh. China, enforcing laws, ha ha ha.”

    China is serious about stopping illegal copying. They recently spent $160 million buying licences. Interestingly some of the licences were for locally produced productivity software…
    see China spends $160M buying licensed software for government offices

    There have also been raids and trials of ring-leaders for industrial-scale copiers.

  13. Chris Weig says:

    I like Linux, Ubuntu in particular because it boots up quickly, and provides excellent security for on-line banking and purchasing.

    Yo dawg, there’s probably no other distribution out there that has more open bugs (critical ones, too) than Ubuntu.

    But it’s good to know that for security’s sake Sect Leader Shuttleworth has his followers working on really important things, like: Amazon results in the Dash!

    Thank God for Ubuntu!

  14. Yonah says:

    “China is whittling away at that other OS installed as illegal copies. By enforcing copyright law, China is rapidly growing GNU/Linux.”

    This part made me laugh. China, enforcing laws, ha ha ha. I’m celebrating my 3rd year in China and one of the reasons I enjoy living here is because the law is barely enforced at all. I had an entirely different perspective before I came here.

  15. George Hostler says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly there, Robert. The wife and I use Linux exclusively at home. Most of what we do is through the Internet and FireFox, although I use Gimp to edit photos and LibreOffice for writing, poster flyers and spreadsheet work. I like Linux, Ubuntu in particular because it boots up quickly, and provides excellent security for on-line banking and purchasing. Also, bringing along a netbook for browsing at coffee shops and during motel stays is really handy, easy to pack with me on either automobile or motorcycle.

  16. ssorbom wrote, “I’ve heard alot of western European countries have better computer curricula than the US, which is ironic when I think about it.”

    In countries like Canada and USA, curriculi are variable. In Canada, the province of Alberta brought in a lovely system called CTS(Career and Technology Studies) which matches teachers with particular interests/abilities/knowledge with students trying to figure out what to do with their lives. It’s full of “modules”, short courses with clearly defined objectives like a ToDo list. One of the brilliant things they did was include programming in a set of five modules for various aspects of programming. By combining them one got a neat course and it could be about C or Java or anything and students learned the basics and then learned by doing certain other tasks like complete programmes. The thing could be taught with DOS or GNU/Linux CLI or a GUI. It was all the same so it was available to any student or teacher with a PC. They were a decade ahead of other provinces because of this flexibility. In Alberta, a keener in Grade 7 could do it all while in Manitoba, students had to wait until Grade 12 to call a subroutine… Anyway, other provinces started to do similar things. Now Alberta is reducing the flexibility, I guess because students were learning too much… 🙁

    All over the North I have met many teachers who have learned nothing about computers since the 1980s teaching kids how to use computers. Sigh. Fortunately, I was often the computer teacher and able to do something about that. That’s one reason I moved around so much, to meet more students. We changed each other for life.

  17. ssorbom says:

    There was more than that, Bash scripting awk, more advanced networking (how IP addressees worked), scp, but I see your point.
    Unfortunately, learning command line stuff isn’t considered important in ANY part of our edu system. Most people don’t seem to know command line stuff for any OS. Save for that one class, I had to learn what I know about UNIX on my own. Oh, and programming wasn’t covered AT ALL in school before college except HTML. (unfortunately I didn’t take that class). Heh. Most schooling covers how to use MS Word and powerpoint. Alot of people who don’t major in the subject don’t go beyond that. I mean, I can learn powerpoint in a weekend, but apparently many can’t. That varies per high school and college though.

    Yeah I know it’s sad.
    I’ve heard alot of western European countries have better computer curricula than the US, which is ironic when I think about it. But I’m also in a state that is 48 out of 50 for education in lower education. I don’t know what it is like in other states. I also go to a community college, not a full university. I will eventually be transferring.

  18. Chris Weig says:

    Did you teach basic manoeuvring through the directory structure and use of things like sed, grep and Vim?

    No, he told them: RTFM!

    I had a class like that a few semesters ago and it was some of the most fun I ever had in a Computer Science course so far.

    Wow, just wow. I don’t know which college you attended, but the quality of computer science seems to have gone down quite a bit if stuff like this actually qualifies as a class. At the German university I attended such knowledge was simply expected of you. Or it was at least expected that you taught yourself.

    No, seriously, forgive my disbelief, but they teach such things as “basic maneuvering through the directory structure” in college?!

    I wish I knew where to find more college level courses like that. Unfortunately, my professor said they are relatively rare for undergraduate studies (at least in the US)

    Not to sound rude or anything, but stuff like this in Germany is usually not taught at a university level. I remember having such courses when I attended technical vocational school.

    In Germany it’s usually “Game Over” at university if you don’t already know the basics of programming and other stuff. At university I was really surprised to see how many people failed because of programming. Until then I thought that mathematics (which at German universities is usually imported straight from the Math department and is not fitted to suit computer science in any particular way) was the no. 1 reason by far, but programming came really in a close second.

  19. Chris Weig says:

    Having used, or rather tested, Linux (to be precise, SuSE Linux) in a corporate UNIX (Solaris and IRIX) environment around the time of Windows 95 (it must’ve been 1996, if I recall correctly), I know that Linux was many things, but it wasn’t problem-free in any way. Mr. Pogson’s memories are seriously embellished.

  20. ssorbom says:

    Did you teach basic manoeuvring through the directory structure and use of things like sed, grep and Vim?
    I had a class like that a few semesters ago and it was some of the most fun I ever had in a Computer Science course so far. I wish I knew where to find more college level courses like that. Unfortunately, my professor said they are relatively rare for undergraduate studies (at least in the US)

  21. Now I know you treat this like a religion. You favour needless rallying and circle jerking that attempts to cover up all the flaws. And the band played on…

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