The overwhelming demand both by industry and students (as related to me by faculty) at the undergrad level is for the use of PCs with Windows. We know Linux is coming, but our CS department does not (yet) plan to base a lab on it. If you can make a case for Linux, please do so, we'd like to hear it.Fair enough; here goes...
The search was restricted to the Los Angeles area, and was carried out on 29 Sept 2002. Results:
|linux or java or windows jobs||linux jobs||java jobs||windows jobs|
|monster||153 (100%)||54 (35%)||54 (35%)||101 (65%)|
|dice||328 (100%)||121 (37%)||102 (31%)||145 (44%)|
A google search for "linux cluster" at US universities yields 27000 matches. Here are a few examples:
It appears that Linux is the most popular choice when building high performance clusters these days, and its popularity is increasing, thanks to the efforts of companies like Dell and LinuxNetworx.
This is quite a change from just a few years ago. Quotes from the press in August/October 2002 illustrate Linux's extraordinary strength:
Robin Bloor of Bloor Research said:
It looks as though the battle for the server market is being won by Linux. It was reported recently that most Wall Street trading operations are converting to the open source operating system. This may not sound important but, for those like me who keep an eye on the markets, it is relevant. Some IT market sectors are strong technology validators and lead the way in adoption. Wall Street traders make up such a sector.Reuters reported:
One in five servers, computers that handle Internet traffic and corporate networks, ran on Linux among those sold last year, and the software is expected to gain market share. The economic downturn has been brutal ... But Linux ... is more than just surviving. It's becoming a player, gaining favour with budget-conscious, old-line companies drawn by its performance improvements and lack of licensing costs.Fortune Magazine reported
Today Linux has become the hottest thing in corporate America since e-mail and maybe even Windows itself. ... companies like Boeing, Amazon.com, E*Trade Financial, DreamWorks, Google, and virtually every major Wall Street firm have either finished reconfiguring big chunks of their servers to run Linux or are in the process of doing so. General Motors says it is likely to do the same in a year or so. Even the Chinese and German governments, along with about two dozen other countries, are taking a look at how they can save money by using Linux in their infrastructures.US News and World Reports says
This conversion is already causing reverberations throughout the high-tech world. For the year ended June 30, the number of servers sold with Linux as the operating system grew 18%, while those sold with Windows grew only 3% ..., according to research group IDC. IBM says that contracts for its Linux integration and support services now number around 800, compared with 95 only 15 months ago. And Dell and HP say they will sell 15% to 18% of their servers this year with Linux preinstalled, up from less than 10% last year.
It's still early in the conversion cycle. IDC says servers running Linux represent only 5% of the servers in operation, compared with 27% for Windows and 43% for Unix... IDC predicts that by 2006, ... 26% of servers in operation will be running Linux...
Chafing under what they call the "Microsoft tax" -- license fees collected each time they upgrade personal computers and server networks -- customers from the government of China to Europe's Ford Motor Co. division are switching to free software systems. Linux's penguin logo is cropping up all over. "Developing countries, software developers, [and] schools are embracing Linux more," says Phil Mogavero, president of Data Systems Worldwide, technology consultants. "Linux has the capability of creating a paradigm shift."Forrester Research says
Long thought of as a fledgling operating system, Linux is now ready for prime time. CIOs have many new reasons to be confident that they'll get quality Linux support from their largest application vendors and systems integrators.eWEEK says
Oracle is taking everything, and I mean everything, it has from the core servers to the desktop to Linux. ... Amazon.com runs its shopping carts off Oracle on Linux. You want to talk mission-critical? What could be more business mission-critical? ... For the first time I can say that Linux, just as much as Solaris, Windows 2000, HP/UX OS/400 or AIX, is a mainstream enterprise operating system. The day was long in coming, but it's here. This isn't just my opinion; this is a business fact.Computerworld says
Momentum to migrate from Microsoft Corp. products to open-source software is rapidly gaining in Germany, where numerous companies are reacting to the U.S. software giant's licensing policy. Small and medium-size businesses, in particular, have begun to replace as much Microsoft software as possible with open-source options such as Linux in an effort to slash IT costs, according to IT managers at the LinuxWorld conference and exhibition in Frankfurt.IDC reports that Linux's share of the server OS market went from 0.5% in 1995 to 25% in 2001, making Linux the #2 server operating system worldwide -- and the only credible threat to the market leader, Microsoft.
Notable wins [for Linux] over the last 18 months include TiVo personal video recorders, Sharp's Zaurus personal digital assistant (PDA), [and] Motorola's DCT-5000 set-top box...
In 2002, a number of important desktop applications were released for Linux:
In addition, the certification of Red Hat, Mandrake, Suse, and Caldera Linux as Linux Standard Base 1.2 compliant mitigated fears that Linux would fragment into incompatible versions (as Unix did in the 90s). Applications that comply with the LSB will install and run properly on all LSB-compliant versions of Linux.
[Gartner analyst Tom] Bittman sees other repercussions of the Licensing 6 plan, one that is likely to hurt sales. "There are more questions about Linux now -- as in, 'Should I be considering it?' -- than there were before," he said. He credited this shift to customers seeking lower-cost alternatives to Licensing 6.Further evidence of a backlash comes from the Australian Government, which is organizing a set of briefings for government CIOs about Linux.
Analysts estimate that as many as 60 percent or more of eligible customers chose not to sign up for the controversial licensing programme before the 31 July deadline.
"Linux is not really driving Linux, it's Microsoft licensing that's really driving Linux," Bittman said. "What's really turning Linux into reality is backlash on Microsoft licensing."
See also AAX's "2003 And Beyond" for a good summary of the state of affairs.
Finally, even commercial analysts like Gartner now recognize the backlash, and offer research reports on the subject.
Between 1981 and today, the price for Microsoft's entry-level operating system has risen from $5 per computer to roughly $90 per computer. Thus as a percentage of the price of an entry-level computer, Microsoft's entry-level operating system price has risen during the period 1981 - 2002 from below 1% to about 15%.
Profit margins in the personal computer market are notoriously thin, and the possibility of 15% higher profit margins may prove irresistible. Indeed, Wal-Mart and Fry's have already begun to offer Linux-equipped computers.
"More than two dozen countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America, including China and Germany, are now encouraging their government agencies to use 'open source' software - developed by communities of programmers who distribute the code without charge and donate their labor to cooperatively debug, modify and otherwise improve the software. The best known of these projects is Linux..."In June 2002, Germany signed with IBM to provide Linux computers for German government offices:
Germany's Interior Minister, Otto Schilly, said the move would help cut costs and improve security in the nation's computer networks. "We are raising computer security by avoiding a monoculture, and we are lowering dependence on a single supplier," he said in a statement. "And so we are a leader in creating more diversity in the computer field."Also in June 2002, Taiwan has announced a "National Open Source Plan". The announcement said (summary by this author):
The plan aims to establish a software development infrastructure based on free and open source and lay a solid foundation for Taiwan's software industry. It includes the creation of a "Chinese Open Source Software Environment", international cooperation on free application software development, and work with community colleges and non-government organizations to establish six training centers to train 9,600 teachers and 120,000 users the basics of free software. Also, the national education system will switch to Open Source in order to provide a diverse IT education environment and ensure the people's rights to the freedom of information.Also, China is turning to Linux to combat software piracy, reduce software costs, and increase national security, and Pakistan has created a Linux Task Force as a cornerstone of its anti-piracy initiative.
(See Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology and the Cyberspace Policy Research Institute page on Linux for more links on the subject.)
The move toward open source by these foreign governments should noticeably increase the number of developers working on Linux, and accelerate its progress in the market.
An obvious conclusion might be "Universities should create Linux-based programming courses for some CS students". That's true, but there's a lot more universities should consider doing with Linux. Since the best way to learn an environment is to use it for day-to-day work, universities that want CS students to be well-prepared for Linux in the workplace should consider supporting Linux in general, for any student that wants to use it. For instance, if students want to use Linux to write English term papers or connect to their dorm network, that should be okay, because setting up and running one's own home Linux system can teach a lot more than just occasional exposure to Linux in a lab.
Furthermore, the university as a whole can benefit from Linux. Consider:
LinuxToday.com summarizes a study by the Robert Frances Group as saying
"The cost of running Linux is roughly 40% that of Microsoft Windows, and only 14% that of Sun Microsystem's Solaris... Most of the savings with Linux come from software licensing fees. ... The larger the deployment, the greater the savings: One of the companies in the study had deployed [a single copy of Linux on] more than 10,000 Linux nodes. Linux, along with Solaris, also came out ahead of Windows in terms of administration costs, despite the fact that it's less expensive to hire Windows system administrators. ..."IDC agrees that Linux on Intel has a TCO one fifth that of Unix on RISC.
According to a survey of corporate IT departments by CMP's TheOpenEnterprise.com, 81% believe that Open Source software such as Linux has lower TCO than proprietary software. Articles by Intel of Canada and Russel Pawlecek of Infoworld list stability, security, ease of management, and lower fees as some of the reasons for Linux's lower TCO.
Microsoft recently claimed that Windows has a lower TCO than Linux, but as Joe Barr points out, that study was done before the Licensing 6.0 price increases, and was already out of date before it was published.
So how can universities avoid risking penalties for noncompliance on Microsoft licensing? Microsoft's Campus Agreement offers some relief. Under the Campus Agreement, Microsoft charges a fee for each student, faculty, and staff member in exchange for the right to use most Microsoft products. Unfortunately, the Campus Agreement has three drawbacks: first, it requires the university to pay a fee every year, which represents an ongoing drain on scarce financial resources. Second, the fee is calculated on total campus head count, which means even people who don't use any Microsoft products have to pay. Third, neither the Campus Agreement nor any other Microsoft volume licensing option, nor even Retail Academic Edition Full-Packaged Product, covers the basic right to use Windows, which means each computer's original Windows license still must be carefully accounted for -- which is the kind of licensing hassle the university was trying to avoid in the first place. (See Joe Barr's December 2002 column, which includes a copy of Enterprise Agreement 5.0, for more details.)
The alternative presented by Linux and Open Source in general is refreshingly simple by comparison: universities may use and distribute Linux as much as they like, free of charge, forever.
It also has a reputation for security. TechWeb says:
IT pros navigating a minefield of insecure software and systems are finding safe ground in Linux. That's because the open-source operating system -- in part due to its very openness -- has become a model of security.
In 2002, IBM turned to Linux to power its Point Of Sale terminals in retail chains such as Regal Entertainment Group (the largest movie theater operator in the United States), which uses Linux running on IBM hardware at its movie theaters. According to IBM, "the retail sector is interested in Linux because of its stability and security, rather than the fact that it is free."
And according to SAP,
Publication of the source code is also one of the main reasons why Linux can offer greater protection against unauthorized attack from outside than is possible with proprietary software - however paradoxical this may at first seem. While customers with proprietary operating systems are supplied with a kind of 'black box' and have to trust that there are no security loopholes or errors in the coding, "Linux enables every user to inspect the code and thoroughly examine the quality of its functions. This means that any security errors that may exist in the coding can be discovered and eliminated", explains Andreas Hahn, Product Manager at SAP's Linux Lab. This is one factor which, in the light of repeated virus attacks on e-mail systems, for example, is growing in importance among companies and public institutions for both security and cost considerations.
In September 2001, the Gartner Group recommended that companies using Microsoft's web server consider switching to more secure web servers such as Apache:
"Gartner recommends that enterprises hit by both Code Red and Nimda immediately investigate alternatives to IIS, including moving Web applications to Web server software from other vendors, such as iPlanet and Apache...In October 2002, Gartner followed up with a harsh assessment of Microsoft's progress on security issues:
"... due to legacy code and resistance to cultural change, Microsoft will not deliver necessary security improvements before 2004".Since Linux includes Apache, enterprises can follow Gartner's advice by using Linux instead of Windows.
Universities could avoid this problem by encouraging the use of free Open Source programs such as OpenOffice or The GIMP instead of the proprietary programs Microsoft Office or Photoshop; then students would be free to install as many copies as they liked, and would be less tempted to violate copyright laws.
According to Jeff Williams of Concordia University Wisconsin, even an "Intro to Computer Applications" course can benefit from Linux, because exposing students to alternate office software packages helps teach concepts rather than just applications, and thus prepare students to learn and use any office software rather than just one particular package.
Last but not least, being familiar with Open Source software development techniques and communities is becoming a vital skill for software engineers who are using Linux and other Open Source software. I have written a separate essay, The Undergrad CS Program, Linux, and Open Source, about the adjustments that need to be made in university computer science curricula to adapt to a world in which Linux and Open Source are important parts of the software engineering profession.
"LINUX is making inroads into the nation's universities, pushing Windows, Unix and Apple operating systems off the desktops of first-year IT students."Furthermore, surveys of Linux use on campus, university job ads, and university web sites confirm that Linux has a solid foothold in universities.
Based on the survey data, we believe the MIT community is ready to embrace Linux as a third desktop operating system. Users and system administrators alike appreciate its low cost, flexibility and many applications. Linux is already being used by a wide variety of customers whose support needs are not being adequately met through current channels. We therefore recommended supporting Linux as a third desktop operating system.As a result, they are ramping up their free support of Linux, starting with student laptops, and are offering two levels of fee-based Linux training.
The discovery process MIT went through during this study might be a good model for other universities considering whether to support Linux on the desktop.
Here are results for a search carried out on 2 October 2002:
|Job Board||linux or windows jobs||linux jobs||windows jobs|
|Chronicle of Higher Education||43 (100%)||12 (28%)||37 (86%)|
|Educause||18 (100%)||12 (66%)||14 (77%)|
See also the following whitepapers written by European governments considering migrating to Linux and Open Source:
Providing Linux training will also become important. Just as some people now need classes in Microsoft Office or Windows XP, so will they need classes in OpenOffice or Linux. Initially, the local Linux Users Group may be able to set up introductory classes, but eventually the university should consider setting up more structured training offerings for students, staff, and faculty.
At a minimum, the university should have a prominent Linux Resources web page with the following kinds of information:
The closest free substitutes for Microsoft Office are OpenOffice and its commercially supported twin, StarOffice. Both are free for educational use and offer good compatibility with Microsoft Office. Sun provides some free online training for StarOffice, and a few books are available on the two suites:
Two companies provide commercial support for Wine in the form of polished packaged product. Codeweavers sells two versions of Wine: one that runs ActiveX plugins, and one that runs Microsoft Office and Quicken. (And they do offer educational discounts.) TransGaming sells a version that supports 150 popular Windows games. Both of these companies are generous and frequent contributers of source code to the Wine project.
Please contact the author if you want to translate this document into another language.
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