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Doug's Mailbag: Linux Adoption

After a Linux-backed report cited Linux growth in enterprises, Doug asked readers if their shops are switching:

No, Doug. We are not! We are a large research university and if we, as an IT unit of that university, have learned nothing else, we have learned that the hardware and software you use must be selected for the job at hand. Over time your needs change and your selections change. That is the nature of IT.

Do we have a large investment in Linux? Oh my, yes. Has our mix of platforms changed over time? Yes again. Has that had a negative impact on our investment in Windows Servers? Nope!

Thirty years ago, our large research systems were mainframes based upon CDC KRONOS and our administrative systems were running on IBM MVS mainframes. Smaller-scale computing was done on DEC VAX (VMS) systems. VAX gave way to SunOS. IBM 3270 terminals gave way to IBM PCs and Novell NetWare. Wang word processors gave way to WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. In the '90s, MS-DOS gave way to Windows. Novell NetWare gave way to Windows Server. Unix Sendmail gave way to Exchange.

In recent years, as AIX, Solaris and HP-UX became large monolithic operating systems, they have been replaced by Linux for its versatility and performance. Workstation-based Unix applications have been ported to Linux, Windows and MacOSX.

In the end, Linux has found its niche in academic research. In this setting Linux is the only realistic choice. Microsoft has to fight tooth and nail to keep Linux out of the academic machine room. In an environment, though, where most users are not Linux savvy, Windows (and to a lesser extent, Macintosh) rules the desktop. While a Linux desktop with Firefox and OpenOffice can meet the bulk of the personal productivity needs of the casual user, the enterprise needs something more. They need shared e-mail, calendar, task and contacts information. They need uniform collaboration tools. And, since the vast majority of end users in the enterprise are familiar with Windows (because they have it at home), in order to switch to Linux, they would need training.

As the enterprise moves to virtualization as a means to reduce the support costs surrounding personal productivity workstations, the Linux solution is still quite limited when compared to the virtualization solutions provided by Citrix, VMware or any number of other vendors.

No matter how much the zealots might like for Linux to be widely adopted for use on the desktop, it won't happen until it is as easy for the end user to acquire, use, and support as Windows or Macintosh are to acquire, use, and support.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

I just wanted to let you know that we have and do replace windows servers with Linux servers, specifically Ubuntu and Cent-OS. This isn't because I am a Linux fan boy or that I hate Microsoft. It makes sense for us. We are a small charter school district that couldn't provide the technology to the staff and students that we do if we tried to do it through Microsoft and all the accompanying licensing. For one, we can't afford it. Secondly, the licensing of Microsoft software and the task of maintaining them requires almost a whole other position for an organization our size. It's too cost prohibitive.

I would rather spend the man-hours learning how to make open source and free software work, because even though open source software usually involves a strong learning curve, once we have gotten past it we can use the technology as much as we want without constantly adjusting our licensing subscriptions. For instance, if I want to deploy a Microsoft server for a terminal server, I have to buy the server license, the Cal licenses for how many terminals I will have and the terminal server licensing for how many users/terminals I need to connect. Then if I want to add 30 students in another computer lab I have to go back and up the licensing where it applies. We accomplished the same thing with LTSP-Cluster on Ubuntu servers.

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Posted by Doug Barney on 10/20/2010 at 1:18 PM


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