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Linux And The G-Men: FOSE 2000 56

From a hundred feet up, the action on the floor at FOSE would look like that of any technical tradeshow. Eager vendors try to get their names into the heads of buyers, and the aisles are jammed with swag-toting prospects. The show floor has plenty of the power suits and eager vendors that any other shows do, but also more than a scattering of military insignia, camouflage and Marine crew cuts. And for the first time, just a quick stroll from the 50,000 square foot Microsoft display, this year's FOSE floor also featured Linux vendors and a dedicated Linux pavilion. (Read more.)

Why FOSE matters

Linux at computer trade shows is nothing new -- but this show in particular targets no one outside the largest buyer of computers and software in the entire world, bar none: the Feds. The Federal government spends upward of 35 billion dollars each year on computer systems and software; how much more depends on who you ask.

"If you ask Federal sources, they pin it around 38 billion dollars, and that's become an accepted number -- that includes telecommunications buying. One of the reasons that the estimates are so diverse is that the government doesn't count things the way businesses do," says FOSE consultant Peg Hosky. Remember, that estimate too is conservative: trying to calculate the depths of the black budgets which drive some of the largest and most secretive IT purchases, not to mention contingency spending hidden in euphemized line items, is a black art.

The Departments of Defense, Energy, the Interior, Transportation, the Federal Aviation agency (and all the other agenices associated with the every Federal department) --- the list stretches from the White House to the most distant exploratory spacecraft.

The goods on offer at FOSE, though, are for the most part more mundane. Though the show is now simply called by its acronym, the initials stood for Federal Office Systems Exposition: you won't find radar systems or flight control computers on offer at the show. But for anything related to desktop computing, "FOSE's always been the introduction point of new technologies to the Federal government, because the government leaders and the national press focuses on this show," said Hosky.

Getting penguins in the door

The main-floor pavillion was the brainchild of Northern Virginia LUG (NoVaLUG) member Tim Bogart, by day a network server administrator for a major telecommunications company, and furthered by Lois Rude, industry manager with FOSE. After a Washington-area Linux exposition was cancelled nearly a year ago, Bogart asked himself and fellow LUG members "Why don't we get in on the real action?"

He began angling at a more ambitious target than the Linux enthusiasts who populate LUGs and Linux-only conventions. A previous job had put Bogart into the realm of Federal purchasing as the manager of a 20-million dollar IT project, and he knew how complicated government purchasing was. "My background isn't as a coder -- I'm an electrical engineer by training. I thought this was a way I could contribute to the community," he said. "You have no idea how complicated it gets."

Going from interested user to organizer put Bogart into contact with a receptive FOSE executive, and that made all the difference. "[Bogart] called on the sales people, and the salesperson didn't understand what he was asking for, so they gave him to me," says Rude. "I was new with FOSE at the time. We talked, we had lunch together and the more we talked, the more we realized it would be mutually beneficial to have all of them do something within FOSE."

Billy Ball, Linux book author and fellow NoVaLUG member, helped spearhead the effort too. "Bill and Tim came in and gave our sales team an amazing demonstration with Linux, and really educated us about it," says Rude.

Abstract goals like education are fine -- and to that end, volunteers from several local LUGs donated time in the pavillion answering questions of every level -- but the organizers also have a more pragmatic reason to make Linux more visible to Federal buyers: "I would like nothing more than to reach my hand down into Bill Gates' pocket and pull out $11-18 billion in accounts receivable," says Bogart.

To that end, he and the other volunteers solicited donations of software and information from Linux vendors, and cajoled others to actually show up at the show. Applix and Caldera occupied booths flanking the pavilion, but as you'll read they were far from the only vendors present.

The problem with "free"

The biggest obstacles to getting Linux onto Federal desktops currently running Microsoft operating system is not just perception -- hardware vendors industry wide are touting their Linux compatibility, and mainstream magazines have featured Linux on their covers -- but the inertia which characterizes federal sales even more than it does the private sector.

High-performance computing centers like Sandia National Laboratory and Los Alamos aside, the problem is the desktop. Open-source software, Linux or not, tends to advance more rapidly and with less oversight than government purchasers are comfortable with.

Col. Stephen Quick, who specializes in training and retention for the U.S. Air Force, put it this way: "We've got a force of about 75,000 Air Force personnel who we've got to train to sustain that [desktop software investment]. Of course, our user community is all of the Air Force, about 550,000 people. So you've got to make sure you've got standardization, configuration control in whatever you do." The other armed forces face similar constraints -- workforces that shift at the drop of an order, and a work force made up of people enlisted for just a few years.

"We use a lot of UNIX in the command and control centers, but we use NT for the desktop," says Quick. With open-source software, "you could well have somebody developing a little application that they become dependent on. The person who develops it leaves, somebody else moves in who's never seen it before. If that's your expert, and they're now over in Saudi, you're kind of out of luck."

Citing manpower restraints for support as well as development, many vendors said their products would remain Microsoft-centric for the foreseeable future. "In my 20-person shop," said one biometric device manufacturer's rep who asked not to be identified, "we're doing everything we can to get even one client version out the door. We don't rule out porting to other platforms, but frankly we have to go where the market is. After NT, we're working on Novell, because that has the second largest installed base among our customers. Other clients have to wait."

Hits and misses

This may be the first year for a Linux pavilion, but Linux also showed up at the fair in unexpected corners: Apple, for instance.

While work on the BSD-based OS X is moving along, no machines at FOSE were demonstrating the new OS. However, under a sign proclaiming High Performance Computing, developer Kai Staat of Terra Soft Solutions happily demonstrated Yellow Dog Linux 1.2 on a Macintosh G4. With a few keystrokes, he switched from a KDE desktop to the usual Mac desktop -- or rather, to Mac On Linux, in a KDE window. "To the Mac OS, it's as if you just pushed the power key on the keyboard," he explained to some onlookers from the Air Force, showing them that both systems were happily coexisting on the machine.

After one of these demonstrations, NIST robotics researcher David Gilsinn told me "My scientific work, it's on UNIX, so I have to either run X, or go sit at a UNIX box to do it, so that [Linux on G4] looked like a really good option." Gilsinn said that his workplace is currently Sun based, but that "we're trying to cut down the cost of our systems, especially Unix systems, and Linux is getting to be a viable option."

Corel's large exhibit showed off, in addition to their Windows products, both Corel Linux and the company's office suite. And API, who manufacture the Alpha processor, were also out in force. I spoke with Michael Foley, API technical marketing engineer, about what Linux meant to their product. And despite the availability of BSD Unix, Foley said, "With NT no longer on the Alpha platform, I think [Linux] offers the best possibilities. The BSD Unix is a great Unix, but it doesn't have the push behind it that Linux does today. And the Digital Unix, True64 -- that's owned by Compaq, and it doesn't have the popularity [of Linux]."

Linux also shows up in many products which don't tout the OS unless prompted: it serves as the embedded OS driving Watchguard's firewall and VPN devices, and Linux on x86 serves as the platform for Trend Micro's AntiVirus software, which patrols for virii stalking more vulnerable desktop OSes. And a small company with the inscrutable name of Applied Business Services is quietly reselling and customizing open-source accounting software which runs on both Linux and Windows to both government and private buyers.

From the impressed looks on visitors to the Corel Office 2000 Linux kiosk, not to mention those on everyone who stopped to examine the tiny embedded-Linux Web server on display at the Linux pavillion, the interest in Linux products seemed palpable.

A Wednesday-afternoon panel hosted by Ball and featuring some of the biggest names in commercializing open source software, though, drew only sparse attendance and seemed aimed at a less Linux-saavy audience which didn't materialize -- perhaps because it intersected the 4 p.m. end of the Expo day.

Chris DiBona of VA Linux and Red Hat's Bob Young joined SGI VP of marketing for servers and high-end graphics Jan Silverman and Rene Schmidt of Corel's Linux division.

Unsurprisingly, and despite a few friendly jabs at each other and at mutual rival Sun Microystems, the four mostly agreed with each other: Linux is stable, extensible and high-quality. No brass from the big agencies showed up for their presentation, though, which reflects the tenor of many of the buyers at the show.

"We're an NT shop and we're going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. I don't see us moving from that to Linux or any non-Microsoft OS," said one Social Security official.

Whether those words get eaten remains to be seen, but both Bogart and Rude are upbeat about next year. "Next year, mark my words, they'll have to cross names off the list [of Linux exhibitors]," says Bogart.

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Linux And The G-Men: FOSE 2000

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yes, the millions have spoken. If we've trusted the opinions of millions, we'd still be living in caves. It takes bravery to confront the tide and trend to produce innovation. Just think, Galileo. And without Martin Luther, today people would still be burnt at the stake just because they "went against the orthodox doctrine". It took a certain renowned personage to say "no, computers should not remain in large academic institutions, I'm gonna bring it into the household" -- without him you'd have no PC. Trusting the opinions of millions is myopic at best.

    And perhaps Windows may be the most useful platform for "regular work". But military applications aren't "regular work".

  • they require everything they buy to be POSIX Certified

    Could you please cite your source for this requirement?

    I work for a federal agency and we use Windows 95 on all our desktops, so I'm surprised to find out that there is a requirement that we don't.

    Also, as the article points out, there are some rather significant installations of Linux already in place.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Can't name names, but I am currently in the USAF and we have ALL DNS services for about 25,000 hosted on Linux boxen for starters, plus some serious pockets all over our M.A.N......... its happening all over the DoD.. creeping in everywhere......
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yeah, ok, guess I should shut the servers on board the ship down, we'd never run linux. :) On the contrary, there are quite a few navy ships with linux installed, and even more shore commands. Heck, check this out [] They run Open source and don't even know it. :) Most the time it's a matter of that budget thing, and once it's in, it works so well, it tends to stick around. Spawar guys don't show up at our LUG meetings for nothing. Not to mention looking at the mail headers from any navy ship, and it's sendmail once it leaves the ship. The NOC's aren't stupid, they have a job to do. I know for a fact they have BSD and Linux running, not to mention a few HPUX boxes. The Navy is running some pretty big squid caches as well. Anyway, it's there, but the desktop is still owned by M$, the server room is dominated by Unix, and that's where it counts. I don't know about you, but stuff like this []is looking promising for open source.
  • Linux is a Unix.
    NT is a sick VMS hybrid.

    Unix works.
    NT does whatever it wants to.

    Linux is free.

    But, "We're an NT shop," and we have enough problems as it is without having to *learn* anything else.

    God forbid you should have to learn something useful. I know how hectic it is in a business, and I'm sure its worse in the military, but sitting around trying to force Windows Apps to coexist and not die doesn't sound like my idea of a productive day. Give me a good package manager (that keeps track of my libraries!) any day.

    Linux is extensible. But you don't have to mess with it if you don't want to. Heck, don't install a C compiler or any dev tools on the client machine, don't give your users root, and give them a disk quota of 50MB or whatever. That should solve most of your problems.

    Ultimately, we'll see. I'm sure Linux will get adopted more in the military and the gov't. And knowing them, they'll probably do some surveys on it, and eventually we'll see who's more productive, and who got the work done this year. I'll continue to put my money on Unix.
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • Yeah, Windows could use some stability and some *real* memory protection. People keep telling me that Windows 2000 actually is better, but the system requirements look sick, and the "New Features" were already better implemented in Unix, like 15-25 years ago.

    Netscape 4.x is quite possibly the most evil piece of software available for Linux. Yeah, I'm using it now, because for some things it works. But when it crashes and burns, it pisses me off because it doesn't want to die. Then I use Mozilla for a while. :)

    Does it freeze everything *solid*? Does it lock the console, (Caps Lock doesn't work, SysRq doesn't work, etc., etc.) and can you telnet in (if possible)? The only time I have anything actually lock solid on me is when I have a real driver conflict, or two apps running as root that both directly play with the video card, or something like that. (SVGALib and xawtv step on each other, on my system; I'm pretty sure it's something to do with how they use DGA)

    Yes, Windows is the OS of the masses. And I guess I'm just different. Logically, I should be using Windows right now. I know a lot about computers, and I used DOS for a long time, but I found myself implementing Unix-like commands in Pascal before I knew what Unix was. I didn't like Win 3.1, and I refused to run Win '95 on my system. By then, I knew what Unix was, and found out about Linux. And now there's no turning back, baby.

    The bottom line is, if Microsoft cared about its power users, I'd be running Windows 2000 or something right now. As it stands, most of the people I know with a release copy of Win 2000 pirated it. They get no respect.

    (1,000,000 web sites running on Win 2000, and at least 5% paid for it! ;)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • Maybe that will change once IRIX is gone, and Linux on Merced is one of the few surviving UNIXes, with possibly the most "new" cool features.

    In any case, anything that allows the different flavors of Unix to consolidate into one single, better Unix system is a miracle, IMO. And even the old Unix hackers in the military, which are all backed up on tape and dumped back as needed, I'm sure, will recognize this.
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • Heh heh. "MacOS is secure out of the box!" :)

    Remove the nobody group. Install VMWare. Run Linux...

    Registry hacking is sick. Windows 3.1 had everything organized in nice text configuration files, and Microsoft had to screw it up. At least the apps are technically storing their preferences in the Windows directory, but they can still step on each other's toes, and create duplicate entries, etc., etc. In Win 3.1, this was limited to MYPROG.INI or whatnot; it didn't mess up your whole system.

    But, that's Microsoft Integration for you. It's *easier* to use! It's a feature!

    ? As in '' or '&', '>', '<'? Looks ok by me. But for your posting mode, "Choose, but choose wisely". I like "Plain Old Text", but remember that it includes everything *except for* non-breaking spaces, less-than signs, and greater-than signs, and accepts HTML tags. I think "Plain Old Text" should convert that too (except maybe valid tags), but what do you want with three options. Just call it something else, like "Mostly Text", and have an explanation.
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • Hi all, for the panel, it wasn't Bob Young who was there, it was Paul McNamara.

    Grant Chair, Linux Int.
    Pres, SVLUG

  • by donfede ( 6215 ) on Friday April 21, 2000 @06:00AM (#1119671) Homepage
    Thanks to efforts from Tim Bogart and others at NOVALUG and DCLUG there was a great linux pavillion at FOSE

    Pictures can be found here []


  • Try disabling gpm if you have it running... some xservers / video cards freak out over gpm.

    Netscape is generally pretty stable for me, but I have javascript and java disabled (I still haven't found a reason to turn them back on). Sometimes it will run away with the cpu and peg it at 95% when it does crash or something else crashes X (eznet suid root is the only thing that crashes X for me... try an 'eznet down' while the phone is still ringing after you launched 'eznet up' from a window manager's menu). I just send it a KILL signal and it dies.

    Perhaps you should enable user limits on memory and cpu time? Sounds like Netscape just ate all your resources and won't give them back.

    "Free your mind and your ass will follow"

  • by mattc ( 12417 )
    Why the government would even consider using software w/o the source code is beyond my understanding. Who knows what kind of shit microsoft could put in Windows to get back at the govt for the anti-trust trial.
  • by BilldaCat ( 19181 ) on Friday April 21, 2000 @07:23AM (#1119674) Homepage
    Offtopic post (yes, again).

    Slashdot refused to post my submission for the news item below, but I think it's vital that this information gets released. I don't know why Slashdot refused the submission yesterday, but I suppose they have their reasons. Please forward the following information everywhere you can that you think it may generate interest, and my karma and I apologize for going offtopic in this thread.

    NYLUG, NOVALUG, & DCLUG to Protest the DMCA in Washington DC on May 2, 2000

    On May 2nd, teams up with The Washington DC Linux Users Group and The Northern Virginia Linux Users Group to stage a peaceful protest on the steps of the US Capitol Building. Updates of our plans will be posted to the mailing lists. If you want to demonstrate, please send email to Please include the phrase "I WANT TO DEMONSTRATE IN DC" in the subject line.

    More information can be found at:
    BilldaCat -
  • Col. Quick was quoted as saying:

    > With open-source software, "you could well have somebody developing a little application that they become dependent on. The person who develops it leaves, somebody else moves in who's never seen it before. If that's your expert, and they're now over in Saudi, you're kind of out of luck."

    Remind us again, sir, why that doesn't happen with other operating systems?

  • I get really sick of EEs who say they are geeks.

    Nah, I got respect for most of the EEs I've met, including several who dropped their EE major and switched to comp sci because the EE courseload was kicking their ass. I'm an experienced Unix admin, skilled Perl programmer, and decent C coder, but in the EE curriculum, anything at or beyond the level of DiffEQ just makes my brain hurt something fierce. And some of those wave functions... *shudder*

  • Until there's a replacement for Exchange/GroupWise, we'll never switch, I fear. (hint, hint)

    There is a replacement for Exchange that runs on linux / solaris / etc. - HP's OpenMail. It's a commercial app, although they are apparently making available a free linux download.
  • With open-source software, "you could well have somebody developing a little application that they become dependent on. The person who develops it leaves, somebody else moves in who's never seen it before. If that's your expert, and they're now over in Saudi, you're kind of out of luck."

    This is a serious problem with some Linux apps.

    I could easily say the same thing about commercial software, or for that matter, any software developed on the job anywhere for anyone:

    With commercial software, you could well install an application that you become dependant on. The company who developed it is now out of business, and you're SOL.

    With commercial software, you could well install an application that you become dependant on. The company who developed it has released a new version, and isn't supporting the old one anymore.

    With commercial software, you could well install an application that you become dependant on. The person at that company who developed it quit, and while the company would like to help you, they can't understand the code themselves and don't have the time to fix it for you.

    With commercial software, you could well install an application that you become dependant on. The company who developed it doesn't have the source code any more because they were careless with backups.

    With commercial software, you could well install an application that you become dependant on. The company who developed it was bought out by a competitor who wants to audit you for copyright infringement before they're willing to support you.

    ...and those are just the scenarios that I've seen myself :) At least if you have the source you have a fighting chance at recovering from most of these scenarios.

    As for your comment about v0.02 software, yes, of course there's a lot of it, but usually that stuff either withers and dies before it gets put to use anywhere important, or actually gets developed into something useful.

    The moral of the story is, don't take that next "this'll fix everything" release/patch/service pack for granted. For any software, free or not. Switch to stuff that you can verify as working as-is.

  • The Linux area wasn't that impressive. However, the Corel zone was kicking.
  • that is me...
    it's an eholter []. damn know i have to right a review, of how ppl react to an eholster. for the most part my eholster has become invisile to me. my palm is just where i need it. althought you are not the first to think i was armed...

    althought i can see the headlines now. Linux user group takes FOSE, at gunpoint." :)

    but in all reality FOSE was a lot of fun, got to talk linux to ppl. most of which have just heard about it, and whated to know what was the big deal. told them that my home computer hasnt crashed in 60 days. and then was only rebooted because of brownouts. explained that i have all the software i need to be produtive. while i thought that we had some work to do in makeing the GUI easy to use. ie as easy as windoze. these coming mounths we would see those app's.

    #include "standard_disclaimer.h"
  • i was at FOSE,as a novaLUG menber, so i can say that there is alot of ppl that what to know what know what linux _IS_. i got asked over and what linux was and how is woud work for my org. everone was there CIA, and other 3 letter feds, biz's big and small , microserfs. they all wanted a esay to understand quick 2min explation of linux. whitch IMHO can't be done. althought i did try....

    by telling of my expance and giving them free beer^H^H^H^Hcandy. then explaining the diff, with free speech. lastly pointing them to some websites, for ferther readings.

    although one microserf did his best to ignore my sale, and contenue to bother me with win2k kernel details... im a webhead not a kernel hacker. i think that our next novaLUG meeting will have lots of extra vistors...

    #include "standard_disclaimer.h"
  • "DX.exe has caused a general protection fault is module kernel32.dll" - not very friendly. Or helpful. It then goes on to say that if the problem continues, contact the vendor. Not helpful, as I don't really know what went wrong.

    This is simple buck-passing. The "vendor" is not usually MS, its the poor guy who sold you the computer. MS OEM licenses [] explicitly prohibit you from passing MS telephone numbers to the customer, so the customer can only telephone the guy who sold the system, and will consequently tend to aim the blame that way as well.


  • 2. They'll never trust anything that's free. And I mean free as in price. "Anything that isn't expensive must suck" is the general mindset here.
    You're not alone. I work in a large government facility and see the same bias. Its generally held by "old school" types who have a hard time differing between "open source" and "freeware". Freeware is junk. It can't be trusted. At least, that's the claim.

    Its interesting to note that one line manager had expressed this bias during a discussion on SSH. The recommendation was to go with SSH1 until various issues with SSH2 have been ironed out. The manager in question had a hard time understanding this - SSH1 was "freeware". How could it be better than SSH2?

    The latest meeting we had went back to this theme and our favorite line manager stood up and announced that he is beginning to change his mind. It was hard for him to do, he admited. And yes, while being biased against "free" software was an antiquated concept... its still a very real bias a lot of the old line managers have to deal with. And overcome.

    As a side note, its always fun to refer to your bosses as "antiquated" in open meetings.

    But back to the point... this bias is changing. Not everywhere. Not quickly. But the recent hype around Linux is doing Good Things even if Linux doesn't end up saving the world.

  • by jkeene ( 53904 ) on Friday April 21, 2000 @06:49AM (#1119684)
    They're quite accustomed to getting castoffs from the other services. Back in 1980, the mainframe I was operating was a ten-year old reconditioned graveyard piece, found in packing crates covered in mud from the Mekong delta. Enough freshwater rinses, and it came back to life.

    Linux will fit well with the something-for-nothing mindset there.
  • is that dude wearing a gun?

    The gentleman on the left (in the two-sizes too small white sport coat appears to be showing the "print" of a belt-mounted pager.

    The person on the right in khakis with the black web shoulder-holster is wearing one of the newest accessories for PDAs. Seriously, PDA carried under one arm, pouch wireless phone under the other.

    See it at:

  • by imac.usr ( 58845 ) on Friday April 21, 2000 @06:20AM (#1119686) Homepage
    at Apple's booth, hidden in the center part (where all the staff hang out and where they keep the boxes for the displayed machines, etc.). I couldn't get a good look at it but I recognized the OS X file viewer (Finder replacement) layout on screen.

    They were serving all of their machines via an AirPort base station, BTW. And yes, the 22" Cinema Display does inspire dropped jaws.

    I spoke to some of the booth personnel. They said to expect good things from this year's WWDC, including the possibility of more projects being released under the APSL and maybe even precompiled binaries for Linux. No mention of specific products, though. They were tight-lipped about Darwin x86 as well.

    We have lots of Macs here (NIH), and Linux is attracting attention from some of the more computer-savvy scientists (hey, Solaris is expensive) but unfortunately, we also have lots of Novell and NT boxen as well, and lots of less-than-savvy users -- not that there's anything wrong with that. Until there's a replacement for Exchange/GroupWise, we'll never switch, I fear. (hint, hint)

  • First of all, let me mention one of the big things that the Feds and Military love to have, Money to spend! They'll do whatever they can to have a high budget. If they did decide to use Linux, imagine what would happen to their budget for IT, it would drop drastically. Sure they could spend the rest of their money on hardware but do you think they really would?
    Second of all, as mentioned earlier, the idea of free software scares them. Nothing is free to these people. If it's free, it's worthless or not secure enough to use in their high security environment.
    Of all the places that were Linux oriented at FOSE, not ONE of them boasted about security. Gov't places want to know they have a secure system.
    The Linux pavillion was decent, but it could have been a WHOLE lot better. With all the different distro's and large software packages, there could have been much better support and presentations of Linux oriented software. API's booth was decent and was at least slightly pointed in the right direction. It makes me sick to say it, but Corel was taking the proper approach. I decided to put myself through some of the torture of their demonstrations, and from what I saw, they were pursuing the people like they should have. During the demonstration of WordPerfect Office 2000, they made sure to continually say "(so and so package) runs, looks, and has the same features under Linux or Windows" and would also say that it was running under Linux. This is what companies need to see! They need to see that Linux DOES in fact have a GUI (which some people STILL think it doesn't), and that it DOES have a place at the job!
    On a more generalized note, I can easily see Linux at the job site, especially in corporations which are mainly concerned with word processing, presentations, accounting etc. As for the home computer, it probably won't make it very soon, but do we REALLY want that?
  • And Linux is developing faster than it can be documented. That makes it very hard to train someone to use and manage the system. IMO, Linux is still several years away from any kind of solid standards track -- esp. when Linus still hasn't grasped the concepts of "feature freeze" and "code freeze" (you'd think he'd know how to manage software release cycles.)
  • FOSE #4 [] ... is that dude wearing a gun?
  • Cool. I've always wanted to be able to cross-draw my cell phone and palm pilot!
  • Col. Quick logic is a symptom of the backwards thinking that seems to be everywhere in the computing world...

    "We use a lot of UNIX in the command and control centers, but we use NT for the desktop," says Quick. With
    open-source software, "you could well have somebody developing a little application that they become dependent
    on. The person who develops it leaves, somebody else moves in who's never seen it before. If that's your expert,
    and they're now over in Saudi, you're kind of out of luck."

    Loss of manpower is one thing that is completely unavoidable in the workforce. Sooner or later, you'll have to train someone else to take a position you fill today. If someone develops a nifty NT application and suddenly finds himself or herself in Saudi, then they are still stuck. How does having it on one platform or another make a difference?

    Besides, in as little as 5 years, they will need to replace all of their NT stuff when Microsoft yet again "innovates" a supposed new OS(I'm sorry...NT2K at its core is still the same NT. Where is the revolutionary software?). On the other hand, BSD and Linux seem to preach a "extend the tools" philosophy. The logic here is that all of the code and design is still good...why through it away? Indeed it seems that Microsoft's business strategy is predicated on the need for deprication. So why throw away and buy from scratch(Microsoft) when you can reuse and retool(Open Software)? Especially in Fed Government groups, the Budget Axe may come back on a whim(ie. political winds) so why not go with the cheaper extendable solution?

  • Baloney

    We employ Linux, Apache, Perl, Gnuplot, Samba, etc. in our work everyday.

    Now about the part of shredding stuff before being approved - we do do that :)
  • Exactly... I work for a gov't lab and we have been trying to get a contractor that works for us to port some code over to a more open platform and environment. They scoff at this concept in meetings saying "We advise against depending on shareware for mission critical apps".

    They recommond that we use "Corporate quality" and "supported" software.

    Ha ha ha ... Thats when I laugh. We need to port our 40k lines of code because Openlook, xview, tooltalk is no longer support by the manufacture!

    The times are a changin. One of the reasons to use opensource software is support will be available in terms of a variety of internet sources and for popular projects there are always large numbers of consultants around that can be contracted with and the software is not going to get axed for business reasons and at least you have the code.
  • This is a serious problem with some Linux apps. Some seem to take forever to develop and there are alot of apps with little to no development. Way too many version 0.02s out there!

    People do have to work for a living, and it's a rare geek who get's paid to code OSS software. Also, people are (rightly) hesitant to tell people "yes, this code is absolutely perfect! Use it now!" if they're not really sure that's right. In fact usually it's just the opposite (look at the ext3 homepage). And version numbers are often kept very low for early beta testing, then go up quite a bit (for instance lsh went from 0.2.x to 0.9.0).

    Anyway version numbers don't mean crap. Currently, I'm using: lilo 0.21, smpeg 0.3.5, ext2ed 0.1, pam 0.68, ORBit 0.5, etc, etc, etc.
  • Sorry, submitted too early. If airman learn a skill like "enterprise"-level NT management, or fiber-optic installation, it takes two seconds to realize something. They make maybe $25,000 and have to take orders from superiors, and the skills that they just learned can net them $75,000-$90,000 in the civilian world. Airman can leave, not train a replacement, and the brain drain means that the existing facities are not used as they should. Put in two OSes and low training ops and watch the network go down permanently. Now, if you put Win NT on the desktops and have Linux w/Samba emulate PDC and BDC (domain controllers) in the back, perhaps it could fly. But keeping the information on base is a difficult prospect. Wouldn't you triple your salary if you could ?
  • by pangur ( 95072 ) on Friday April 21, 2000 @06:42AM (#1119696)
    I have trained air force personnel at Shaw in windows NT, and I have done help desk support for the national guard. A lot of the time, the "sys admin" was placed in that position because he knew how to use Word. In an environment where people go TDY for weeks, get transferred, get reassigned, get placed into a job where the previous occupant left without docs or training a replacement, you learn to think conservatively. People here know about Win95/98/NT. They know to double-click an icon, and how to start Outlook. For some, this is _very_ new technology that snuck in three years before they retire, and this might be the third iteration of computers in their office in fifteen years (dumb terms, Novell, Win). The advanced skills are not learned because not many people know about them. You should see how excited some airman became about setting file permissions!
  • The biggest reason for them to not go for free (as in price) stuff is because it ruins their budget allocation. They gotta keep buying expensive stuff to justify their budgets. I don't think it's necessarily (though definitely not out of the question) that anything that isn't expensive suck.
  • The government had significant participation in Open Source/Free Software. They certainly have the resources to review the code, test the code, etc. If they are ever worried about control and security, well, what better way than for them to create an organization for development on Linux? Then they can oversee the development to make sure that everything is secure and up to spec.

    Is there any reason why they wouldn't/couldn't do that?

  • You could always check it because it is open source.
  • Sure! Absolutely. Having a budget doesn't mean having to buy specific items. If you can buy cheaper products, you can just buy more of them to fill the budget, right?

    I'm sure there's enough excess and castoffs to get Linux in, no problem. The problem would be free software, because if the government is using free software, wouldn't we, as citizens (some of us less informed than others) demand to know why is the government spending so much money to use 'free' (still in terms of price, though not cost) software?

  • We have lots of Macs here (NIH), and Linux is attracting attention from some of the more computer-savvy scientists (hey, Solaris is expensive)

    More correctly:

    Sun HARDWARE is expensive.
    Solaris is not.

    ($75 is expensive??)

  • I'd like to take issue with the statement that "While work on the BSD-based OS X is moving along, no machines at FOSE were demonstrating the new OS"

    I am an Apple WebObjects Consulting Engineer, and I was there all three days showing WebObjects 4.5 [] running on Mac OS X Server 1.2 on a G4/450. While this is not Mac OS X, currently scheduled for release this summer, it is a Mach 2.5+ based system with a BSD Unix layer. Most apps which can be configured for BSD will compile with just a "./configure" and a "make install" (I know how easy it can be, I've done bash and samba personally). Any source package that will currently compile on MOSXS 1.2 should work just fine with MOSX. With the Darwin project, the lowest levels of the OS (including the Mach 3.0 kernel and BSD layers) are available to outside developers.

    That being said, Kai Staats showing off Yellow Dog and Black Lab Linux at FOSE was kewl. He told me that TerraSoft's site was slashdotted yesterday, so he's doing something right. Besides which, he helped feed the whole booth crew with lots of organic, vegetarian munchies during the prolonged pack-up and load out process. Thanx Kai!

    Paul L. Suh
    Senior Consulting Engineer
    Apple Computer [mailto]
  • Federal gov't has such a great amount of inertia when it comes to technology. The feds never want to endorse something until they have seen it work for years in private industry. It is all just the PR. In their eyes, management feds don't want to be looked down upon for spending taxpayer money on something which isn't a "standard." All of us here know that Linux is a viable product. How do you get a fed manager who is coasting toward retirement to understand (or care) about migrating to something he has never heard of? It is the same for every industry, not just the computer industry. NIH lets HGS, Celera, etc. do their dirty work while they wait to see some real results.

    Fed money is a hard egg to crack, but worth it if you can get it.
  • I dropped in at FOSE for a day to check out the linux pavilion. You'd think that having a "linux pavilion" would mean that there would actually be a real presence there. Apart from Caldera and the DC/NOVALUGs, there really wasn't. Several of the vendors outside of the pavilion did indeed tout linux machines, including the apple exhibit. But even in the linux pavilion, there were machines running microsoft products. At least there was a pavilion. Maybe next year some more vendors can show up and do what linux vendors are expected to do- give me free t-shirts.
  • Linux at computer trade shows is nothing new -- but this show in particular targets no one outside the largest buyer of computers and software in the entire world, bar none: the Feds

    That one quote says it all. If linux gets the monetary support of the U.S. government, it will finally be in a position to become a 'real world' operating system, not just a hobbyists toy.

    Go ahead and flame me, but it's the truth; the vast majority of government and corporate concerns in america see linux as a toy for geeks, not as a viable alternative to MS's flavor-of-the-month Windoze franchise, or to unix.

  • Pardon the hell out of me, but. . .

    Linux is quintessentially anti-establishment. It's designed to be everything that big, lumbering dinosaur outfits like Microsoft and the military are not.

    Sorry, but it strikes me as really lame to see so many Linux enthusiasts so desperate to find validation in having a big daddy like the f***ing military give them a nod of approval.

    Linux won't die. It's driven and created by those who want it to exist. So who the hell cares about any aspect of it beyond that?



  • It locks SOLID. Can't telnet, can't switch to a different terminal, numlock, capslock stop working. And both times I was not running as root, (except for maybe the font server?), so it shouldn't be access errors. I dunno, it doesn't happen to anyone else in my local LUG... Plus I've got these cool mouse errors when I switch to another virtual terminal and then switch back to my X server...
  • NOT running as root. I was NOT running as root. Both times, i was NOT running as root. I hardly ever do anything as root. I'm not that dumb. The NOT is there.
  • The millions have spoken: Use AOL. Watch Titannic. Who cares? The masses don't necessarily make the correct descisions. And I wouldn't say Windows is the friendliest. "DX.exe has caused a general protection fault is module kernel32.dll" - not very friendly. Or helpful. It then goes on to say that if the problem continues, contact the vendor. Not helpful, as I don't really know what went wrong.

    In my mind, a friendly platform should allow you to have many apps running at once without one trashing the others. At least as of Win98SE, when IE crashes, it no longer brings down the entire OS... A Java applet caused IE 4 to crash on Win98, and Win98 responded by crashing and burning. That's not friendly.

    Under Linux, whenever Netscape crashes, I usually don't lose everything else. Except when I move the window - then it'll freeze everything solid. No, really! I'm now afraid to move any Netscape window for fear of corrupting my file systems... I have no clue why that happens, but it does on occasion. I have yet to have it happen to a non-Netscape 4 window...

    Basically, if the millions decided to jump off the Grand Canyon, would you do it too? There are plenty of stupid fads which were very popular, but when people look back at them, they just seem foolish.

    Back up that claim, and then zealots will have to either agree to points or point out flaws in your arguments. Just saying something and expecting people to back it up without claims is foolish.

  • by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Friday April 21, 2000 @06:08AM (#1119710) Homepage Journal
    One other thing: Linux is easier to secure than NT.

    I once got the fun task of "securing" an NT server, which meant to go through a 20-odd page check list. This was bad enough, but some of the instructions were contradictory... page 1 would have you remove the nobody group, page 4 would ask you to change properties about that group, page 9 would say to add it...

    Plus there are a lot of registry hacking requirements... changing hex numbers in poorly named registry keys. I have NO idea what they do...

    It wasn't too much fun. I have no idea whether or not the server is very secure... it is, however, obscure, so maybe we can keep secure like that...

    (Yay, Slashdot's stopped eating HTML on preview! Still eats &entities; though...)

  • We use a lot of UNIX in the command and control centers, but we use NT for the desktop," says Quick. With open-source software, "you could well have somebody developing a little application that they become dependent on. The person who develops it leaves, somebody else moves in who's never seen it before. If that's your expert, and they're now over in Saudi, you're kind of out of luck."

    This is a serious problem with some Linux apps. Some seem to take forever to develop and there are alot of apps with little to no development. Way too many version 0.02s out there! However, there are also projects with alot of developers and extensive commercial support (sendmail, apache). I don't see why the government would not have the developers to continue some programming. Plus, many commercial software companies (i.e., Microsoft) have a history of vaporware. It must be a pain to plan for a migration for two years and have it derailed because Microsoft changes its products' feature set.


  • While I agree that there is a significant mindset against "free" SW, perhaps they (the military brass) need to bear the following in mind:

    Number of Navy ships disabled due to Windows NT crashing: One.

    Number of Navy ships disabled due to Linux crashing: Zero.

    (yes, I know it was an application that precipitated the crash, and yes I know that there aren't any Navy ships running Linux anyway, but you know what they say about the three types of lies...)
  • I'm not sure about the civil service geeks, but I will tell you that the military won't switch.

    Why? A couple of reasons:

    1) The people working on the CS systems are generally High school grads that couldn't get scholarships to go to college or didn't have anything better to do. The military really doesn't care about interest, and it certainly doesn't care about ability... they'll "train" anybody to do anything. Linux is a bit more complicated than doing the point-and-click style repair of MS clients.

    2. They'll never trust anything that's free. And I mean free as in price. "Anything that isn't expensive must suck" is the general mindset here.

    In short-- it won't happen.

  • Even if they wanted to, they can't. Actualy, i suppose they could but they require everything they buy to be POSIX Certified -- note that word. Certified is not the same thing as compliant. Berkeley UNIX and Linux-based GNU are POSIX complaint for the most part, but WindowsNT is certifed. So is Irix, Solaris, SunOS, UNICOS, etc. I'm sure if they wanted to do the paper work they could change the requirmnet, but this is the government we're talking about -- anything usful will be shreded before it gets approved.
  • that just about sums it up. those people are nuts, especialy Rev. Don in comp.unix.bsd.freebsd.misc
  • It is not that hard to train military IT to use Linux. Just install SUSE or Red Hat on the computers and through the magic of either YAST2 or linuxconf run from Gnome/X all the MSCE wannabe admins can point and click to maintain the servers.

    On a more serious note through tools like SSH, could be used to allow computer experts to stay far behind the front lines. Also, since OpenSSH is under a BSD style license, the military could in theory modify it with any top-secret encryption algorithms they develop without releasing the modified code.

    On a final note IMHO the BSD's would be much better for military applications. Their networking code is superiors to the penguins. Linux would be good for desktops due to a larger application base. However, the BSDs make much better servers.

God made machine language; all the rest is the work of man.