Linux in the Real World
While TAEX has received many favorable comments via e-mail, a more accurate progress assessment can be made by analyzing user access patterns.
Between February 13 and December 31, 1994, certain trends emerged. Daily usage patterns were high between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM, but there were no “dead” hours. Weekend usage was about half that of weekday usage. Mosaic (http) access grew rapidly, but represented only 49% of Leviathan's total accesses. Gopher access was still important in 1994. The majority (62%) of the users were in the United States. Of these, most (67%) were from educational institutions, 16% were from the commercial (.com) domain, and 6% were from the government (.gov) domain. Leviathan's users were mostly (80%) from outside the TAMU system. Some 69,476 accesses (16%) were from Texas, which means that 84% of the requests were from out of state. Texas County Extension Agents visited 1062 times, while 215 Texas Extension Specialists connected 38,561 times.
Leviathan has been visited by people in 62 identifiable countries outside the United States on six continents. There have been contacts from 793 different educational domains in all 50 states. Delphi users accessed Leviathan 3,365 times, and America OnLine subscribers called 2,172 times. Compuserve users finally connected 48 times in December. The server has been contacted by 1,270 individual host machines more than 50 times; 561 of these visited more than 100 times; and 22 dropped in more than 1000 times in that period.
If you build it, they will come....The demand for on-line information is staggering.
If you provide useful information, they will come back, repeatedly, for more.
Providing networked access to information is often cheaper than traditional methods of distribution.
Networked access to information is only useful as to those who are networked. It should be viewed an adjunct to existing distribution methods.
Simple text-based information is valuable. FTP and gopher are not dead. While the sizzle may sell the steak, content is more important than presentation.
Consider your audience. Ensure that documents make sense when viewed in a text-only mode.
Use graphics sparingly. Keep in-lined graphics small. Many users have slow dial-up network connections.
The Internet does not end at the state line. We now serve people in other states and nations of the global village at no incremental cost.
Servers must serve 24 hours a day. It is 3 PM some where on the Internet all the time.
Servers should not be shut down for update and maintenance. This implies a multitasking operation.
Graphics and audio files should be clearly identified through use of icons.
Keep menu pages small and simple, with 5 ± 2 selections.
Almost any old obsolete computer can be used as a server. Storage capacity is more important than powerful CPUs.
Current WYSIWYG editors are often harder to use than simple text editors for producing HTML.
Storage space and network bandwidth are both finite.
Time costs more than equipment.
Administering a server takes more time than expected.
Organizing information is sometimes harder than producing it.
Writing HTML documents is far easier than it first appears.
We often overestimate what we can do in a week and underestimate what we can do in a year.
Linux is not merely a hobbyist's toy; it is a solid, stable, professionally-implemented Unix clone that performs superbly as a production information server platform.
Evolving telecommunications and computer technology are combining to produce a technological imperative for change, requiring information access as well as traditional information distribution techniques. Government agencies will continue to be asked to provide more and better services with a shrinking resource base. Demand for information access will likely continue to increase for the foreseeable future, causing a corresponding demand for more network bandwidth. The TAEX combination FTP/Gopher/WWW server demonstrates that a low cost (> $1,500 US) computer running only free software can supply a moderate-to-large amount of information. Usage is growing at a rate of 10,000 accesses monthly. Demand for gopher http access. FTP is still a viable and desired method of file transfer. Information servers provide information to inhabitants of the global village without barriers of time and distance. TAEX's Gopher/WWW/FTP information server is a promising alternative medium for outreach and distance learning for our changing clientele. It is a digital extension of the agency's motto: People Helping People.
Paul M. Sittler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Computer Systems Engineer for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. He enjoys playing with technology and making it useful to others of his species. He received a BS and MS in Vocational/Industrial Technical Education from Texas A&M University.
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