Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Administrators

A look at the themes, myths and clangers reported by the next crop of system administrators.

At the start of this academic year (September 2001), I was asked to teach a new module in my Institute's B.Sc. degree program in Information Technology. This final-year undergraduate module, entitled “Network and Systems Management”, covers a wide range of system administration technologies, practices and principles. In effect, students of the module are the system administrators of the future.

As is probably the theme at the majority of third-level educational establishments, student's exposure to OS technology at the Institute of Technology, Carlow is Microsoft-focused and desktop-based. This is easy to understand, for the desktop is very much a Microsoft stronghold, and if an institution can use the same PCs to teach business undergrads Excel and science undergrads programming, then they will. However, what many of my students often fail to recognize is that, as system administrators, they will find themselves managing servers running OS technology other than Microsoft's.

So in an attempt to expose my students to a more realistic view of the technologies in use in the real world, I try to deemphasize Microsoft's technologies in favor of the alternatives. As you can imagine, Linux features quite heavily.

At the start of this academic year, I informally surveyed the 31 students enrolled in the module about their exposure to Linux. Most (if not all) had some exposure to the OS. I probed further and asked how many students had used Linux as the basis of their third-year project (the previous year). One or two hands were raised. Then the first shock came: someone blurted out, “nearly everyone who used Linux last year went on to fail their project”. It came out that a number of individuals were missing from the final year due to failing the project element in year three. When I probed for the root cause of the project-failing problem, I got my second shock: “Linux is too hard to install”. I was shocked not because these two statements were necessarily false but because these 31 students had pretty much convinced themselves that success was tied to Microsoft and failure to Linux.

While I covered Windows 2000 and Linux as case studies, pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of each OS, I gave the class an assignment that would require them to do some simple research and, as a consequence, allow them to learn a little more about Linux. The task was simple enough. I stated: “Despite considerable success as a server platform, Linux will never threaten Microsoft Windows as a desktop operating system.” I asked the students to research the subject area, form an opinion as to whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, and then present their case in no more than three A4 pages of typed text. As I marked their assignments, a number of themes recurred. Additionally, numerous myths became evident, and—perhaps not unexpectedly—a number of blatant untruths presented themselves. These I classified as clangers. In the remainder of this article, I present the themes, myths and clangers uncovered, in addition to my own personal commentary.

Note: for this purpose, I define a theme as something that is generally agreed to be true. If a comment occurred repeatedly throughout the students submissions, and it was true, it became a theme. A myth is defined as something generally held to be true but is, in fact, not true. Even if a myth occurred repeatedly throughout the submissions (and many did), it can't be a theme as it isn't true. A clanger is a statement that is just blatantly wrong.

Themes

The majority of my students felt that “more desktop applications are required for Linux”. No argument here, the more the merrier. And, Microsoft obviously has a distinct advantage in this regard. This theme appeared in many different forms in the student submissions. The most depressing (but still true) form was: “The average user does not care what operating system they are using, just so long as it runs Microsoft Office.” And Microsoft knows this. The real crown jewel in the Microsoft arsenal is the Office Suite. The fact that Redmond and Cupertino engineers have already ported (most of) the Office technology to Mac OS X indicates that a port to the X Window System would not be too difficult. But let's face it, porting to Mac OS X on the PowerPC-based Macintosh will never directly threaten the Windows monopoly. Porting to Linux on x86 is an entirely different matter. Were this to occur, the implications would be huge. This theme was further generalized by one student as follows: “The desktop operating system with the most third-party software wins.”

The students felt that “The KDE/GNOME choice confuses most newcomers to Linux.” This frustration was also expressed as follows: “A commonly-agreed upon GUI environment is needed.” Most felt Microsoft has a definite edge here, as Windows 9x/ME/NT/2000 and now XP look essentially the same. There's an argument that the choice of GUI (or desktop environment) is a good thing in the Linux world. However, I'd have to side with my students on this one, as I'd really like to see one single, coherent GUI environment combining the best features of both KDE and GNOME. There is nothing inherently wrong with all Linux desktop GUIs looking the same, is there? And I suspect such an environment would be welcomed by the vast majority of Linux GUI trainers.

The students had plenty to say about the (lack of) reliability in Windows. An eyebrow raising comment said, “for the sake of convenience and familiarity, most users will put up with Windows crashing on a regular basis. In fact, everyone knows it's quite normal for PCs to crash.” A more general observation, along the same lines, was, “People like predictability, and they don't like change, so they will put up with Windows' shortcomings.” This is a shame but it is true: it has become okay for a PC (running Windows) to crash once a day (or more often). One student referred to this as “normal” behavior. Like it or not, the average user expects their PC to crash and are trained to switch it off then back on again.

Compared to the infamous reliability of Windows, Linux did well: “Linux is technically superior to Windows: it runs longer and consumes fewer resources. Linux also has better security, stability and scalability.” No argument on this front from me, either. Unfortunately, the PC world is littered with dead technologies that were technically superior to the alternatives available at the time of their launch. Or perhaps I should have said “dead companies”. Of course, it is not a company (like Netscape) that Microsoft is trying to kill with its attacks on Linux, it's a community (which is a little harder to kill). So, Microsoft's past tactics may not (hopefully, will not) work.

A number of students highlighted the market perception of Linux as a problem to be overcome: “How can Linux really threaten Windows on the desktop when the vast majority of PC users haven't even heard of it?”. Another slant on this was, “The Windows brandname is too strong to threaten”, and “The Linux community are no match for the marketing machine that is Microsoft.” This visibility problem isn't helped by the fact that the mainstream computing press have all but stopped covering Linux since the dot-com bubble burst. The Windows brandname is as strong as Coca-Cola, but the Coca-Cola brandname didn't stop Pepsi from having a go (and doing quite well, too). Again, I think the strength of the Linux community has bearing here, despite the fact that a lot of my students thought that “which desktop OS dominates has more to do with marketing than technical expertise”. Nearly every student agreed that “Linux needs to shake its image as the techie/programmer's OS”, and that “Linux is seen as a geek's OS. Programmers love it and that puts everyone else off.” Yes, image (market perception) is everything, and Microsoft knows this. This helps explains the anti-Linux FUD campaign coming out of Redmond these days.

The fact that Linux tends to run well on any old PC came in for praise, typically as follows: “Newer versions of Windows tend to obsolete todays hardware. Linux, on the other hand, runs quite well on older PCs.” Yes, the new version of your chosen operating system shouldn't require a major upgrade (or replacement) to the hardware it runs on. If only more people would realize this, and act on it.

More than one student had this warning for Microsoft: “The new XP licensing arrangements may result in many IT shops reassessing their allegiance to Microsoft. Coming on the heels of the recent economic downturn, this may hurt Microsoft to the benefit of Linux.” Yes, we should all be screaming this from the tallest buildings we can find: users (i.e., IT managers) need to resist Microsoft's attempts to “lock 'em in” as much as possible!

______________________

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Sad but true

A Student Organization Systems Manager's picture

The IT business buff Guy Kawasaki is great at reminding software engineers that the greatest products don't always win, that's life, that's business. See the phenomenon of Windows and the QWERTY keyboard. The cost of conversion is just too high.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I found myself teaching computer science in Bolivia two years ago, then I decided to make an experiment using Linux (Suse Linux 7.0) .

I had to implement the IGCSE syllabus for computer studies, which I think is really demanding for High School students.

That experience showed:

* A little maintainence work should be done to the computers, which in 2 years have been practically untouched.

* Failures are basically associated not to the operating system itself but to the desktop manager (KDE) and some applications that often crash. Star Office for example has an option that allows you to repair the instalation. It some times for some uncertain reason crashes.

* Old computers can be used as long as they support at least 128 MB RAM because KDE + Star Office have shown to be a good memory eater pair , but now a days that is not much to be demanded.

* Students no matter what age they are, are enthusiastic with the operating system as long as they find interesting things to do with it.( My students start using the computer lab in 4th grade)

* In 12 grade they know: Typing, Word Processors, Spreadsheets, Database design, Internet applications: email, explorer,chat.. programming console applications, programming GUI applications.

* If I can have all that, buying a good collection of installation disk for 70 dollars, should I think to move to Windows?

In fact at the moment of writting this comment, It comes to my mind that the school's owner is an Irish guy and some of the students probably will go to Ireland, if so ,you are going to have students with a completly different vision of Linux and its applications.

Mario Garcia.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Although it amazes me that IT students can't install Linux, they are not totally to blame. Our universities are the ones to blame, not the students. The curricula are set by short sighted professors. Many of whom snub anything that makes them have to do "more work" as they rest on their tenured laurels, garnering their research and publishing dollars, but, I digress.

I am slowly and completely becoming a Linux convert. I must admit, I was, until very recently, a Microsoft snob, an employee actually, and have had my MCSE since Windows NT 3.51 when it actually meant something. After 9 years of helping MS users "work around" the bugs that were never fixed, I have finally seen the light of the GNU/GPL/Public Domain software.

The passion for Linux and the associated projects is truly amazing. The MS passion is to make as much money and keep the stock as high as possible. Sure, there are many, many excellent people who work with MS software and have a special passion it, but most (not all) are motivated by profit. The Linux population is motivated by true grit - the desire to make something work and work well.

I have tinkered with Linux since 1994. My first installation was build .94. It didn't impress me and I didn't know what to do with it. I was and still am very well versed in command line Dos/Batch files but I didn't see the value of Linux at the time. Over the past several years, I've installed a few versions and have seen the progress that has been made. Each installation was difficult, regardless of my hardware knowledge which is pretty extensive. FDISK is pretty easy compared to some of the earlier partitioning tools.

A few months ago, I installed FreeBSD. Closely studying the prompts and setup tools gave me the necessary information, without resorting to the installation docs, but then I got to the X config and hit a brick wall. These are the things that the average end user desktop must not have to endure. After a week of not being able to get any X Server greater than VGA to work on a particular system, I gave up.

A week later, my registry got "corrupted" and my Windows 2000 box wouldn't boot. Dejected and seriously pissed, I found myself at the local CompUSA looking at systems and just wasting some time. I went to the OS shelf and looked around. "Pretty amazing" I thought to myself. People only have two choices for their OS. On the shelf was Linux (several different types) and Windows (several different types).

I picked up the Red Hat box and soon realized that few people are going to buy the "Pro" version. I was sure I didn't want a copy of Red Hat since their Pro version is running right along with MS at about 200 bucks. What the hell are they thinking???? I then noticed the S.U.S.E version. Nice box, nice features, lots of programs included and "only" 70 bucks. "What the hell" I said. I'll try it. All I can say is, after tinkering and cussing for several years and trying to get Linux to work for me I was impressed. This S.U.S.E 7.3 version installed on ALL of my systems (2 dual PII 350s, a PIII 866 and a Home Theatre BookPC, all with totally different hardware)- flawlessly! It was truly easier than any install I've ever performed with a MS OS. I have converted all of my systems and would strongly recommend S.U.S.E to anyone having trouble with install, and especially to those new users who are just a little bit curious about using inexpensive hardware and software to perform some truly impressive tasks. My passion is now Linux. I'm having an easier time with it thatn I originally thought since I have about 20 years of computing/IT experience, althought it is all PC/DOS/Windows. I plan to automate my house, create an automated home theatre and run all of my business and gaming needs on Linux. I can see that it is totally possible to do all this, without any major expense or expert knowledge. Now, if I could just get the guts to convert my laptop!! It's only a matter of time! :)

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Oh my, you are way too bias to write articles like this. I dont hate linux or windows ect..I just work in the real world and know quite a bit on different platforms and with my own experience quite differ from yours. As far as windoze crashing every day that is simply not true, I have nt servers running solid for months now. The truth is windows is easier to aminister than linux and it also has its strenghts and weaknesses like linux. Linux is not as perfect as you describe it. My own experiences with linux (RH7.2)on a dual p2 400 machine appeared to run slower than a biege G3 233 running the original Mac OS X, so please spare me from so called fact the linux runs well even on older machines, that too is simply BS. If id had to run a Unix platform(which i do), Id recommend solaris on sparc first, it runs way better than any linux on any i386. The difference is like night and day. Dont listen to this jerk, he's a joke.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I have just read this article and feel my classmates and I have been a little misrepresented. I was one of the students who's project was Linux based and no one failed because Linux was too hard to install. I'm not saying Paul was lying (perish the thought), just misinformed. The people who failed the Linux based projects failed it because of lack of effort not a lack of intelligence or computer knowledge. And I know the people that failed these projects would agree with me.

Also, during last year the class was given a list of tasks to be completed by each student. Each task class (one a week) lasted two hours. One of tasks was to install linux. The success rate of the completeion of this task was, I'd say, around 95%. The small problems some people had where due a lack of experience installing software, especially os'. If this lack of experience is astonishing to some of you talk to college about their cirriculum and stop blaming it on our ability (or lack of) 'cause I don't think my little heart can take any more of a battering.

sBut...the single most nimpor

Anonymous's picture

sBut...the single most nimportant taskof an sysadmin is to instll and configure services. How can you be unable to install an OS? i am 13, and have easily installed Fedora and Debian on 3 boxes. It is easy.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Dont blame the College curriculum..

You will learn part of life is taking a little initiative and doing something on your own instead of doing it for "credit" or because you HAVE to do it for school. Do it out of a little intereset and curiosity.

Don't rely on a curriculum to teach you everything you need to know. If you do, you will find life very interesting when you graduate.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Can i just point out that this article was written by students who have little more than 1 years experience of "Systems administration". The whole concept of the "Linux being hard to install" was based on the fact that all students had one attempt to install it, onto cumputers supplied by the college that are around since Linux was invented. This and the fact that we only had about an hour and a half to install it created the difficulty. Having completed a years work experience already and now into my final year in IT Carlow i would like to point out that out of all the theory and other bo llox thought by the college(maybe even the majority of colleges), i found about 5% of it helped me in the workplace and thats being generous. I feel the need for more emphisis on the practical side of things rather than the theory by colleges.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Now you know why Microsoft wanted to give away free PCs and OSes to the schools.... To create the M$ mindset - There is only one OS in the whole world ... Windows. There is only one company that makes software - M$

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Francois's picture

Tank you for the publishing of these results from your students.

I'll concentrate on the title as i comment to make sure this is profitable to the readers.

It's now 22:25 and i've been reading for the last 2 hours these comments and i have learned very much how people think in the community.

So, for the second time this year i'm commenting on an issue i feel is very important. To be more precise i'm offering myself a deep thinking for the subjet.

Deep down inside me, i felt sad for your students because from where they are now and where there going. I meen they are very fortunate to have been able to go that far in the school echelon (college) with that kind of Title "future system administrator"...

That was not possible for me... (dont want to make anybody cry...just describing myself a bit to expose my comment ). I've always looked at people who were at college and university to be very elite and the referenced "certified people" in our society. But now these fellows are in the learning system and seem to be unprepare for the future that will come to them very soon. Like another person said above, Its not there fault... they were brought up with a dominant proprietary sofware OS. But at a second year in college with that narrow exposure to computing in general makes me think somthing is wrong in the school system.

From an outsider that had no college or university

i'd say they all took a drop as i compare myself to them.

I've joined the army at age 17. I had learned computing in BASIC on an dumped 100$ Texas Instrument TI-99 4a... For me it was a super computer back then...a present from my mother at 15 of age... anyway 15 years passed without touching a computer. The interest and the money wasn't there. In 1999 after i had bought a Macintosh for my wife (I was told the MAC Os was the easyest one to administer ... so that was perfect ... give the

Mac to the wife and forget about it ... go back fishing ... hi ...hi ). That thing woulg crash so much that after a couple of hours i was in front of it helping the wife .... I surely would have used help from a college student in sysadmin at that time because i would have gone back fishing ... ;)

But that was not the case, i had to make it work...

some of you know the price of a complete system Power mac 6500, apple monitor, printer ... ect

that means at lot of money... so i had to make it work.

Whitout really noing it ... I was back after 15 years...

but as you all think, i was'nt sastified with the OS.

Between the crashes i was reading and less fishing in the river, but not on Mac OS...

I had red on the net about Linux... To my own values this was something incredible... everything was tremedous...

less crash, free as in free speech.... open source code.... " Gnu/Linux .... from the people, to the people "... wwwoooooowww that was great, I just

had to try it !

Finded LinuxPPC website and order a copy and gived the 140 $ to encourage the boys back there.

Hey i was going just nuts...

My wife was looking sometimes at me and wondered if i had bought the computer for her... ;)

The more i was learning (in secrecy )... would'n tell fellow's i was back using computers... not yet, the more my confidence as a coputer user was comming back...

Always thinking of all those universitys, colleges people, business people, scientist, teachers, helping for the developpement of Gnu/Linux and i was thinking these people are great, fortunate, knowlegable, ect I was putting them on a special status and comparing to myself (a not very high

marks student in school ... slow ... and to the extend refered as dumm, good for digging trenches and going fishing... hey what a life ...

But something special was working inside me, something of a community effort ... "for the people by the people .... free " my mind kept me focussed on it all the time " ... then i red about all these great people Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Eric Raymond

, Larry Wall ... the O'Reilly book publisher, Wrox, ect ect... ect...

The months passed and i started to build my own computers, genuine PC ... intel clones, pieces buy pieces, reading, reading, reading, reading, experimenting, and after 12 months ... Yes I was evangelising people around me about our People OS, and FreeBSD and NetBSD and the secure OpenBSD and FreeDos and APACHE, do you need more....

Now friends were donathing SparcStation 2, SparcStation 5, Solaris...

I was learning Perl.... wwwoooww

I was learning Java ...

I was learning Debian, Slakware, Redhat, Mandrake

Corel/Linux, ect ect...

Building PC's for friends...

After two years ... career opportunities for a very abitous military communications project arrived at my feet ... I was one of the lukiest man i had been chosen to go on an Unix System-Admistration course giving by the army. Took some of my 30 Oreilly books

with me and some cd's of Gnu/Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD (for evangelism ! ) "to give to friends".

It was then that i understood why linux was working... it was i passion driven force inside a lot of us to use, program, study, improve and release to the public our improvements, and help new people around. I was hearing of people in Africa able to put up Linux on old 386, 486, and FreeDos too...

That was tremendous ...

This is what your student should feel like if they really want to become proficient in there next life...

If they are passionnate about computing They'll be good, and They'l be better experimenting with more than Microsofts products... They should read comments and history of great software accomplishement in the public domain for system administrators... It's there's ! It's public

It's from the people for the people ... remember !

Use the distributions you like the most after trying some... create a LUG inside your schools....

(Linux user Group) feel the difference, feel the power of the people all working together ( I can hear my sargeant talking ... work together ! ) ;)

In one minute it will be 2002 for me so I'll say to the teacher ... preach them Gnu/Linux, BSD... it's wonderfulll ... It can take a man who thinks he was dumm, into a passionate *nix system administrator.

It' s now 2002 since 3 minutes... wish you all good year ... and too all college students in computing in your class ... may the force of the people be with you !

Ok the wife and kids are sleeping ... might go for some night ice-fishing ....

Tank you Linuxjounal for superb magazine.

Francois ... Near Quebec City ... in the Mountains.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

All you people saying you learn linux on redhat 7.2 and SuSE 7.1 need to come to terms with reality. Redhat and SuSE have started to drift from what they are supposed to be. They are becoming more and more like Windows; don't be fooled by new easy GUI installs. Slackware Linux (my personal favorite) still has a text based install. It whoops the ***** out of all these wannabe windows distros.

The newest versions of Redhat, SuSE, and Mandrake are for lazy people that are afraid of text based computing. You want to learn Linux, be ready to type, not point and click. That's learning the GUI, which really will get you nowhere.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Each to their own, I guess. Thanks for your comments.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

My comments weren't meant to offend you Professor, and I am sorry if they did. I think your ideas are great. The comments I made however were directed towards the people on this board exclaiming there vast linux knowledge after installing the newest redhat distro..

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

You didn't offend me (and, I'm not a professor, just a humble lecturer). I got your point, BTW, I just hope everyone else did, too. Thanks.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I am 16 years old, and I have installed countless distros on countless different computers. I have compiled kernels from 2.2.10 to 2.4.9 from a 486 to a dual PIII system. I have also set up small heterogenous networks running Linux and Win2k. To say that the installation of linux is the 'hardest' part of using the system, is just (for lack of a better word) stupid. Obviously, someone who thinks the installation of linux is the hardest part of the system, needs to get a grip. I agree with EVERYTHING the professor has to say. He is 100 percent correct in my mind when he says that "linux is too hard to install" is rubbish. Because if I, at 16 (installed my first linux distro at 13) can do it, undergrads sure can. That's it for my rant today :).

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Hello there little boy,

During my years as a 13 - 16 year old kid, I spent my time playing football in the park and trying to look up schoolgirls dresses. Maybe you should spend a little more time doing things like this instead of installing os' and compiling kernels you'll probably feel a whole lot better.

No one likes a smart-arse, especially the little brat variety.

No one in the class had serious problems installing Linux!!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Plabius_Secundus's picture

Dear Young Master Anonymous,

When you've grown considerably older, you will both learn and understand that many people who have learned to do things one way, will have to start all over again in order to learn to do them another way. The likelihood of this occuring only increases as you get older.

Thus the old adage (from the Latin, adagium), "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." I am 36 years old, and set in my ways, so, in many respects, I need to start over again.

People who grew up on Windows haven't had much experience with the command line. They haven't had a good reason to familiarize themselves with, or memorize, the command set. And they have NEVER had a reason to compile the kernel (and probably don't even know what it is)!

-- Plabius --

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I agree with your points, but these are third year CS kids, they should know how to partition a drive and install linux.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Plabius_Secundus's picture

Yes, they should know how to partition a drive. However, in order to partition a drive properly, one needs much more than a passing familiarity with the intended operating system's file system. Being able to partition a drive under Windows does not entail that one will be able to partition a drive under any other operating system.

I also agree that they should be able to install Linux. But their motivation to do so is a reason. And since Microsoft, rightly or wrongly, owns 95% percent of the desktop, and 42% of the server, installations, they don't yet have much of a reason.

I believe that the only way to correct this deficit, is to increase the general public's commercial awareness of Linux's existence and its competitiveness with Microsoft products.

-- Plabius --

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Yo, Plabius and Co.....

Read the article, It doesn't actually mention that every student in Ireland cannot turn on a computer, It states that some (I think the number was 2) failed their Linux project.

I also agree that they should be able to install Linux

At this stage I am tempted to get a flight over to your house, install Linux just to show that we're not all inept at the installation process. Also, I don't see why a small group of students should recieve such comments. I am assuming that you were all born with Godlike administration skills. Look around you, there might be a rectangle (maybe square) shaped object in the wall. This is called a window, look out it, thats known as the outside world. People out there don't actually blame some kid who crashed his car for every person who couldn't drive properly and made a mistake, well I hope not, well unless Microsoft do start making cars, but I digress. What was I saying, oh yea, stay out of my booze!

Linux not free?

Anonymous's picture

Look at this comment: "Linux isn't free. The various distributors charge for their distributions, just like Microsoft charges for its OS." True, if you attempt to acquire Red Hat Linux at your local computer superstore, you won't get it for free. But you can download Red Hat for free over the Internet.

Even that is not the main point. With Windows, you buy a license. One license (or one licence if you're in the USA).

With most Linux distributions, you buy the media, and the software is freely licenced - you can install it legally as many times as you want throughout your enterprise. Or share the disks with your mates.

Big, big difference!

And one that we should maybe push harder. Huge "unlimited installations" sticker on Mandrake Boxes, maybe?

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

hi,

i have read almost all the comments in this article.

most of the windows users talk about ease of installation and

variety of applications available on windows.

while sadly the linux users only point out hownerdy they are,

and how it is cool of them to install linux without any problems at all.

but no linux user is willing to help newbies takeup linux.

i think i should take the first step in this matter.

i have worked with dos,win.. series, HP/UX, Solaris and RedHat linux (since RH 5.0).

for the last 5 months i have been dual booting btwn win me/ and RH 7.1 .

i think it will take me another 2 more to completely replace win. with linux.

and i use linux as a desktop not a server and have managed to install and configure

some common desktop hardwares and softwares like webcams, scanners, printers, digital cams, DVD player, cd burners and

Quake 3 with 3D accl. simply rocks.

but i must say i have leart things the hard way, reading manuals overnight, joining 10-20 newsgroups ,

almost begging the gurus to help me etc.

funny thing is more than the gurus, its the newbies who were more willing to help.

so i am willing to help any of your students take up linux.

they can freely email me at vim_power@yahoo.com, and i would be too glad to help.

if i can not help directly i will at least point them in the right direction.

all the best.

vim_power@yahoo.com

and to continue the propoganda, linux isn't really

that hard to install.

Also i am interested in knowing about the IT

infrastructure in variuos countries.

i am from india where IT is the fastest growing sector ,

which helps kids learn the basics of computing at a very young age.

how abt ireland ?

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

how abt ireland ?This last request is a little off topic, but I'll respond very quickly. Latest stats indicate that Ireland is the second largest exporter of software on the planet (after the USA). An awful lot of 'localization' work is performed here, with Microsoft, IBM/Lotus, Borland and many others all having facilities here. Intel, Dell and Apple are also big players (and employers) on the manufacturing side of things. Ireland is trying to position itself as the e-commerce hub for Europe. The jury is still out on that one. The IT and Comms industries are very important to Ireland. Biggest problem I see for Ireland on the world stage is that we are a small nation. Only 3.5 million people live in the South of Ireland. Add the 1.5 million in the North, and we still have less people than a reasonably sized city in most other countries! The Irish economy has grown considerably over the last 5-7 years, making it one of the strongest in Europe. Recent world events have taken their tole, though.Thanks for your comments.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Plabius_Secundus's picture

Hello, Mr. Barry.

I would like to know if you have heard from the IBM/Lotus facility there in Ireland whether or not Lotus Development has any plans to port Lotus SmartSuite to Linux?

The word here in America is that no such plans have been made.

-- Plabius --

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

I would like to know if you have heard from the IBM/Lotus facility there in Ireland whether or not Lotus Development has any plans to port Lotus SmartSuite to Linux?I’m sorry, but I cannot answer that question. I certainly have not heard anything along those lines. But one can just imagine the irony: Lotus 1-2-3 the killer-desktop app on Linux!! :-)

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I suppose that my perspective is off the norm for a Linux user, but I see things from a non-computer-science perspective. I am an engineer. I am not a computer engineer, but rather a regular electrical engineer. I cannot afford to be parochial about my tool sets, because I need them all in order to get the job done.

I am a Linux user. I am also a Windows user, and a Solaris user. All of them have their place, and I do not find any of them particularly hard to use or administer. I run them all because the operating system is merely a tool on which to develop, compile, distribute, and run my applications. A modern engineering student is very likely to have run unix-type systems, because some of the tools are available nowhere else. In the computer science department, perhaps they can get away with sticking with one operating system, because it is easier to teach that way. It is also incredibly short-sighted, as their graduates may well have to develop/administer for other operating systems and platofrms, as a part of their real-world jobs.

I have run into so-called administrators who were as clueless as a rock when it comes to administering our systems. That is probably how I became the administrator for the entire engineering department's systems and servers. Once we pried their administration away from the self-annointed MSCE geniuses, our systems have achieved stabilty. We have up-times on all of the servers, including Linux and Windows boxes, which stretch on for months, limited only by the occasional long term power outage. I say again, none of this is difficult, either for Linux or Windows.

However, the thought of yet another generation of computer science students who know only the Gospel according to Gates is frightening. If our engineering department can handle multi-platform and multi-operating-system setup and administration without help from the IS department, then why cannot the vast majority of computer science students be required to learn and appreciate several different operating systems? Any department which teaches only one OS should be immediately decertified by the credentialling authorities, for malpractice.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Thanks for you comments. The reason I set the assignment in the first place was to convince this bunch of students that the "Gospel according to Gates" simply wasn;t enough in today's computing world. To further convince them, I'm planning to distribute a hard-copy of all these comments to them. Thanks, again.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Plabius_Secundus's picture

Is this wise? I ask because what I have seen in these comments will by no means dispell the fears of any of your students, or make it easier for any of them to install Linux. No combination of these comments could serve as a tutorial. In fact, given their appearance as bickering, they will probably have the effect of reinforcing their negative points of view.

If I may make bold, Mr. Barry, I believe that the interest of your students would be much better served by you giving a hard copy of these comments to their teachers. These comments may be used by you as an informal, non-scientific, survey of an interested segment of the computing community. They would help your faculty to discover that the coverage of various programs of study at your school lacks a certain breadth and depth in certain areas. In addition, it would tell them that, yes, there is a real need for an academic presentation of these subjects (e.g., Linux in the Home, or Linux in Corporate World). Indeed, I suspect that the faculty might, as well, benefit from knowing that the "'Gospel according to Gates'" isn't enough.

Unfortunately, sir, some students will not learn what a teacher will not teach.

-- Plabius Secundus --

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

It this wise?Well, at over 85 A4 pages of comments, I think I'll save a few trees and get them all to read these comments on-line. A few have already commented above. This is all very healthy. Thanks.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Rule #1: You get what you pay for! Yes MS has overpriced Win2k and XP (95/98/ME are not at this level so I'll ignore them), but what do you get? A system that supports all hardware out of the box (ok 95% of video cards), vast 3rd party driver support, runs all 32 bit windows software, networks very well, has extreamly good uptime (remember no 95/98), support for USB, pnp, and as a server will stay up (if setup correctly) forever (until of course software and hardware updates), (I have 2 nt4 servers that have not been rebooted in over a year).

Linux on the other hand, is no more efficient in memory management than win2k (does not share reusable libs (.dlls)), not as advanced in user interface issues (pick todays GUI not one you've known) and the whole system is put together like it was written by some guy as a school project, (oh yea it was).

And yes linux is a still a major pain to install, just go look here for the artical about installing it on the dell notebook! Is all that the hallmark of a modern OS?

Remember, MIS people are still users too, if what you need is still buried at the command prompt because there still is not a GUI way to get to it the system is not ready to be used by the majority of the users (yes that applies to ipconfig too).

MS may be the a little ruthless in some of the their methods, but with quality products like 2k and xp I can very easly deal with it.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I see you havent tried to install anything on XP yet.

Work gave me a New HP Computer with XP pre-installed, so I did the right thing I gave it to my wife and kids.

I'll stay with Linux.

I had a friend in who told me "95% of the people are idiots", sadly I'm starting to believe he is right.

It's a sad time when "IS People" can't do something as simple as install Linux.

I gave my 14 year old son a bare computer and a copy of Linux, he didn't seen to have any trouble.

Thank goodness my CEO is smart enough to allow our servers to run Linux and VMS.

We only run windows when we must and even then it is only tempoary until we can find a Linux solution.

Break away from comparison

Anonymous's picture

I still cannot believe that for years now, the same issues are coming up again and again. It's as if the whole issue is to determine whether Windows or Linux is the best. It seems one leaves the topic for a while to come back and find the same old stories, myths and beliefs. What I think is missing from the Linux community are efforts to train, educate, package and propagate the knowledge. Not geeks to geeks. Perhaps geeks to new users but, most liekely, non-geeks to non-geeks. Most Linux Web sites are targeted to those in the know. This is where Microsoft is beating Red Hat, Mandrake, SuSe, FreeBSD and what have you. They are hiding the nuts and bolts, packaging and controlling the OS installations to the limit of a boy scout helping you cross the street. Heck Windows Me does not even allow you to boot in DOS anymore. The less of the command prompt you see the better off you are, they think.

Stop talking geek. And do not go that stupid desktop route. Tell us about features, benefits, ease of use. Understand why we compute in the first place. The masses do not want to wear a t-shirt saying "Kneel before me for I am root". They want to output text, use a calculator, send mail, listen to music, see video. Of course the Linux kernel is superior to any Windows. This is not the point. The point is what you do with it. This is why Microsoft cannot beat Linux-Apache Web Servers. If the desktop is the next battleground then rethink it from the ground up. Do not copy Microsoft please. They supposively copied MacIntosh, Xerox, Motif and others (the real invention is the mouse, ergonomics). When will we see a real 3-d desktop? During installation, when will we ask questions to the user about colors of choice, planned used of the computer, preferred media, preferred functions (Mail, Web, Print, Screen, Games, Fax). The computer is first and foremost a tool with a capacity to adapt to its user. There lies the biggest potential for advance.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

utah's picture

Interestring article that you wrote. I find it strange that future IT people find something so difficult. But when you consider the back ground of your students, what did you expect. They've grown up in a world where everything is made easy for them.

Look at windows. It does everything for you. No need to think or put forth a little effort.

It is a shame that that is the future or IT support. I see a world where everything crashes because IT can't get through on the phone. Agggh!

I'm a brick-mason, a lowly construction worker, yet I've installed linux on several machine, from RH 4.0 all the way to Mandrake 8.0. Yes it was hard to do. I didn't have any background in computers at all. They didn't have them when I went to school. They were something that you read about in popular science mag. I didn't even know how to turn a desktop on four yrs. ago. But I LEARNED. I started with a windows box.

locked it up and unlocked it. Crashed it and did my reinstalls,etc. I wanted something more stable, so got a free copy of linux and tried it. What a learning experience. I had to do some research and buy some bks., but I learned. As for ease of installation, I say by far the new distro's have made it at least as easy as win. (and I've installed win a lot) So for your students to say that it is to HARDDDDD! I say PHOEEY!

Get off their lazy butts and do a little work. Who knows they might find it rewarding.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Yeah what a great opinion....Get off our lazy butts.......Well once again i will say it....I didnt come to college and think "God, I hope I learn more about Linux". If I go into Industry and am judged on my knowledge of Linux. well then I admit I may be in trouble, but if, God forbid, I decide to get a job that doesnt involve Linux then I have every confidence in my own ability. As far as being lazy...well I didnt make it this far in college by sitting on my arse. The world doesnt revolve around Linux and mabey some people on this forum should realise this.

Thank You

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

The world doesn't revolve around Linux? Who said it did? While I admit that the Linux community has a tendency towards a 'zealot' attitude, with a general tendecy to say everything M$ is ***** and conversely linux can do no wrong (this opinion is blatantly crap) the point of this article was to expose the ignorance of computing science undergraduates in their experiences (or otherwise) of Linux.

If you are seriously considering IT as a future, then you should be capable of sysadmin in both MS and non-MS environments. Most people use Windows, and probably most undergrad teaching involves this, but if you want to have a better chance in the job market you need other skills as well. That is the point of the article. Not to express how wonderful linux is (although I will admit that the usual pro-linux bunch have given that impression).

As far as your comments go - fine, if you don't want to learn linux, don't. It may well hurt your prospects, an then again it might not. More than likely your basic lack of skills in spelling, typing and grammar will be what prevents you from gainful employment as no-one will even bother to read your poorly-implemented CV to find out what you can and can't do. They will drop it straight in the bin and move on to one which shows that the author has a first language. Typos are all very well but that mess...?

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Get off their lazy butts and do a little work. Who knows they might find it rewarding.I'll be sure to pass on your advice. Thanks.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I don't know that anyone will read this, but...

I have a dual boot machine at home with Win98/SuSE 7.1. I introduced my wife to Linux, and now she uses it daily. She still prefers Windows, because it runs all the apps she normally uses (like the scanning software), but learning Linux wasn't all that difficult.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

As the author of the original piece, I trying my best to read all these comments. Thanks for yours.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

mlehman's picture

I recently switched over from Windows 2000 Professional to Red Hat Linux and I have never gone back. I have a dual 866 mhz Pentium III with 256 MB of memory. Windows reduced this to a crawl. RedHat Linux on the other hand has an SMP kernel that uses both CPUs properly. The system flies.

I operate in the KDE GUI, and it also hangs from time to time. The difference I find is in restarting. With Windows, you must restart the entire OS, but with Linux, simply restart the GUI. As well, by running a telnet server (very simple to add), you can log in from another machine and kill the x-window system remotely, rather than shutting your machine off.

The plus side for linux is: There are a great many applications out there. Those that are made for Linux rather than repackaged Windows apps, are the best. An example of this is XONCD, Xcdroast and GRIP, all used to RIP and burn CD's. They are excellent and increase a user's ability to understand what the cd burner is actually doing. It results in fewer cd's that are wrecked - and therefore more successful burns.

Second, support at RedHat is excellent. I used their update agent to completely upgrade my system automatically. It works similar to Microsoft's online update, but is far superior.

Thirdly, by running Samba, file and print sharing is seamless if you use other pc's at home or in the office.

The negatives from my point of view are:

Support for plugins such as shockwave or streaming audio are slower to be offered and cause problems at some web sites.

Support for the interoperability of Microsoft's office suite is excellent, but it breaks down when macros are used inside a file. It's safe to say it's at least as good as Microsoft's support for previous (incompatible) versions of their own productivity software. Consider the nightmare of Office 97 and Office 2000.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I'm fairly new to the world of Linux, although I've been working with computers since 1985. I've read some good comments, and would like to add my own personal experience. Because I needed it for my job, I enrolled in a Beginning Linux class at the local college. To help me with lab & homework, I created a dual win98/Linux boot on my home pc. As a complete newbie, I made a few mistakes along the way, and at one point, a mistake led to completely reloading both operating systems from scratch.

My experience was surprising, to me at least. The Win98 install took much longer, and Win98 did not automatically recognize and configure all my hardware. It was literally weeks before I could get my dsl internet service and email working properly in Windows.

Redhat Linux 7.1 installed in about half the time, with NO fumbling for driver disks, and I was surfing the web on my dsl line immediately after install. Downloading and installing .rpm files is a breeze with the graphical interface.

Star Office (along with a good variety of other software) came with the Redhat distribution and it is excellent. I am a long-time MS Office user, and I haven't found much that Star Office won't do. It has all the features I need.

The biggest drawback I see for Linux is the difficulty of finding and configuring compatible drivers for peripherals such as scanners, webcams, pdas, and digital cameras. As soon as Linux solves these little irritations, I'll gladly bid adios to Microsoft. For now, I'll have to keep Win98 just so I can sync my Palm and download my digital photos.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

in case u have missed,

redhat already has built in support

for palm syncing. and checkout

gphoto2 (www.gphoto.org) for

digital cam support. it supports more

that 150+ cameras.

Computer societies

Anonymous's picture

A lot of the points in your article remind me of my days in college. I was one of the freaks that used GNU stuff back then. However, a few of us freaks set up a computer society in the college and gave members accounts on a Slackware box belonging to 1 of the founders. (www.skynet.ie) These students became involved in setting up and administrating various services on the machine, they had lots of fun and learned valuable skills in the process. The college IT people eventually set up a subdomain on the college network to facilitate the compsoc. I still live and work in the same city as I went to college in and I frequently bump into people in companies I work for that joined the computer society long after I left college. Nowadays the computer society has 10's of servers (all Linux and Solaris afaik) and over a thousand members who use Linux on a daily basis. All maintained and run by students. Several of the earlier members have gone on to start significant Free Software projects such as PAM and wv, another person has written articles for LinuxJournal. It seems to me that Paul Barry would be in a good position to found a computer society in his college if 1 doesn't exist and I'm sure the college could donate a machine to be used as a server. This would be a good way to encourage students to get more involved in Free Software.

johno

Re: Computer societies

barryp's picture

The Institute already has a computer society. Due to too many other commitments, I am not involved in it. As part of the research into doing the assignment I set for my students, a number of them went off, found a Linux and installed it. A few of them are quite taken with the OS. This can only be a good thing. Thanks.

The Truth

Anonymous's picture

According to the following demo and install helper, Linux is hard to install.

http://www.mandrake.org/en/demos/Demo/

http://www.mandrake.org/en/demos/Demo/Mandrake8.1/Install/

Facts

1. Anyone telling the truth about Linux is a preacher, anything they said should be regarded as hype. So help me god.

2. Microsoft is the whole and nothing but truth: money talks. Recite them by heart, write them down in a note-pad, keep them around and show it to your comrades.

3. Linux is a threat: there has been documented case of FATAL food in mouth disease when a victim found listening to a Linux zealot preaching. You will be safe in your comfort zone as long as you don't miss your yearly subscription to Microsoft central.

4. You won't want to change, you are so used to it you will change your mind about changing to it. You should contribute to Microsoft by buying the same software twice, or a third time if you wish, you will be praised in the next VisualLogo .NET developers conference.

5. You won't want to learn anything non Microsoft either, even in school. They should not have expose you that. You are beyond learning, you are above it.

6. Remember: the unbiased truth is always towards windows. Anyone say anything about Linux is evangelism marketing lunatic.

7. Avoid superior competitor products, nobody is perfect. Use Microsoft instead.

8. Microsoft products are flawless, they have a whole team of problem support, thou shalt not question about their quality or cost.

9. Windows don't crash. Microsoft certified drivers crashes badly with a blue screen - blame the vendors. They produce bad and incompatible Microsoft certified hardware - blame the hardware. Thou shalt not blame Microsoft, ever. Get used to the unscheduled coffee breaks.

10. Cheapo Linux saves billions, yet incur higher "Total Cost Of Ownership". Use your creative freedom given by Microsoft: add the cost on top of Linux, such as baby diapers, toilet paper, Aspirin, mortgage and the cost of your last trip to the psychiatrist.

11. Your PassPort belongs to Microsoft: anywhere you go, anything you buy on the net should be reported to Microsoft so they can tailor to your buy pattern to maximize your purchasing items.

To avoid the FATAL food in mouth disease, visit the trendy, therapeutic website http://www.texasonline.net/langley/columns/drink.htm

Enjoy.

P.S. I would be more than happy to donate the therapeutic drink for free.

Re: The Truth

barryp's picture

Emmm. Thanks. (I think). :-)

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I am stunned.

Did I misunderstand? What I understood was that you talked to third year undergraduates on a B.Sc. degree program in Information Technology. Is that right?

And they have this level of ignorance about basic IT issues? After a three year degree? I cannot believe it! What did they learn in three years?

I am absolutely amazed. If that is the standard of IT degrees in the US then I have to say I will never employ a US trained Sys Admin. In the UK I would expect a first year undergradute to be able to give better informed answers to your questions.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

This is a final year group at a 3rd level ed. in Ireland. They are all very capable students. I think their comments are common enough, though, even though most of us are stunned by what they have to say.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I am stunned too.

I am absolutely amazed that someone who is stunned at levels of ignorance of IT students
did not bother to read the trailer of the article to find out that the author is not teaching in the US but is teaching in Ireland. I would expect a first reader of the English language to actually read the article before commenting.

From the bottom of the article:

Paul Barry lectures at the Institute of Technology, Carlow in Ireland. He is the author of Programming the Network with Perl, to be
published by John Wiley and Sons in early 2002. He thanks the 2001/2002 students of CW084-4 for inadvertently providing the raw
material for this article.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Paul Barry lectures at the Institute of Technology, Carlow in Ireland.

You're absolutely correct. It doesn't change my opinions though - if this is the level of knowledge that the students have then it is absolutely crap.

Sorry for having riled you by criticizing the good old US of A!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

We were asked for our opinions and since we come from a microsoft oriented PC world, well then our exposure to other desktop operating systems tends to be fairly minimal. Naturally when somone writes a report(or gives an opionion) they will make stupid mistakes (oh...say for instance.......mistaking Ireland for America.....add that to the list of clangers). We were asked why Linux may never threaten microsoft as an OS and gave our opinions and if we made mistakes well please forgive us, and yeah some of the comments were pretty bad.....but some of them were also incredibly insightful and mabey if the "Linux Community" could address these issues Linux would be able to compete with Microsoft. And another point, so sue me if I dont know a whole lot about Linux, but isn't that the reason we come to college in the first place..... to learn, and I take your point about our knowledge of Linux being crap for a class of our stature.....but when I started college I didnt think "God I hope I learn more about Linux". The nature of this report was to help us learn more about the OS...and it certainly did, so if you can, for a moment, step out of your little Unix World, then you mabey you could begin to see the big picture and not just judge us on "how much we know about Linux".

Thank You

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