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.
Clangers

There's not much to say by way of commentary here, as these statements speak for themselves.

Clanger #1: “Linux will never threaten Windows on the desktop because it is command line driven and doesn't even have a GUI”. What can I say?

Clanger #2: “Linux has poor device-driver support and doesn't even support USB”. Not so, officially, as of the 2.4 kernel (regarding USB). And driver support with Linux gets better every single day.

Clanger #3: “Linux lacks good software development tools, unlike Windows which has plenty.” It's hard to comment on this without imagining the good folk at the Free Software Foundation blowing their collective tops at the very idea that someone could think (let alone say or print) such a thing. Also, despite the fact that Visual C++ is the “industry leader” when it comes to C++ development on PCs, my experience with final year software engineering undergraduates indicates that Visual C++ is a dog of an environment to work with.

And the final clanger was that many of my students thought Linux was a company!

Now, I'm the first to admit that my informal survey of these 31 students may be flawed (from a statistical sampling point-of-view). However, I'd bet that the views and opinions expressed by my students are typical and representative. My original goal in setting the assignment was realized: my students now have a better understanding and appreciation of what Linux is.

Of course, I was shocked by some of the views of my students. However, on reflection, I'm not surprised that some of the views were voiced. Microsoft can afford to throw a lot of money into its “Linux Myth Campaign”. And, as everyone knows, if you throw enough of something, some of it is bound to stick. Education is a, if not the, key defense mechanism.

And, what about my own view? I feel that although Linux may never threaten Windows as a desktop OS, increasingly it is becoming a viable alternative.

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.

______________________

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Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

As 3rd year CS major, I can understand where much of these opinions come from. My school is VERY anti-MS as far as it's CS program. Professors bash MS at almost every occasion, especially with a cirriculum that emphasizes Java or standardized C/C++, i.e. No calling DLLs, no GUIs and such. I realize thats not really "standard" but the term will do. Basically what I see is that the majority of students could really care less about the fine points of OS choice. Basically, developing for MS equals lots of money easily. Or at least that is what many think. Of course this really isn't a strong correlation. But it's perception that moves opinion. We do have several classes that push a linux based approach, such as our OS design courses. However, many students are not happy having to telnet into a linux box to code. And many aren't going to go through the trouble of configuring a dual boot. (Though it is a simple procedure, or should be to a CS student.) The main problem is that people have been brought up on MS OSes all their lives, or at least their computing lives. And that is hard to shake. I myself have a dual boot setup, but I only use Mandrake to code, since I am basically a gamer at heart, and can't play my favorite games on a Linux install. So until Linux starts to have features comparable to windows (Not technically, but appearance, support and familiarity-wise), you're still going to see a MS grip on the desktop world. Though I will say, the people I talk to are much much more afraid now of XP than any Linux. Many refuse to have XP installed. This negative opinion could certainly help Linux.

Well thats more 2 cent pieces than my allowance really allows. Proceed to correct me : - )

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Well I have to agree with this. You want to play your favorite games and they are only

available for Windows. There is this commercial temptation for developers to

focus on windows, because thats where the market is for the most part now and will

be slow, very slow to change. People love their old software, games and the like.

They find it worth paying for and people find it worth developing for Windows.

These goes with devices too. Lexmark Recently had a proprietary printing protocol

that makes it difficult for a average user to actaully even use the printer with linux.

These are the kind of things that make the desktop hard it all comes down to the market and money. But the server has no problems it this realm technical features rule and not other stuff. Plus equivalent servers have become available on linux.

I believe that eventually linux will grow more into the desktop though, but it

might come as a sacrifice for flexibility

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Professors bash MS at almost every occasion.

Guilty! No apology. Why do you think this is? BTW, I hate and bash Java much more than I do Windows.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

One thing is bothering me is that you have labelled these "IT" students as the sys. admins. of the future. It's like labelling a Graphic designer as a Web designer.
That's typical but forgivable. I have had such experiences with previous teachers of your kind. Please don't get me wrong I'm not flaming you. I understand your worry. However, there's nothing can be done about it. Perhaps only one thing.
Your worry is based on the fact that how unaware your stundents are of their requirements when they graduate. That's terribly kind of you. However, don't you think you are better off preparing your students for this futuristic dilema by showing this concern to your department and possibly preparing odd seminars?. Instead, you're indirectly mocking their current knowledge. Gee tnx... I graduated this past summer.

I do agree that the new generation of IT graduates may or may not ever get there but this is not your problem. You are only responsible to inform these students that what they are tought at college or even uni is only one of many topic based in CS and that they should experiment. Becoming an IT proffessional doesn't mean just because you program you can program games. And getting a degree in this field doesn't mean your knowledge is based on how to prepare documents in Office. You might think that should be obvious... heh... think again.
When I was in my second year I became aware of the existence of linux and started "experimenting". I eventually as a student showed my concern to the CS department - luckily they heard my concern and started providing course work or projects based either in running programs off linux or creating programs in linux. However, most of the course was still based around MS software, but you'll be surprised how just one project in a course based on linux or another os will cause many students to see how much they need to know.
Now the new generation of students that arrive at the college are not what it used to be - they are noticing what it means to be CS students unlike before.
So if you want to expose them to linux, try the above, you may be lucky that it might just work!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Instead, you're indirectly mocking their current knowledge.

I'm absolutely not mocking my students.

So if you want to expose them to Linux, try the above, you may be lucky that it might just work!

Didn't you get from the piece that I'm already pushing Linux in all my courses?

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

This article suffers from lack of perspective, so I'll give it some.

Never confuse size with impact. Never confuse impact with profitability. Never confuse profitability with significance.

The Linux / GNU / Open Source "market" may be small, but it has had a huge impact. The internet runs on open standards, open implementations: not a single line of Microsoft code is in any cornerstone standard the 'Net runs on. Anyone out there think we'd've seen Star Office for free if it weren't for Linux / GNU / Open Source? How about getting Solaris for free? No way, not without Linux / GNU / Open Source. These are two examples of hundreds.

Just because something has an impact that changes the world doesn't mean there's a green dollar amount you can attach to it. Weath isn't just about money.

There are huge companies that make billions on adhesive tape. Who cares.

Last but not least: If it were up to Microsoft, the Interenet would never go beyond MSN and TCP/IP would be the idle dream of a few long-retired research scientists. All you lovers of Microsoft out there, you can't deny that fact. And what a dull world this would be.

ignorance runs two ways

Anonymous's picture

I have to say that Microsoft provides a lot of advantages. I can rebut point by point most of your myths, and your Clanger #3 definitely belongs in the myths section, since it is highly debatable. I don't think that you are wrong everywhere, but mainly that the so-called myths have a basis in reality, and the points are not clearly won by Linux, as the author suggests.

I also suggest that the "too hard to install" rubbish comes along with a few factors. For example, how many different installers are there? It's the KDE vs. GNOME choice again, but in spades. Each distribution has a different installer. If you "upgrade" from one vendor's 6 to another vendor's 7, your installer is completely different. Easy to use? If there was a standard, sure. Right now, it's very confusing. Another factor is that you suggest downloading Linux from the Internet. You have to be pretty technically savvy to do that. I do that, and install Debian on my computer and give Red Hat Linux cd's to my friends and family. I wouldn't trust them to download it, though. If they were installing it themselves, they would have to buy it in a store, eliminating the financial advantages. That would probably be better anyway, since they need to pay to get corporate support (most people don't know how to use IRC or newsgroups). That would save me the hassle of installing a more modern browser when the Netscape 4.7 that comes standard on most distributions fails to render their favourite websites properly.

I could go on similarly with most of the other points raised, but I won't bother. I've made my point, which is that Linux zealots really don't see things any more clearly than ignorant people on the other side. Linux has a lot of problems that have to be recognized and solved before it is at all competitive with Windows on the desktop.

Re: ignorance runs two ways

Anonymous's picture

I recently purchased RedHat 7.1. The installation was easy and straight forward. Easier than installing Windows. Now for the bad news. I found RedHat support to be worthless. I requested help on a few glitches I ran into. Responses included "does not support USB." It does. One response to a request repeated my message but did not respond to the problem and then said that RedHat was waiting for my reply. The next message from them was to inform me that the event was being closed out. In total, I made three web requests and one telephone request for advice and all RedHat responses were incompetant, unhelpful and full of misinformation. Still, I really like my RedHat Linux. It's a lot more fun than Windows. Next time I'm going to try Slackware.

Re: ignorance runs two ways

Anonymous's picture

First point: "they" don't have to buy it in a store to install it themselves, you can lend your CDs to any number of your friends, legally. That's different from Microsoft.

But about installing Linux from the 'net. Do you really have to be "pretty technically savvy to do that"? I've never tried. The first time I installed FreeBSD from the 'net it was just as easy as from CDs, I sorta assumed Linux would be about the same. The only difference is that you have to get your IP address, default router and DNS server addresses a few minutes earlier in the process.

Re: ignorance runs two ways

barryp's picture

I could go on similarly with most of the other points raised, but I won't bother. I've made my point, which is that Linux zealots really don't see things any more clearly than ignorant people on the other side. Linux has a lot of problems that have to be recognized and solved before it is at all competitive with Windows on the desktop.

The comment re: downloading from the 'Net was in support of the price argument - i.e., that Linux really is free. I never said the download process was easy.

I'm not a Linux zealot, nor am I ignorant. I use Windows ME and Linux on a daily basis and I'm well aware of each OSes shortcomings. I'm also a big fan of the Mac having used it as my only OS for a number of years.

the next crop of system administrators

Anonymous's picture

First comment: Linux is too hard to install for "the next crop of system administrators"?!?! Can they install Windows from scratch? How about something easy, like Solaris? MacOS 9? Linux is certainly a bit of a tinker toy "system", but it can't be much harder than installing and configuring any of those others.

Second comment: more applications. There are many thousands of applications available for Linux, with more being written every day. The problem is that most of 'em are just junk. The only Windows applications you mentioned are Office and Visual C++. The issue is not quantity, not even quality, but suitability to the job. "Application" implies applying computers to do useful work. Most of those thousands of "applications" are just programmers showing off to each other.

Third comment: "one single, coherent GUI environment combining the best features of both KDE and GNOME". Well, if Linux market share is the goal, then maybe that would be a good thing. But what are the best features of those two? How close they come to matching Windows? No thanks. This may come as a surprise to some, but the reason I don't like Windows, and I do like Unix/X11, is the user interface. I find Windows clumsy and slow and confusing. I like having lots of window managers to choose among, as long as they're not Windows wannabes.

I could go on and on, but the real question is, why the emphasis on Linux? It's important that students be exposed to the variety of alternatives. Why no mention of Solaris (it's free as in beer and not dead yet)? BSD? IBM AS/400? If you personally like Linux, why would you want it on the desks of millions of people who don't know and don't care? Could that be good for Linux? I hope it doesn't ever happen to BSD.

Re: the next crop of system administrators

barryp's picture

I could go on and on, but the real question is, why the emphasis on Linux?

Yes, Linux is one alternative. It's the most accessible and easy to have the students look at. It would be nice to sit them all down at their own AIX machines or SPARC's. But, realistically and financially, this is unlikely to be an option (even for the largest 3rd level educational institutions).

Re: the next crop of system administrators

Anonymous's picture

Um, Solaris is free (as in beer) and runs on the same PeeCees as Linux. {Free, Net, Open}BSD do too.

Re: the next crop of system administrators

barryp's picture

Um, Solaris is free (as in beer) and runs on the same PeeCees as Linux. {Free, Net, Open}BSD do too. Ok. Fair point. But you tend not to find these OSes stuck to the front of PC magazines in the local newsagents!

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Next time learn them something useful like LaTeX, then ask them what do they think about it in comparison with, hmmm... word.

PS. By the way, LaTeX is just an example, take anything else,

like make, emacs, haskell, and comare it to ??, ??, Visual Basic?.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Clanger responses..

#1: Linux has X which is far more flexible than Windows GUI's and with proper configuration the Linux GUI can be as easy, if not easier, than Windows. Either KDE or Gnome should cover this. Both are very stable and full of features and programs written for either work nicely with the other.

#2: Funny. USB works fine for me. Device driver support is pretty good. Older devices are supported a lot better than in Windows. Of course a lot of cheap devices from lameduck companies don't have good Linux support. Digital cameras and MP3 players come to mind.. but support is getting better as more companies recognize Linux as a real market.

#3. What decent software does Windows come with for development? You have to pay quite a bit of money for those tools. Linux's free tools come with it and in most ways are better than what Microsoft makes for Windows. The main issue is over reliance on programming through pretty buttons and IDE's. Do a speed test of programming on the command line with a plain text editor and CVS compared to developing in those programs. It's been my experience that someone experienced in both is much more effecient at the command line.

#4: That's more funny than anything. It shows a general lack of understanding of what Linux and free software is.

Linux is hard to install? This seems to be the general complaint in this discussion. This is bull*****. As somebody that has installed Linux, Mac, and Windows among others I'll tell you that the current Linux installations such as Mandrake's are far easier than anything else out there. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't installed other OS's on very many boxes. Windows is a nightmare to install.. install.. reboot.. install.. reboot.. add drivers.. reboot.. add drivers.. reboot.. add apps.. reboot.. fsck me safe mode?! arghh. Try installing 2 dozen boxes that are each slightly different before lunch and then tell me Windows is easier.

As far as reliability you must be nutty if you think Windows is stable. I've seen brand new machines with nothing installed but Windows 2000, Office 2000, and IE installed blue screen anytime you tried to run anything. Seriously talking to Microsoft the only solution they could come up with was to run Office and IE on different machines. Not very satisfying on a package we'd spent $3000 per machine for. Needless to say we soon had more machines running Linux desktops.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

As far as reliability you must be nutty if you think Windows is stable.

Just so I'm clear on this, note that the article presents the themes, myths and clangers uncovered by my students, not me. So, I'm no nutty professor, thank you very much. However, I'm dreading that this might be a tagname that will stick after all this. :-)

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Another clanger I've heard, or rather been asked:

"What version of Windows does Linux run on?"

Some people seem to think that Linux is an application that runs on your Windows OS. A former coworker had a hard time initially understanding that Linux was separate OS and didn't require Windows to run.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I used to teach Linux Usage/Administration at ECPI Technical college. I defintly saw all of the myths and misunderstanding... and some students left my class feeling that linux was "too hard"... but these were also the students who did not excel at higher level windows admin classes. I think what was neat for me is when we did our first network install and all the students were amaized at how quick it was.

In addition I must add... it was the only class I couod teach that a student got hired right out of it, with out completing the rest of his course work

mike

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among the ECPI Undergraduate Sys

Anonymous's picture

I used to teach at ECPI Technical College and my wife graduated there ( the first I think that has done that, atleast she had a 4.0GPA ). LINUX IS difficult ot the ECPI students...but then again, so is EVERYTHING they learn there...most of them earn degrees but don't know a thing about anything they've been taught...W-a-a-a-a-y-y-y-y different than a REAL college !!! The accreditation folks, the ACCSST should REALLY take a look into ECPI standards and practices, especially the grades...I've had students go through who weren't taken courses in order, taking them out of order, dropping a class then switching to nights and then days again when they get a bad grade or don't like a certain instructor. I've even seen one student whom had 11 "F"s in a row...She had a 2.11 GPA...At the "college" where I graduated from, an "F" grade would have been the kiss of death for a college career, much less a career.

I don't want anyone to think I'm biased, because I got laid off there ( Richmond lost 30 percent of their students in the middle of 2003 - most because the students can't pay their bills, have mental problems, are single parents...they have a thing there called the "Endangered Student List" that they put all of the idiots on who haven't come to school in a while and it includes the knot heads whom don't do very well. Not to worry, ECPI Technical College has a LONG history of laying off instructors or simply firing them on or about May through July EVERY year...It's a kinda tax thing...makes it easier for them do their finances and not get caught for cheating...

To be honest, the curriculum is EXTREMELY easy. I taught things sometimes 10-15 times in a row, believe it or not, handed out the notes, gave them the frickin powerpoints and even told them what to write down...I found myself saying, "write this down -- yada yada -- because you never know when you're going to need it again...maybe even on a test" and some of them actually wrote stuff down, but since none of them EVER reads the book ( Most of them will admit they've never even broken the back of a book they were issued -- some of them complain about the "bad" teaching the entire class then the last day say "You know Mr **, I never even looked in the book"....My response, atleast mentally was...MORON !!! How could you be so stupid...

When I first came there I thought I was actually going to teach at a decent college, but little did I know they cheat almost ALWAYS on the tests. ALL of the people in every single class cut-and-pasted the entire report right into word and handed it in with their names on it. Most students tend to sleep in class or spend their time joking about so and so instructor and what they aren't learning. Hey look, if you're not going to study then ***** you too...moron...you did it to yourself and/or your family and guess what, IT"S YOUR FAULT !!! YOU fucked up, not the instructor.

If I were paying $1000 a month -- per class - to attend, you better goddamn believe I'm gonna be there !!! I have to say that almost none of the students, attended even 70 percent of the classes and since they only have 10-11 class per term now, five hours a day four days a week, it's even more critical that they GROW UP and GROW A BRAIN !!! The instructors their really know their ***** and it's ashame that some little punk ( hasn't passed high school yet - there's one there too in Richmond , he's 17 and quit high school and another who hasn't even been to a high school yet ) can get his grade changed just by asking the Dean without even consulting the instructor and it makes it even worse that when a student has a problem learning ( most of them do REALLY, trust me on this...They REALLY get mad when they aren't getting something...some of them curse the instructors out literally ) they simply fire of layoff that instructor and replace him or her with someone that the students will get an easy "A" out of...know wonder the school is considered a ***** bag...

We had interns who don't know how to copy between two floppies, entire classes that can't build a simple circuit on a breadboard without being handheld the entire way...and when they finish, they want an "A" for THEIR efforts or because they were "observing the process"...HA !!!

Well, like my wife says...they ***** themselves up, because they won't be able to get a job when they finally graduate anyway. No cognitive skills, no ability to analyze, no personal skills ( most students have some serious mental issues going on and those that don't simply can't do simple tasks and have to be handheld -- can you REALLY get a college degree like that ??? ) no ability to read or write a simple sentence ( most simply cut-and-paste their way through research projects -- the "E" in ECPI means Effortless Cut and Paste Institute...lol...ROFLMAO !!!

Elmer...

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I used to teach at ECPI Technical College and my wife graduated there ( the first I think that has done that, atleast she had a 4.0GPA ). LINUX IS difficult ot the ECPI students...but then again, so is EVERYTHING they learn there...most of them earn degrees but don't know a thing about anything they've been taught...W-a-a-a-a-y-y-y-y different than a REAL college !!! The accreditation folks, the ACCSST should REALLY take a look into ECPI standards and practices, especially the grades...I've had students go through who weren't taken courses in order, taking them out of order, dropping a class then switching to nights and then days again when they get a bad grade or don't like a certain instructor. I've even seen one student whom had 11 "F"s in a row...She had a 2.11 GPA...At the "college" where I graduated from, an "F" grade would have been the kiss of death for a college career, much less a career.

I don't want anyone to think I'm biased, because I got laid off there ( Richmond lost 30 percent of their students in the middle of 2003 - most because the students can't pay their bills, have mental problems, are single parents...they have a thing there called the "Endangered Student List" that they put all of the idiots on who haven't come to school in a while and it includes the knot heads whom don't do very well. Not to worry, ECPI Technical College has a LONG history of laying off instructors or simply firing them on or about May through July EVERY year...It's a kinda tax thing...makes it easier for them do their finances and not get caught for cheating...

To be honest, the curriculum is EXTREMELY easy. I taught things sometimes 10-15 times in a row, believe it or not, handed out the notes, gave them the frickin powerpoints and even told them what to write down...I found myself saying, "write this down -- yada yada -- because you never know when you're going to need it again...maybe even on a test" and some of them actually wrote stuff down, but since none of them EVER reads the book ( Most of them will admit they've never even broken the back of a book they were issued -- some of them complain about the "bad" teaching the entire class then the last day say "You know Mr **, I never even looked in the book"....My response, atleast mentally was...MORON !!! How could you be so stupid...

When I first came there I thought I was actually going to teach at a decent college, but little did I know they cheat almost ALWAYS on the tests. ALL of the people in every single class cut-and-pasted the entire report right into word and handed it in with their names on it. Most students tend to sleep in class or spend their time joking about so and so instructor and what they aren't learning. Hey look, if you're not going to study then ***** you too...moron...you did it to yourself and/or your family and guess what, IT"S YOUR FAULT !!! YOU fucked up, not the instructor.

If I were paying $1000 a month -- per class - to attend, you better goddamn believe I'm gonna be there !!! I have to say that almost none of the students, attended even 70 percent of the classes and since they only have 10-11 class per term now, five hours a day four days a week, it's even more critical that they GROW UP and GROW A BRAIN !!! The instructors their really know their ***** and it's ashame that some little punk ( hasn't passed high school yet - there's one there too in Richmond , he's 17 and quit high school and another who hasn't even been to a high school yet ) can get his grade changed just by asking the Dean without even consulting the instructor and it makes it even worse that when a student has a problem learning ( most of them do REALLY, trust me on this...They REALLY get mad when they aren't getting something...some of them curse the instructors out literally ) they simply fire of layoff that instructor and replace him or her with someone that the students will get an easy "A" out of...know wonder the school is considered a ***** bag...

We had interns who don't know how to copy between two floppies, entire classes that can't build a simple circuit on a breadboard without being handheld the entire way...and when they finish, they want an "A" for THEIR efforts or because they were "observing the process"...HA !!!

Well, like my wife says...they ***** themselves up, because they won't be able to get a job when they finally graduate anyway. No cognitive skills, no ability to analyze, no personal skills ( most students have some serious mental issues going on and those that don't simply can't do simple tasks and have to be handheld -- can you REALLY get a college degree like that ??? ) no ability to read or write a simple sentence ( most simply cut-and-paste their way through research projects -- the "E" in ECPI means Effortless Cut and Paste Institute...lol...ROFLMAO !!!

Elmer...

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

JBuilder (Java) and Kylix (Pascal/ and soon C++), are sophisticated development environment that run well on Linux.

- Charlie

Being nice, Kylix reveals Linux problems

Anonymous's picture

Kylix perfectly reveals some current Linux problems.

  • It uses it's own version of Qt libraries thus preventing apps created with it to start normally on many distros; Kylix created programs do not benefit from frequent improvements to Qt libraries. Something like this happens to any closed source program on Linux.
  • Kylix developped program, as well as any other object based program using so libs (including KDE), reveals current problems with ELF loading leading to inefficient program startup and library sharing.
  • As of Kylix 1 on KDE, Kylix failed to position the maximized text editor properly (under the main window), but placed it over the main window, still leaving free space for the main window at the bottom of the screen. Taken alone, it is a minor bug. When asked "how a thing that simple can fail", it leads to a broad discussion on the perfection of the Linux APIs, especially the X server.

My 2 cents: Microsoft may fool users with rosy marketing bla-bla-bla; Linux should not.

Failed Linux Projects?

Anonymous's picture

It is indeed a bit shocking, though it shouldn't be, to see hoe misinformed IT students are about Linux. One issue, however, that the article leaves unresolved is: Is it true that all the students who used linux in the previous year failed their projects? Why? Did the studnets have trouble installing linux? Or were their submitted projects to hard to install, perhaps for the grad students who were doing the grading? The comments quoted in the piece beg an explanation.

Re: Failed Linux Projects?

barryp's picture

It is indeed a bit shocking, though it shouldn't be, to see how misinformed IT students are about Linux. One issue, however, that the article leaves unresolved is: Is it true that all the students who used linux in the previous year failed their projects? Why? Did the studnets have trouble installing linux? Or were their submitted projects to hard to install, perhaps for the grad students who were doing the grading? The comments quoted in the piece beg an explanation.

I didn't teach on the 3rd year. Generally, though, students are given a project that they should be capable of succeeding with. My perception is that sometimes students get hung up on the fact that Linux is different to what that are used to (namely Windows), and that this then becomes a huge issue for them. The "too hard to install" excuse is just that, a convenient excuse.

Re: Failed Linux Projects?

Anonymous's picture

Actually, One of the main problems last year with people failing was "Time Management", Although this is a main element of an IT Degree, that is obviously one of the paramount reasons why there is failure in Colleges/Universities. With such a heavy load of projects, all very varied throughout the year. Some students are not going to manage their time properly and thus FAIL at the end of the year. I am sure you went to an Academic Institute of some sort, when someone in your class failed I'm equally sure you didn't question the lecturer why. The reason why they are not in the final year is because they failed. This is not just a question of inept usage of Linux, there is a much wider picture that should be looked at, and because your knowledge might lie in the aforementioned subject, I really don't see this as a reason for passing off your ignorence to those students.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

just wanted to say

*congratulations* for making my night a little bit more funny :)

good stuff to read

sayonara

Lars Grunewaldt, *ger*

As a recent graduate...

Anonymous's picture

I did not graduate from a rubber-stamp tech college... I did 2 years full time hell at the British Columbia Institute of Technology to get my CST diploma (specializing in Information Services).

That said... The amount of people who don't know much about linux is huge. I was one of about 10 people who had played around with linux at the beginning...out of 250 people.

Now I would love to have run linux for all my project at school... but unfortunately there were a few hurdles that you might now expect.

As group work becomes more and more an integral part of our education systems, you have to deal with people who may not understand the way you do. Sure...I wanted to run a linux box w/Apache mod_perl for the web server, and another linux box with MySQL for a database back end.... but because the other members of my group had NO CLUE about linux (in fact...I did most of the coding too...) I had to go windows. (although that didn't stop me from using perl....)

I love linux, I think it is awesome powerful as a server or back-end... as an everyday person's workstation...it could be better. Even with the latest KDE GUI it still lags behind windows a lot (note: when I say windows I mean 2k/XP, not the 9x crap).

When you get out in the world, you will find that a LOT of smaller businesses run NT/2000 servers and not linux for a couple of reasons. 1) The secretary can understand them, and 2) it is easier to find technicians. Yes...in the land of outsourcing...find a linux technician to fix your server.

At work I never see linux boxes...why? because these companies can't afford a full time guru. And because you can't make a phone call and have a linux tech there in 30 minutes or your pizza's free. And not just an idiot that is the boss' cousin... a real tech.

Now that I have ranted a bit... you might see why the students failed their projects when using linux...it has a harsh learning curve if you haven't used it before (most people have had a lot of exp with windows). And once you get past that you have to make your project...often times using code that is not taught because they don't teach what codes do and don't work on linux.

As for win2k/XP.... they are damn stable if you do them right. Most crashes are a result of a) bad software, or b) bad settings. My win2k box at work (a K6-2 350MHz) has been running for over a month with no reboots. And I use it everyday.

At home I run windows XP Pro. (although I do have a linux box too) and my only downtime is rebooting for patches if need be. (or if my defective motherboard hangs the system..but that is another issue).

-RoundTop

Re: As a recent graduate...

Anonymous's picture

So your win2k box has run for a whole month huh? My linux firewall (built on a Cyrix 133 with 800 meg HD with Slackware 7.1) has been running for just over 90 days. It would have been running longer but I moved just over 90 days ago.

I work for a pretty big company and in the Multimedia department no less. We have all Unix on the backend right now except for the Exchange server (which constantly crashes) and some Novell (which crashes often enough that we now have a rule that when it crashes we order chessecake). Any of our guys with Unix experience would not have a problem dealing with any linux out there...most of them have Univeristy degrees in Computer Science. I think that's one of the big differences between getting a 2 year tech diploma and a 4 year degree. They can't teach you that much in 2 years (I bet all the non-Microsoft stuff you learnt you had to do on your own). It's those type of two year diplomas and certificates that I think hurt the industry in the long run. You only learn one thing, Microsoft products (it's the same at SAIT in Calgary).

Maybe the problem in uneducated instructors at these places too. I set up my father and my brother with linux (they had no real prior computing experience at all) and they never have any problems or complaints....talk about zero administration. My mom wanted Windows and she has to call me all the time about problems and her heart sinks when she gets e-mail from unknown sources.

That's it for my rant.

Re: As a recent graduate...

Anonymous's picture

Just bluescreened WIN2k today by simply selecting text in IE... This is my first experience with win2k... What fun being on a "damn stable" OS.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Hard to install? My 9 yo son just got an old (2 years old now) PC given to him and he installed Redhat 7.2 on it, by himself (I gave him the network numbers to use) and it's been up ever since (only reboots when his little brother, 2 yo, pushes the power switch). He does his homework, plays games and MP3s and everything else he needs to do on that machine.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

For those who can't believe this... I do believe. redhat was simple. Of course if you choose custom, you can get yourself into some areas you may not be sure of, but if you choose Workstation or laptop, it is a cake-walk. There is nothing difficult to it. I will agree that Debian is hard to install... i managed it, but it took some time, but redhat and mandrake are easy. Redhat I think is a bit easier than mandrake. The only bad side for linux, and it can be a good thing too, is that there is not a standard for desktop. Really, there needs to be one. New non-techie users find this a problem, and I do too. I really don't know how this can happen though being that Linux is a community and not a company. But it would be nice.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Red Hat is simple to install. As easy as Windows(And its got nicer set up screens than Windows).

and superman really can fly.

Anonymous's picture

Please be serious and honest

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Hey, the command line *is* bloody hard to use, for the average person, no matter what OS you're running! Somehow, I'm not surprised that an IT professor doesn't find it so, but to believe that his opinion is representative of the public at large is simply self-delusional.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

Hey, the command line *is* bloody hard to use, for the average person, no matter what OS you're running! Somehow, I'm not surprised that an IT professor doesn't find it so, but to believe that his opinion is representative of the public at large is simply self-delusional.

Sorry, but the command-line is not hard to learn. However, you do have to learn it before you can use it, unlike GUI's.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

The command line is harder to learn than the GUI is. That is why GUI's exist. It is easier to select the option from a dropdown list than it is to remember what switches do what for which command.

CLI's are harder to learn than GUI's are because if you forget your options, you have to remember the basic command, and then ask for help with it in a CLI. In a GUI, the commands are popped up in front of your face, and you don't have to remember if the command is "start" or "begin" or "go".

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

Since I think the average user isn't willing

to expend the little effort necessary to learn

to use the command line effectively, I'll grant

that your first statement is probably true. But

if you think it takes a professor or someone with

a PHD to discover that a command line can be

easier to use than some GUIs

you are mistaken. It did not seem

to me that the author was in any way under the

"delusion" that his opinion is representative

of the public at large.

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

I dont want to be negative or anything like that, but if your students say things like "linux is hard to install" i dont really think they can be ready to receive their CS degrees. The reason I say this is because I think anybody doing a CS degree should be someone who can fiddle with computers until they can get it to work. They should be people with a mind that just WANTS to make it work. I mean, this goes for programming and what not, you have to keep on hammering, tinkering, trying new things until you succeed. How can someone that's not like this go out into the IT industry and become successfull?

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

Anonymous's picture

How can they become successful?

Very easy........see Bill Gates.

Signed

One of those students who aint ready

Re: Perceptions of the Linux OS Among Undergraduate System Admin

barryp's picture

How can someone that's not like this go out into the IT industry and become successful?

Which explains why I get them to consider the alternatives.

How long ago where you in school :-)

Anonymous's picture

As a CS student at a fairly highly rated university (or so I'm told), I can tell you that a LOT of the people who are in this curriculum share the same, for lack of a better (or real) word, unsavyness that I see being described in this post. And to be honest, if their only exposure to computing is what they learn in the CS department, I can't blame them. In my very limited experience, college level CS classes are a joke. Hopefully this problem is limited to my own school, but something tells me that it is not.

I had a point somewhere in there. Maybe its just that a lot of students are picking CS because of the money that they could earn with a nice CS degree. And while thats a wonderful reason to pursue a degree, it would be nice if the CS department spent a little more time with basic classes that built fundamentals of computing, practical programming, and maybe some overview of current technology classes. A lot of people who graduate from my school have a very limited view of computing in general and programming in particular. And I just hope thats not common. Sorry about not having a clear point here, but I'm exhausted.

Repackaging Linux

Anonymous's picture

I have an idea that I wanted to throw out to the audience. Perhaps a way to deal with a lot of the misperceptions and outright fallacies that the students perceived would be to repackage Linux. That is, instead of selling RedHat Linux or SuSe Linux, make a new product with a name that doesn't mention Linux. To simplify my discussion, we'll call this WidgetOS

While this product may be mostly based on Linux, common Linux utilities, etc, it would never identify itself with Linux in any way, it would be just called WidgetOS. Want to solve confusion between KDE and GNOME? Pick one, make some ease-of-use modifications to it, and pretend that the other one never existed and never even mention the name of the one you picked. The desktop would just be part of the WidgetOS GUI.

Take common software products for Linux, re-package them, and sell them as software for WidgetOS. No worries about what version of GLibc you have, or what package manager you use because the software will work with WigetOS 3.5.

A security hole shows up in the Linux kernel? That's okay, WidgetOS is connected to WidgetOS headquarters and can alert you to needed updates. You can be oblivious to what specific changes were made because it's all part of a Service Pack.

Basically what I'm suggesting is that if somebody really wants Linux to win on the desktop of the average user, the way to do it is to apply the same levels of abstraction that Microsoft uses in its windows products. Hard core linux folks would likely find such a product limiting, but if it provides an easy-to-use stable platform for people to develop desktop apps, it's going to benefit Linux in the long run because underneath the hood, it is still Linux.

Linux has a definitive image attached to it in people's minds. Stable, robust, confusing, complex. If you want to make a real go at the desktop, get away from that image and make a new one.

Re: Repackaging Linux

Anonymous's picture

Great idea. The problem I see whit people I show a linux install or setup is the enormous amount of software. The ordinary user doesn' t want to choose between pine or mutt. They just want kmail :-).

Good Idea

Anonymous's picture

This is a very interesting idea really. It sounds so simple when you think about it. Of course, Linux would probably be mentioned in the documentation of some programs I would guess - but still, very good idea.

Apple has done a fairly good job with this so far. Although some things obviously still need to be hammered out with OS X, I think they may really get there eventually.

Re: Repackaging Linux

Anonymous's picture

Substitute "BSD" for "Linux" in your comment and you've just described what Apple is doing with Mac OS X! Well, nearly... but it looks like it's working! Have you tried it yet?

Re: Repackaging Linux

Anonymous's picture

It's a nice idea, and one that has been tried already -- BeOS.

Re: Repackaging Linux

Anonymous's picture

Exactly...I've thought the same thing for quite awhile now. Brand a distribution separate from Linux and use a different packaging system from all the others so users don't get confused by trying to install rpms that won't work on your distro etc etc. It could work.

Re: Repackaging Linux

Anonymous's picture

for the most part, linux installation systems suck. Completely. Windows doesn't really do any better. I agree that anyone who has difficulty installing a big distro likely would have just as much difficulty in installing windows, if you had a blank hard drive.

however, all available distributions that i've found are awful.

I'm sold

Anonymous's picture

If only you can make all configuration in gui, the idea is workable.

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