Linux in Lebanon

by Ibrahim F. Haddad

Linux was introduced at the Lebanese American University (http://www.lau.edu.lb/) Byblos Campus (LAU-Byblos) in November 1994 by Professors Walid Keirouz (walid@lau.edu.lb) and Haidar Harmanani (haidar@lau.edu.lb). Before introducing Linux, the computer lab relied almost exclusively on Microsoft, Borland and Novell products. No one at LAU, and very few elsewhere in Lebanon, had heard of Linux. The first installations were done at LAU-Byblos using floppies on i486/33 machines with 8MB of RAM with kernel 0.99. Later on, these machines were upgraded to include CD drives so that we could do CD-based installations. These Linux PCs were configured into one of the first IP networks at the university (NFS, YP/NIS).

Students' Response to Linux

After the installations were complete, students were given access. Since the shell environment seemed a bit strange to those who had used a graphical environment, they were constantly complaining. Shortly thereafter, more Pentium machines were ordered to use as Linux machines. By the time the new machines arrived, students had become familiar with Linux and were ready for an introduction to the X Window System. X turned out to be more fun for the students, because of the network utilities and all the shareware programs that come with it. These conditions inspired the students to install Linux on their home machines, turning them into 32-bit multitasking workstations capable of running almost all the software necessary for their courses.

With Linux, students can have a workstation at home that is almost identical to the workstations in the computer lab and can run the same programs and tools.

Linux at LAU-Byblos

Linux is now being used by the Computer Science/Engineering faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students. The professors' Linux machines are hooked to the university network and course materials are posted on the local web site for students to download. Apache is used as the web server.

Needless to say, having Linux at home is a big plus for students who are not able to stay late at the university, in particular for those living off campus due to limited on-campus accommodation. Also, most graduate students have at least a part-time job and are not able to spend much time at the university outside of class. The best solution for them was to install Linux on their home machines; thus, all Computer Science graduate students have Linux installed at home.

In the graduate school, Linux is used mainly in the following graduate courses:

  • Computer Graphics (OpenGL, SRGP)

  • Distributed Operating Systems

  • Artificial Intelligence (LISP, CLISP)

  • Advanced Computer Networks

  • VLSI Design Automation (Alliance Tools, Magic, IRSIM, SPICE)

  • Graphical User Interface Design (Moo-tiff, Xlib)

  • Logic Programming

  • High Performance Computer Architecture

The most widely used applications under Linux include:

  • The Emacs and XEmacs editors by most, but also vi, mainly by beginners

  • Programming/Compilers/Tools: GNU C, GNU C++, Pascal, GNU Common LISP, PERL, Lex, Flex, Yacc & Bison, gdb and xgdb

  • Moo-Tiff and Xlib programming for X interfaces

  • Alliance Tools, Magic, IRSIM and SPICE

  • TeX and LaTeX for document formatting

  • Internet: Pine, ELM, Apache server, Arena, Lynx and Netscape web browsers

  • Java Development Kit

PCs Running Linux

At LAU-Byblos there are two computer labs. The Computer Engineering Center includes a Linux server with NFS/NIS with six Linux clients. The machines consist of P90 with 16/32 MB of RAM, 1.0 GB and 4.0 GB SCSI Drives, SCSI controllers, CD-ROMs and tape backup in addition to a PostScript HP laser printer. The Computer Science Center includes four Linux boxes, seven Sun SPARC/Solaris machines and one SGI workstation. The Linux machines are 166MHz Pentiums with 32MB of RAM and 1.5/2.5GB hard drives. One of them is running Red Hat 5.0 and the other three run Slackware with kernel 2.0.30.

Most of the time, especially near project due dates, an available Linux machine cannot be found in the computer centers. For this reason, the department is currently in the process of purchasing five new Pentium machines to put in service in the Computer Science center. These machines will also be used for the network and operating system lab courses.

Research at the Lebanese American University (Byblos Campus)

The Computer Science Department is involved in Electronic Design Automation and Computer Networking and Electronic Publishing research. More information can be found at http://vlsi.byblos.lau.edu.lb/.

Dany Said (dany@flame.byblos.lau.edu.lb), a graduate student in C.S., is working with Professor Walid Keirouz on high-performance computing for wave propagation. For this purpose, they have put together a Beowulf cluster of eight P-II/300 machines running a customized version of Red Hat 5.0. Tools used in this project include PVM, MPI and ZPL (a data parallel language developed at the University of Washington, Seattle, http://www.cs.washington.edu/research/zpl/). More information on this work can be found at http://flame.byblos.lau.edu.lb/.

Universities Using Linux

At this time, four universities in Lebanon are using Linux.

  • LAU uses Linux in its computer labs; in addition, a Linux box has acted as the central UUCP mail server for nearly two years. Distributions and manuals are available for students to use and a great increase in Linux-related books has been noticed in the library.

  • American University of Beirut (http://www.aub.edu.lb) uses Linux in some of its labs, and many students use it. AUB hosts a Linux mailing list. To subscribe, send a mail to majordomo@aub.edu.lb and in the body of the message write: subscribe linux-users. The address of the list is linux-users@aub.edu.lb.

  • ESIB (Ecole Superieure D'Ingenieurie <\#224> Beirut, http://www.esib.edu.lb/) and the Lebanese University use Linux and many students have Linux installed on their personal machines.

At LAU-Byblos, almost all Computer Science and Engineering undergraduates have Linux installed on their personal machines. In addition, 100% of Computer Science Master's degree students have Linux running on their machines. Overall, we notice that the percentage of students using Linux is very high. This gives us an optimistic view for the future of Linux in Lebanon, as current students will be in key managerial/industrial/computing positions in the near future, where they will be able to promote Linux as a cheap and reliable alternative to commercial operating systems.

Companies Using Linux

At present, very few companies in Lebanon are using Linux except for a small number of firms needing a cheap, effective setup. For these companies, Linux is the only choice due to its low cost and suitability as a web/mail server. One of the popular Internet Service Providers here uses Linux for its proxy server, and many web design and publishing companies are using Linux for simulation purposes and for checking their designed web pages.

Distributions Used

The most widely used distributions are Slackware 96, 3.0, 3.4 and Red Hat 4.2, 5.0 and 5.1 from both Red Hat and CheapBytes (http://www.cheapbytes.com/) and the Debian distribution.

Closing

A major obstacle to widespread use of Linux here is the availability of pirated software in Lebanon. For example, one can get an NT 4 Server CD for $5 US or MS Office 97 for $8 US. As a result, many organizations do not feel the burden of software purchases and view software as having no value.

The Lebanese market is almost a raw market when it comes to Linux/UNIX. We are doing our best to push Linux into the marketplace. We believe that Linux, in some areas, has reached the required level to compete with other operating systems, in particular as a web/mail/ftp server.

Ibrahim Haddad is a computer science graduate student at the Lebanese American University (Byblos Campus), Lebanon. Among his interests are development of Intranet/Internet and web applications. Ibrahim can be reached via e-mail at ibrahimh@cyberia.net.lb or through the web at http://aleph.pdi-berlin.de/~ibrahim/.
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