Linux taking off in Mississippi

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Published: July 26,1999

Goodbye, Microsoft. Hello, Linux?

Computer professionals are jumping on the bandwagon to learn more about the open source, Unix-like computer operating system.

Techies like Brad Tarver of BBI in Flowood, a custom programming firm that handles computer programming for most of the municipal government agencies in the state, including police departments, water associations and city payroll, are making the switch to Linux.

“We used to use SCO Unix for our file servers, but now we use Linux,” Tarver said. “This helps us save our customers money (because) Linux is free. SCO Unix is not. Also, since Linux is an open source, we can fix most problems in a matter of minutes to an hour or two, depending on the size of the problem. If we have problems with an SCO product, we have to contact SCO so that they can send us a patch or update. Who wants to wait days or weeks to fix a computer problem? Not me.”

Jeff Wall, production manager of Mahaffeys’ Quality Printing in Jackson, president and co-founder of LUGOJ (pronounced luggage), the Linux Users Group of Jackson, said the use of Linux is growing at lightning speed.

“Many businesses, ours included, are getting wise to the great potential and low cost of the Internet-developed OS,” said Wall. “We started the group last year with about six people, but (already) have 55 members.”

About 60 computer enthusiasts attended LUGOJ’s first Install-Fest at CompUSA earlier this month to learn more about the open source, Unix-like computer operating system where the source code is freely distributed under a license called GNU GPL, which puts it in the public domain forever. It is not illegal to sell, only illegal to restrict the source code. This licensing strategy is the antithesis of the proprietary closed source development models of which Microsoft Windows is the leading example, Wall said.

“Linux development began as a computer science graduate student’s project in 1991 at the University of Helsinki, Finland,” he said. “The student was named Linus Torvalds and he wanted a more powerful OS than DOS to run on his home computers. He had access to and appreciation for the Unix systems at the University but they were way too expensive for a home license. Most ran on proprietary RISC chips too, not the generic Intel chips that home users had access to and could afford.”

Torvalds wrote a very crude kernel, the core of the OS, and then did something almost unheard of, Wall said.

“He posted the source code on an FTP server at the university and asked others to look at it, via the Internet, and critique it,” Wall said. “He was surprised when 10 programmers from around the world not only looked at it, but made improvements and returned it to him. Thus was born Linux, which today runs on more than 12 million computers and was the fastest growing OS of all in 1998 with a stunning 212% growth rate, outpacing everything including Windows NT.”

Linux captured an impressive 17.2% share of world market for server OSs in 1998, ranked third behind Windows NT Sever and NetWare, Wall said.

“But (it) stunned the big boys by exploding from out of nowhere, with 6.8%, the year before,” he said. “The growth rate continues unabated today.”

This groundswell of support from computer enthusiasts is changing the computer industry with hundreds of companies rapidly garnering support for Linux. Companies including IBM, Dell, Compaq, Gateway, SGI, Hewlett-Packard, AOL and many others now sell and support it on their hardware, Wall said.

“AOL is preparing a Linux ‘appliance’ that will make getting connected to their service like plugging in a TV and turning it on,” Wall said. “At Mahaffeys’ Quality Printing, we have four Linux computers. Three are servers and one is a workstation. At home, I have one machine that does dual duty as server for my home LAN, including Internet gateway, and personal workstation as well as a Compaq laptop running Linux.”

Network Specialists Inc. in Flowood, a sister company of BBI, also utilizes Linux, said Tarver, spokesman for LUGOJ.

“Where BBI handles all of our customers software needs, NSI handles all of our customers hardware needs from computer to networking to internet,” Tarver said. “NSI is also an ISP. We do have a mixture of NT, Novell and Linux for Internet servers, but the most stable machines are the ones with Linux on them.”

LUGOJ members currently run Linux on Intel and Alpha CPUs, according to information from their Web site at www.lugoj.org.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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