November 27, 2002

 

 

 

Bryan Price

Director

Institutional Research, Assessment, & Accountability

 

Dear Bryan,

 

   We believe that the University's long-term Information Technology plans are of strategic importance to SU both financially and academically.   We believe that the University's strategic plan should include information on how we intend to avoid increased costs due to IT's sole dependence on Microsoft operating systems and applications.  The Mathematics and Computer Science Department has endorsed our writing to you in this regard.

 

   Last March, we proposed that IT should examine Open Source alternatives to Microsoft.  We proposed a good hard look at including Open Source software along with Microsoft in the University's repertoire. It would appear that our proposal has not been made part of IT's planning nor part of the University's strategic outlook.  We believe this is a tragic mistake.  A copy of our Math/CS Department-endorsed letter to Jerry Waldron and the University IT Committee is attached below for your information.

 

   Since March, we have become aware of increased movement, in other Universities, toward adopting Open Source software.  As one example, a Professor at the University of New Hampshire recently reported that “We converted our clusters to Linux (an Open Source operating system) from MS Windows, and the administrative costs have plummeted in terms of both time and money.”

 

   The Math/CS Department has set up an open source laboratory to show that Open Source is viable and cost-efficient.  We hope to eventually open the lab to all SU people.  The lab is currently operating and will be open to all Math/CS majors in Spring 2003.  It provides word-processing, web-browsing, email, access to K- and P-drives, and other software entirely compatible with that in the labs run by IT.   The lab did not require great expertise to set up.  All the machines are ordinary PCs, the same type as used in the IT labs.  The cost for the software was negligible, essentially zero.

 

With best regards,

 

Tom Anastasio

Harel Barzilai

Mathematics and Computer Science

 

 

 

 

Attachment below, as stated
March 26, 2002

To:                      Jerry Waldron, Chief Information Officer
                            Salisbury University IT Committee
CC:                     Provost David Buchanan
                            Dean Tom Jones,
                            Kathleen Shannon
From:                  Thomas Anastasio and Harel Barzilai, Mathematics and Computer Science

We are quite concerned about Salisbury University's sole dependence on Microsoft for its operating systems and for most of its application software. With the decision to change the operating system to Windows-XP, this sole dependence will evidently be reinforced. We believe that the University should not be so heavily dependent on Microsoft for its computer software, and should, at least, explore the alternative of Open Source operating systems and applications.  The premier open source operating system is called Linux.  Open source applications include the Apache web server, GNU development software, and office applications that rival and are compatible with Word, Access, Excel and PowerPoint.

In our view, the problems with remaining a 100% Microsoft-only campus, and the opportunities offered by Open Source, fall into these categories:

Cost: The present highly-discounted prices for Microsoft products are not likely to last beyond the end of the present contract period. Microsoft's business practices will likely cause substantial price increases if Salisbury is dependent solely on their products. We understand that there is an expectation of a three-fold increase in costs when the current contract expires. Increased IT costs will inevitably impact academic and administrative budgets. Microsoft's business model appears to be moving toward renewable licensing, a model that could result in annual price increases -- particularly if customers such as SU, for lack of explored alternatives, feel that they have nowhere else to turn for competing providers.

Pedagogical Opportunity: Our graduates, especially those with technical or business-oriented degrees, should have experience with much more than just Microsoft software and operating systems. As an example, it appears that Perdue, a major local employer, has moved its business operations to SAP, an integrated system that does not depend on Microsoft business software. Interestingly, SAP[14] is committed to supporting Linux as the operating system for servers running their product.
Another example would be the multi-platform approach so desired by Defense contractors. Our students should have experience and knowledge about more than just Microsoft products running on personal computers[4].

Privacy: The Windows-XP operating system appears to be designed for centralized data collection by Microsoft. In combination with the .Net system, Microsoft appears to be positioning itself to collect information about transactions made by users of Microsoft software products [1],[2]. Microsoft has even threatened to stop shipping Windows completely if the next federal court decision goes against them [3].

Reliability and Stability: While Windows-XP should be more reliable than Windows-95 and Windows-98, Microsoft has historically produced software that is much less reliable than other available products[14].

Freedom And Independence: Closed-source software (whether from Microsoft or not) has been likened to a car one buys which comes with a locked hood: the customer is not allowed to look under the hood, change the oil themselves, or even to take the car to the local Meineke or local independent car repair shop. This not only harms competition, but as Iceland's[5] experience shows, it takes away one's freedom. With open source software, on the other hand, SU would have the freedom and flexibility to respond to any local special need (or preference) by customizing, or by modifying or adding to the source, or hiring an outside professional or organization to do so for SU. As noted in [5] "With Linux, minority users with special needs are not at the mercy of any vendor."

The Linux Operating System:

Linux is a unix-like operating system in widespread use for servers, desktops and other devices worldwide. It is extremely reliable and robust. Many applications run on the Linux OS, including web servers, data servers, desktop windowing systems, and office applications.  Linux is maintained as open-source software and a supported version is very affordable.  A full complement of applications that run under Linux is also available open-source.  There is one stable version of Linux, and it is available from many different vendors.  The differences are mainly in support and maintenance provided.

Linux solutions have recently been adopted by the German Parliament [6], the US Department of Defense [7], a whole industry in Hollywood [8], Amazon.com with savings in the millions [9], and the third largest international advertising agency [10]. IDC's 2002 forecast predicts 2002 will be a "breakout year" for Linux [11].

Red Hat (a Linux vendor) recently won the Datamation Product of the Year 2001 Award in the Network and Systems Software category, unseating Microsoft. The article noted that Datamation's readers are "primarily IT executives with experience and buying power" [12].  Finally, today's graphical-user-interface-based Linux is not "for techies only": Linux can be quite user-friendly, with a desktop and point-and-click interface (see "Secretaries use Linux, taxpayers save millions" [13]).

Our Recommendations:

We recommend that the University undertake an analysis of Linux and Open Source software as a complement to Microsoft operating systems and products. We believe that many of the University's server systems can be run under Linux at reduced cost, with high reliability, and with no loss of functionality. We also believe that the student computer labs can run "dual-booted," able to operate under either Windows-XP or Linux.

There are many consultant organizations that can help the University analyze and scope a transition plan for IT. We have briefly discussed the possibilities with Sun Microsystems and with Red Hat Software. Red Hat has just finished a multi-year transition to Linux at the Engineering School at North Carolina State University. Input from other University of Maryland campuses may be relevant. UMBC student labs are mainly dual-booted and the UMBC servers run on the Linux operating system.

Benefits and Costs:

The benefits of our recommended setup would be manifold. The principal benefits would be that IT would gain experience with systems other than Microsoft as a hedge against future insupportable cost increases and students would learn in an enriched academic environment.

Inevitably, changing to another operating system or having to support two operating systems will add to the IT workload in the short term. However, based on discussions with the IT people at UMBC, we believe that supporting Linux at the servers can be done with less staff and can provide some good services to students that are hard to provide on Windows (remote access for program development, oracle database, perl/php, apache web server, etc.).   In evaluating costs, we must also consider the potential costs associated with remaining a Microsoft-only institution.  It may well be that our best plan would be to spend a little money and time now rather than be forced to spend a lot of money later because we have no choice.
We hope the IT Committee will consider the points and suggestions made in this letter.  We will be happy to meet with the Committee to discuss these points in detail, if you wish.

This document was prepared using Star Office under the Linux operating system.  No Microsoft software was used.

 

 

Thomas Anastasio and Harel Barzilai

 Department of Mathematics and Computer Science

Notes and References:

[1] "Privacy groups file Microsoft complaint"  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/business/newsid_1459000/1459293.stm)

A coalition of more than a dozen consumer- privacy groups is asking the Federal Trade Commission in the United States to block the release of Microsoft's new version of its flagship operating system, Windows XP. The coalition, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Junkbusters.com, claim that Microsoft "is engaging in unfair and deceptive trading practices". The groups say that Microsoft intends "to profile, track, and monitor millions of internet users" through the use of its suite of Internet services that the company refers to as .Net, which is to be integrated in Windows XP.

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_1646000/1646693.stm
quotes the Consumers Union as stating

"[Windows XP] will cause significant harm to both the nation's consumers and non-Microsoft- affiliated software firms and internet service vendors"

[3] http://www.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=02/03/05/0232253&mode=thread
discusses Microsoft's threat. It does not matter whether the threat is real, or a bluff; nor whether the courts have been fair or unfair to Microsoft; either way the fact remains that the threat of that possible eventuality has been made by Microsoft.

[4] Note also that the argument, "if our students have learned to use Word, and their future workplace uses WordPerfect, they can and should be able to learn WordPerfect" works in reverse: surely a student with a Bachelor's degree from SU, who knows how to edit .doc files with Linux word processors -- a fortiori if they learned to use the very similar StarOffice or OpenOffice tools -- will be able to learn to use Word if they need to (in fact, one would like to think a much stronger claim -- that someone with an undergraduate degree from SU would be able to learn Word by themselves -- is true as well; an argument we won't pursue here).

[5] "Linux and Ethnodiversity" (http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=1999-01-21-007-05-OP)
cites the Seattle Times, the latter reading in part,

"Unable to stop the influx of Windows, Iceland's cultural authorities began petitioning software importers, asking for the right to translate Windows into Icelandic. That proposal went nowhere, Arnason says, because the programs can't be translated without the translator's going into the main operating system, something Microsoft won't allow. Iceland then offered to pay Microsoft to do the translation itself, but Microsoft refused to quote Iceland a price. 'The Microsoft people say we have to do it, but we're not allowed to do it,' Arnason says. 'It's a - a what do you call it? - a Catch 22'"

Ultimately Iceland turned to Linux. As summarized in http://www.molar.is/listar/kde-isl/1999-05/0006.shtml

"Microsoft decided against developing an Icelandic version of Windows 95 because the limited size of the Icelandic market couldn't justify the cost. When approached by volunteers from Iceland who offered to do the port, Microsoft refused, on the grounds that the Windows source code was secret. There is no similar 'dog in the manger' problem with Linux, because there are no cost considerations and the software requires no permission to modify. Unsurprisingly, an Icelandic version of Linux's 'K' Desktop Environment exists. With Linux, minority users with special needs are not at the mercy of any vendor.

[6] http://www.heise.de/english/newsticker/data/anw-28.02.02-006/

[7] http://www.vnunet.com/News/1106435

[8] http://www.linuxjournal.com//article.php?sid=5472

[9] "How Linux saved Amazon millions" (http://news.com.com/2100-1001-275155.html?legacy=cnet)

[10] http://www.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=02/02/28/1712218&mode=nocomment

[11] http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/02/01/03/020103hnidcpredicts.xml

[12] "Linux Gains Legitimacy in the Enterprise"  (http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/cio/print/0,,11967_974831,00.html)
The article notes that "While Red Hat and Linux have been around since the mid-'90s, it has taken time for the open source system to gain widespread trust among enterprise IT pros. If the votes of Datamation readers -- primarily IT executives with experience and buying power -- is any indication, Linux software appears to have gained a permanent and growing role in the enterprise." [Emphasis added]

[13] Secretaries use Linux, taxpayers save millions  (http://www.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=01/08/10/144)

[14] SAP/R3 on Linux  (http://www.sap.com/solutions/technology/linux/pdf/saponlinux.pdf)
discusses the benefits of Open Source and Linux, stating that Linux is attractive because of

Technical quality, stability and reliability

Performance and resource usage

Development speed

Worldwide support

Comprehensive documentation

Very good interoperability

User friendly desktop