Free software concepts

To use free software to bring solutions in a computing environment is a choice. First, it is in favour of a plurality of solutions, mainly in the personal computer world which tends to be monopolistic. Then, the choice is made, and that’s what is finally important, on the own qualities of free software, which are detailed just below.

Independantly of its qualities, it’s possible to give other reasons of various nature, in favor of free software, depending on the type of the person met.

Studies from IDC bring to light the irresistible rise of Linux as a server operating system. In 1998, Linux is credited with 17% of market share, with an increase of 212%, which is the most important in that domain. The following graphics give the whole market share repartition.

Figure 2-1. Server operating system repartition in 1998 (IDC).

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This was confirmed in 1999 with a market share climbing to 24% and an ancrease of 93%, always more than four times the increase of the follower.

Figure 2-2. Server operating system repartition in 1999 (IDC).

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Dataquest estimates on its side that Linux servers will represent, with 1.1 million of units, 14% of the servers sold in 2003.

the Net itself produces marketing tools to demonstrate the superiority of free software. Two counters are regularly updated by Netcraft, on web server software, and by IOS Counter for the servers on Internet. Results, reproduced below, show the importance taken by Apache with more than 6 millions of operational sites, crushing the competition, as well as the free operating systems Linux and *BSD which dominate the world of Internet servers.

Figure 2-3. Web server software by Netcraft between 1995 and 2000.

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Figure 2-4. Repartition of Internet servers by IOS Counter in April 1999.

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Financial arguments also speaks for free software. And first the price to aquire them is low. Low, because it’s never zero. Even if you can find it on Internet, you have to consider the costs related to that link. However costs are greatly less expensive than for commercial software. So a RedHat 6.2 Linux distribution, delivered with more than 1200 software packages, costs about 60 USD when you have to pay more than 800 USD to obtain Windows NT server, delivered only with IIS.

On the other side, free software don’t have the notion of license by user or by supplmentary service. Thus there is no additional cost when you have to increase the use of these software in your entity. That’s of course not the case with commercial software whose economical logic is often based on the number of licenses.

Free software bring in addition a better mastering of the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), mentionned so frequently in the massive deployment of personal computers. Thus administration costs are reduced because systems like Linux or FreeBSD, as Unix, are managed completely remotely, either through command line orders (with telnet) or in graphical mode by using X-Window. More over, we benefit from a true multi-users mode, improving these management operations. Always in this domain, it’s also possible to do remote management, either through the own hardware capacities (as the Remote Assistant card integrated in most HP NetServers), or by doing a remote connexion (through modem, ISDN adapter or a permanent link) thanks to the native protocol PPP and secure connexion systems as tunneling or ssh. This managemnt could even be realised by an external entity, in outsourcing.

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At last, the costs due to the hardware themselves could be controled; on one side, if by chance free software don’t meet the needs, it’s always possible to buy then commercial software solutions to cover the rest. On the other side, solutions based on free software have good performances by nature, and can use hardware platforms which would be considered as obsolete, if installed following the standard criterias of other operating systems or applications. It’s so possible to use « old » hardware, mainly to model. It’s then possible to invest, with a fine knowledge, when puting the solution in operation, if needed. The power increase may naturaly take place progressively.

This argumentation was already given in the previous sections. I think nevertheless that some notions may be explained with complementary informations.

So concerning the reliability aspects of free software based solutions, it’s important to note that it implies an operational running time very high (standard characteristic of Unix systems in general). This is mesured by the command uptime. One of Medasys and HP customers, Saint-Michel Hospital, has a Vectra VL5 acting as router under Linux since more than 300 days. And that’s not a isolated case.

Respect of standards and norms, as well as the extreme portability of free software assures also to applications developed on these platforms the same qualities. And notably, if after their use, the performances or services brought by free software based architectures were insufficient, it would be easy to migrate to machines offering more performances and capacities of evolution, as the HP 9000 systems, running HP-UX.

At last a development plan centered around performances implies a modularity, such as it’s possible to resize the system kernel nearest to the capacities of the hardware or to use dynamically loaded modules following the needs. A packages installation may vary from 40 GB for a minimal system up to many GB for a complete distribution. The system linearity allow also the support of multi-processors machines (SMP) (tested up to 32 processors on a Sparc machine). The system modularity allows also to obtain an operational system on a 1.44 MB floppy disk, either to realize a minimal repair environment, or to provide a perfectly operational router. The world of embedded systems shows besides more and more interest for systems such as Linux, because above it’s modularity, source availability makes communication with dedicated peripherals easier (acquisition cards, sonde, …). Entities as CERN or Thomson already use such solutions.

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That argumentation is probably the most important of all, because it’s useless to have free software if it’s not to make something useful with it or to offer solutions to demands of entities willing to use it. In which sectors free softawre may bring solutions today ? Well, you have to admit it’s in nearly all the sectors of enterprise computing.

Historically, Open Source Software were used to realise Internet/Intranet servers, because their growth was following the one of the Net. It’s so possible to cover all aspects linked to the Internet, from the Web server ( Apache ), FTP server (Wu-Ftpd), DNS server (Bind), the E-Mail server (Sendmail or PostFix ), the Usenet groups server(INN), the proxy server (IPmasqadm), the firewall (IP-Chains), Virtual Private Network (OpenSSH, Linux kernel), the Cache server for the Web ( Squid ) or also the Time server (NTP) or as(LDAP server … All these software are available in standard in a Linux distribution. The client computer should be equiped with the software corresponding to the application used (mail reader, news reader, web browser, …) whatever its operating system. The choice of the client is free, as all these tools respect the standards decreed in the RFCs.

The second preferential domain for free software is the file and print server domain. For these services, clients may be multiple: Unix type (use of NFS and KNFS or also Coda, for file sharing and of lpd for print service), Microsoft Windows type (use of SaMBa , which allows also the use of local client printers), Novell type (Use of Mars_nwe) or MacIntosh type (use of NetAtalk). All these software are provided in standard in a Linux distribution and don’t need any modification at the client level to work.

The other domains where a system such as Linux may bring solutions is the computation one, with support of multiprocessor, linked to the realisation of clusters with multiple nodes with high-speed network interfaces (100 Mbit/s, Gigabit or Myrinet); those of data security with the support of HP NetRaidRem. cards, allowing Raid level of 0, 1, 3, 5, 10, 50, and HotSpare disks, managed by the harware; those of centralized fax server, with a free software like HylaFAX or also as an archive/backup server with HP SureStore DAT or DLT libraries thanks to a commercial software like Arkeia or at last as a database server with free solutions like PostgreSQL,MySQL or commercial like Oracle, to speak only of these three.

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On the client side, even if it’s less highlighted for the moment, possibilities to use solutions based on free or commercial software are numerous. There also the Internet part is the main one, with tools like graphical web browsers (Netscape) or textual (lynx), a lot of graphical mail readers (Kmail, XFMail, …) or textual (mutt, elm, …). But you also have the whole panel of indispensable tools for a personal computer today as a PDF reader (Acrobat Reader or xpdf), image manipulation tools (ImageMagick, the Gimp, RealPlayer tools …), word processors (LyX, LaTeX, SGMLTools, Wordperfect, …), commercial office suites (ApplixWare, StarOffice), sound management tools (WavTools, eplaymidi, xmcd, …), CD burning tools (cdrecord, BurnIT, … with complements as mkisofs, cdparanoia), free and commercial emulators for various systems (Wine, Executor, WABI, DOSEmu, …), compilers and interpretors for all the languages (C, C++, Pascal, Fortran, Basic, Tcl/Tk, Perl, Python, Ada, Eiffel, Lisp, Scheme, Prolog…), including commercial versions ( PGI, …), graphical environments (Gnome, KDE, Motif, …). The evolution of these last tools indicates that the 2000’s may be the years where Linux and free software will break through at their turn on the client.

I want to mention that this document was realized on an HP Brio BAx equiped only with a Linux distribution, with the help of tools like SGMLTools, Jade and DocBook, which allowed to generate from a single source the formats HTML, Txt, RTF, PostScript, and PDF.

This one was for a long time a blocking point to the expansion of free software in the firms. It’s not the case today. Many service providers or hardware manufacturers, like HP, control today these solutions and propose support around them.

Other sources of informations are also available, in abundance, through several web sites dedicated to these solutions, specialised mailing-lists, and various Usenet groups, such as for Linux, the international groups under comp.os.linux.* or for the french speaking people under fr.comp.os.linux.*.

Concerning competences, more and more young engineers or academics finish their learning cycle being trained to the use of free applications and operating systems. This wealth of competences arrives now on the labour market and will contribute to increase the movement of generalisation of these tools. At last, many firms have internaly ignored competences. In fact, their employees often install this software at home, and have a good mastering, usable when arrives the deployment of the software in their professional structure.