The university would benefit financially by switching from Apple and Windows to Linux softwares



Campus fees just keep rising, like our ever-mysterious “educational operations fee,” which really is just tuition under another name. Parking fees, health insurance fees (if you opt for UMass Boston's Aetna plan). This gets all the more frustrating with the knowledge that we can make smart choices which would drop costs without sacrificing the quality of education.

I propose we first equip our UMass Boston computers with Linux: a free, enterprise-level, secure operating system perfectly suited for a large educational institution like ours, and replace costly, slow software like Microsoft Word with free, comprehensive office suites like OpenOffice.  

First — Linux? What?

Heard of Google Android? Anyone with an HTC or Samsung phone which has Android can call friends and use apps thanks to Linux. And Linux is not wimpy: the world's most powerful computers — IBM's “Sequoia”, Cray's “Titan” — run Linux. IBM, in its paper “IBM is Committed to Linux and Open Source” says that “Linux is not only a world-class operating system,” but “a forward-looking long-term strategic platform.”

Linux-based computers are being used by many of the big shots — the U.S. Army is, according to Brigadier General Nickolas G. Justice, “'the' single largest install base for Red Hat Linux.” “I'm their largest customer,” he said in a 2007 keynote speech.

In 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration reported it saved $15 million “by migrating to Red Hat Enterprises Linux” and benefited greatly with “30 percent more operational efficiency than the previous system.”

The state of Indiana, in 2006, “added Linux workstations for 22,000 students.” The San Diego Unified School District, eighth-largest in the nation, began rolling out 100,000 Linux (SUSE) laptops to its students in 2008.

You might be wondering: what does this mean for UMass Boston? Well, Linux — whose mascot is a cute penguin — is perfectly suited to upgrade UMass Boston's aging fleet of Windows computers because it does not need much computing power to run. Also, it's free.

Unlike Mac OS X and Windows 7 and 8, Linux can evolve and adapt to changing times, remain secure against attacks, and stay compatible with the latest software technology without turning your computer into a slow, obsolete mess. With every new version of Windows, every new version of Mac OS, computers are made to work harder, which makes them slower. It's the same with products like Microsoft Office — they ask more and more of computers, making them slower — no one is happy.

Using Linux on university computers drops licensing costs to almost zero, unless some new programs are purchased.

The university has to pay Microsoft, or Apple, a fee for every computer it wants to use and every piece of software on that computer. This is on top of the initial cost of the computer itself. Simply, it's called a license — companies say “one computer, one license” and the university also has to pay these companies yearly fees just to keep using their software.

For example, yearly re-licensing of just one computer with Windows and Microsoft Office could require a minimum upkeep of $133 — a Mac with Office, at least $132 each — a basic Windows server, $348 each, and if UMass Boston is running any database servers, well over $1000 each. Universities are required by law to keep track of all their licenses and update them, which is a huge hassle.

France's national police force completed a roll-out of Linux replacements in 2009, saving them millions every year because they no longer had to re-license 15,000 Windows desktops.

Without proper licenses to use programs and systems, universities can get hit with huge fees. Temple University was fined $100,000 by the Business Software Alliance in 2000 for unlicensed use of  software. Fines like these can reach up to $500,000. Imagine that coming from student pockets.

In short, by switching to Linux, UMass Boston won't have to buy new computers, or licenses, period. The computers will remain secure, modern, will be virtually immune to the host of viruses and attack programs geared toward Microsoft Windows because it's a totally different environment — think fish out of water — and so Linux will extend the lives of computers by many years.

We've all used Microsoft Office. It can be slow, especially when using on-campus computers. I find it unnecessarily complex. It's simply not worth the price. I strongly suggest the university deploy the Open Office suite, a full set of open-source software for writing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Why?

Open-source software means that thousands of eyes have checked a program to make sure it works everywhere. Open-source software does not include licensing fees, a major reason why many corporations and institutions are making the move away from Microsoft Office.

UK news outlet “The Guardian” has been using Open Office since 2008; in the University of Cologne, Germany, 300 student computers have had the suite deployed; since 2007 the Ministry of Education in Portugal has been distributing it to its 9,000 schools. Vietnam's Department of Education began the switch in 2008 for 20,000 of its computers.

UMass Boston seems committed to technology as a benefit to its students and has even been rolling out iPads for classroom use. But if our university is truly committed to using technology as part of learning in the classroom, it should embrace Linux on its computers and classroom devices. UMass Boston's engineering, science, mathematics and computer science divisions will definitely benefit from the wealth of open-source tools naturally available in these fields.

We have at least five computer labs, not including the three Mac Labs, and doing the math shows the university can save significant amounts in the future by switching now to Linux. But that's only part of the benefit.

Technology should not get in the way of productivity, but it often does and people should not have to pay for that. UMass Boston can and should take advantage of the cost-saving, productivity-boosting open-source movement as though it were a natural resource — it is as freely available as air.

(6) comments

Also, I agree with Rosatonj about needing more labs. I wish we had a lab that would allow me to work on some projects I want to do. I have interests in building my own electronics as well as making the software to work on them, but the school does not provide a clean lab space for students to solder and do such projects.

My first degree is in Linux System Administration, I'd love a job maintaining a full Linux network. That aside, I support open source just as much as the next guy, but I really think that making a drastic switch like that would open a whole new can of worms. This would require many many labor hours and a whole new investment into IT professionals (a good Linux Administrators may very well cost a great deal more than a Windows Administrator and licenses costs combined). Also in cases like this you have to decide if the switch is worth the time and aggravation that it will take to migrate everything to Linux. At this point the licensing costs are rolled into the cost of doing business and the school gets volume discounts as well as educational discounts and they pay no taxes. There are so many other places UMass could be saving money that they should focus on before allocating the resources of an already stretched thin IT department to switch the entire school to Linux just to save the money that equates to probably the tuition of two or three students (small drop in the bucket for the convenience of a product with support that a lot of open source products do not provide. Also, just because something is Open Source does not mean it is free. For example, Red Hat Enterprise Linux for a one year self support subscription is $49, if you want support that price quickly increases to between $100 and $300. Server installs can cost upwards to $5k. In comparison the cost of a pc with a license already for Windows desktop could be cheaper once you roll in the fact that your license is valid forever as is the support (or at least until End of Life of software).

I also want to stress that completely getting rid of Windows school wide is not really a simple switch, but rather a slow and gradual shift that could take YEARS to complete. You have to keep in mind that there is software installed on various office machines that require windows in order to function correctly, often times these programs rely on proprietary closed source database servers that is most likely contracted to some other company. Some of these programs do not support Linux, the school would have to take a long time to migrate these databases to a whole new system and then spend a long time testing the replacement, recreating new front ends for staff to use, and they would also have to retrain staff on how to use Linux in order to do the same job they have been doing for years on Windows. Training can be time costly (and just like any business more time = more money spent). Training is also time consuming and will have a brief slow down in productivity as some people have a harder time adapting to a Linux environment. Also students that don't know Linux (such as non computer majors) would go crazy if they couldn't do everything the way they could before. This would require them to stop all their projects and learn a whole new interface instead of being able to just use the programs they are use to and will most likely be using when they leave UMass. I think administrators would rather pay the money than hear students complain all day (after all it's just a small drop in the bucket for the school).

Also, another important point is that i think all students should learn Microsoft software as many places in the work force STILL use Windows (shocking to hear, but true). I agree Linux has come a long way to being a full replacement for Windows but it has not completely replaced the end user's desktop experience. Though a large number of companies are using Linux based servers to cut down on license costs they still interact with Windows client for end users.

Sure there are some of us students who only use the computers at school for web surfing and word processing and Linux would do both of these just fine. However, what about students who are learning programs such as Solidworks or EnCase (for the computer forensics majors). These programs require Windows to run properly (and in order to be in compliance with it's own license) and these are programs that are used in the work force so switching to Linux would do students a great disservice when they graduate.

I do agree that there should be options for Linux users to use Linux on school computers if they so desire. However, I feel the best way for the school to accomplish this would be with a PXE server (which I have deployed before). A PXE server would allow a central server to store the Linux install for every machine and students would be presented with a boot menu when turning on any computer in the school that would allow to select what Operating System they want to boot. a PXE boot would allow every student to have a centrally stored profile that will allow students to roam between clients within the school while maintaining full access to their desktop settings. A PXE boot would also allow system administrators to make school wide changes to the software from only one location simply by modifying the PXE image. Also PXE systems deployed properly are very efficient in terms of resources and bandwidth. Diskless terminals can be deployed throughout the school to provide direct access to every student's own personal desktop with their programs and files easily accessible.

I work here (not in CS) and this is my personal opinions and observations of trying to get linux & open source solutions in my dept. I have zero influence over any lab.

I could write a book on all the different angles of this issue, but the main problem is support. Its hard to find linux admins. When a linux admin job was advertised (on monster and the globe) a whopping 3 people applied for it, 2 of whom never used linux. On average linux admins cost more than their windows counterparts. We have a ton of windows admins on campus, linux admins arent as common.

I think this lack of support worries top level administration. When windows blows up you can call MS and they'll fix the OS and MS apps (for a price of course). A open source project doesnt have that. You can pay companies like Redhat and Dell for support, its often just for the OS. So while you can probably find an admin in CS that can fix any foreseen problem on a lab machine, admininstration doesnt want "probably". They want "we can have a contract with this company that can fix any problem". If you think like that, Microsoft fits the bill very well. Ironic because I see our windows admin wrestle with MS constantly trying to fix things.

And another major factor, change. They already have windows admins, windows OS, MS support contracts, MS software subscritpions etc etc. Using linux doesnt fit into that picture well.

Im not defending their decision. If it was my campus you guys would be fighting me to get any propreitary software installed. We're a state university, places like this is where open source thrives and we should be embracing it everywhere we can to save money. I personally push open source solutions alot, but I feel we dont use it to its max potential.

Articles like this really do help not just in the labs, but all over campus. Ive seen many, many solutions that we spend tons of money on that could of been handled by a opensource solution and its really frustrating. This affects you guys. The cheaper the university can run its computing services the better is it for everyone.

One place this isnt a problem is the emerging research initiative the university is heavily pushing. Its all linux machines, and everyone involved right now is big open source advocates. Im hoping the success of the research HPC environment starts spreading into other areas of the university.

I agree with about 99% of what it is you have to say and the points you make. But the idea that UMB would not need to buy new machines isn't completely accurate. Not only has the "Unix"(it's running on linux and windows) lab become overcrowded and noisy, it has become a bottle neck for students. We need to keep that lab nice and loud, it's where the innovation happens, baby. We need a second lab with nearly as many machines if not double because of the ever increasing population of Comp Sci students and other STEM students who are required to take CS courses that demand they connect to the system. We need actual storage and better servers for student data. There is a petition currently in the works, signed by almost all CS students to have Linux installed on at least half of our windows machines. That also isn't to say that we won't need to learn how to develop for Windows and Mac. We need a second computer lab, that is maintained quiet. But what happens when the new Science building is finished. Won't there be room for new stuff. HELL NO, UMB F's it up again. There are not even offices available for incoming CS staff. And the CS department is being relegated to McCormack Hall. That's right, they aren't going to put the department whose science is integrating other sciences into the Integrated Sciences Building. Yes, we need Linux. Yes, it would save computers like the White Lab, which are running on Core2 Duo machines with 4GB of ram, the same as my old gaming rig. There is no excuse for how slow they are. And while you're saving all that money on licensing.... maybe we could fix the wifi or buy a series of small SSD drives to make those old machines REALLY FAST. I dare a UMB administrator to contact me and sit down to discuss these issues. In fact, I will buy lunch for the first one to do so .
Name : Nicholas Rosato.

Most of studies made in Europe has given some 60-90% benefits (saving money) by choosing Linux and open source software. Biggest savings have not been only those non-license payments but because you can give new life to your older computers.

Normally moving from Windows ecosystem to Linux means saving some 1000 €/ each client during the next few years. In City of Munich Germany is annyally saving over 10 million € when they moved from Windows to Linux. Normally the first year is not giving savings but 2nd, 3rd and 4th year will change that picture totally.

For me, the most important message is "Technology should not get in the way of productivity." Linux, being free and open, allows organisations and individuals to customise it to their needs. The cost benefits could almost be seen as a bonus on top of the main advantage. This should be especially relevant in education! Where is the value in systems that do not allow you to fully explore and learn how to get the best out of them?

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