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Which Government Agencies are *nix-Friendly? 351

Posted by Cliff
from the borg-free-zones dept.
payneLess asks: "I have noticed since the Sept. 11 attacks, there is renewed emphasis on beefing up the nation's military, law enforcement and intelligence-gathering capabilities. Presumably, some of the dollars to accomplish this will go to improving their information systems and recruiting quality IT people, which with the slow economy might present some rewarding opportunities. Since I know many .gov and .mil geeks read Slashdot, my question is, besides NASA, are there any agencies that doing cool things with Linux or BSD? Aside from the NSA's security-enhanced Linux project and DARPA throwing a bunch of cash at NAI Labs to develop Trusted BSD, is anybody actually using *nix on a wide scale for day-to-day tasks? One of the reasons I left DoD a few years ago for the private sector was because nobody seemed interested in thinking outside the box and everyone was perfectly content letting the vendors and contractors ram Microsoft, Solaris, and other proprietary stuff down their throats, nor was there any institutional interest in changing over to open source."
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Which Government Agencies are *nix-Friendly?

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  • LBL Uses them (Score:2, Informative)

    by Gaijin42 (317411)
    Lawrence berkely labs uses unix extensively for simulation. Particle accelerator simulation and weather simulation are huge there. Its running on a nice speedy cray. No Linux tho :)
    • Re:LBL Uses them (Score:4, Informative)

      by rknop (240417) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @06:53PM (#2408729) Homepage

      Lawrence berkely labs uses unix extensively for simulation. Particle accelerator simulation and weather simulation are huge there. Its running on a nice speedy cray. No Linux tho :)

      Actually, there's quite a lot of Linux at LBL. I worked there until June, so I have some idea what I'm talking about. There is PDSF, which is a giant node farm of a couple of hundred machines in a beowulf-like system. There are development systems at NERSC which are smaller but which are looking at better ways to put clusters together; I've worked with a 32-node i386 Linux cluster, and the same guys have a 20-someodd-node alpha Linux cluster.

      The Supernova Cosmology Project, which I worked with, almost exclusively uses Linux at LBL. There are a few unenlightened people who use Windows for some stuff (one guy is addicted to Adobe Illustrator), and we still had a couple of Solaris machines bumping around, but there were >20 Linux machines in that group.

      -Rob

      • Actually, there's quite a lot of Linux at LBL. I worked there until June, so I have some idea what I'm talking about. There is PDSF, which is a giant node farm of a couple of hundred machines in a beowulf-like system.

        PDSF has grown to a bit over 300 as of this end of fiscal year. It's one of the systems that NERSC [nersc.gov] runs (you know that Rob, but for the uninitiated...). I am not sure that I would call it a Beowulf though.

        Most of our laptops are lil linux machines. For desktops we still use Solaris boxes. We also have FreeBSD on a few servers here and there.

        As for other *nix machines, we have the Crays (68 processor SV-1 cluster and a ~700 processor T3E with Unicos and Unicos/mk respectively), PDSF (300 odd cpu mix of Intel and AMD machines w/ linux), Alvarez (a ~200(?) CPU beowulfish cluster), and Seaborg (3000+ processor IBM SP system running aix).

  • But it's Open Source:

    The DoD does use StarOffice [slashdot.org]

    It's cross platform, so they can still run Windows, etc. and use it.
    • While I was in the DoD, I constructed a small office LAN out of some old Alpha 500's that were lying around, and loaded Suse 6.4 on them. I was getting flak from the in house Compaq/DEC guys that said that you couldn't load Linux on these machines because of the BIOS, but after about a week we had 6 machines running with everything the desktop workstations had, and at no extra cost to the MAN....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:09PM (#2407884)
    The NLM (part of the National Institutes of Health) uses Solaris extensively. And all the free software available (GNU utils, Perl code, Python code, MySQL, etc.) helps keep taxpayer costs way down.
    • by pongo000 (97357) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @04:28PM (#2408258)
      And all the free software available (GNU utils, Perl code, Python code, MySQL, etc.) helps keep taxpayer costs way down.
      My God, just imagine if the gov't contributed just a fraction of the cost savings over equivalent commercial software to the open-source vendors! Not only would the taxpayers still save money, but all the free software coders out there would actually have even more incentive to churn out good stuff.
      Is anybody aware of the gov't actually paying for this free stuff as an incentive for continued development?

    • NLM runs some seriously chunky work, too. The National Center for Biotechnology Information [nih.gov] (which is part of NLM) is an example of a truly outstanding dynamic web-site based on a really huge database backend. I like to use it as an example of what it's possible to do with a well designed web site. The people at NLM who I've met at meetings seem to be pretty nice, too, and they're helping to do some really worthwhile things, and ISTR that they're looking for workers, too. It would definitely be a good place to look for a government job involving Unix.

  • by friday2k (205692) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:09PM (#2407886)
    a mixture of Linux and Windows but with a strong movement towards open source software. See also this story [slashdot.org]. The German Government nevertheless signed a large contract with Microsoft for future upgrades and deliverables (see here [heise.de] for a German article on that). One of the driving forces behind the open source movement has been the BSI [www.bsi.de], the german government agency for security in information technology (again Website is in German). They support open standards especially for security sensitive applications.
    • I'm sorry to say that, but the German federal government (and some governments in the Länder) tends to enter into long-term contracts with proprietary software vendors, especially with Microsoft.

      And BSI does not always support open standards, especially in key cryptography areas. BSI tried to convince us to use Chiasmus for Windows, a closed-source implementation of their proprietary Chiasmus cipher. AFAIK, a request to hand over information on which we could base a decision was never answered.
      • by 4of12 (97621)

        Strange.

        I had credited the German government with a great deal more early enlightenment than other governments (U.S. and France, for example) because of their support of Gnu Privacy Guard development.

        I think the NSA's efforts to comb through Linux and make SE suggestions is a real positive development.

        I'm sure others will mention this, but there has been a non-trivial use of Linux in the Department of Energy laboratories and research centers.

        Mike Warren and colleagues at Los Alamos built Loki and Avalon clusters some years ago - they were featured in Linux Journal, IIRC. CPLant at Sandia uses Linux as its code base for research into very large clusters.

        And those are just a few of the higher profile news-making uses of open source. If you were to carefully comb through DOE LANs at over two dozen laboratories, I think you'd find hundreds of open source powered boxes in all kinds of capacities ranging from economical compute servers, web servers, data acquisition interfaces, etc. They are incredibly economical and powerful app servers.

      • Well, I had different experiences when I was dealing with the BSI on some crypto patents (blind-signatures). When I dealt with Isabel Muench it was always very pleasant and they always recommended, never ruled. But some years have passed since that and maybe you are right as of today. I also wrote in my post that the Federal and State Government seems to go Windows, too (see the heise article) but nevertheless they are also pushing for open standards. It is kind of a mixed message you get there, and maybe it is me being too far away and that I do not have to deal with German authorities any longer.
  • I've worked with a lot of gov/mil sites as a vendor and they seemed to always have a very mixed bag. The funding goes project by project and the decisions are made that way too it seems. So I'd say there are going to be patches in every branch willing to look at this and patches that would feel threatened by it. Just like anywhere else... =]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I work at a division of the D.O.C., and I will say that we use both Unix and Linux (HP-UX in particular) for all kinds of servers, though most of the desktops (well, not *mine*) are NT/2000.

  • Education (Score:2, Informative)

    by Methuseus (468642)
    I've attended two community colelges and one university here in Illinois. All three use a form of *nix (I'm not sure which) to handle logins and email. The CS department of the university, as well, uses Solaris as its OS for higher level C, C++, Java, etc classes.
    • Considering that their email serves are called ux1 through ux13 at the U of I, I'd assume they are HP-UX servers. The webmal server is running NT 4.0 (according to netcraft).

      Now if only the public labs were running a varient of Unix, we'd be set (OS X may come in the near future, but until Office runs on any other *nix, the PCs will pretty much always be running windows).

      F-bacher
  • by nizo (81281) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:11PM (#2407902) Homepage Journal
    According to netcraft's September stats 36.53% of the .gov websites were running MS IIS and 31.92% were running Apache, go here [netcraft.com] for further details. Interestingly there don't appear to be stats for .gov sites prior to last month (it looks like they just started polling .gov sites perhaps? Only 3581 were polled). I wonder what those numbers will look like one year from now.
  • Linux use at USACERL (Score:5, Informative)

    by dlapine (131282) <{ude.cuiu.ascn} {ta} {enipald}> on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:11PM (#2407903) Homepage
    The US Army Corps of Engineering,
    Engineering Research and Development Center,
    Construction Engineering Research Laboratory

    (USACERL) used linux in several of its projects during the time I worked there (1996-1998). Linux was used for some workstations, some small networks and the Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) software system.

    Not a major development, but enough general and specific use to be noticed. I don't know the current status of linux use at the labs today.
  • NMCI (Score:4, Interesting)

    by big_cat79 (156695) <cecathcart3@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:12PM (#2407904) Homepage
    The Department of Navy will become even less *nix friendly with the full deployment of the Navy-Marine Core Intranet (NMCI). This initiative is to standarize all desktops, laptops, and servers to one platform, in this case Windows 2000 and both the servers and the desktops, all of it outsourced to EDS. Outside of tasks that require a *nix box, the choice is actually no choice at all: Dell boxes running Windows 2000.
    • Re:NMCI (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:30PM (#2407930) Homepage Journal
      A friend of the family works at Navy Intelligence. I had planned on applying there (wanted to get out of healthcare industry) but changed my mind after finding out this information. I don't mind working on Win-boxen. Hell, that's what keeps me busy here at work. But for a few jobs, the Linux boxes are cheaper and work better.

      There is no reason to pick Win2k by fiat. The right tool should be picked for the job. I cannot work somewhere where there is NO possiblity of that happening.

      As an aside, I also cannot stand my tax dollars being misappropriated in this manner. Yes, my representatives are aware of my feelings.

      • Re:NMCI (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Jubedgy (319420)
        Well the problem is...most of the (enlisted) guys I've come across have trouble enough getting windows to do what they want. You can't really tell people how to use computers, they have to *know*...otherwise you might see a high incidence of 'rm -rf /' style mistakes going on when someone wants to delete a single file or something.

        --Jubedgy
        • Re:NMCI (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Locutus (9039)
          good thing they don't take your way of thinking and apply it to everything. Heck, they'd be handing over the keys to the tanks expecting them to know how to drive it.

          There is a little trick called training that is used to bring humans and animals to a level of understanding or habit so they can handle certain tasks on their own.

          Remember, T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G

          Heck, most of the people I know who use computers don't really know how to. A friend who just last year was afraid to connect a printer to the computer is now the expert in her group because she put a simple spreadsheet together.

          T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G

          LoB
          • Re:NMCI (Score:2, Insightful)

            by sg_oneill (159032)
            T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G... Sometimes shortened as T-C-O. :) It's true. Training is expensive if staff are already trained up on windoze.

            Infact chances are good the training is more expensive than the winlicence. Conversely if the staff member spends more than 2 days on figuring out the OS , that too also eats up any saving on licences.

      • So right now business is in a small-scale rebellion against the Microsoft XP-mandate.

        When the Navy mandates Win2k, how much guff do they get from Microsoft about not migrating to XP? Somehow I suspect that the Navy Win2k mandate means exactly that - Win2k. Not XP. Not YP or XQ or YQ, or whatever comes next.
    • by joedoc (441972) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @05:06PM (#2408421) Homepage

      I work for the Navy. I'm the IT department head for a medium sized command in one of the Navy's smaller operational claimancies.

      There's a bit of misinformation or mistakenly-eliminated information in some of the posts here. NMCI is not replacing all desktops, laptops, and servers in the Navy with Windows. The majority of administrative systems, networks and servers will be replaced or managed by the EDS contract.

      Many Navy commands have multiple systems and networks (other than their standard administrative systems), many of which are operational or tactical in nature. Those machines often run very specialized software developed both in-house and by contractors. This software runs on a variety of OSs and hardware, and little of it will ever be ported from one system to another. In the nearly ten years I've worked for the DOD, I've managed/configured/supported dozens of different applications running on a variety of off-the-shelf and customized systems.

      What the Navy is trying to get their arms around is the cost and management of their administrative systems, which make up a majority of their ashore and afloat computers. The posters here who are griping about the fact that EDS is standardizing on Win32 platforms and apps fail to understand that within the Navy's administrative world, there needs to be standardization. There are hundreds of thousands of users stationed all over the world who have the need to share data, documents, and other information. For their needs, standardizing on something like Office 2000 on a relatively secure Windows 2000 platform simply makes the most sense, from a management point of view.

      We have a small network here, and the admin systems here are standardized on Windows 2000, with Office 2000 as the suite. We also run a variety of other Windows-based apps. Our network is well-secured, and I have very few problems with Windows 2000 server and client systems. Naturally, I work very hard to manage and maintain them in the most efficient way possibe, which includes constant security monitoring. If someone cracks my system, it's not always the fault of the systems...I have to keep up with the security requirements to keep the bad guys out...just as I do with my non-Windows systems. Could Windows be more secure? Sure. But for my admin users' requirements, and for the size of my LAN, it works great.

      My other non-admin systems run everything from Linux to Solairs to HP-UX to Windows, with off-the-shelf and customized applications that are, very often, the only things running on their host systems. I have to maintain security monitoring on those systems, too. However, I'm looking forward to NMCI's arrival, not because I'm necessarily crazy about thier deployment concepts, but because I can now hand the mundane management of admin systems (file servers, mail servers, net connections, backups, help desk, installations, griping and moaning, etc.) off to someone else. There's an upside to everything...

      Then, I can concentrate on managing my (non-Windows) web servers and operational systems, developing content and tactical products, and doing the kind of creative stuff I don't get to do on the admin side.

      Those who believe that the Navy is taking the wrong tack in moving to a Windows-based admin network aren't looking at the big picture. To try to move, for example, to an entire Linux-based network system, with the necessary design, configuration, training, and installation changes necessary would require manpower, expertise, and cost far beyond the $4-6 billion the NMCI contract will cost. Free operating systems require management as much as the commercial ones do, and that management and support isn't free.

      Even more important is the massive cultural changes that would be necessary to move in that direction. The people using these systems use them in their jobs. They don't care, in most cases, what the OS is. They have no concern about open source vs. commercial. They use Office. They use Outlook. They expect the computer to work a certain way when they log in, and they expect the same applications to be there every day, they expect them to work a certain way, and they need to be able to share information without worrying about whether or not their StarOffice presentation is going to work on the system of some guy on a ship somewhere.

      People like me are trying very hard to make sure open source is being implemented in the operational and tactical areas of the fleet. We know how good these things are, and we push them hard, despite the ignorant restrictions placed on us from using these tools. My webserver wasn't shut down by nimda and code red, because I decided a long time ago to buck the trend by going to Linux and Apache. I watched hundreds of Navy-based web servers fall to bits during those events, even to the point where entire military networks had to block port 80 requests to stem the tide. My SSL-enabled server chugged along with no problems.

      Open source has it's place, and Win32 does as well. Where they belong depends on your point of view, and what you're trying to accomplish. Perhaps, someday, when a stable set of productivity apps for open source *nix systems exists, you might see some changes. But, they don't right now, and that's why the Navy is moving in the direction it is.

      • I'm not evangelizing or trolling here, but have you had a look at the latest Star Office 6.0 Beta? I've been a bit disappointed with *NIX based office suites until I had a look at the beta. I was just wondering, since you seem to have a decent opinion on this subject if you've seen it, and what do you think? (Oh and I feel that outlook/exchange could be replaced with insite client/server, but once again...)
        • You are correct in part...the new star office 6 beta is great (for the most part) just the term beta is enough to squash any thought of that.

          i'm been trying for a while get permission for a linux box at work (military simulation prime) but the brass isn't budging (yet). here we are windell boxes for desktop stuff and *nix for development.

          virtros
  • by devphil (51341) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:12PM (#2407910) Homepage


    Your title says *nix, but you seem to be asking specifically about the libre OSes.

    The Air Force Research Labs makes heavy use of Solaris, including Trusted Solaris, for internal routing, firewalling, nameservers, etc. (For external talk-to-the-world connections, more task-specific stuff is used instead; I have no idea what it's called and wouldn't tell it here anyhow.)

    Most of the Unix sysadmins have at least one Linux box on the desktop.

    Engineers who have to use funky or EOL'd hardware often ask about Linux, both because of the source code availability, and because funky hardware eats up about 97% of their budget.

    Does that help, or were you thinking along other lines?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:27PM (#2407919)
    (Posted anonymously to protect my sorry ass)

    The DoD are of split minds on the matter. But this, if you understand the workings of the DoD on matters computing, is nothing new.

    From a command perspective, especially for daily work, it's supposed to be a Windows World. However, to really understand things, you have to grasp that policy organizations like Air Staff or AFCA (to use an example from the USAF) typically don't provide funding to back their mandates. That's left ot the command, unit, or installation commander-- it's his people, his money, and generally he can do whatever the hell he wants with it by citing "mission requirements."

    Again following a USAF example, AFCA and Air Staff decreed years ago that the desktop would be NT4 + Office97, servers would be NT4 server, yea verily, hail and forever, amen. But there are still many many MANY shops out there still running NetWare (previous standard) and Banyan Vines stuff, not to mention the old mainframes (Sperry, anyone?) that have never been decommissioned, mostly because no one will pony up the dough to recode old applications.

    Even now, there's two worlds at work. On the one hand, there is the mandate within the USAF to move to Win2K. But there is ALSO a mandate to take ALL current and future USAF applications and webalize them behind a common middleware layer, moving to a portal-based enterprise operation-- including the use of web-based groupware. It doesn't take a genius to see how at odds these two efforts are.

    This is relevant because most government agencies are just like the DoD, just in minature. Many simply follow the Department's lead on tech matters. So you can't really ask which government agencies are *NIX-friendly; you have to ask which communities in government agencies are doing *NIX work.

    To which, there is no easy answer. 8)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:52PM (#2408044)
      I agree -- this was good commentary.

      From the part of the USAF that I've seen, it seems that they've been trying to convert from proprietary "custom built" systems like the mainframes they used to have to civilian "vendor" stuff so that they can upgrade as quickly as the new technology is implented (as opposed to their cold-war philosophy of being the center of technical innovation and developing equipment that is years ahead of the civilian world only to find twenty years later that they're behind with old equipment because it was just too hard to upgade the proprietary stuff).

      Thus USAF = Cisco and MS. MS and Cisco have taken the responsability as vendors in case there are "security leaks" and the USAF completely endorses them. Any choice by a installation commander to use anything else makes the responsibility of "security breaches" fall 100% on them where if they chose MS, it would fall on MS. Thus very few commanders choose anything but MS and Cisco and any attempt to pursuade otherwise often falls on deaf ears.

      It rather scares me that the USAF is now under the control of vendors, however I feel that somthing is better then nothing.

      To give you a perspective of the proprietary to vendor roll-over, up until last year the only text-messaging system that was endorsed by DISA for combat sceanrios was 'STAMPS' -- a proprieatry teletype system dating to the early 70s. Last year DISA rolled out "DMS" (defense messaging system) which is a MS Exchange server. I am saddened that the USAF choose insecure MS products for combat scenarios, however I'm happy that they've AT LEAST finally approved e-mail for combat!

      They're having a tough enough time trying to implement technology of the 1990s, never mind mixing in *NIXes that would require extensive training for the admins. I don't forsee any *NIXes permeating the Combat Comm arena anytime soon :(.

      If it were the cold war and DoD did not have the vendor philosophy that it has now, I could forsee all types of neat innovation using the Open-Source *NIXes in a proprietary manner (and thus still reamianing the leader in technical innovation), however DISA have given up all motivation to be a technical innovator any more and just wants to try to implement civilian technology that hes been around for years and replace their VERY old proprietary equipment :(.
      • "I don't forsee any *NIXes permeating the Combat Comm arena anytime soon :(. "

        And in completely unrelated news, two tomahawk cruise missles destined for Afghanistan accidentally missed their targets and instead hit Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman respectively. The United States government is citing a communication error for this freak accident. Microsoft, in an act of generosity, immediately announced that they had come to the rescue with a patch that they would give to the U.S. military, free of charge, that would ensure that no more Free Software leaders would be blown up due to military computer errors.

        Suspiciously, a review of the EULA showed that Microsoft's patch really only guaranteed that Torvalds and Stallman would not be blown up again. A Microsoft spokesperson said that they were reviewing what they called "antiquated sections" that had been included in the EULA.

  • NSA, I believe (Score:2, Informative)

    by pjdepasq (214609)
    I had a friend who was supposed to be working for/at the NSA on a secure Linux kernel this fall. I don't know anything else about the project, or it's status, but it's clear that the NSA is using *nix.
  • by boinger (4618) <boingerNO@SPAMfuck-you.org> on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:31PM (#2407940) Homepage
    I interviewed at Fermi [fnal.gov] a few months ago and got a tour of a few of their cold rooms.

    Oh...my...*drool* *wipe* *wipe*

    Rows of Origin machines churning away...tape rooms with robot arms zipping about faster than you can figure out what they're doing...Linux everywhere you turn...it was heaven. I was dizzy with envy. Alas, they didn't pay enough to make the commute worth it - they're about 45 minutes out on I-55 (non-rush hour) and I like living downtown.

    • That's part of the deal where we agree to do no military research (nothing at Fermi is classified)- God loans us our computers :)

      Some people get paid more as contractors - but it's not as cool or as permanent.

      The data is absolutely enormous. Massively parallel deticated hardware trying to filter out the "unimportant" events - we only keep the important ones. The "important" ones that we record is something like a CD/sec. I suspect that that's an approximation of saturating our network.

      It's not what I work on, but it's very cool.
    • And we're in the middle of replacing a farm of NT machines with good 'ol linux, which are used to filter data that comes in off the accelerator ring in "some fashion" (IANAphysicist so I can't get more specific).

      48 2 unit, 2 cpu 1ghz machines in three racks all run by Fermi's homegrown redhat distro [fnal.gov].

      And this is just one of our farms.. there's another linux one that I don't work on back in there, somewhere, with similar capacity.

      Linux is becoming the standard desktop here as well. The price/performance ratio has really cranked up linux's desireability. PBS-type systems are getting popular here, too. Many linux desktops are linked into a homegrown batch system that they're trying to get off the ground, which is intended to build software of various types.

      Linux is definetly big here.. and it's getting bigger. They hired me on just because of the influx of linux that's appeared.

    • You're a bit picky. I commute 80-90 minutes to then from (almost 3 hours round trip) work to get paid a clerical wage to do mostly database application customizing.
  • NIST-ITL (Score:2, Informative)

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), part of the US Dept. of Commerce, is very Unix and Linux friendly, especially in the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL).

    While the majority of personal PCs used by researchers at NIST are Windows based, Linux and Unix get used for computer modeling applications of all types, and Linux is used quite a bit by ITL. While I was at NIST, there was talk of a standard PC for all of NIST, and the ITL folks were stating that the software should be open-source and not Windows based. I don't know what happened with their request, as I left before the "standard" NIST PC came to be. I suspect though that it was Windows-based so the rest of NIST would not have to learn a bunch of new, basic software.

  • by throx (42621) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:32PM (#2407946) Homepage
    One of the reasons I left DoD a few years ago for the private sector was because nobody seemed interested in thinking outside the box and everyone was perfectly content letting the vendors and contractors ram Microsoft, Solaris, and other proprietary stuff down their throats...

    Last I looked Solaris was part of *nix, as were many other "proprietary stuff". If you really mean Linux or BSD then you shouldn't use the term *nix.

    To answer what I assume was the original question, perhaps they have considered Linux and xBSD but just haven't found a compelling reason to spend the money to migrate? Free software doesn't necessarily mean cheaper in the short or long term much as the average /. person would wish it to be so.
  • Mac (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Washizu (220337) <bengarveyNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:33PM (#2407955) Homepage
    I did a project during college at the National Institute of Health [nih.gov] and it seemed to me that 90% of the people there used Macs. I know it is proprietary, but I thought I'd mention it since Macs weren't mentioned in the news.

    Ben
    • by timothy (36799)
      That Mac use at NIH led to one of my favorite (though now well behind the times, I guess) pieces of free software (I think only little f free, though) on my old mac IIfx, the most expensive computer I have ever personally owned.

      OK, now I'm inspired, and have just downloaded it to my iBook -- here's the main web site for Image:

      http://rsb.info.nih.gov/nih-image/

      Good stuff, and it turns out, full source code is available :), and there's a Windows knockoff too, and a similar progam for *nix in Java.

      Some of the filters (I like erode and skeletonize) still hold up very very well, though I don't see a release date on here for the version I just grabbed ...

      timothy
    • by brassrat77 (9533)
      Yes, they have a lot of macs there - mostly used by admins and medical researchers who need easy to use desktop office systems.

      Plenty of Unix and Linux workstations around. (I have seen a few VA Linux 3500s - Quad CPU Xeon boxes) being used as "deskside" workstations for some heavy-duty medical imaging work. Also Dell's, more VA workstations (when they still sold them), etc.

      There are also several beowulf clusters on the campus - running linux, of course.

      Most important of all - the DC Linux Users Group meets there! (How's THAT for Linux support)
  • Navy linux (Score:2, Informative)

    by aghman (303312)
    I work for a D.o.D. contractor, and we have been porting a lot of our *nix software over to PC's running Linux.
    While Linux isn't used for any critical systems (neither is NT/2000), it is being adopted for many other types of systems (instruction, etc).

    We do most of our development on Linux machines, although we are forced to use Windows boxes to do administrative junk (#@$! Outlook!)
  • I don't know about the inside, but as someone who deals with the NSF from the outside applying for and getting grants, they understand that most academic scientists are using Linux/Unix etc. So they do give pointers for tools for linux to get things into the acceptable formats (TeX, dvi, Postscript, pdf) for submissions and so on. I mostly deal with fastlane [nsf.gov] their electronic grant submission/reviewing system and it now accepts things in lots of formats, as explained here [nsf.gov] There was a time a few years ago when they were requiring PDF and the Linux tools for genereating PDF were not mature- I ended up helping tons of people with getting things into the right shape for them by moving stuff over to a Mac, TeXing it there, including all fonts, using Acrobat (blegh) but that was the only reasonable option at the time.
  • I've had the typical sort of experiences with customs and the DMV. And, the US Postal service has given me a few headaches. But otherwise I'd say that I usually get pretty friendly treatment.

    Thanks for asking,

    Nix
  • by scott1853 (194884) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:36PM (#2407969)
    "One of the reasons I left DoD a few years ago for the private sector was because nobody seemed interested in thinking outside the box"

    Since when does the use of open source software equate to "thinking outside the box"? I would think that government agencies have more important criteria for a system than "can we play with the source code?".

    If they need some new software, they're not going to hop on over to freshmeat. They're going to decide the function of the software. Then they're going to hire somebody to design a system that accomplishes that exact task. I'm sure there's instances on needing to maintain or upgrade software in the government, but all that means is that they need to be in possession of the source code, the code doesn't need to be sitting on source forge though.

    If you did work at the DoD (which I have not), I would think that you'd realize that their use for software is to accomplish a specific task, and it's not for having fun, or sticking it to MS.

    BTW, Taco, do you guys have a clapper installed on the db server or what?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I had the opportunity to serve with a Field Artillery unit at Fort Hood. They use several fire direction control systems (Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATADS) and others)that are based on Unix. They really wouldn't let me touch it too much to dig around in it, but it looked like Sun. The camoflauging done to make the GUI look like MS Windows was amazing though. To a casual user, it would be difficult to tell that it was not a Windows OS.
    • Just a comment it's AFATDS, but pronounced AFATADS.

      I worked on LFATDS and LTACFIRE which were predecessors to AFATDS, and on IFSAS (Initial Fire Support Artillery System), which was derived from LTACFIRE and was interim before AFATDS.

      AFATDS ran on the HCU, I believe, which was a ruggedized HP/UX workstation. It later got ported to the CCU which was a ruggedized Sun. IFSAS ran on the LCU which was anything from a 486/25 (640x480 16color grayscale) to a P-90 (and up, full color TFT display), running SCO OpenServer 2, 3, and 5 (during various points in its lifecycle).

      The Army has always used *nix, just not the free variants.
  • heh check this.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ShinGouki (12500)
    from the comp/sci employment page at the NSA (http://nsa.gov/programs/employ/science.html):

    It's been said that the systems environment we offer is a veritable fantasyland for computer science, with vast networks that manipulate huge volumes of data and accomplish information analysis at mind-boggling speeds.

    Consider acres of hardware
    software years ahead of current commercial technology
    microprocessor-based advances
    over-the-horizon supercomputers
    leading-edge activities in programming, signals (including analog control), GUI's, AI, neural nets, information security, the design and implementation of encryption algorithms, and far beyond.

    now, if only the headhunters could come up with a pitch like that...

  • by alfredo (18243)
    They use QNX for the letter sorting machines, and some optical scanners use Linux Some Vax is also used. some NT is used, for networking, and WebObjects is used for the intranet.

    The non essential tasks are done on Windows 95. The supervisors are the lucky ones to use the Windows machines.

    After four months the supervisor still hasn't figured out how to change the "You Suck" message that crawls across his screen saver , nor can he figure out how to put the taskbar back on on the bottom of the screen.
  • This isn't exactly wide roll-out but my town has a pretty big Unix backend on nearly all of the city's systems. There's several big rooms filled with old Sun machines and if you go to the court offices every secretary has an X terminal on their desk (though they usually have a Windows PC as well). Besides city government and the courts I'm sure there's a bit more Unix usage but I haven't seen it personally. Though none of these are free and so you don't see them as real Unicies but oh well.
  • This is slightly on topic; it's something that made me laugh and I'm reminded of it anytime I hear of this subject. The short description; a response on Declan's politechbot [politechbot.com] to "Citizens Against Government Waste", an MS-funded 'grassroots organization' (pfft), from Roblimo. He made an observation that's been made before; that the Government would save a lot of money if they weren't paying for Windows licenses. I'd just never imagined it could be made at such a perfect moment, to such a perfect audience as a farcical group of Washington watchdogs who claim that their struggle for an end to the MS antitrust case is only part of their desire to combat Government waste. And of course the icing on the cake is that CAGW never replied. Anyway, here's CAGW's original press release [politechbot.com] and here's Roblimo's response [politechbot.com].
  • Unix at PPPL (Score:5, Informative)

    by jspaleta (136955) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:46PM (#2408016) Homepage
    Most of the big iron at DoE's PPPL is running linux.


    Here's the run down:

    We have a linux cluster running a high resolution display wall for large scale simulation presentations (and to play quake3 on ;-> 400Mhz processors i think).

    One general purpose linux cluster (16 dual process machines of the 800 Mhz vintage)
    There are several dual processor alphas running linux as stand-alone servers....A lot of the scientific computational stuff happens on these....think fortran

    There are 2 or 3 intel based clusters (32 or 64 dual processor 1.7 GHz machines per cluster) in the works...and another one just to run the TRANSP code that I can't play on is operational...mutter grumble



    The lab got part of a big computing grant from NFS i think to drasticly expand its computing power....so I'd imagine a large (100+ node) linux cluster is in the works for PPPL as well

    On the more mundane side of things....
    I just got a linux box up and running with 5 ics645 digitizer boards (32 channels 2.5 Mhz per channel) to be used as the main data aquisition computer for MRX....if more PCI DAQ equipment becomes available for linux, I'd imagine a lot of the smaller experiments at the lab would jump to linux.

    There was also talk of replacing alot of the old er desktop pc and xterminals with stripped down linux thin-clients....but I dont think that's gonna fly.

    It's hard for me to keep up with the specifics since I'm just a user....
    The point is most if not all the scientific computing power at PPPL will be on Linux in the near future. The desktop space at the lab is firmly in the hands of the large mac user base right now.
    -jef

  • by alen (225700)
    runs their financial database on Oracle 8i I think it was. It runs on Solaris OS. As far as email is there any unix solution that can rival exchange? And I mean have an integrated address book so users won't have to hunt down and remember email addresses.
    • The address book is no problem. LDAP works fine for that. It even works with Outlook.

      The shared calendar, on the other hand, is more problematic. HP's OpenMail (I think that is what they call it) is pretty much a direct Exchange replacement, but for some reason HP has end-of-lifed it.

  • by pi_rules (123171) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @03:52PM (#2408042)
    I've got mad Linux skills and would like a cushy government job. Since the dot-com bust I'm sunk and haven't been able to find a job in months. I know the NSA uses Linux but I applied there and they laughed at me so I need some place else that has lower requirements. Like, if I can use 'vi' people will be uber-impressed.


    If you took the above seriously... don't.

  • by thryllkill (52874)
    Here is a little problem. A vast majority of DOD computer users are exactly what you have in the civilian private sector, not very computer literate people who are just trying to get their job done, admin type people. In my relatively short time in the military (USAF) I would have to say that Admin people out number just about any other career field there is (the AF version of the MOS is called the Career field). I don't mean the admin career field is that huge, but every shop, weather they have an actual IM troop or not does have an admin section of some sort, and like the rest of the world the Admins run windows.

    As far as security is concerned when I asked if I could set up a small SuSe file server for my users the Comm Squadron told me that we were expressly forbidden to run Linux on the network.
  • Let me see if I understand this, one of the reasons you left the DoD is because they couldn't come around to running a free OS ? I wonder what your job there must have been, such that you decided you just could not work there unless you ran Linux - did they hire you as an Open-source evangelist ? When you accepted the position did you think the DoD was hiring you to convert them over to Linux, instead of, say, doing some other job ? What exactly was your job title such that running Linux was so crucial to your job satisfaction there ? And what about that slashdot story where a few office workers were loudly and roundly ridiculed because they just couldn't be productive on Linux ? Why isn't this story just as ridiculous ?
  • by duffbeer703 (177751) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @04:15PM (#2408177)
    Most government agencies operate under extreme budgetary stress. (with many exceptions)

    At my office the best/cheapest solution wins. The only disadvantage to this is that our datacenter looks like a computer zoo. We have everything from Unisys mainframes to 2U rs/6000's to sun e10ks. Lots of windows nt, dos (!) and sys v stuff glueing everything together as well.
  • And it annoys the crap out of me every time I go to fill out my FAFSA [ed.gof] (Federal college financial aid eligibility form, for those who aren't aware of it). They have one of those annoying browser version checker things that only allows some fairly old versions of Netscape and Internet Explorer from Windows or Mac. Nothing from Unixes or Linuxes. Bleah.
  • The NSA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @04:49PM (#2408347)
    I work at NSA. It varied widely as to what people used, usually dependent on the person's job & duties.

    The current "official" platform is NT 4 (Win2K has not yet been approved). Many people still use Sun for their work, and a few use Linux or Win2K or whatever else is appropriate. The SELinux is not used as it is considered a prototype/research product. Many servers are some flavor of *NIX, probably Solaris

    Techies generally choose what they want depending on their job duties (some people have multiple machines at their desk), non-techies almost always have NT.

    An encouraging word for Linux is that there was one guy soliciting help on the internal newsgroups that he was trying to get Linux to be the next official enterprise baseline for the desktop workstations. However, since the 11th, network use is required to be kept at a minimum, so he hasnt been able to do much on that front.

    Also, because of the current position of NSA's activities, major changes wont happen anytime soon.

    The reason we still use NT 4 as opposed to a more current version is because we must take time to evaluate the system's usefulness and how converting will impact mission. ALL software products go through this evaluation before we can use it on mission systems. (ie - Office 97 is still current, not 2K or XP)
  • Where I work, we've been able to move several machines from the various MS and Unix OS choices to Linux.

    The problem is management is scared of anything potentially complicated. They want to know that if you are run over by a bus at lunch, they can keep the facility running.

    I've seen a lot of big Unix installations that only 1-2 people can keep running. How do you replace those people if they take another job or are both sick at the same time?

    Don't get me wrong...the same is true for Windows, but MS has a massive FUD machine that makes it seem like running a complex installation of Windows machines is as easy as using Excel.

    When a manager sees Admins using something remotely resembling Excel to get their jobs done, they figure it will be easy to replace that person and keep things going when the time comes. There is a much larger pool of MS people around that *nix people.

    My recommendation: Don't be afraid to query people during the interview about Linux use. Make it clear that you enjoy and use open source. Challenge the "PC Week" Microsoft FUD campaigns in a gentle way.

    Let the employer know "up front" you beleive in Open solutions, and although it may take you longer to get a job, you will both be happier in the long run.

    Also, consider taking some of the free online courses from the Sun Microsystems site for their "Forte" IDE. This cross platform beast is resource hungry, but the "New Template" wizard lets you create everything from desktop apps to XML/DTD/CSS jsp apps to Javabeans...deploy, test, debug locally/remotely...cvs interface...all in one cross platform environment.
  • by pmz (462998)
    ...letting the vendors and contractors ram Microsoft, Solaris, and other proprietary stuff down their throats...

    This condemnation seems to equate Solaris with Microsoft products, which, at least in recent years, is definitely not the case.

    The source code to Solaris can be downloaded and compiled. There is a book, called "Solaris Internals" that contains a thorough discussion of how Solaris works and why it is designed the way it is. Sun publishes a great deal of documentation for Solaris and its other products for little or no cost to the consumer. This documentation is also fair, in that the pros and cons of the products are discussed. Sun doesn't make things out to be what they aren't (perhaps exluding pertinent Java hype).

    I feel comfortable working with Solaris knowing what it is and what it is made of. This makes Solaris about as close to Open Source as a proprietary OS can be. This is something that is unlikely to ever be said about anything produced by Microsoft.

  • In the real world, there is this thing called The Bottom Line. Companies are bound to it. To succeed, a company has to make more money (revenue/receipts/income) than it spends (overhead/outlays/expenses). Companies use budgets to measure how much they make and how much they spend. Capitalism. The private sector. Got it?


    Enter the government agency whose sole purpose is to spend public funds (i.e. taxes), and if the moon is right, offer a useful service. Such agencies are not bound by The Bottom Line, because regardless of the utility of their existence, they are budgeted money to spend. (In public circles, this is known as the "Spend It Or Lose It" rule.) Consequently, money is spent on needless resources. Third-party software in-house programmers could have written. A dual-processor server running Ultimate Bulletin Board. Tens of thousands of dollars of support options for software nobody in-house wants to touch. Herein, the mighty Bureaucracy takes root.


    I submit my place of employment, a state agency, as a prime example. Despite a streaming media viewership that numbers in the ones on a weekly basis, we continue to renew our RealNetworks licensing (don't laugh) for thousands of dollars a pop AND increase the volume of televised programs we will agree to stream. If we were a private company, we would have ceased and desisted all streaming media activities two years ago. And that was after I exercised some initiative and wrote a web-based scheduler application to handle a moderate volume of programming.


    You see, proprietary software/support and government agencies go together like peanut butter and jelly. Government agencies don't have to justify the cost of software and support, because they don't have to deliver like private companies do. I've tried on several occasions to recommend open source solutions, but everytime my proposals have fallen on deaf ears because of budget concerns. You simply can't apply capitalist, prudent logic to this kind of mix.

  • Many people are discussing how 'unix is more secure' or 'NT is used in the military, and it messed up that warship'. On and on...

    Neither OS is at issue in cases like this. Overall system design is. NT can be JUST FINE for a particular task, if the system is properly engineered, including hardware, maintenance, etc.

    Even if the military were to use linux (for all I know they do), they wouldn't be grabbing the latest kernel and patching everything all the time.. they would roll their own distribution (based on a current one or not), and use it, specifically, to build whatever system it is they want.

    making something work FOR you, the way you need it to, is more than choosing the right OS. It's the entire approach you use to engineer and maintain a system. This is what many in the linux world find hard to understand.
  • Linux at LLNL (Score:3, Informative)

    by SeanAhern (25764) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @06:12PM (#2408668) Journal
    There is a lot of visualization research [llnl.gov] happening at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [llnl.gov] that's using Linux. A lot of the boxes that we do our day-to-day work on are boxes running RedHat [redhat.com] 7.1. We're researching how to best use the latest nVidia [nvidia.com] drivers with GeForce 3 cards. [nvidia.com]

    I've personally been working on scalable parallel rendering. We have a couple Linux clusters that we're working with. The one that I work on is a 32-node cluster with a Myrinet interconnect [myri.com]. Each box has hardware graphics in it. That cluster is hooked up to several displays so that we can explore very large [llnl.gov] tiled displays [llnl.gov]. I'm working on a project called Chromium [stanford.edu] that's hosted at SourceForge [sf.net].

    So I think you could say that the researchers in the DOE are very interested in what Linux can do.
  • by kir (583) on Tuesday October 09, 2001 @07:51PM (#2408876) Homepage

    Windows is the defacto choice for most of .mil because of one simple fact:

    It's what 95+% of .mil staff use at home.

    What does this mean? In the civilian sector, an administrator is hired because he is the right person for the job. He/She submits a resume outlining his training, past job experiences, and his goals. He is interviewed (normally multiple times) before he's selected to fill a position in company X. But in the military arena, you don't apply for an administrator job, you are not interviewed - you are assigned to one. This is not the best way to handle IT manning, but unfortunately, it is the only means available to the military.

    If a military IT shop (for example: an AFNCC - Air Force Network Control Center) has to fill its positions with personnel handed to them with no regard for their training, experience, or even interest in working in IT, what operating system do you base your infrastructure on? Answer: the one they are already familiar with - Microsoft Windows.

    Many in the IT career fields (AFSC, MOS, etc.) in the military are not there by choice. When they enlisted in the military, it was the field they were placed in. Many of these people have no real interest in the jobs they are doing. In the civilian world, you try to work in a job you have an interest in. This is very true in the IT realm. How many administrators, engineers, or programmers do you know that don't enjoy working with computers? I don't know many. But in my ten years in the Air Force, I would say nearly half of all co-workers had no interest in computers what-so-ever. They were simply filling a position. They could have been filling any number of positons (webserver admin, network admin, system maintanence) with little to no training. With such limited training and so many personnel not even interested in their job, what OS do you base your infrastructure on? Again: the one the available personnel are already familiar with - Microsoft Windows.

    Until something other than Microsoft Windows finds it way onto the desktop of home users, the military will be forced to use Windows as it primary OS. If the military did decide to move away from Windows, even if it still held a vast majority of the home desktop, they would have to make a strong committment to truly train their personnel. Unfortunately, I doubt this will happen.

    Windows will continue to be the military's OS of choice for many years to come.

  • Since no one has mentioned them....

    Forecasters at NWS in Suiteland, MD, have *nix boxes all over the place for figuring out what tommorrow and next week and next season may be like. Many of the forecasters are linux-saavy.

    NOAA has the big beowulf clusters in Colorado that are used for running weather simulations and forecast models.

    The NWS shop in Minnesota that forecasts snowpack and runoff for the Mississippi River basin (flood and river level predictions) has at least one linux beowulf cluster I know of.
  • Still plenty of unix at GSFC after all these years.

    Lots of Linux and *nix at NASA Langley, too.
  • by Isaac-Lew (623)
    Ok, as some of you may (esp. in Dalnet #linux) or may not know, I am a system administrator for NOAA [noaa.gov] (National Oceanic & Atmosperic Adminsitration). I am responsible for the main webserver (Running Solaris & apache) and several auxiliary servers (running RH 7.1, apache & a load of other Free/Open Software).


    One reason to use Free/Open Software? At least where I work, it's less hassle to get permission to download & install free stuff than it is to fill out endless forms, get a purchase order, etc.

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