Use of Linux by nonprofit organizations is nothing new. For one thing, the
lower costs of Linux fit in well with limited budgets. Now, though, some end
users at nonprofit organizations are choosing Linux for a completely different
reason--namely, a better desktop experience than they've been getting from
"Using Windows ME, we've had lots of problems with popups and spyware.
There's been none of that with Linux," says Subroto Mukerjea, a site director
for the Computer Learning Center in Fairfax County, VA. Mukerjea oversees one of
14 sites within an after school program for children and teens aged six to 16.
"Windows 95 was always going down," maintains Paul Mundell, national director of
canine programs at Canine Companions for Independence, Santa Rosa, CA. "The
problem with Windows 2000 isn't 'crashing.' It's just that, after a while,
applications start running more slowly and features don't work as well unless
you say to yourself, 'Maybe it's time to rebuild your hard drive.'
Mundell are both recent converts to SuSE Linux, an OS now owned and distributed
by Novell. However, neither of these two users is about to abandon Windows
The Computer Learning Center supports kids who don't have
access to computers at home. They can come to the center after school to learn
computer skills, and to work on whatever projects they've been assigned in the
classroom," Mukerjea notes.
"I thought some of the kids might be upset about
needing to learn a new operating system. There was a little bit of opposition at
first, but the kids were also curious. After they started using Linux, they
didn't notice much of a difference in the look and feel. And once they found out
that they could run computer games faster on Linux, any opposition faded away."
The kids have been using OpenOffice, too.
Mukrjea decided to try out Linux for
classroom use after a friend gave him a copy of SuSE Linux Personal Edition 7.0.
"Truthfully, I didn't know one version of Linux from the other," he admits. "But
we were having troubles with our PCs, and I wanted to try out Linux to see
whether it might help. Windows ME can be a little buggy. Also, whenever you go
out on to the Internet (using Windows), you're free to get all kinds of
From Mukerjea's perspective, Linux has been a boon to managing the
after school classroom, which ranges in size from ten to 26 children. Whenever
Windows ME bogged down or froze up, program participants got frustrated, he
"They'd have to shut down the computer and reboot. When things got bad
enough, we'd have to do an F-disk. This hasn't happened at all with Linux, and
it's been wonderful."
Yet Mukerjea does see one advantage to Windows.
"Microsoft's IE (Internet Explorer) does a very good job of installing plug-ins
such as Adobe Acrobat and Macromedia flash. Maybe plug-ins have been better
addressed in a later edition of SuSE, but I don't know."
Over at Canine
Companions for Independence, Mundell, a genetic researcher, is running SuSE
Linux 9.0 on an IBM Intellistation workstation. However, his IBM Thinkpad
notebook is operating both SuSE 9.0 and Windows 2000.
Mundell uses Windows 2000
for applications that either aren't available yet for Linux. These include
EndNote, an application for compiling footnotes and bibliographies, and SAS. "IE
also interfaces with Medline. So I figured, let's set the notebook up so I can
boot to either Linux or Windows."
Mundell would like to be able to run SAS on
Linux, too, but he finds this option too costly. "If you want to get a nonprofit
license from SAS, for some reason, Linux is considered a server license. A
one-person license would be expensive enough."
The researcher does use Linux for
running a couple of genetic calculation programs for the US Department of
Agriculture--MTGSAM and MTDFREML--as well as for Web browsing and e-mail.
does Mundell like Linux better? "Things like deleting temp files and
defragmenting the disk just aren't necessary under Linux. You can also avoid the
hours and hours of work it takes to rebuild your hard drive. Perhaps the
problems in Windows aren't really Windows' fault, because it seems as though
virtually every virus ever written was created for Windows. But I view the PC as
a tool for doing what I want to do. I'm willing to learn enough to rebuild my
hard drive, but I don't want to have to spend time on learning the fine points
of editing a registry," Mundell says.
SuSE Linux isn't Mundells's first
experience with Linux, and he's noticed some huge improvements along the way.
first tried out a fairly early version of Caldera Linux. You have to keep in
mind that I was inexperienced at the time--but at that point, Linux didn't seem
that great for desktop use, although it was okay for certain applications" Mundell observes, pointing in particular to issues with both e-mail access and
modem and display drivers.
"I don't really care that much about the user
interface, because much of what I do is text-based, anyway. But I wanted to be
able to look at my e-mail. You could get e-mail clients, but they didn't
necessarily work well with the Exchange server that we use."
Years after his
Caldera experience, Mundell came across SuSE 9.0 when strolling through a
software store, and decided to give Linux another whirl. "SuSE 9.0 works better
in every respect. Novell has also bundled in Evolution, which gives me smooth
access to Exchange."
Back in Virginia, Mukerjea is now looking at
double-barreled use of Linux and Windows, too. Mukerjea has been asked to return
to Windows ME, in that Microsoft is one of the sponsors of the Computer Learning
"We're also being encouraged to switch to with Windows XP, whenever funding
available for an upgrade from our current generation of Dell Pentium II
hardware," he adds. Meanwhile, however, in Mukerjea's classroom, at least,
Windows ME will be running hand-in-hand with Linux.
Few people nowadays remember that the IBM PC was
not the first "personal computer" and that MS-DOS was not the first industry
standard operating system. In fact, MS-DOS was but an imperfect copy of the
operating system that really has a claim to that title.
The first generation of personal computers (or microcomputers, as they were
known then) used chips like the Intel 8008, 8080, Zilog Z80, MOS Technology 6502
and Motorola 6800. While some early microcomputers (for example, the Apple II)
used proprietary operating systems, hundreds of different manufacturers licensed
a product called CP/M (as in Control Program / Monitor) made by a company
called Digital Research. Long before the IBM PC and its clones / compatibles,
the CP/M architecture provided for industry standard software that was portable
across hundreds of different brands and models. This was DRI founder Gary
Kildall's main contribution to the software industry. Microsoft simply followed
in DRI's footsteps.