Open Source

Linux grabs its single biggest win

The U.S. Navy and Dept. of Defense have learned valuable lessons that translate to huge contracts for the Linux OS. What does this mean for open source and the community that drives it? Jack Wallen offers his take.
Northrop Grumman Transformational Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle system. Ever hear of it? It's a U.S. Navy drone, otherwise known as the MQ-8B Fire Scout. Why is it significant? Because recently the Navy decided to drop the Windows operating system that was running in favor of Linux. And just why did they drop the previous operating system?

A virus.

That's right...previously a virus had infected the operating system on the U.S. Air Force's drone control system.

A virus...on the system controlling drones. Think about it. Imagine the consequences of a drone or fighter plane suffering from a computer virus — while armed! That was a significant enough "oops" to lead the U.S. Navy to migrate their drone systems from Windows to Linux.

When I read this, I was shocked. First and foremost, I couldn't believe such planes were controlled by anything powered with any flavor of the Windows operating system — not when the U.S. Navy has enough intelligence and resources to even create their own OS. Once that shock flushed from my system, I had to wonder...who would be the one to run Combofix on the systems running those drones? What a horrible job that would be...having to take the fall for an infected computer system on a military aircraft.

Anyway...I digress.

The decision brings a 28 million dollar contract to the Linux community (who, exactly, will be getting this contract is unknown), but that is not all. Based on this (and other issues) with non-free software, the U.S. Department of Defense is laying out guidelines on how its agencies can use open source code. And even though the DOD's use of open source code will alter the GPL for said code (they can't, for obvious reasons, release any code they use and modify back into the wild), this is a huge deal for open source everywhere.

Think about it. The DOD has decided that open source is a more secure and reliable route than proprietary systems. That trickle down is going to have a serious, lasting effect in the world of Linux. Here's how I see this working:

  • DOD begins Linux roll out
  • US Government begins wide-spread roll out
  • Civilian security companies world-wide begin roll out
  • Universities fall in line
  • Consumers begin clamoring for better security on their OS

Although this could seem like a pipe dream (for this to rain down upon the consumers), if the masses really want to start getting serious about their security (and they should), this should be a lesson from up high that should not be taken lightly.

Windows is a good desktop operating system — but one with many, serious security flaws. And although Microsoft is doing their best to tighten it all down, it's simply and fundamentally insecure. The U.S. Navy and Department of Defense get this now. Maybe it's time for the consumer to pick up on that thread and demand Linux on their desktops.

After all, if it's good enough for the DOD and the Navy, isn't it good enough for you?

I can already hear the naysayers proclaiming their usual litany of hate and doubt.

  • "Not enough games!"
  • "No support!"
  • "It doesn't run 'X'!"

Well, guess what, if there's enough demand for it, eventually those complaints will fade away. Think of it like a relationship — you want to start a long term relationship built on a foundation of stability, friendship, and trust. Why? Because eventually the bedroom antics will dissipate and what remains will have to carry you into your twilight. Wouldn't you rather have an operating system built on that same, strong foundation? Your love of games will eventually fade away. If your platform is solid and secure, you'll enjoy it for many years to come. And if more people begin enjoying the Linux platform, eventually the games and the support and 'X' will arrive as well.

The U.S. Navy saw this.

Be the Navy.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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