May 4, 2007
Tanieth Dale, left, and Cary Bernath have established Linux4US.
Photo by Silas Polkinghorne
By Silas Polkinghorne
Tanieth Dale and Cary Bernath want to spread the word about Linux.
Their new group, Linux4US, aims to educate the campus community about open source software, and specifically the Linux operating system – part of a global movement built around programs made available for anyone to freely use, modify, and redistribute.
“It’s much bigger than any one of us,” said Dale, Linux4US president and a programmer and research analyst with Information Technology Services. “One of the great things about Linux is the community – that’s where we’re coming in.”
The group hopes to attract both learners – those who are interested in Linux but don’t know where to start – and experienced users, who can provide peer support. Members are volunteering their time to support others, but the group ultimately seeks to empower people with the knowledge to be “self-sufficient” with Linux.
“This is a community effort,” she said. “We hope that if you learn something, that you contribute back to the group.”
That attitude ties in to the philosophy behind Linux and open source – that collaboratively, a community can create high-quality software and improve computing experiences for all, free from any corporate control.
Some join the open source software movement because it democratizes the computer realm – anyone with the technical skills can be involved in the creation and improvement of software, which in turn can be made available at no cost. Others get involved in an attempt to counter the dominance of the software giants, Dale explained.
“The people that are currently using Linux are all very passionate in their own ways. Everyone has different reasons for using the applications,” she said.
Linux has a number of advantages over other operating systems, explained Linux4US vice-president Cary Bernath, a laboratory systems analyst in the Department of Computer Science. First, it is free, and in recent years the number of Linux software applications available – software that offers cross-platform compatibility with programs like Microsoft Word – has grown by leaps and bounds.
Over time the Linux and open source community contributes towards a rapidly growing central repository of applications that include sound and video, games, and office-productivity programs. “There is an application for almost anything that you can think of doing,” said Dale. Some versions of Linux are designed for educational environments and include learning software, games, and statistical analysis applications, she added.
The operating system is highly customizable, and the system and programs are updated regularly. Plus, Linux will run on computer hardware that other operating systems would render outdated, Bernath said.
The free software movement dates back to 1983, and in the early 1990’s Linus Thorvalds, a Finnish software engineer, created the Linux kernel, the basis for Linux operating systems. Those systems are now available in hundreds of distinct versions, or “distributions.”
For now, a listserve is the basis of the U of S group, which is only a few weeks old and already has more than 40 members. There are also blogs and monthly meetings, with speakers and possibly an “install fest” planned.
“We are hoping to bring the people who use Linux, love Linux, and really want to learn to use it, together … to figure out where the needs are, what the problems are, and what should we be doing on campus that can help these people.”
Dale and Bernath aim to increase the group’s numbers to the point where the group can advocate for infrastructure improvements at the U of S to support Linux users – like offering more streamlined Linux support and training seminars.
Dale also hopes the University will investigate the expanded use of Linux on campus, with an eye to cost-savings on operating system licensing fees and to the benefits of open source in educational institutions.
More information on the Linux4US group is available at linux4us.usask.ca.