University of Oxford

Computing Services

Linux Desktops at Oxford

Author Barry Cornelius Date 29th June 2005; first created: 10th June 2005


1. Some background


1.1. OSS Watch

1.2. Surveys

2. The adoption of Linux


2.1. The adoption of Linux on servers

2.2. The adoption of Linux on desktops

3. Linux desktops at Oxford

Performing a survey of Linux Desktops at Oxford to find out:

Jargon: distro, sysadmin, unit.

3.1. Performing the survey

3.2. Units that I've visited

Astro Physics
Atmospheric Physics
Experimental Psychology
Medical Vision Group (Robotics, Engineering)
Oxford Supercomputing Centre

3.3. Units that replied

Arch'y           MolMed
Christ Church    OUCS
Classics         PartPhy
EarthSci         Politics
Ecol and Hydro   Psych'try
FMRIB            St Anthony's
IMSU             St John's
Invensys         ScanOptMic
Jesus            Sociology
Linacre          SolidMechsAndMats
Materials        StructGenCons
MolBioph         SERS

3.4. Number of Linux desktops

150 Astro Physics
150 Mathematics
110 Statistics
 63 Atmospheric Physics
 53 Comlab
 50 Chemistry
 50 Physiology
 47 Molecular Biophysics
 40 Experimental Psychology
 36 OUCS
 35 Ecology and Hydrology (Centre for)
 33 FMRIB (Centre for)
 20 Structural Genomics Consortium
 17 Materials
 15 Earth Sciences
 15 Scanning Optical Microscopy (Engineering)
 12 Medical Vision Group (Robotics, Engineering)
 12 Particle Physics
 12 Psychiatry
 10 IMSU (Clinical School)
  7 Solid Mechanics and Materials (Engineering)
  5 Archaeology
  5 Molecular Medicine
  4 St Anthony's College
  3 Oxford Supercomputing Centre
  3 St John's College
  1 Christ Church College
  1 Classics
  1 Invensys (Control, Engineering)
  1 Jesus College
  1 Linacre College
  1 Politics
  1 Sociology
  1 Systems and Electronic Resources Service

3.5. Summary of number of Linux desktops

==150 Astro Physics, Mathematics
>=100 Statistics
 >=50 Atmos Phys, Chemistry, Comlab, Physiology
 >=40 Exptl Psy, MolBioph
 >=30 Ecol and Hydro, FMRIB, OUCS
 >=15 EarthSci, Materials, ScanOptMic, StructGenCons
 >=10 IMSU, MedVision, PartPhy, Psych'try
  >=5 Arch'y, MolMed, SolidMechsAndMats
  >=2 OSC, St Anthony's, St John's
  ==1 Christ Church, Classics, Invensys, Jesus
  ==1 Linacre, Politics, Sociology, SERS

3.6. Total number of Linux desktops

3.7. What distros are used at Oxford?

3.8. What releases of distros are used?

3.9. How did they choose a distribution?

3.10. What is the most used distribution?

 150 Astro Physics            Debian
 150 Mathematics              Debian
>100 Statistics               Fedora Core
  63 Atmospheric Physics      Debian
  53 Comlab                   Fedora Core
  50 Chemistry                Fedora Core
  50 Physiology               SuSE
  40 Experimental Psychology  SuSE
  35 Ecology and Hydrology    Bio-Linux (Debian)
  33 FMRIB                    SUSE
  26 OUCS                     various

3.11. Who uses the Linux desktop?

At Oxford, different units had different policies:

  1. Just one person: it's his/her desktop.
  2. Principally one,
    but others in same group also use it.
  3. Anyone can log in to the desktop:
    • either physically;
    • or remotely.

3.12. Who uses the Linux desktop?

3.13. Where are the home directories?

3.14. Who has root access?

At Oxford, widely different attitudes:

  1. It is difficult to deny root access to the owner of the machine as they bought the machine.
  2. A small number of people in each research group have root access to the machines in that group.
  3. Only the sysadmin has root password because
    he/she takes the responsibility that the machines are
    secure and up-to-date.

3.15. How are machines patched?

At Oxford, many different policies:

  1. Test out the patch on a master machine and then when happy tell each machine to update.
  2. Every night, on each machine:
    • run a cron job that does the patching;
    • reboot may be required, e.g., if patch is to kernel;
    • negotiate with the user as to when convenient.
  3. Leave it to each user to update their machine.

3.16. When do machines get OS releases?

3.17. When do machines get OS releases?

At Oxford, two common approaches:

  1. upgrade when the machine is recycled to a new user
    • this means supporting different releases of the OS;
  2. do a massive change occasionally
    • this means all the machines are the same.

3.18. What software is installed?

3.19. What discipline-oriented software?

3.20. Can other software be installed?

3.21. Can the desktop run a webserver?

At Oxford:

3.22. Can the user access MS Windows?

At Oxford, there are four approaches:

  1. Some units provide the user with two machines.
  2. Some units provide a Windows Terminal Server.
  3. Some units install VMWare on the desktop:
    1. Doesn't allow VMWare as he is unhappy about its security.
    2. It requires too much resource and falls over.

3.23. Can the user access MS Windows?

  1. Some units allow dual boot:
    1. If I allow this, I won't be able to contact the machine and do Linux updates.
    2. Machine may be in Linux for a long time; then very out-of-date with Windows security patches.
    3. This annoys other users because they are unable to remote login when it is in Windows.

3.24. Why is MS Windows needed?

3.25. Can the user access MS Windows?

Tim Colles (University of Edinburgh) has two articles discussing:

The latter topic is also discussed in Section 4.2 of the Government's Final Report on the trials of OSS.

4. Linux desktops elsewhere

Identifying how Linux Desktops are managed at other universities:

4.1. Linux desktops at Cambridge

4.2. Linux desktops at Cambridge

4.3. Linux desktops at Cambridge

4.4. Linux desktops at Durham

4.5. Linux desktops at Durham

4.6. Linux desktops at Durham

4.7. Linux desktops at Edinburgh

4.8. Linux desktops at Edinburgh

The report makes the following recommendations (here abbreviated):

  1. Services should be accessible and usable from Linux.
  2. The University should strive to use open standards and open technologies wherever possible.
  3. or StarOffice versions of documents should be available for writeable forms (as well as Microsoft Office versions).

4.9. Linux desktops at Edinburgh

  1. The University should be more effective in enforcing its own policies on issues dealing with consistency and compatibility.
  2. The University should investigate increasing support for Linux users and computing officers.
  3. The University should investigate offering some kind of Linux management service (perhaps LCFG).

4.10. Linux desktops at Edinburgh

4.11. Linux desktops at Edinburgh

4.12. Linux desktops at Warwick

4.13. Linux desktops at Warwick

4.14. Linux desktops at Warwick

The Centre for Scientific Computing ensures:

4.15. Linux desktops at Warwick

5. Conclusions

Providing conclusions to the key questions identified earlier:

5.1. Conclusions

5.2. Conclusions

5.3. Conclusions

Date 29th June 2005; first created: 10th June 2005 Author Barry Cornelius.
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