Originally Published: Monday, 17 April 2000 Author: Jobs Staff
Published to: interact_articles_jobs_ask_staff/Ask the Jobs Staff Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Ask the Jobs Staff: No Linux at my school

Dear Jobs Staff: I'm currently attending a private university, which has put a lot of money into developing a great network. This fall, they're planning to issue laptops. However, these laptops are the only machines allowed on the network, and they MUST be running Win98. So, though there is a great network, Linux is absolutely out of the question for those of us studying computer science (which centers around Linux and free software). Do you have any suggestions as to how I might go about changing this, or am I probably out of luck?

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Dear Jobs Staff:

I'm currently attending a private university, which has put a lot of money into developing a great network (100Mb/s, 1Gb/s backbone). This fall, they're planning to issue laptops to all incoming freshmen, making them also available to upperclassmen. However, these laptops are the only machines allowed on the network, and they MUST be running Win98. So, though there is a great network, Linux is absolutely out of the question for those of us studying computer science (which centers around Linux and free software). Do you have any suggestions as to how I might go about changing this, or am I probably out of luck?

Dear Jeremy:

You may be out of luck, in that University bureaucracy often is harder to change than the path of a moving glacier. Still, there may be some things you can try.

First, you'll almost certainly have to enlist the support of the computer science department faculty. With their help, you might be able to get a change made -- without it, you'll have a much harder, if not impossible, time of it. Talk to your faculty advisor, or the department head and ask him or her what might be the best way to get this changed. Perhaps an exception could be made for computer science majors, or perhaps the department could issue their own laptops with linux on them to their students. Point out that being able to work on your own projects for classes on these issued laptops is important to your success both as a student and in the job market in the future.

Another thing to consider: it may be that the systems administrators for your school don't know anything but Windows. In this case, if they don't know much about Linux, the policy may have been made to keep the tech support calls down. Microsoft folks without Linux knowledge do not usually want to support Linux any more than Linux folks usually enjoy working with Microsoft products. You might suggest that students be allowed to create a Linux partition on the understanding that no support will be required for the Linux part of the operating system. If you could work with the computer science faculty to cut a deal of some sort where they would supervise the Linux installations, that might be more acceptable as well.

Keep in mind, though, that if the university is issuing laptops, they have the right to say what will be on those laptops. Everyone is free, after all, to go out and buy their own computers, set up a home network, and use it. You can install an SSH client and X-Windows emulator on windows, get on the network, and still access the Linux boxes, presumably, so having to have only Win98 is not necessarily the end of your work with Linux. Your goal needs to be to collect reasonable arguments as to why they should also allow Linux on these issued boxes -- not just to make demands. As soon as you come across like the university somehow owes it to you to put Linux on the laptops, people will tend to be turned off and not listen. (You'll find this is true to a great extent in the workplace as well: one of us managed to convince our company to move to Linux from NT in most mission-critical applications, but we had to demonstrate its effectiveness first.)

So, you might be out of luck, but if you can play your cards right and get the support of the faculty, you may wind up the winner.

Good luck!





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