Helsinki School of
Economics
Information Systems Science
37E203 Seminar /
Master’s Thesis

Free Software in
Workstations

Case: Linux in Helia

Research Plan
2004-04-20
Tero Karvinen 24443-3

Table
of Contents

Introduction 3

Licenses
and the Definition of Free Software 3

Distributions 4

Background 5

Goals
and Research Problem 5

Methodology 6

Preliminary
Table of Contents 7

Literature 9

Introduction

Software licensing costs and unilateral licensing terms have
pushed many companies to seek new solutions for software used in
daily business. Large organizations are either researching or already
moving to Free software both in Finland and abroad. For example
Customs, Helsinki University and even governments of big countries,
such as India and China, have adopted Linux as their operating system
of choice.

As growth of Linux and other Free software provides more job
opportunities for graduated students, Helia should be able to provide
education suitable for these new requirements for education. In a
shorter perspective, Helia lives in an environment of strong
competition and seeks to save licensing and other IT costs. Should
Helia find a way to handle its IT needs more economically, it could
distribute this solution its partner companies and organizations.

Licenses and the Definition of Free Software

Based on the level of limitations or fees on use, study and
distribution of intellectual property, licenses are often categorized
as

  • free (beer) Product does not cost anything to use for some
    purpose.

  • proprietary Use strictly limited by license and usually there
    are fees on use

  • Free (speech) License meets the strict freedom criteria as
    defined by various free software organizations

For example, license of Microsoft Word is proprietary, license of
Adobe Acrobat Reader is free (as in beer) and the license of Linux is
Free (as in speech). The somewhat funny English terms Free speech and
free beer are to make distinction between no cost software and Free
software movement.

Free Software Foundation, the organization behind the most popular
Free software license (GPL), defines Free Software as software that
user can

  • Run for any purpose (without costs or limitation)

  • Study (requires source code)

  • Distribute (and keep the money)

  • Modify (and distribute modified)

Comments in parentheses are my own.

Open Source Initiative, whose criteria is often implicitly seen as
the definition of Free by categorizing licenses to OSI approved,
gives a ten point criteria for license evaluation. It is very similar
to Free Software Foundations criteria.

Distributions

Linux distribution is an installable Linux system. A distribution
usually contains the Linux kernel and operating system, an installer
and software. There are more than a hundred Linux distributions being
actively developed. Because of the Free license, anyone can create a
new distribution and publish it. However, creating and maintaining a
quality distribution is a huge effort.

We are looking for a distribution for workstations in Helia. If
the same distribution is suitable for servers, we could consider it a
benefit. Thus, we can exclude all embedded, floppy, router and other
special distributions. As Helia is running almost exclusively on
“normal PC” Intel architecture computers, we can exclude
distributions that do not work on Intel architecture, such as those
made for Alpha-processors and Mackintoshes. Most, maybe all students
of Helia speak Finnish or English, so we can exclude distributions
aimed for other language groups. To reach all the benefits of open
source (peer review, fast development, lot of contributed software),
we want to select a distribution that is both popular and has an open
development and distribution policy. As we aim to save licensing
costs, there would be no point selecting a distribution that required
license fees.

Selecting a distribution is a strategic decision, as it is a long
term economically significant decision that affects many daily
choices. Because of the level of commitment made here, it is
important to select a distribution that is both well supported and
expected to stand the test of time. On the other hand, despite a
different logo, all distributions are just Linux in another package.
They can be made to run the same software, and produce the same
document formats. Open Source programs are completely documented by
their source code (by definition), which prevents lock-in caused by
secret protocols and file formats.

Similarities are unimportant to comparison, so to lay down a
selection criteria we must concentrate to what is different in the
distributions. Once we have found the best distribution for Helia,
decided possible modifications, settings and additional software, we
can then compare it to the existing closed source (Windows based)
solution.

Based on experience in teaching and administering most of the
popular distributions, the main differences are easily pointed out.
Distributions differ in

  • Software installation

  • Package format, in practice the way
    programs and updates are installed

  • Vendor provided software, that is
    installed automatically on system install or available as updates
    from vendor website

  • Contributed software, made by third
    parties

  • Installer Hardware support and
    detection

  • Stability – basicly latest and
    greatest with more features means less stable

  • Support

  • Popularity creates huge amounts of
    free support material

  • Reliable vendor, one that is likely to
    exist five years from now

  • Third party commercial support

  • Openness of development

  • Image, heavily affected by vendor
    image

  • Licensing, some distributions contain
    non-free parts

  • Previous experiences in Helia

Background

This work is part of “Avoin Helia” / OpenHelia project, whose
goals are to find out if it is possible to save costs and improve
education by moving workstations to open source software. There will
sub projects such as testing the security of this software package,
testing and choosing an office suite and analyzing the needs of
legacy software.

Goals and Research Problem

This paper seeks to form the basis for future research on open
source and free software in Helia. This means choosing the platform
and the subset of software to be considered in other research.
Possible costs and savings are analyzed to the degree possible in a
work that is published, most likely with a Free license.

Some areas, such as research on existing systems in Helia, are
intentionally very brief. As this is the first part of a a larger
project, I attempt to point out interesting starting points for
future research. I will not consider questions related to servers, as
Helia has Linux servers in production and IT center has already
obtained practical experience about Linux on the server side.

The research problem is thus

  • What combination of operating system, software and
    administrative tools is the most suitable for Helia?

Most suitable is one that can save total costs in IT and provide
an environment that is useful to know also outside Helia. The results
can be used also outside Helia, as requirements for workstations are
often similar in different organizations for both users and
administrators.

The research problem can be further divided to subquestions to
find the most suitable

  • Operating System (even though there is
    a strong presumption that GNU/Linux is the most suitable)

  • Distribution

  • Programs

  • Administrative tools

  • Modifications to available
    distribution, software and administration tools

  • Integration to existing systems

Methodology

This is a constructive research. The goal is to document the
process of creating an installable combination of software for a
workstation. If possible, a working demonstration install for this
system is provided for testing and bases of further development by IT
center and other subprojects.

The first phase of the project attempts to define open source and
free software and review the licenses implied by these definitions.
If the results are clear enough, a recommendation for most suitable
licenses or criteria for choosing a license will be provided.

The second phase lists the actual software to create a basic
workstation. It will result in a list of programs and requirements
for a suitable workstation. If possible, to simplify infrastructure,
there will be only one basic workstation package for most users.

The third phase looks into how the workstation described in the
second base is installed, updated and administered.

Finally, the above recommendations are compiled into a single
recommendation. If all parts result in actually installable software
(and some agreement issues are cleared), this will also include a
copy of all recommend software, operating systems and tools. Main
areas for future research are pointed out. If some parts of
recommendations are not obvious, some secondary choices are pointed
out too.

Preliminary Table of Contents

1 Introduction

1.1 Background

1.2 Goals and Research Problem

1.3 Methodology

1.4 Terminology

1.5 Legal Notice

2 Licenses and
the Definition of Free Software

2.1 Popularity of licenses

2.1.1 Software Licenses

2.1.2 Licensing of Books, Music and Other Non-software

2.2 Freedom vs Protection of Rights

2.3 Licensing risks

2.3.1 Risks with both Free and Proprietary Licenses

2.3.2 Risks of Proprietary Licenses

2.4 Benefits of Free licenses

2.5 Recommended licenses

3 Software and
Operating System for Workstations

3.1 Distributions

3.1.1 Gentoo and Slackware

3.1.2 Debian

3.1.3 Red Hat / Fedora Core

3.1.4 Mandrake

3.1.5 SuSe

3.1.6 SOT Linux

3.1.7 Recommended Distribution

3.2 Software

3.2.1 Software needs

3.3 Linux software availability

3.3.1 Office suites

3.4 Web Browsers

3.5 Running Windows Software in Linux

3.5.1 Emulating Operating System

3.5.2 Remote Controlling Windows

3.5.3 Emulating Hardware

3.5.4 Altering original software

3.5.5 Recommended Method for Running Windows Programs

3.6 Other Information Systems

3.7 File Formats

3.7.1 Problems of Some File Formats

3.7.2 Criteria for Format Choice

3.7.3 Recommended File Formats

3.7.4 Format Support

3.7.5 Basic formats

3.7.6 Common formats

3.7.7 Rare or obsolete formats

4 Administration
of Workstations

4.1 What is Managed in Workstations

4.2 Current solution

4.3 Methods of Software Update

4.3.1 Installation Wizard

4.3.2 Compile from Source

4.3.3 Package Manager

4.3.4 Automated Package Managers

4.3.5 Free Automated Package Managers

4.3.6 Recommended Package Management Systems

4.4 User authentication

4.4.1 Current status

4.4.2 Selection criteria

4.4.3 Alternatives for user authentication

4.4.4 Recommendation for Authenticating Users

4.5 Remote Control

4.5.1 Virtual Network Computer VNC

4.5.2 X Window System

4.5.3 SSH Secure Shell

4.5.4 Remote Control Recommendation

5 Costs

5.1 Costs

5.1.1 Savings

5.1.2 New Costs

5.2 Costs estimation

6 Conclusions and
Future Research

6.1 Future Research

6.2 Conclusions and Recommendation

7 Bibliography

8 Appendixes

Literature

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© 2004 Tero Karvinen
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