Linux in action: A public library's success story


Here's A Great One from NewsForge by Joe Barr.
Over the past year, the Howard County (Md.) Public Library has migrated more than 200 public PCs from Windows 98 and Windows NT to Linux. These PCs are used both to surf the Internet and to access the library's catalogues. NewsForge recently spoke with Brian Auger, associate director of the library, and the IT team responsible for the migration. They wanted to learn more about why and how it was accomplished, and how pleased they are with the results.

Everyone appears to be happy with the results: patrons, IT staff, and management.


Unfortunately, our staff and patrons were less than thrilled with my Linux experiment (although I still maintain that it is the perfect set up for PAC computers, and will stand by that statement till the day I die).

I think the staff had more a beef with the box I put it on. Unfortunately, no OS can improve a box that is essentially a P.O.S. But with budget crunches, you do what you can with what you have.

The patron reaction? I made it so they couldn't download, or save, or have Flash games, or do any of the things they shouldn't be doing anyway, like they can get around on our Windows machines. So they grumbled a lot about it, except for the tech heads who said, "Cool!" Perhaps this library's patrons are just better behaved than mine?

Open Source works. I know it does. It's day will come. Go Linux! And kudos to this library for their work with it. I hope they're letting all their patrons know what it is.

Now if Dynix would only make the staff version of Horizon Linux compatible...

Sorry, asleep at the switch this morning... Thanks for making my day, Blake!

Our library has to run a dual OS set up with Windows and Debian Linux. This is due to the fact that Gaylord Polaris is a Windows only system. However, we only use two machines for that. The delivery of Polaris to the branches is done through Citrix and Linux, our mail server is Linux, our PAC is Linux, and at least 95% of our set up (system wide) are thin clients running Linux.

The point? When something happens to the Win2K box, we usually have to reboot the whole thing. Never mind it's a dual processor butt kicker with 2GB RAM, it still takes over 10 minutes to come back up. And with most things that go wrong with it, it needs a reboot at some point. That means all 19 libraries are down for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, when something goes wrong with a Linux server, our IT folks get on it, fix the problem, and it's working. Very rarely do they require a reboot. And the funny thing is that, 9 times out of 10, problems with the Win server is software related while problems with the Linux boxes are hardware failures. And by failure, I mean catastrophic failure. (Oh look! The power supply we've had in that machine since god knows when just quit working.) Not exactly something you can blame on the OS.

To address an earlier issue, it was said that no OS can make a decent machine out of a POS. That's usually true, but when I needed a personal computer from IT they nipped around and found a Windows box they recently replaced with a new PC. Since I do stuff for the web site involving graphics, I needed something with at least 128MB RAM and a decent processor. This machine abosolutely sucked under WinNT. I took it, installed Mandrake, even got The Gimp installed for my graphics needs, and the machine is kinda nifty now. Sure it's not state of the art, but it doesn't crawl along like it did under Windows either.

What would happen if a library that got a large donation of Gates computers took them and
?Linuxed? them?

Absolutely nothing. I used to work for the Gates Foundation, and once the computers were delivered to the library, they were the library's property. Period. As long as the computers stayed out where the public could use them, we could care less what OS the staff loaded on them.About the only drawback was that with Linux installed, we could no longer provide any tech support, but any library savvy enough to install Linux on their PACs wouldn't need our help anyway.