City thrives with 'No. 2' OS

City thrives with 'No. 2' OS

Most Largo, Fla., employees didn't need training to start using Linux, city systems administrator Dave Richards says.

The office paradigm that worked so well throughout the 1990s'desktop Pentium PCs, network server, Microsoft Windows 9X and Microsoft Office loaded onto each desktop'was never the only game in town. Especially not in Largo, Fla.

For the past eight years, Largo has run a predominantly Unix shop with a little Windows NT mixed in, said systems administrator Dave Richards. The IT department uses several Unix flavors including Caldera from Caldera International Inc. of Orem, Utah, and IBM AIX. Eighty percent of city operations run on Unix, Richards said. The city uses Windows NT for applications that aren't available in Unix, such as Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. For word processing, the city uses WordPerfect from Corel Corp.

No desktop PCs adorn Largo offices. The city uses about 400 Explora thin client machines from Network Computing Devices Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. The city's servers are all from Compaq Computer Corp., Richards said.

'We found out that what you pay for is what you get,' he said. 'You can go to the mom-and-pop store down the street, but those business cycles are short. With Compaq, we can always get somebody to fix it. They run well and are stable. It's easier to put the servers under one blanket support contract. That way we don't have three different vendors in here pointing fingers. We have just one vendor'Compaq.'

The network computers have reduced help desk calls in the Largo offices, Richards said. 'We've got all 400 terminals sharing the same servers, so we never have to worry about what people are doing on their desktop PCs. Taxpayers are paying you to sit down and get to work, not tinker with those beautiful Mickey Mouse screensavers,' he said.

Each employee uses a Linux KDE 2.1.1. open-source desktop environment, Richards said. KDE lets the user set colors, fonts and backgrounds on a desktop, so it leaves room for personal expression.

Moving to a Linux desktop environment was painless, Richards said. 'We held a training class and only eight people came to it,' he said. 'Everybody else was satisfied using a two-page cheat sheet we created.'

No huge monsters

For e-mail the city uses Insight software from Bynari Inc. of Dallas, chosen for its stability and Linux-friendly interface.

The cost savings from using Unix, Linux and thin clients are significant, Richards said, but he is cautious about specifying a dollar amount. 'It's a fork-in-the-road type of thing,' he said. 'They joke that something can't be saved if you don't spend it in the first place.'

But the typical NT shop requires 'huge monster machines with licenses galore,' Richards said. 'A full NT shop comparable to ours would require four times more hardware. That would cost a fortune.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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