Execs: Linux not ready for DOD prime time

Execs: Linux not ready for DOD prime time

By Mark A. Kellner

Special to GCN

The Linux open-source operating system has yet to find a place in the command and control market, speakers said last month at the LinuxWorld trade show in San Jose, Calif.

Although leading vendors Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., IBM Corp., SGI, Sun Microsystems Inc. and others are turning to Linux for servers and some workstations, the OS does not meet requirements of the Defense Information Infrastructure Common Operating Environment Kernel Platform Compliance program.

DII COE requires OS kernels to have a Posix-compliant application programming interface, Posix-compliant commands and utilities, the Motif X Window System interface, the Common Desktop Environment and Network File System sockets.

Open to the core

Linux proponents, however want to keep the core open for modification by posting source code on the Web and letting anyone have a crack at it. That could give hackers and spies entr'e into military systems.

Drew Streib, a technical marketing executive at VA Linux Systems Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., said he sees two ways to bring Linux to Defense users.

One is to modify the kernel for DII COE compliance and maintain it separately from the publicly distributed Linux. That move, however, could cause discord in the Linux community, which is fiercely devoted to openness. It also would relegate a DII COE-compliant Linux to backwater status, cut off from improvement and innovation.

The other way, Streib said, is to retain the spirit of DII COE but make the CDE requirement more generic, changing the demand for Posix into 'a good threading model,' and moving away from Motif to a more generic windowing specification.

'We would like to see some specification revision,' Streib said, but that would 'require support from high up' at the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Streib and Linux advocate Robert Young, co-founder of Red Hat Inc. of Durham, N.C., said the pending adoption of open-source software as a governmental standard in France is a positive sign. By legislating a requirement that vendors provide the source code when selling their software to state entities, France will make Linux a de facto national standard, Young said. Proprietary software vendors generally refuse to make such disclosures.

'For the United States government to pay hundreds of millions of dollars [for software] and then be told they can't fix any bugs they find is almost criminal,' Young said of current licensing restrictions. The licenses of many shrink-wrapped programs, he said, forbid fixing bugs or adding features.

The written code

Moreover, Young said, if an organization cannot examine source code, 'anyone can write a piece of code which no one knows is there and which can do things they would rather not have happen.

'Within three years, we will have educated users not to tolerate signing proprietary, binary-code licenses,' he said. 'People won't notice, but the PC [shrink-wrapped software and OSes] will go away.'

Jan Silverman, a marketing vice president at SGI, said government interest in Linux will hit its stride when the OS can support large multiprocessor systems. Some present Linux implementations cannot support more than eight processors, he said. SGI is working on a 128-processor platform.

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