NASA will give Linux a nod for upcoming portables buy

NASA will give Linux a nod for upcoming portables buy

By Mark A. Kellner

Special to GCN

The Linux open-source operating system, which rocketed into the enterprise computing orbit last year, may now be headed for outer space.

NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston has added the Unix-like OS to its list of desirable OSes for a portable PC procurement planned for April.

A potential Linux liftoff at the space agency echoes developments elsewhere. According to market researcher International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., Linux captured a 17.2 percent share of the OS market in 1998, up from 6.8 percent in 1997.


IDC reported Microsoft Windows NT held a 36 percent market share in 1998, Novell NetWare 25 percent and Unix 17.4 percent.

NASA plans to buy 800 portables for use on the space shuttle and in the planned space station, as well as for support activities. Another 3,000 units might be bought over several years, officials said.

In draft requirements released in December and modified late last month, the center noted hardware design considerations. The portables must have a minimum of 128M of synchronous dynamic RAM; 256M expandable to 512M is desirable. They must have at least 400-MHz Pentium II processors, although 500-MHz or faster Pentium III chips are desirable. NASA specified a flash BIOS for updates and a plug-and-play operating system such as Microsoft Windows 9x, Windows NT or Windows 2000; SunSoft Solaris 2.7 or later versions; or Linux and other Unix variants.

The NASA draft solicitation, at nais.msfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/EPS/sol.cgi?acqid=6641#Draft Document, called for at least 12.1-inch displays with 1,024- by 768-pixel resolution and 24-bit color. The agency asked for 10G hard drives, 24X CD-ROM or 4X DVD-ROM drives, and support for floppy drives.

NASA also wants writable and rewritable CD drives and removable-media devices.

The winning portable unit with power supply and cables must occupy no more than a cubic foot of storage and weigh no more than 25 pounds.

Contracting officer Delene R. Sedillo said the Johnson center has posted the requirements to 'see what's available out there' before issuing the request for proposals in early spring.

Adding Linux to portable computers was a challenge in the OS' early days because of missing device drivers and incompatible hardware.

But the picture is changing. Compaq Computer Corp. and Linux publishers such as Red Hat Inc. of Durham, N.C., distribute tips on running Linux on notebook computers.

Kenneth E. Harker of the University of Texas at Austin has created a comprehensive Linux on Laptops Web site, at www.cs.utexas.edu/users/kharker/linux-laptop/#comments. The site offers system-specific help for installing the OS on notebooks from leading and lesser-known makers.

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