Linux not ready for DOD prime time

Linux not ready for DOD prime time

By Mark A. Kellner

Special to GCN

AUG. 21—The Linux open-source operating system so far is a nonstarter in the command and control market, although it has reached the commercial big leagues through its adoption by several major hardware vendors, including Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., IBM Corp. and SGI.

But Linux does not meet the Defense Information Infrastructure's Common Operating Environment Kernel Platform Compliance requirements for 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.

Proponents want to keep the Linux core open by posting source code online and letting anyone have a crack at modifying it, which could represent a security compromise for military systems for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence.

Drew Streib, a technical marketing executive at VA Linux Systems Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., said he sees two ways for Defense Department organizations to use Linux.

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

The other way, Streib said, is to retain the spirit of DII COE but to make the compliance requirements more generic. For example, change the Posix mandate to 'a good threading model' and develop a general windowing specification rather than Motif, he said.

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

Streib and Robert Young, co-founder of Red Hat Inc. of Durham, N.C., said the pending adoption of open-source software as a government standard by France will make Linux a de facto national standard there. Vendors in the future would have to provide the source code when selling their software to French government offices, Young said. Proprietary software vendors 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.

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