In space, no one can hear you scream at Windows XP (anymore)

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      I’m a little late in my reporting, but this year, in May, the International Space Station (ISS) dumped the last of its laptop installations of the Windows XP operating system to go all Linux.

      Furthermore, it dropped Red Hat Linux in favour of Debian 6, according to the Linux Foundation, which provided two training courses geared specifically for the USA/NASA team’s needs.

      They are rocket scientists. Of course they "get" Linux

      The ISS runs a large laptop network called "opsLAN", which is critical for day-to-day operations. Astronauts run the station through their laptops: controlling systems, performing inventory, accessing the still and video cameras, and even figuring out their location.

      They also do programming, and they need to be able to do as much of their own system maintenance and repair as possible because physical tech support is some 400 kilometres away on Earth. The ISS will also soon play host to the Linux-driven Robonaut 2 (R2) humanoid robot.

      For all those reasons, Keith Chuvala made the decision to switch to Linux. Chuvala works for the United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor deeply involved in ISS operations. Chuvala is manager of Space Operations Computing (SpOC) for NASA and heads the ISS laptops and network integration teams, responsible for writing, installing, and maintaining software on the ISS network.

      We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable – one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could.

      Some of the space station’s laptops were already running Scientific Linux, a Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but Chuvala decided to standardize all laptops on Debian Linux, always staying one version back for stability, so that meant starting with version 6, known as "Squeeze".

      The Linux Foundation’s news release doesn’t brag about the superior security of Linux over Windows, and certainly over XP, but it had to be one of the considerations that went into making the switch.

      Computer virus goes where no virus has gone before

      Lots of sci-fi films have featured a spaceship crew falling victim to a space-borne virus; back in 2008, a virus really did get aboard the International Space Station. It was just a Windows computer virus, but next time, who knows?

      Earlier this year, Eugene Kaspersky, of Kaspersky Labs antivirus fame, revealed at the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia, that back in 2008 Russian cosmonauts unwittingly brought malware aboard the ISS, which infected at least two of the station’s networked laptops.

      The then–Windows XP–based laptops on the ISS were infected with a password-stealing virus called Gammima.AG, or Trojan-GameThief.Win32.Magania, after a cosmonaut brought a compromised laptop aboard and spread the malware via flash drive.

      NASA officials described the computer infection as more of a mysterious nuisance than a real problem.

      "It’s not a frequent occurrence, but this isn’t the first time," a NASA spokesperson said at the time.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.



      I switched, never going back

      Nov 15, 2013 at 5:09pm

      I made the switch to Linux (these days choose Xubuntu for light weight Windows-like feel, Kubuntu for eye-candy to the max, Mint for joining all the cool kids), and I cannot ever imagine going back.

      Even my elderly mom uses it, as does my girlfriend.

      I've heard two horror stories in the past 2 days about long term Windows users wrestling with their computers just so they can use them.

      Windows Update seemed to be the issue in both cases. How can such a simple thing bring their computers to their knees, I'll never know.

      And WU doesn't even do much. On Linux the updates take care of > 95% of ALL the software installed: browsers, office suite(s), media players, system files, everything updated from one place.

      With prompts to freely upgrade to the newest versions when they're released.

      NEVER going back to the mess that is Windows.

      If you are interested in escaping the yoke, download a Linux ISO, burn to disk or write to USB, boot it up (Live-CD it's called), and have a fully functional system. Test that your devices work. If it's promising, click the desktop icon called "Install" and it will allow you to shrink your Windows partition, put Linux next to it, and give you a choice upon boot-up of which system to run. NICE.

      Note that all the Linux "distros" (distributions) come with virtual desktops - 4 by default. Running with one desktop is like browsing the web with only one tab... crippling.

      Highly configurable, rock solid, free.

      I've been running mine under some load now for (let's ask "uptime"):

      Up: 346 days, 18:20, 5 users

      Closing in on one year since last reboot, with computer in use 24/7/365...

      Oh, one last thing. If an error condition occurs, expect a message like "Error ___: you need to narrow down your selection or do this ___ to continue" instead of Windows barfing a "Error ___: good luck sucker" msg.

      Seriously, has anyone in history ever used Windows Help or even had a meaningful error message from it that directs them to a cause and solution? Not in my experience.

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      Stanley Q Woodvine

      Feb 27, 2014 at 1:02am

      Windows Update is terrible, especially compared to Linux.

      Windows apparently has to be the only user in order to install updates, hence the way it can only install during shutdown and start up. What a time waster!

      Linux, in contrast, performs updates in the background while you, the user, continue working.

      One Windows user I set up with Ubuntu was frankly amazed updates could be so painless. He was generally very impressed with Ubuntu Linux but the rub ultimately was that he couldn't install Microsoft Telescope.

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