Updated: March 23, 2010
It was not long ago when Microsoft Windows had a tight stranglehold on the operating system market. Walk into a Circuit City or Staples, it seemed, and virtually any computer you took home would be running the most current flavor of Windows. Ditto for computers ordered direct from a manufacturer. In the last decade, though, the operating system market has begun to change. Slightly more than 5% of all computers now run Mac, according to NetMarketShare.com. Linux is hovering just beneath 1% of the overall market share in operating systems. And although that might sound like a small number, Linux is far more than just a fringe OS. In fact, it’s running in quite a few more places than you probably suspect. Below are fifty places Linux is running today in place of Windows or Mac. For easy reading, they are divided amongst government, home, business, and educational usage.
Government Users of Linux
Governments at all levels (national, state, federal and international) have opted to deploy Linux across their computer systems for a host of reasons. Some are purely technological, with the governments in question preferring the open-source benefits of the OS. Others are financial, as Linux is typically far less expensive than buying a license for Windows. Still others are political, as organizations like the World Trade Organization have actively pressured governments to shun Microsoft products. In any case, here are some of the governing bodies that now run Linux on their computers.
U.S. Department of Defense
According to Linux.com, the United States Department of Defense is the “single biggest install base for Red Hat Linux” in the world. Nor was it an unconscious choice, as Brigadier General Nick Justice, the Deputy Program Officer for the Army’s Program Executive Office proclaims “open source software is part of the integrated network fabric which connects and enables our command and control system to work effectively, as people’s lives depend on it.” Justice went on to state that “when we rolled into Baghdad, we did it using open source”, and that he was indeed Red Hat’s “biggest customer.”
U.S. Navy Submarine Fleet
FreeSoftwareMagazine.com reveals that “the US Navy nuclear submarine fleet is using GNU/Linux” as well.
The City of Munich, Germany
The city of Munich, Germany has “chosen to migrate its 14,000 desktops to a free Linux distribution, rather than a commercial version of the open source operating system” according to a 2005 ZD Net report. The distribution Munich chose was Debian, and is said to have “considered several alternatives before choosing Debian”, settling on it ultimately because of price and the degree to which it could be customized to meet Munich’s municipal computing needs. The German Foreign Office, as well as the city of Vienna, also opted to make the switch to Debian in 2005.
LWN.net maintains that Spain has long been the strongest supporter and user of Linux from a national government standpoint. Linux has spread rapidly throughout Spain since 2002, when the government of Extremadura actually created its own customized Linux distribution (called LinEx) based on Debian, using GNOME as its “default desktop environment.” Since then, the government “gave away the product CDs at every opportunity — in government offices, magazines and even daily newspapers” as part of a determined and ongoing effort to get LinEx out to everybody.” By handing out the software for free and continuing to publicize its availability, Linux spread from Extremadura throughout the rest of Spain and remains widely used today.
Federal Aviation Administration
Few government users of Linux appear to be happier with their choice to switch than the United States Federal Aviation Administration. According to Wikipedia, the FAA announced in 2006 that it “had completed a migration to Red Hat Enterprise Linux in one third of the scheduled time and saved 15 million dollars” in the process of doing so. Score it another big-time government client for the Red Hat distribution of Linux.
French Parliament opted in November 2006 to dump Windows in favor of Ubuntu Linux, according to ZD Net, the move was part of a comprehensive shake-up in the software run on Parliament computers, resulting ultimately in “1,154 French parliamentary workstations running on Linux, with OpenOffice.org productivity software, the Firefox Web browser and an open-source e-mail client.” Despite the training costs, Parliament officials named cost savings and technological superiority of open-source software for parliamentary purposes as reasons for the switch.
State-Owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
According to a 2005 InformationWeek report, the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China “decided to roll out Linux in all of its 20,000 retail branches.” As the largest bank in all of China, the institution committed to buying “an unrestricted user license” as part of a full-blown integration of Linux “throughout its entire banking operations network” culminating in 2008. At the time, InformationWeek stated that this represented the largest deployment of Linux to date in the Chinese financial sector. Essentially, Linux became “the basis for its web server and a new terminal platform” at the bank.
Pakistani Schools & Colleges
In 2002, the government of Pakistan launched a Technology Resource Mobilization Unit to promote the spread of open-source software (including Linux) throughout that country. The unit (comprised of academics, businesspeople and government officials) has largely succeeded in educating computer users throughout Pakistan about what free software has to offer. As a result, Pakistan is using Linux in many of its public schools and colleges and plans to ultimately run it on all of its government computer systems. In countries like Pakistan, where little money is available for government investment in technology, Linux and other open source software is appealing from a cost perspective.
Cuba, never a fan of capitalism or corporate enterprise, took the step of developing its own Linux distribution (called “Nova”) to replace Microsoft Windows in February 2009. According to Caribbean Net News, the switch to Linux was motivated not by technology or cost issues, but instead constituted “the latest front of the communist island’s battle against what it views as U.S. hegemony.” Nova was introduced during a conference held in the name of “technological sovereignty” and was touted as essential to Cuba’s “desire to replace the Microsoft software running most of the island’s computers.” Evidently, Cuban officials feared that U.S. security agencies could access Microsoft software code and in the process discover secrets belonging to the Cuban government. Whether or not Cuba’s switch to Linux has any practical effect on relations between the two countries is debatable, but they have been using Nova ever since.
Macedonia’s Ministry of Education and Science
Ubuntu.com reported in November 2007 that every student in Macedonia would use computer workstations powered by Ubuntu Linux, as part of that country’s “A Computer For Every Child” program. In total, more than 180,000 workstations were covered by the project, described as “one of the largest known thin client and desktop Linux deployments ever undertaken.” Indeed, Macedonia’s Minister for the Information Society dubbed it “the largest and most important education project undertaken in the 15-year history of the Republic of Macedonia.” Under the agreement, 160,000 of the 180,000 workstations were to be virtual PC terminals, while the other 20,000 were to be stand-alone PCs, all of which accommodated one student each and ran the Ubuntu Linux OS.
U.S. Postal Service
The U.S. Postal Service is a textbook example of a once-avowed Windows loyalist switching to Linux for purely technical reasons. While the Postal Service ran Windows NT on its servers until the bitter end, they then switched to using over 900 Linux clusters spread throughout the country for use in sorting the nation’s bulk mail. They use technology from Pacific Northwest Software, who proudly explains in-depth the work it has done in switching the Postal Service to a Linux-based infrastructure. Those interested are encouraged to check it out here.
U.S. Federal Courts
AAX.net explains that the U.S. Federal Courts rely on Linux for all manner of administrative tasks, including “case management, case tracking, finance and accounting, probation and pretrial services.” Linux has been used by the courts since November of 2003, when PEC Solutions assisted in orchestrating a “migration of the Federal Judiciary to a Linux-based system.”
Government of Mexico City
Wired.com reported in 2001 that the government of Mexico City had concluded that “they can no longer justify the ever rising cost of Microsoft Windows when the cost of Linux software is very low.” In an interview with Wired, the city’s technical coordinator, José Barberán, “announced plans to switch city computers to the Linux operating system and to use the money it saves to fund social welfare programs.” At the end of the day, when faced with pressure to increase social spending, “cutting costs by moving to open-source software was a logical choice for the mayor.”
Garden Grove, California
Perhaps the earliest governmental adopter of Linux on our list is Garden Grove, California, which made the switch all the way back in 1995, according to Linux Journal. Evidently, the city was in a cash crunch when it opted to give Linux a try, and found that it saved so much money that they later decided to roll out Linux across the city, including on some desktop systems.
A 2003 Linux.com article entitled “Largo Loves Linux More Than Ever” explains how the Floridian city came to rely so heavily on Linux software. After having such great success running city computers on Linux, Largo’s municipal government soon thereafter was “talking about Linux-based terminals in all the city’s police cars.” To their credit, Linux.com remarked that Largo’s system administrators (who are responsible for managing the city’s Linux machines) were “the least harassed, least worried, calmest sysadmins we have ever met.” Perhaps there is a correlation?
Perhaps taking a cue from the U.S. Postal Service, the Czech Republic’s own post office successfully migrated to Linux in 2005, according to Europa.The chosen distribution of Linux (SuSe) now runs on “4,000 servers at 3,400 post offices across the country, as well as at 12,000 client terminals used by 20,000 employees.” Once more, cost was a driving force behind a large state institution switching from Windows or other providers to free, open-source Linux.
Educational Users of Linux
Educational institutions, like businesses and government, have increasingly decided to roll out Linux on servers and desktop computers for their open-source and cost benefits. These institutions range from public schools (elementary, middle and high school) to colleges and post-graduate schools. Below are several of the most prominent educational establishments to have switched from Microsoft Windows to Linux.
In 2007, the nation of Russia announced that all its schools would begin running Linux software. A BBC report on the matter stated that Russia’s “schools formerly tended to run illegal copies of Microsoft operating systems”, but that since Russia joined the WTO, that is no longer accepted practice. Therefore, rather than buy licenses for all the software it had been pirating, it opted to go with the free Linux operating system. While admitting that most teachers and students had no experience with Linux, Russia’s education officials nevertheless felt that the transition would go well and that the software would suit the purposes of schools.
ComputerWeekly.com reported in August 2007 that “around 560,000 German students plus thousands of staff at 33 German universities will now be supported by Linux systems from Novell.” SuSe Linux Enterprise Desktop was the specific distribution chosen, evidently for the “more flexible IT architecture” that it provides “when compared to other proprietary software.”
The switch to Linux is said to be “forging an education revolution” in the Philippines, according to ComputerWorld. As they explain, “after a successful deployment of 13,000 Fedora Linux systems from a government grant, plans are underway to roll out another 10,000 based on Ubuntu” in that country. Apparently, Linux reached popularity because of its lower installation and maintenance costs in the Philippines in the wake of 1997’s Asian financial crisis.
Former Soviet state Georgia began “began running all its school computers and LTSP thin clients on Linux, mainly using Kubuntu, Ubuntu and stripped Fedora-based distros” back in 2004, according to Wikipedia. Add Georgia to the growing list of less-wealthy countries that opted to use Linux for cost reasons versus pay expensive licensing fees for Microsoft Windows.
The Indian State of Tamil Nadu
LinuxWatch.com told the story of how “after being put off by Microsoft’s bundling tactics for academic users”, the Indian state of Tamil Nadu decided instead to “distribute 100,000 Linux laptops to students there.” The laptops were to be sold to students for $800, a “considerable markdown compared to retail value.” While the government proposed to license Windows at $12 per copy, Microsoft stood firm at $57 per copy, prompting Tamil Nadu to go with Linux instead.
Wikipedia also reports that Switzerland converted 9,000 of its computers to using Linux and OpenOffice.org’s suite of office productivity tools in its Geneva district in September, 2008. As has been seen by the licensing fees other software companies charge, there is often a compelling financial incentive to use Linux instead.
The town of Balzano in Italy (with a student population of 16,000) reportedly switched to using a customized distribution of Linux across all its schools in 2005.
Rediff.com reported in September 2006 that from now on, in Kerela, India, “nearly 1.5 million students in the 2,650 government and government-aided high schools in the state will no longer use the Windows platform for computer education. Instead, they have switched over to the free GNU/Linux software.” Rather, they would now begin running Linux operating systems and accomplishing all word processing and spreadsheet tasks via OpenOffice.org software. An education official was quoted as saying “”we have decided that we will use only free software for computer education in Kerala schools” on the eve of a 56,000 teacher Linux training program.
One Laptop Per Child
The much-publicized One Laptop Per Child program was built around the OLPC XO-1, which, according to Wikipedia “is an inexpensive laptop running Linux, which will be distributed to millions of children as part of the One Laptop Per Child project, especially in developing countries.” Here, again, the low cost of Linux was a major factor in its inclusion.
CRN.com revealed in August 2006 that “more than 20,000 Indiana students are now Linux-enabled under a state grant program to roll out low-cost, easy-to-manage workstations.” The state’s Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student program rapidly grew from “24 high schools to 80 high schools” after it became clear that software costs per computer ($100 prior to the migration) could be cut down to $5 using Linux and other open-source software. Districts get to choose which distribution of Linux their schools will run and have considerable control over the implementation.
Business Users of Linux
Businesses, as well as governments, have slowly begun to realize the various benefits that Linux and open source software can provide. In fact, given that costs are more important to the decision making of businesses than governments, they arguably have an even greater incentive to check it out. Below are several businesses that have made the switch or begun making the switch from Windows to Linux.
Longtime software and services company Novell announced in 2006 that it was undergoing a company-wide migration from Windows to Linux on employee desktop computers. As of April of that year, roughly half of Novell’s 5,000+ work force had migrated to Linux, with that figure expected to climb to 80% by November. It was a bold and sweeping change for such a large, established company, and it took over a year for the migration to take effect following its announcement in 2006.
Believe it or not, the gigantic, ever-growing cluster of servers that power Google’s search and other apps runs Linux. Of course, in typical fashion, Google was not content to simply run an out of the box version on its own hardware. Instead, the search giant had its engineers cook up a customized version of Ubuntu referred to within the company as “Goobuntu.” Linux is also frequently used internally on desktop machines, beyond its use on Google servers.
In addition to doing development work on Linux itself, IBM is known to use it internally on desktops and servers. IBM also ran a TV ad campaign in 2006 called “IBM Supports Linux 100%.” One of the commercials can be seen here. In the last decade, perhaps no larger company than IBM has contributed more to the success of Linux, both financially and developmentally.
Electronics giant Panasonic is another household name company to use Linux in powering some of its operations. Like several other firms on this list, Panasonic used Linux only after Windows NT proved woefully inadequate for what the company needed – voicemail systems, in this case. Rather than paying NT’s expensive license fees, Panasonic’s in-house developers created their own system incorporating Linux-based voicemail technology. Ultimately, the system they created was so successful that it grew to replace the Windows system completely, which has since been long discontinued.
Virgin America, a low-cost U.S. airline run by entrepreneurial big-shot Richard Branson, uses Linux to power its in-flight entertainment according to TechCrunch. The entertainment system (called RED) is powered by Red Hat and Fedora specifically, and was reportedly chosen because it is “very stable and agile.” After four years of development, RED hit the airways as a rousing success.
Cisco Systems, the computer networking and routing giant, switched to Linux after vowing to use Microsoft’s Active Directory solution for its servers.” Indeed, the deal was so celebrated that Cisco management dubbed them to be an “all Microsoft” company according to AAX.net. In an infamous turn of events, however, Cisco’s own IT staff could not get its network printing to work properly using Windows NT and were thus forced to switch to Linux, which has yet to cause similar problems to our knowledge.
Never let it be said that Linux is a fringe operating system for inconsequential gizmos and gadgets. No stronger proof to the contrary exists that ConocoPhillips, which proudly uses Linux to power a massive (and massively important) cluster of servers aimed at exploring the earth for new sources of untapped oil. C-Net’s News.com reported in depth on the machine, which, largely due to using Linux, reportedly “costs a tenth of the average price of a conventional supercomputer.” Alan Huffman, then manager of Conoco’s seismic imaging technology center, claimed that the machine was capable of performing 500 billion calculations in a second.
Omaha Steaks, a popular catalogue-oriented steak retailer, switched to open-source Linux in 2001, according to JavaWorld.com. While they had previously been running internally with IBM AS/400 computers, they now operate a cluster of Linux serves in-house that both runs its corporate website and is connected to the AS/400 system. JavaWorld explains in-depth how migrating to Linux at the server level helped Omaha Steaks expand the wildly popular gift aspect of its business by integrating consumer information and lowering costs. Advertisements for this mail order company can be found in the back of most up-scale home oriented magazines. They were running their internal systems on an IBM AS/400 and outsourced their Web site, but they wanted to tie the on-line ordering directly into the AS/400. A cluster of Linux servers now runs the Web site and connects to the AS/400.
Online book and electronics retail behemoth Amazon.com is said to “use Linux in nearly every corner of its business”, according to ZD Net. After Amazon “began to use Linux in 2000 for basic tasks”, Linux began spreading through the company “notably the company’s database” system. A separate ZD Net post in 2001 referenced a document Amazon filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission stating that switching to Linux had saved the company $17 million. By 2004, it was reported that Amazon “had nine worldwide distribution centers with a total of 4.2 million square feet” and that essentially “everything that happens in them is driven by Linux.
European car maker Peugeot announced in 2007 that it was set to deploy up to 20,000 copies of Novell Desktop Linux and 2,500 copies of SuSe Linux Enterprise Server. eWeek reported that “unlike recent Novell Linux deals that were released with a great deal of fanfare, such as Novell’s recent sale, via Microsoft, to Wal-Mart, this deal appears to have been made solely on the Linux desktops own merits.” IT representatives from Peugeot remarked that they were pleased to discover how well supported and user-friendly Linux was upon checking it out.
Popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia is another staunch supporter of Linux, having switched to Ubunto in 2008 after a lengthy tenure using Red Hat and Fedora prior to that. Ars Technica explains that “Wikimedia’s move to Ubuntu is part of an effort to simplify administration of the organization’s 400 servers” and that the switch “could help increase the distribution’s visibility in the Linux server market and demonstrate its viability in large-scale deployments.” It was no small gig for Ubuntu, which now powers the servers that spit out up to 10 billion page views a month on Wikipedia.
New York Stock Exchange
The New York Stock Exchange is another perhaps unexpected business user of Linux. A ComputerWorld.com report on how London’s stock exchange was also “abandoning the failed Windows platform”, it was stated that New York’s exchange already used Linux to power its trading platform and furthermore that it “seems to be doing quite nicely.” InformationWeek revealed in 2008 that it was Red Hat Enterprise Linux, specifically, that the NYSE ran on its trading platform.
Burlington Coat Factory
Burlington Coat Factory, a retailer with 280 individual stores across 42 states, run Linux in their distribution centers and “a few new stores”, according to AAXNet.com. A full-fledged roll-out to all existing stores is underway, and 1,250 Dell computers with Linux pre-installed were evidently purchased “to support the effort” at transitioning fully from Microsoft Windows to Linux.
Raymour and Flannigan
NetworkComputing.com describes Raymour and Flannigan’s transition to Linux as “a major transformation” for the Syracuse-based furniture retailer, who switched all its servers to Linux back in 2002. According to company management, “it was easier to put Linux, rather than another operating system, on the older 486-based machines” that were available early on at Raymour and Flannigan. While Linux requires some manual configuration, NetworkComputing says, the benefits have largely outweighed the costs.
LinuxJournal.com wrote that fashion magnate Tommy Hilfiger “chose eOneGroup and Linux for its new e-business infrastructure” way back in 2001. Company representatives were quoted as saying that “we saved significantly on the time and expense of deploying this total infrastructure”, as opposed to if another operating system provider had been chosen.
Toyota Motor Sales
AAX.Net reported years ago on a “30 dealer pilot roll-out” of a system using Linux to connect car dealerships to Toyota’s factories. The system was a “web based system from the ground up, and will be handling 30 different functions including parts ordering, warranties, sales transactions and repairs.” As the 30 dealer pilot was successful, Toyota promptly announced plans to roll out the Linux-based system to 1,200 other dealerships.
Travelocity (funny gnome guy and all) is yet another Internet business powered by Linux servers. According to NetworkWorld, Travelocity management cited their desire “to improve our flexibility and really decrease our time to market” as the chief reasons for choosing Linux over other alternatives. Management at Travelocity also admits to being “big fans of open source, from total cost of ownership and from the sharing/collaboration [creation processes], using tools developed by other people and having [easy access] to other people who have experience with them.”
Home & Scientific Uses of Linux
Finally, Linux has also found homes in various home and scientific capacities. From video game systems to science labs, Linux is playing an even bigger role in consumer technology. Below are several noteworthy examples.
Sony Playstation 3
While Linux is not pre-installed on the PS3, it was designed to allow easy installation of it and Gamespot revealed in 2006 that “Terra Soft Solutions is now making Yellow Dog Linux 5.0 available for download for the PS3.” Installing it requires a keyboard, USB cord and mouse, and for the user to “partition the PS3’s drive into two partitions so that the GameOS and Linux can run on dual partitions.”
Miniature laptops called Netbooks have become extremely popular in recent years, and often ship with minimalist distributions like Xandros or Linpus that are optimized to run efficiently using the limited resources Netbooks must use due to space and cost constraints.While Netbooks are still frequently sold with Microsoft Windows installed, they are shipped with Linux more than perhaps any other mass-market laptop around.
Some Dell Models
In recent years (particularly 2007-2008) distributions of Linux like Ubuntu have placed a higher than ever priority on user friendliness in efforts to capture some of the Windows market. Consequently, Dell and other mass-market PC manufacturers have taken to pre-loading Ubuntu and other distributions on their computers.
Cern uses Scientific Linux on a massive scale for mission-critical applications. FreeSoftwareMagazine, for instance, notes that Linux is powering the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider, a machine designed to do important subatomic research. CERN, it should also be noted, is where Tim Berners-Lee invented the hypertext link while working there in the 80’s as an independent contractor. CERN also runs Linux on its 20,000 internal servers.
Anyone who has ever used the Wayback Machine to peer at the past of a website has unwittingly been served information by a throng of x86 servers running Linux — hundreds of them, in fact.
LinuxProMagazine.com reports that the ASV Roboat, a research craft designed to glean data about “the Pacific whale population in cooperation with the marine biology department of the Oregon State University”, is apparently powered by Linux software. It is a considerable test of Linux’s technological capabilities, as the craft is charged with “researching large geographic areas over long periods of time at low cost.” The ASV Roboat can be seen in the video posted above.
IBM iDataPlex in Canada
Canada’s largest supercomputer, the IBM iDataPlex (housed at the University of Toronto) is also powered by Linux. According to the Canadian Globe and Mail, the massive machine cost “$50-million to put together, and its brain takes up as much room as a warehouse full of refrigerators.” Its tasks are many and demanding, including running “more than 300 trillion calculations a second, simulating the Earth’s climate 100 years into the future in four days and helping researchers study cosmic background radiation.”