From the most popular websites to the future of science and space travel, Linux is furthering the development of our world, and our understanding of the universe.
If you’re reading this, you’ve very likely visited a site run by Linux server distributions.
Ever wondered about something and looked on the internet to learn either the basics or in-depth details? You’ve likely gone through Google and found yourself on Wikipedia. Both run on variations of Linux.
It’s often sneered at, but the vast majority of us frequent Wikipedia. While the pages might not be extensive in all cases, they do offer a good foundation, explaining what you need to know as deftly as possible. You might see it as something used largely by students, and there’s nothing wrong with that: Wikipedia’s mission — “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content… and disseminate it effectively and globally” — is a great cause, effective whether you’re in education or whether college is far behind you.
Wikipedia adopted the Ubuntu OS in 2008 and deals with billions of visitors each month.
Many of its most popular pages came as a result of Google Doodles, also powered by Linux. Google’s version, however, is a heavily-customised Ubuntu, referred to as “Goobuntu.” It runs on approximately 100,000 servers (although the exact number is confidential) and on internal computers by staff.
Versions of Linux further power the likes of Amazon, Twitter and Facebook, and WordPress.
Linux helps educate millions merely by supporting a large number of sites on what used to be called the information superhighway!
The Raspberry Pi is a small single-board computer used to teach youngsters the basics of computing and programming.
Developed in the UK, its sole purpose is to educate, which is why schools, colleges, and universities lapped it up. One costs between $5 and $35. The palm-sized motherboard is cheap because it comes with no cases or cables, but it’ll plug into a TV and you’ll need to add various other components to get started. It’ll do basically what a desktop PC can: search the internet, create documents, and play games. But its reason for being is to teach people coding.
And it runs on Linux!
It’s because Linux is open-source, so its infrastructure is very flexible. The Raspberry Pi Foundation, the charity which distributes them, offers downloads of Raspbian as basic — that’s a flavor of Debian Linux — but it’ll otherwise run further Linux variations, including Ubuntu.
While many of us were taught the ins-and-outs of Excel, Word, and effectively searching the internet at school, youngsters’ computing knowledge has naturally progressed to such an extent that there’s a solid argument for teaching programming to all.
If an educational institution isn’t embracing the Raspberry Pi, though, it’s a good idea to buy one for any students in your household. As we’ve explained, it’s the LEGO of the computing world, allowing kids some hands-on time with a key component of their futures.
Teachings in International Schools
While the Raspberry Pi ships worldwide, schools and colleges are advocating Linux across the globe.
You’ll find the OS in educational systems in countries as diverse as Pakistan (the government created the Technology Resource Mobilization Unit in 2002, with the aim of promoting the benefits of open-source software); many states across India; and the Philippines, where many users bought into Ubuntu due to its typically low installation costs, thanks to sidestepping Windows’ licenses and service fees.
In fact, limited costs proved a major factor in Linux’s adoption in initiatives such as One Laptop Per Child. Its mission is to supply a small machine, the OLPC XO-1, running Linux to educational institutions in developing countries. They’re capable of functioning in extreme weather, including humidity, and heat and sunlight exposure.
Similarly, Macedonia’s A Computer For Every Child project distributed 5,000 PCs running Ubuntu in 2005 to public schools, and a further 180,000 thin client computers two years later.
In 2007, Russian schools began running Linux as a cheaper alternative to Windows, and this use of the malleable OS could spread to all state-owned devices; indeed, Russia’s so-called “internet Czar”, German Klemenko described the move as “inevitable”.
It’s interesting to compare how Linux is being used to open the minds of the next generation, and how a heavily-modified Fedora OS is used in North Korea. The country’s intranet infamously blocks access to a large portion of the main internet, but Florian Grunow, of security firm, ERNW, says there’s likely another reason for the encryption methods deployed:
This is a full blown operation system where they control most of the code… They may want to be independent of other operating systems because they fear back doors.
Linux is helping educate millions of children worldwide. But to see how it’s changing humanity, we need only stargaze…
International Space Station
A few hours either side of sunset and sunrise, when the skies are gloomy, look up. You stand a chance of seeing the International Space Station (ISS), streaking across the globe at around 17,500 miles an hour. Here’s a live stream of it:
And everything on the ISS runs on various Linux distributions.
[W]e 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.
While laptops used to run on Windows XP, some Linux systems were also migrated to different distributions — from the Scientific Linux, for instance, to Debian 6. Being open-source, it makes customisation for separate experiments easier, and also proves more capable to withstand cyberattacks. Most notably, a Russian cosmonaut’s laptop was infected with the W32.Gammima.AG worm, which swiftly spread to other ISS computers in 2008.
Linux allows control and recording of experiments that help us learn more about a weightless environment. The ISS will determine the future of our lives in space, assessing long-term travel’s effects on things like eyesight, our immune system, and digestion.
The associated Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites-Zero-Robotics (SPHERES-Zero-Robotics) project also inspired school students to take an interest in science and programming. The annual competition gives youngsters the opportunity to work on algorithms to program SPHERE satellites to complete specific challenges.
The ISS might educate us on our own future, but we have to return to Earth in order to discover more about the universe…
Large Hadron Collider
“Run! Hide! The end of Earth is nigh!”
Doomsayers reared their heads when the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) unveiled plans for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a project which some feared would result in a black hole consuming everything and everyone. Novelist, Dan Brown even got involved, theorising that the LHC would lead to anti-matter being used as a weapon.
The first experiments began in 2008 and the world is still here.
The LHC basically emulates the conditions of the universe shortly after the Big Bang. Essentially, the facility, located near Geneva, is the most powerful particle accelerator, wherein two subatomic particle beams travelling at the speed of light collide in an effort to understand some of the unanswered questions about the fabric of existence. What is the nature of dark matter? Could we detect potential further dimensions? Does the Higgs boson, which gives particles mass, exist? Heavy stuff. (See what I did there?)
And it runs on Scientific Linux. Not only are we learning more about existence through Linux, we’re also trusting it (and thousands of scientists) not to create mini-black holes.
Linux is perfect for this. It’s the operating system on 469 of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, meaning technicians can easily create their own distributions, as well as manage the 15 petabytes of data the LHC generates each year, roughly the power of 40,000 CPUs.
In 2012, CERN announced the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson. There we have it: Linux has aided our understanding of fundamental matter interaction, affecting everything.
Linux: A Force for Good
There’s no question: Linux is a key tool in education. Nonetheless, there are scores of people who know nothing about it.
Even those well versed in Linux might be surprised to learn all its applications and advocates.
Do you use Linux? Tempted? If so, what’s been stopping you so far? How else is Linux changing the world?