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Open Source Alternatives: Thriving With (Free) Unix On The Engineering Desktop

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.478.1 - 5.478.13

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Paper Authors

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Douglas W. Fraser

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Gary E. Rafe

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Session 2793

Open Source Alternatives: Thriving with (Free) UNIX on the Engineering Desktop

Gary E. Rafe, Douglas W. Fraser University of Pittsburgh / Lucent Technologies

Abstract The wide-spread use of commercial UNIX operating systems to run desktop workstations and large-scale time-sharing and Internet server systems is well known, especially within the engineering-related academic community. In part due to the “one-size fits all” philosophy of the predominant operating system for desktop personal computers and the recent availability of relatively low-cost alternatives, an increasing amount of interest is being given to UNIX on the PC desktop. We offer some of our observations on the suitability of freely-available UNIX (and UNIX-like) systems for a variety of activities commonly associated with the personal computer domain, with particular emphasis on inter-operability across various system platforms. Included in our discussion are the increasingly-popular Linux, which can be used on many different types of computer hardware, FreeBSD, and Sun Microsystems’ Solaris. In addition, we discuss AT&T’s U/WIN system, which provides robust traditional UNIX services, and facilitates the use of many so-called open-source applications, on personal computers running Microsoft Windows.

Introduction Our goal for this paper is to share some of our experiences and observations in the use of free UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems on desktop personal computers in technical computing environments, with particular emphasis in the area of engineering education. Perhaps due to the graphical nature of the user interface provided by the X Window System and the near ubiquitousness of audio hardware on desktop (and portable) computers, we find that these systems are well suited to multi-media applications. For the purposes of our discussion, we consider several classes of systems here, including: (1) systems that can be obtained without cost, such as FreeBSD ,1 derived from Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) UNIX released by the Computer Systems Research Group at the University of California at Berkeley, and Linux,2 a UNIX-like operating system based on a kernel developed by L. Torvalds; (2) commercial UNIX systems that are available at media costs to individuals for personal, non-commercial use, such as Sun Microsystems’ Solaris (on SPARC- and Intel-based systems) and SCO’s UnixWare (on Intel-based systems); (3) packages that run on existing Microsoft Windows systems such as AT&T’s U/WIN 3 and Cygnus Solution’s Cygwin,4 also available at no cost to individuals for personal use in educational and research environments. We refer to these systems collectively in the remainder of our discussion as UNIX , except where we need to refer to a specific system or environment. Our presentation is not intended to be a tutorial in the use of any one particular desktop UNIX environment. Rather, we are interested in the ability to accomplish our work on a variety of

Fraser, D. W., & Rafe, G. E. (2000, June), Open Source Alternatives: Thriving With (Free) Unix On The Engineering Desktop Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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