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Science, Maths & Technology
  • Audio
  • 10 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

The Linux course

Updated Monday 7th June 2010

Documentally grabs Andrew Smith for a quick chat about the technology at the heart of The Open University's Linux course.

This interview originally appeared as part of Documentally's Audioboo stream.

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Interviewer

Once again, once again lost in the maze at the Gadget Show Live and I’ve fallen upon the Open University stand again, and I thought I’d check in and see how things are.  Currently talking to Mr Andrew Smith, who is a Course Chair of the Open University, what course do you chair?

Andrew Smith

I chair the Linux and Introduction Course at the Open University.

Interviewer

Linux!  How are people taking to that here at the show?

Andrew Smith

They’re very interested.  Many people have never seen Linux before and are intrigued at how we’re offering it at the Open University.

Interviewer

How do you explain Linux to the hard core Windows-only user that has never even heard the term?

Andrew Smith

It’s a compatible and comparable operating system that’s free.

Interviewer

Which is always nice.  What if they say yeah but will it, can I do word processing, and can I send emails, and can I view video, and can I?

Andrew Smith

The answer is yes, yes, yes and yes.

Interviewer

So you get a great response.  Now, the exploded computer that seems to be drawing a lot of attention, which quite impressively has a working hard drive which has a window in it, I think all hard drives should come like that, now that’s an old bit of tech, what’s the spec of the computer?

Andrew Smith

Oh, it’s about five years old.  It’s running an old processor that’s about 1.5GHz, which compared to the newer processors is probably about a quarter of the strength.

Interviewer

And this is running Linux?

Andrew Smith

Yeah, it’s running the latest version Ubuntu 9.10.

Interviewer

How do you get the latest version?  Now I’ve been into universities before who have been switching to Macs quite a lot, because every time the software gets updated on Windows, they’re finding computers falling by the wayside, and the retention that they have by sticking to OS X means that they can keep computers for longer and therefore save money in the long run.  What’s the retention like with Linux?

Andrew Smith

As far as a sort of computer life’s concerned you can probably get a computer that would have lasted for only three years with Windows running up to five to maybe seven years, depending on what you’re asking of it. 

Interviewer

So you’ve got a five year old computer here running the very latest Linux, how is Linux getting better?  It’s an open source software, so is it made by the community or is there a certain amount?

Andrew Smith

It’s very much made by the community, and it’s managed by the community and it’s regulated by the community.

Interviewer

It sounds like communism.

Andrew Smith

I hope it is.  For once I think communism works.

Interviewer

When it comes to open source software, and so what improvements have they made?

Andrew Smith

In improvement terms they’ve just made it more stable and a lot easier to use.  So anybody like you and me could install Ubuntu and within five minutes work out how to use it.

Interviewer

Are you purely Ubuntu at home?

Andrew Smith

No, I actually run Windows, Mac and Ubuntu at home.

Interviewer

On one machine?

Andrew Smith

On one machine; in fact you’re actually looking at my laptop running all three at the moment.

Interviewer

So I’m looking at TweetDeck at the moment currently with OS X, and how do you switch on this MacBook Pro between Windows, Linux and - oh hang on, you’re running VMware Fusion so that you can switch to Windows from within OS X, and VirtualBox VM enables you to have a Ubuntu running as well.  I like that.  Suddenly my one operating system running Mac makes me a feel little bit inadequate.

Andrew Smith

Okay, well I can’t talk about your inadequacy, but what I can say is, whether it’s a VMware virtual machine or a Sun Microsystems VirtualBox, they all provide the same resources.  So people could run a Windows computer at home with Ubuntu on it, which is what we’re doing our course at the Open University, or you could choose to install Ubuntu only, and they’re all going to offer the same quality of service.

Interviewer

But to be able to run OS X thanks to Apple being incredibly, incredibly restrictive as an organisation, as a company, as this big brother of tech – I love the products, I’m mean I’m Apple through and through, but I don't know, sometimes they do my head in – you couldn’t necessarily run OS X and Ubuntu on a Windows machine?

Andrew Smith

No, I’m afraid legally, legally that would be very naughty, and the guys from Apple get quite upset.  I know of people who have succeeded in doing it, but I’m not allowed to recommend that.

Interviewer

Is it, I know we’ve just computed on Twitter, just assisted me in putting OS X on the little Nokia Netbooks, which it looks really good on there because it’s quite a well-made little Netbook, the Nokia booklet I think it’s called?

Andrew Smith

Yeah.

Interviewer

Now is it a bit hypocritical of Apple, when here you see Ubuntu and Windows running on an Apple, why shouldn’t they want to share and share alike, is it just greed - obviously your own opinion here and nothing to do with the Open University?

Andrew Smith

I was going to say yeah you’re putting me in a very dangerous position, Christian.  I think sometimes it’s being able to trust that other people can do good things with your operating system.  I think Microsoft have learned to trust that people can do that, Ubuntu and the Linux Open Source Community, and maybe Apple have just got to learn to trust a little bit.

Interviewer

I think that’s what it is, let people in Apple, let people in!  I’m going to have another look at Ubuntu 10.04, hey is that not the latest version?

Andrew Smith

That comes out next month; I’ve got the beta version running on this Mac.

Interviewer

Ooh, get you!  Let’s have a play, show me what it does and I’ll say...

Andrew Smith

It is absolutely no different than any other previous versions of Linux, as far as the outside view.  They’ve enhanced the graphics and some of the security features, and obviously it’s got the latest version of OpenOffice.org, which is the free equivalent to the Microsoft Office Suite.  I’m running on there quite comfortably and I’ve got it running in only 512megs of ram on my MacBook, which means it’s still compatible with very old computers.

Interviewer

So I’ve got a computer at home, which is getting a little bit tired now, it’s an old G4, could I quite happily run this on there?

Andrew Smith

In theory, yes, there are ports for old G4.  Most people would have an old PC that they’ve picked up from PC World or another supplier, and Ubuntu would comfortably run on most of those systems and detect all the hardware and the drivers required. 

Interviewer

It’s not a bad looking operating system, why, I mean for me OS X through and through to a certain extent, don’t like touching Windows unless I really, really have to, ignoring the fact that you teach this at the Open University and your need to know a lot about this, if you weren’t teaching all of this, why would you use Linux?

Andrew Smith

Why would I use Linux?  I’m looking for something that would have a low footprint that is free.  So if I’m looking for something that can work on older technology where I’m not having to always buy newer computers, I’ve got a stable, reliable and easier to use operating system.  This is why it’s popular in Africa; this is why it’s popular in the Asian-Pacific region; and this is why the Government is now supporting the use of more open source systems and applications.

Interviewer

This is a very ethical way of computing?

Andrew Smith

I believe so, yes.

Interviewer

Brilliant, I like that, that’s a good note to end on.  Andrew, thank you very much and what’s the name of the course that you run?

Andrew Smith

It’s T155 Linux: An Introduction.

Interviewer

How many points?

Andrew Smith

It’s 10 points of the first year of a degree. 

Interviewer

You’ve got me tempted.

Andrew Smith

Yes.  Very easy and very accessible course.

Interviewer

Nice one, thank you very much.

8’02”

 

 

 

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