21 May 2009

GNU/Linux's Secret Weapon: USB Drives

I've always been a huge fan of live CDs/DVDs: effectively, they let you try out distros before you install them - and try out multiple offerings. This is something that Windows can't do, of course. It hadn't really occurred to me that live USBs might be even more powerful, but this story about schools switching from hard disc installation to live USB drives makes sense:

The Kremser Bundesgymnasium uses this system since two years on all computers in the computer science classrooms. Now they decided to switch from local installations to live systems on USB sticks. The advantage: The pupils can carry their system around with themselves. They can use it at school, at home or at any computer they want. About 50% of all pupils uses the system regularly at home. It seems like especially the young pupils using the system quite naturally and have no reservations. Further Rene Schwarzinger explains: “We don’t want to encourage our pupils to create illegal copies just to be able to work at home with the same programs as at school”. Of course the natural solution to avoid this is to use only Free Software at school and pass it down to the pupils.

In autumn they want to introduce netbooks together with the GNU/Linux USB stick to the pupils.

I really like the idea using USB sticks instead of normal installations on hard disks. Live systems are nothing new but I think it makes much sense in this scenario. With the USB sticks the pupils can work with their systems and their data wherever they want without having to convince their parents to install a new operating system at home which could be quite challenging, both technically and philosophically.

As well as the natural advantages this system offers, described above, there is also the bonus that Windows simply can't compete: you can't transfer Windows to USB drives and hand them out to all and sundry. This seems to me to be an hugely important aspect: instead of fighting Windows where it is strong - on the desktop - GNU/Linux should be deployed where it offers unique solutions, and unique benefits.

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pjcolon said...

GNU/Linux will not only succeed in usb, but also in other drive formats such as SD/XD/MemSticks cards, Solid State Drives, these devices are simply not dealt with correctly by an application masquerading as an OS (windows). As long as it could write to a FAT-type fs it'll work temporarily, but there is too much writeback from windows that lowers life expectancy of nand-type disks (i.e. recycle bin, system information folder).

GNU/Linux, on the other hand, has file systems which are geared towards effectively dealing with SSD/USB drives.

Glyn Moody said...

Good point - thanks.

Rui Seabra said...

Well, Windows also can boot from usb devices, I know that for a fact because at my workplace there's some special customized usb devices with Windows.

However! It's a HUGE ammount of work, because they have to work on several different laptops: for each laptop there is a custom version.

Then you get, of course, life expectancy. It's really awesome.

However with GNU/Linux devices... most distributions autodetect the hardware and adapt and then finally work (almost) zero hassle.

USB devices FTW!

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for that. But what about the licences? I can't imagine Microsoft would be very happy for people to copy merrily from medium to medium - another big advantage of free software.