Hardware & Software

Why did the HoCo Library Ditch Windows for Linux?

February 13, 2014

Guest Author

According to the PEW Research Center, 52% of Americans used a public library in 2013.

While this study found libraries are still embraced by Americans overall, it also found that many are not sure as to whether libraries provide any added advantage in finding information. However, our research discovered that one Maryland library in particular successfully managed to embrace and integrate technology, for its community to utilize.

How has MD’s Howard County Library Embraced Technology?

They switched from Windows to the free, open source software Linux OS.

For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Howard County is a 30-40 minute drive northeast of the nation’s capital.

The library system stresses their role and importance in the community as a bridge between public and academic libraries. They believe so strongly in their local presence, they’re known as “The Library in Howard County”. Their relevance in the county is evident by the fact that “over 90% are library card holders” within the community.

For a library that is at the center of such an influential community as Howard County and is considered in a library league of itself, it is no wonder that this institution embraced Linux technology. A technology built on the ideology of sharing information at no cost to the individual.

But why doesn’t everyone, large and small companies (along with everything in between), jump on board when they hear free software? Why isn’t Linux, the free software OS, utilized in state governments, your home, businesses, and even the local public library?

Usually free items are either seen as cheap, poorly made, or have a caveat attached. But when it comes to Linux, there is no side note, as this library has discovered. So what was the prompt that lead the Howard County Library to switch their computers for staff members and public users to Linux?

The Story Behind the Library’s Transition to Linux

The library system is committed to embracing technology that redefines computer interaction and activity. The Linux OS offered a way to cut costs and increase security against intrusions or viruses. Also, this enabled better network management over hundreds of computers within the library.

According to an email exchange with Amy Begg De Groff (Head of IT at the time),

” The advantage for us with Ubuntu is the security and the control we enjoy – we can update all computers from one location (and managing 500 computers from one spot is a nice feature.) While this would of course be feasible in a Windows environment, it would involve licensing MORE software on top of the Windows licenses – with our use of open source – the licensing cost is $0.”

Howard County Library

The library stood at an advantage throughout this transition with the assistance of two library IT employees, Luis Salazar and Mike Ricksecker. Due to their influence, they named their internal Linux system with “LuMix”.

If you live in the Baltimore-Washington, DC metro area, then maybe it’s worth the afternoon drive to checkout the free software on their computers. Perhaps the ability to customize your own computer, save substantial amounts of money, and essentially use the same programs will slowly end your relationship with Windows.

Who Will Adopt Linux Next?

Perhaps more companies should disrupt the status quo and stop purchasing pricey licenses for software that’s exactly the same. Rather than ask why they aren’t using Linux, let’s try to understand ways to further educate business owners, home owners, and the public.

Free customizable software teaches individuals how to interact more intimately with technology. We’ll explore the exact ways open source software better connects the individual with technology at a later date.

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