International Space Station to boldly go with Linux over Windows

  • 13 May 2013
  • 7 replies

Userlevel 7
Computers aboard the International Space Station are to be switched from Windows XP to the Linux operating system in an attempt to improve stability and reliability.
Dozens of laptops on the ISS's 'opsLAN' network - which provides the ship's crew with vital capabilities for day-to-day operations, from telling the astronauts where they are to interfacing with onboard cameras - will be switched, removing Windows entirely from the ISS.
“We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we 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," said Keith Chuvala of the United Space Alliance, which runs opsLAN for NASA.
Full article
I am quite surprised of the move to an open source OS. Yes Linux is famous as stable and reliable system but being the open source, it means the code is available, is it safe? What do you think of the switch?

7 replies

Userlevel 5
According to the article and comments, the reasoning for changing is that they have more control over what is actually on the laptop. As long as they can verify the source code themselves, they can be 100% sure that nothing strange is on the laptop that could affect the station itself. The troubling here is that they'll need someone to review the entire source code, which is a lot of work.
If you can clear the source code of any issues, then it would be far more superior to their current Windows setup as they can determine the actual contents, which they cannot do with Windows. If they wish to build their own custom environment then with Linux they are able to do so as they have access to the source code which they can manipulate.
Userlevel 7
Personally, I think it will be safe and stable for them.  They are not replacing ALL Windows machines, and they already have been using some LInux for a while on some.
It does not say they are running a fully updated version of Linux... I think it a safe bet they are not updating the systems with every patch that comes out: they will be using only a well tested and stable release.
I am more surprised that they still have so much reliance on Windows XP.
Userlevel 5
Considering that Windows XP will be end-of-life next year they'll have to start making a decision towards the future. Using some Linux as a testbed might be one of those decisions.
Userlevel 5
While a lot of people would like to see it that way, it is unfortunately far from the truth.
They're not 'dumping' Windows for Linux, they are only replacing some of the laptops with a Debian version instead of a Windows version.
article (read the update)
Userlevel 7
Thanks for the update that makes the topic more clear.

However as to my understanding the replacement of a few machines is much worse than to dump all at once because even replacing only one laptop that is connected to ISS intranet could rise security concerns.
Userlevel 7
Thanks Johan for the valuable comments.
Userlevel 7
@DavidP wrote:
I am more surprised that they still have so much reliance on Windows XP.
... but if we consider that XP is tuned and tweaked quite decently (comparing to the higher versions), it's not so surprising then.