Hot Technologies From A Cloud Country (Part 1)

7/5/2013 6:06:22 PM

Looking at the world map, it seems that Russia is far, far away to the North. So, ask an ordinary person about Russia and the response would probably involve “winter, military weaponry and oil”. However, Russia also has a strong Linux development experience. Read on to learn more.

When GNU/Linux was new, it began to attract the attention of technical specialists in Russia in the second half of the 90s, because of its excellent networking capabilities and the incomparable productivity level – Linux could run on hardware like an Intel DX 486 with 8 MB RAM quite easily. Besides, you could have several simultaneous Internet sessions of lynx, or the links browser, as well as a text session in mcedit/vi/joe; plus, you could at the same time do some programming exercises with EGCS. Should I mention that such operations were an available in live-mode, started off from a usual floppy-disk, though in text mode? The same productivity level wasn’t possible with Microsoft Windows 3.11, 95 or NT 4.0 even on a higher level of hardware like Intel Pentium, with 32 MB RAM and 1 GB HDD.

Hot technologies from a cloud country

Hot technologies from a cloud country

Moreover, if you had experience with Linux back then, you were guaranteed to be able to either with your local machine, or with very distant UNIX-based hosts (for example, Solaris or FreeBSD) outside the country at an equally productivity level. SSH protocol allowed you to perform such operations quite easily. In addition, a very compact size, great performance and tremendous opportunities of the system (Linux) in general added more kudos to it. One of the opportunities I mentioned was MP3-playback via a normal PC speaker. Such simple tasks were hardly possible with other operating systems those days; besides, you had a real presentation about Linux – what it could do!

The important fact was that Linux was initially created with classical UNIX-style in mind, which was originally born at AT&T Labs. Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan were the key people who created UNIX. Their book about C language programming became a truly classic edition in Russia, on the basis of which many generations of engineers are taught. The flexibility of Linux, the prevalence of the C language, and the philosophy of UNIX caused such widespread interest.

One of the first commercial companies that started working on the market was IPLabs Linux Team in 1998. It was initially involved in localization activities, but later began to sell box versions as well – ranging from Mandrake to Red Hat and SuSE. Its tight cooperation with MandrakeSoft made it possible to create its own Linux distribution. In 2001, such distro-building experience led to the creation of a software-only company called AltLinux, with its own distribution carrying the same name as the company. After years of Linux experience, AltLinux now has the fourth largest repository in the world – Sisyphus. The AltLinux Company builds server distributions for OEM companies and also builds desktop versions, as well as participating in government activities like the ‘School Project’. In the fall of 2008, AltLinux produced the SKIF 4.1 distribution for the national supercomputer SKIF-MSU. In 2009, the company opened up a sales center in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Linux could run on hardware like an Intel DX 486 with 8 MB RAM quite easily

Linux could run on hardware like an Intel DX 486 with 8 MB RAM quite easily

In the year 2000, SWsoft had also decided to try its luck in the Linux world. It dedicated a special unit ASPLinux, which was supposed to bring a fully localized Russian distribution (with the same name – ASPLinux) based purely on Red Hat. It must be noted that the ASPLinux distro wasn’t a simple clone of Red Hat, because it used several in-house developed applications. For example, instead of LILO, it ran ASPLoader – a graphically enabled boot-strap utility. There were also ASPInstaller and ASPDiskManager – a master disk partitioning utility. ASPLinux Server versions were preinstalled with virtualization products named Virtuozzo – some open-source portions of which later evolved into OpenVZ technology. Due to certain reasons, the development of this distribution came to an end in 2008. Quite possibly SWsoft, already known as Parallels Inc, considered that it was commercially viable to develop the virtualization business itself, rather than evolve in the Linux-friendly direction only. That’s why we now see such brilliant technology as OpenVZ available almost in every hosting provider.

The story behind the MandrakeSoft Company and its influence on the Russian Linux market was not simply limited by AltLinux in the late 90s. In 2007, Russian-based firm Mezon opened up a Mandriva Center of Competence located in St Petersburg. This enabled the firm to get the Mandriva distribution certified to be used in the government sector, as well as in places where confidential information was stored and processed. Moreover, three years later in 2010, the NGI Fund (with a Russian background) bought off majority stakes both in Mandriva as well as in the Russian company PingWin Software. This made it possible to perform systems integration and generate a new company – RosaLab. This step also allowed Mandriva to be saved from collapsing. Now, by combining efforts to further develop Mandriva Linux, which now comes under the Rosa Linux name, RosaLab envisions converting Rosa Linux into a Russian nationwide distribution – but who knows what the future holds. However, saving the company in 2010 basically brought along many benefits. According to DistroWatch statistics (http://distrowatch.com/stats.php?section=popularity), Mandriva (or should I say Rosa Linux) again gained popularity.

In addition, a couple of other companies tried to develop their own distributions, though Linux wasn’t their core business. This way, MOPSLinux appeared on the Russian market in 2004, originally developed by the Network Company only for its own internal projects. The company was a developer of information systems for local administration units and enterprises. MOPSLinux is based on Slackware with Russian localization and includes a number of applications developed in-house. The company offered technical support, both free and on a subscription basis. Unfortunately, in 2010 the company ceased Linux distribution, and apparently closed down – the financial crisis touched Russia too. Although several efforts were made to keep this distribution under the AgiliaLinux name, there are serious doubts it could continue being purely a voluntary project.

MOPSLinux is based on Slackware with Russian localisation and includes a number of applications developed in-house

MOPSLinux is based on Slackware with Russian localisation and includes a number of applications developed in-house

However, a better example is the experience of the Calculate Company, for which the Linux business also isn’t a major focus at all, because it produces cardboard and corrugated cardboard packaging. The company created a distribution called CalculateLinux for its own needs, when transferring its IT infrastructure to Linux in 2007. CalculateLinux is based on Gentoo Linux. Corporate graphical designers helped with the distribution’s UI; that’s why CalculateLinux has gained such popularity outside the mother company. Besides, free help is provided online via IRC and Jabber services.

All other distros could be considered more or less amateurish and non-professional from the business perspective – especially since all of them are designed for home users, and based on modern versions of either Ubuntu or Fedora from Red Hat.

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