Not Loch Ness, But An Ubuntu Sighting in Scotland

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

April 19, 2011

2 Min Read
Not Loch Ness, But An Ubuntu Sighting in Scotland

I just returned from a trip to the Scottish Highlands in search of the Loch Ness Monster and the Bonnie Prince. While I’m sad to report that both remain elusive, I did spot Ubuntu in use by a small business where I least expected it. Here are the details.

I took advantage of a few free days after a conference in London last week to travel up to Scotland, a gorgeous country which I’d never seen. After stops in different parts of the Lowlands, I made my way to Inverness, the rugged Highlands’ only real city. It’s a short drive from Loch Ness, which needs no introduction, and from Culloden, where the last attempt of the lawful sovereigns of Great Britain to recapture the throne from usurping foreigners ended in disaster in 1746.

Ubuntu on Duty

But tourist destinations aside, the most unexpected discovery I made was seeing Ubuntu in use in the hotel where I stayed, on both staff computers at the reception desk and on public kiosks available to guests for Web browsing.

I was told that the hotel’s IT contractor had replaced Windows with Ubuntu on the public computers to minimize security threats following an incident in which a malware script had been discovered sniffing credit-card numbers.

While the staff admitted that there had been no more security issues since the switchover to Ubuntu, the new platform was not received with universal enthusiasm. Most of the employees I asked expressed discontent with the operating system, sounding familiar complaints: the interface was unfamiliar, Windows applications wouldn’t run properly and so on. Some also questioned, with a hint of suspicion, how the operating system could be free.

In addition, the staff erroneously blamed Ubuntu for problems with the hotel’s Internet connection. I’m quite certain that the issue actually stemmed from instability with the ISP’s DNS servers, because my laptop had perfect connectivity once I switched to a public DNS service, but the readiness to point fingers at Ubuntu was indicative of the uphill battle that alternative operating systems face when deployed on the desktops of non-geeks.

The hotel — which might be more appropriately termed a hostel — is a small operation, and Ubuntu’s presence on its computers is not quite going to change the world. Nonetheless, the fact that the operating system was adopted as a free and flexible solution for a concrete problem — namely, the difficultly of preventing abuse of Windows-based public computers — was remarkable, particularly in a location on the edge of Europe.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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