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Yet Another Use for Linux 82

TMOS writes "Well, more and more companies are using Linux, as if we all didn't know that. This is one that utilizes Linux to operate and maintain small to large telephone systems used by organizations such as the FAA and 911. It is nice to know that an underdog OS can be used to save lives."
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Yet Another Use for Linux

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  • by shadow0_0 ( 59720 ) on Monday January 24, 2000 @11:22PM (#1339802) Journal
    Hasn't this been done a while back? Have a look here []
  • Well, let's be very glad they aren't running windows...

    I can see it now...


    "Allright, sir... now where are y... er... um, could you hold on a sec... I have to reboot..."

    -- Dr. E --
  • Once upon a time, all these systems had no computers to rely on whatsoever. And they managed. With all due respect to Linux for reaching yet another audience, we should keep in mind that every step like this is just a relatively small improvement for whichever group took it. Yea, windows boxen crashing daily on 911 systems isn't a pleasant thought -- but think of it as 0.01% cases falling through because of that being replaced by 0.0001% now.

  • Presumably they have done some amount of kernel hacking on their systems. I don't see any GPL compliance information on their page though. Perhaps this is like tivo, prior to our pointing out that they need to provide source?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Jup, at least I know a company called Tecnomen [].
    Thats created voice message handling system, which can be used from implementing '911' (or 112 here in europe) to building a million client GSM answering machine. And they use Linux clusters for computing.
  • by troutman ( 26963 ) on Monday January 24, 2000 @11:38PM (#1339813) Homepage
    I work with a company that has one of these, and I have played with it a little bit. Pretty darn cool setup. They run mostly from RAM. The phone system has dual linux boxes (with some arbiting code) for fault tolerance -- if the primary linux box goes down, the secondary box picks up automatically, without dropping any calls in progress.

    They can do all kinds of phone system statistics and reporting, using MySQL as a backend for the data. They have a full featured ACD as well. They have support for many flavors of CTI, and I have seen some pretty nifty CSTA based CTI stuff that works with this equipment (they use Delphi for software development).

    From what I understand they will shortly have available email, text messaging, and voice over IP as available features, all routed/controlled by the linux based switch. For the next generation call center...
  • by edhall ( 10025 ) <> on Monday January 24, 2000 @11:44PM (#1339814) Homepage

    Read their press release here []; note that this is hardly their first Linux-based project. In fact, they've been using Linux since 1997, back when SlashDot was little more than a gleam in Rob's eye...

    Pretty impressive.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    By this point, I suspect that the vast majority of the Slashdot community, including those who do not use Linux, are convinced that Linux is a robust operating system capable of handling critical applications. Hence, the marginal value of reporting stories of this type on Slashdot is zero. You are preaching to the converted.

    Please, please, please could we get some stories that don't involve Linux being used in some obscure and utterly irrelevant way. I know this may be a big step, so as a transition, how about some stories about FreeBSD/NetBSD/OpenBSD being used for obscure purposes? I'm sure someone out there is using FreeBSD to control their high energy particle accelerator or something of the sort.

  • by Score Whore ( 32328 ) on Monday January 24, 2000 @11:59PM (#1339817)
    It is nice to know that an underdog OS can be used to save lives.

    This is getting seriously tiring. It seems like everytime anyone mentions that they made a product based on Linux it has to be announced on slashdot like some massive personal hurdle has been overcome. Next thing we're gonna hear is that Linux was the youngest OS in a family of 13 living in a mud floored one-third bedroom home with only a bucket in the corner to piss in. Father died in a coal mining accident when Linux was only six days old and the mother had to turn tricks to support the family. And all Linux ever dreamed of was to be able to take care of the family like pa would have wanted it to. It's just such a touching story I'm going to have to cry now.

    Can't we just realize that the shit is there. Linux has "made it." There's no need to act like every little product is an accomplishment in the face of worldwide adversity.
  • It doesn't surprise me that Linux is getting into as many far-reaching industries as it is. Computers are practically involved in everything today, from driving your car to ordering a pizza. Everyone of these computers needs some form of operating system that is fast, efficient, and can be easily configured or optimized for the task at hand. Linux fits all of these bills!
    I think we've only began to see the beginning of the proliferation of Linux into mainstream applications and business. Forget about Jini and Microsoft CE. They are both things of the past. Linux's power comes from its open source model which makes it readily available to every developer out there.
    I wouldn't be surprised if we see such applications as MP3 players for cars which run on Linux, or even home theater systems that utilize the power of Linux. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg.
    I mean look at the new processor Crusoe. Combine the speed and power saving features of this processor with the efficiency and stability of Linux and you have a winning combination. Say good-bye to "WinTel". Thats just my two-cents on the matter.

    Nathaniel P. Wilkerson
    NPS Internet Solutions, LLC
  • Your right Linux is hardly the be all and end all of OS's. We run our servers on FreeBSD since we found that it is even more stable than Linux and is also more scalable for industrial applications, such as database admin and even for serving up web pages. When it comes to a really serious OS I think Linux still has a way to go yet.
    Linux tends to get a lot of the spotlight but it is just another version of Unix. Its basically a marketing thing. You get the name out then everyone starts talking about it which gives it even more publicity and pretty soon the whole thing snowballs into a huge "monopoly" for lack of a better word.
    Windows is a prime example, just too bad it sucks so bad.

    Nathaniel P. Wilkerson
    NPS Internet Solutions, LLC
  • "I wouldn't be surprised if we see such applications as MP3 players for cars which run on Linux"

    I wouldn't be suprised either. In fact, its already been done! :)

  • by Sarah_Serious_Bitch ( 142785 ) on Tuesday January 25, 2000 @01:08AM (#1339833)
    Just generally on medical devices.

    Most medical devices use a custom built OS. For good reason too.

    They require such outstandingly specialised features, run on such peculiar platforms and the developers also want to feel that they can 'own' the entire device.

    Take an MRI machine, for example. That has its own customised platform, etc... why you ask? Because it would need fault tolerance, self diagnostics, etc... that are hardly available off the shelf, or would require such re-engineering to an open source product you may as well build you own damn OS.

    Also, it gives you such great control over your own OS. Linux doesn't offer the developers the feeling that they 'own' their OS and have access to it, etc... and nobody interfering.

    This is why I think linux will never make it into that area. Its a stuck mindset, and with good reason, imho.

    With 911. You have an arguement. However, I still think vast majority will run on customised platforms. Linux is stable. Sure. However, when it comes to healthcare and other industries. you don't need stable, you need un-crashable or at least have such unbelievable fault tolerance and self diagonistics. There are some things that can't be left to chance.

    Anyone for a ride on a warship running linux? I sure wouldn't. I'd want its own OS, and i'm sure its builders would too.
  • If the system fails and someone dies, who could be sued? For that matter, who's really responsible?

    The GPL makes a point of disclaiming all warranties and establishing a use-at-your-own-risk understanding.

    Would that stand up in court though? Perhaps some liability can't be disclaimed. Who is sued then? Say they bought a distro. Is the distributor at fault? If they got it free, can they blame who gave it to them? Does getting it free erase giver's liability?

    Could they hunt down the person responsible for the offending code and sue them?

    Should this company be responsible for verifying that every line of the OS works right? Hell no - that's impossible for a single company that didn't design it. Should they then be using an OS that NOBODY has checked in this way?

    Should the Linux community stand up and tell them, "this isn't a good idea. Nobody is ABSOLUTELY sure this code won't fail. Someone could die unless you use a better-checked product"?

    Perhaps someone should hire marketing, distribution, and QA engineers, and sell a fault-checked Linux.

  • Why would they want to hack the kernel? Even if they're using a proprietary interface board, they could simply use a closed source module. Linus allows it. I don't see any other reason why they would want to use some kernel hacking, a lot of telephony devices just run stock Solaris or SCO. It isn't that special, you know.
  • I can get downmarked for flamebait for this but whatever:

    911 is helpless if a crime is to be comitted besides the few cases when police is allowed preemptive action. These are mostly cases that do not deal with crime against individuals.

    So you may cry to 911 (or 999 or 112 in other countries) as much as you wish. Before that someone has actually attacked you police cannot do a thing. And than it is usually too bloody late.

    This makes these number to be quite useless for anything but medical emergencies, reporting accidents and fires. Their crime fighting capabilities are largely overrated.
  • Someone is always liable. Now, whether this is actually the company who's implementing the GPL system, the decission maker or the company who develops the system, someone is responsible. Responsibility usually doesn't seem to be binding until money changes hands.

    On the other hand, knowing the maerican legal system all hell could very well break loose.


  • My thought now is that Public Enemy (That Rap Group) is going to have to change their famous song, "911 is a joke" to "Linux is a joke" if this company makes a bad product.

    I can just see Flavor Flav on MTV with the changed lirics, "Get up, Get Get Get down, Linux is a joke, a joke in yo' town".

    Or better yet!
    When someone is hurt, you run over to another person by a phone and say, "Quick! Someones been hurt, call L-I-N-U-X!"
  • Reading the web page of the provider concerned, they are using Linux as their engine, on a custom platform, with some nice switching software running on top (which they wrote themselves).

    I'd guess that they would assume commercial liability for any systems they sold, but would either get a linux guru on retainer, or buy Alan much beer :-)

    I believe that the reliability of Linux is much better suited to running switches and PBX's than current NT offerings. Who knows what Windows 2000 will be like in five years.

    Mind you, if you want _really_ long uptimes, you should try VMS ;-)
  • Oke, this is a joke, I'll bite. I think PE would never pee on Linux because they support the openness and freedom Linux stands for. They are pretty interesting in this field. On a CD back in 1995 Harry Allen (PE's spokesman) was talking about new technologies that were coming along that would enable artists to be their own distributors. The technology didn't really exist at that time ("or was still in crude form"), but would come along later. Now we all know what MP3 and the internet has done for artists and most will remember that /. announced that PE was selling their album on the internet in MP3 form. I was about to submit the written text for that song to /., but always wondered if it would be news. Maybe I'll still do it one day...


    PS: To the "people who know", I'm talking about number 20 on the 1995 CD ("Muse sick'n hour mess age", IIRC!!!) and it is the voice of Harry Allen on Chuck's answering machine.
  • I wouldn't call the OS that gets second
    most press, hype and F.U.D. an "Underdog OS".
  • Anyone for a ride on a warship running linux? I sure wouldn't. I'd want its own OS, and i'm sure its builders would too.

    While I agree that standard Linux isn't a great choice for life-or-death systems, your argument doesn't support the conclusion that such systems should have their own OS.

    Through an open source development environment, such projects could be far more reliable, and feature rich. The standard arguments still hold--more eyes peering at the code seems particularly important for critical applications.

    ...developers also want to feel that they can 'own' the entire device...

    Yes, I think that's the real reason!
  • by Juggler ( 5256 ) on Tuesday January 25, 2000 @03:47AM (#1339853) Homepage Journal
    I disagree, and my employers do as well (I work for a company which *maintains* software for the air traffic controllers in Iceland. Alot of traffic passes thorugh our air space.). I'm doing Linux stuff.

    Having a specialized platform, with specialized features, is all well and good - but 5-10 years down the line it becomes a major liability. Unless your "specialized platform" is widely used and supported, you're going to run into serious trouble when the hardware you were using becomes hard or even impossible to buy, and nobody has created any drivers for the hardware you can buy.

    With Linux (or other open source solutions) it seems you can have your cake and eat it too - you can customize and debug and hack it to suit your needs, while still having a huge community that supports and maintains all the commonly used stuff, like ethernet adapters and video hardware.

    If people are devoting resources to creating an uncrashable system (which some people do need), then basing it on a widely used, widely supported open source solution makes a lot of sense.

    So yes, I'd definately prefer a warship running Linux (or one of the BSDs) than one running its own written-from-scratch OS. The many eyeballs rule applies especially to highly critical systems. That doesn't mean I want the warship designers to cut corners - I want them to spend their time and efforts on the stuff that actually matters for the application, not drudgery like writing a whole new OS from scratch.

  • *Beos was used to diffuse a highly volitile terrorist situation and freed 25 hostages.
    *NetBSD showed a person on the edge of a high rise there was still reason to live.
    *OS2/Warp performed a delicate medical procedure using only a ball point pen.

  • Anyone for a ride on a warship running linux? I sure wouldn't. I'd want its own OS, and i'm sure its builders would too.

    I would prefer it to have its own OS too but if I had to choose between a warship running Linux and one running NT I definitely would took the one running Linux, I would fear less to remain dead in the water [].
  • Every company starts from the bottom.... Don't they? ;)
  • and Microsoft blew up the world trade center *shrug*
  • It's not your company but a little guidance never hurt anybody... espicially if it's going to help "the underdog operating system" become another spike in the kennel...
  • But what about the millions (AND MILLIONS) of The Linux fans around the world who achieve smiles at the use of their favorite product being used? It's like your favorite sports team winning a game or doing something great... When the Eagles beat the cowboys it made me smile every time I saw it on ESPN... (Of course with antoher losing season I should stop smiling, but hell). I love to hear who's using one of my favorite systems. It's rather interesting :) But I guess it's everyones opinion for themself
  • It's getting really off-topic, but way too interesting to keep for myself. I just found a snippet from an (that we boycot it doesn't mean we can't read their interviews, does it? :) interview with Chuck D. Imagine this, in 1994 (!!!) they predicted what we now have with MP3 and the internet and the *wanted* it to be like this. These are mainstream artists, making big bucks... You're still finishing up the new album, There's a Poison Goin' On. How's it going?

    Chuck D: It's going well. It's what we call 21st-century music. And in 1994 when I made Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, we predicted that the ways of distributing music would change, that the music business would change. I mean, people can go to Muse Sick and find [that], on Harry Allen's interactive superhighway phone call to Chuck D, we mentioned everything that is happening now. And we made that record for 1999, but this record here, There's a Poison Goin' On, is definitely for the year 2000. So it's going really well.

  • Bite me, troll. Take your little NT CD and stuff it down your pants along with your grits. The more I read FUD like this, the more confident I am that shitheels like you are hearing footsteps... ndex.html
  • There's a Big 10 university (upper midwestern U.S.) whose phone system is run off a generic Linux/PowerPC system, and apparently has been for several years at this point. Cool stuff.
  • If the only rebuttal you can add is correcting the author's spelling, I guess he made his point then. ;-)


  • Seriously, is anyone fixing Linux so that it will roll-over to 2038 correctly?

    If the problem has already been fixed, then please ignore this port.
  • Waiting to be hooked up a machine to check the capacity and pressure dynamics of the bladder, I checked out the screen.

    It was a Windows based application, running on a standard PC.

    While I was watching, a DOS based screen saver kicked in, suspending windows, and giving a blank screen. When the nurse returns, she mutters "this machine is always doing this", and reboots it, giving the standard Win95 boot sequence, which loads a DOS based TSR screen saver, and finally the custom application full screen.

    This does not inspire confidence in a person who is about to have said machine threaded into his privates.

  • Yup, believe it or not, we use one of these to run 3 call centers at our site. One of the appealing aspects of this system is it's versatility, I have yet to encounter a configuration or situation that it can't be made to resolve. I've also been out to their site for training on their product and I continue to be amazed at the quality of their service.

    It's a good system, that jsut so happens to run Linux.

  • I'm sure it's more like... "SOMEONE IS TRYING TO KILL ME!" "Just a minute sir, I need to edit my whattodo.rc file then recompile my kernel to support life saving, then I need to read some How-to's and man pages on how to use it all. Give me 10 hours or so okay?"

    I hope you were trying to be funny...

    That's an outrageous assertion. If you needed to do something with a computer you'd have it set up to do that before you needed it. That's whether it's Windows or Linux. Don't try to tell me that it's any easier/faster to do something in Windows, because that's not so. It takes several reboots to install *anything* larger then MS Works.

    That'd be like having your car apart in a pile of pieces in the garage, and needing to assemble it before going anywhere. You'd have an OS ready to go, just like a car. Now, if your PC or car crashes, that's a different sort of problem that you don't want to deal with.

  • Anyone for a ride on a warship running linux? I sure wouldn't. I'd want its own OS, and i'm sure its builders would too.

    Not the US navy, evidently. There is the famous story [] of a ship standing dead in the water because it's control system running on NT crashed. Proves your point.

  • Oh my God! What a touching story! However, I saw no mention of Linux's poor upbringing anywhere! Perhaps the documentation I have been reading thus far has not been as complete as it should have been...
  • Ouch. You have my sympathy.

  • The system does not use a hacked kernel, as a standard Linux works just fine. The telephony hardware resides in a seperate chasis from the computers, interfaced via UDP/IP over Ethernet, thus no hardware drivers are needed.

    The GPL issue may quite likely be valid in the future as we consider incorporating pieces of software such as that from [], an open VoIP stack (actually under the Mozilla license). Any such source modifications will most certainly be made available.

    As far as the web page, that's by a marketing department which wouldn't no what GPL is (-.

  • how exactly does an OS save lives? I mean surely you had better compliment the sysadmn on his/her job keeping flawless uptime too? but isnt this story just scraping the barrel of linux do good links? a Uk company called Andrews and Arnold ships perfectly good Linux based voice mail and call control software AS AN ALTERNATIVE to paying Lucent mega$ for WinCrap licenses (which are i think about $3,500 equiv just to get voicemail up) all on network alchemy hware. i bet someone somehwre willl diall 999 / 911 and save a life on that kit too. will that justify a story?
  • Having migrated a large project from a custom OS to Linux, a few comments on how they compare for use in such applications.

    A custom OS does have the advantage of a certain degree of "determinism", based on having complete control over the system. For self contained, real time systems this can be usefull.

    Linux ( or FreeBSD, etc. ) gives the developer access to a tremendous amount of software. Consider somthing as trivial as adding a new device. With a custom OS, every device driver must be hand coded, maybe fun but not very productive. The same goes for applications such as e-mail, SMTP, firewall functions, etc.

    As far as reliability, this is kind of a toss up. In theory, the custom OS should be more reliable because its not constantly being "enhanced" to add new capabilities that might not be needed. But in practice, it's so difficult to get a sufficient quantity of good software engineers that custom OS's are often more buggy than they should be. Changing hardware can be a nightmare issue for reliability in custom boxes.

    With time-to-market the huge factor that it is, I suspect custom OS solutions will become quite rare. Of course, a good real-time, embedded Linux would be sweet.

  • My $1 LinuxMall FreeBSD CD is currently serving to prevent those nasty little water rings in the picture of wood that's glued to the top of my chipboard coffee table. It's still in the plastic sleeve, and therefore still usable for it's intended purpose (controlling high-energy particle accelerators)

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.