NASA lab rethinks Unix

The Solar System Visualization Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

in Pasadena, Calif., is as much of a power-Unix shop as there is. It takes

data collected from NASA's plan-etary missions and uses workstations to

turn that data into visual images and map projections, as well as into animations

that can be broadcast around the world.

The project has a legacy set of tools developed on old IBM Corp. mainframes

and Digital Equipment Corp. computers that were laboriously converted to

Unix. The project does use some Microsoft Corp. Windows NT systems. "From

an academic point of view, I like the NT operating system," said Eric De

Jong, the principal scientific investigator with the visualization project.

"But, realistically, it just doesn't do anything for us."

However, De Jong said the Intel Corp. and PC architecture works well

now, and PCs do have a large installed base. Even if Windows NT is not the

right operating system to use with Intel-based workstations, something such

as Linux, which also has the advantage of being based on Unix, may be. And,

just like the Intel workstations themselves, the open- system Linux has

one major advantage over other operating systems: It's cheap.

"That's now the name of the game," De Jong said. "These days, cost really

is the only driver."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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