Over the last few years, residents of the International Space Station have used laptops equipped with Windows XP to interface with systems and to control experiments and scheduling software. However, we have now been informed that this no longer the case. The International Space Station now uses a version of the Linux operating system, called Debian 6, on all laptops. This marks the first time aboard the ISS that none of the computers on the ISS will be using the Windows operating system.
Why the change?
The decision to remove the Windows operating system from laptops aboard the ISS was made by the United Space Alliance, which is in charge of managing computer systems aboard the ISS along with NASA. The reason given by the United Space Alliance for the change is summed up with this single quote, "We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable." Keith Chuvala of the United Space Alliance goes on to explain that the need for a new operating systems stemmed from needing an OS that "would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could."
There is also the propensity of Windows based systems to fall victim to malicious viruses, even on the ISS. There has been one documented case of a virus that was transported to the ISS in 2008 by a Russian Cosmonaut. The virus, W32.Gammima.AG worm, hitched a ride aboard the Cosmonauts laptop and quickly spread to the dozens of other laptops used on the ISS. The change from Windows OS to the Linux OS will not only increase reliability but also provide increased security against future virus infections.
Many IT Workers are not surprised
The continued migration of ISS systems from Windows to Linux is not entirely surprising. Many believe that the Linux operating system is the choice of most of the scientific community. Currently, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, NASA and SpaceX ground stations, and DNA-sequencing lab technicians use versions of the Linux OS. The most commonly held reason for the proliferation of Linux operating systems in the scientific community is drawn from the open-source nature of the OS and that this allows Linux to be customized for each individual experiment.