back to article Ubuntu 'weaponised' to cure NHS of its addiction to Microsoft Windows

A quiet revolution has been rumbling in Leeds, in the north of England. It may not seem revolutionary: a gathering of software developers is scarcely going to get people taking to the barricades in these uncertain times, but the results of this particular meetup could shape access to NHS PCs in the coming years. The gathering …

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You can have all the open source desktops in the world...

...but if the back end is propriety back end that only runs on windows, then you suddenly hit brick walls.

They need to ensure the back end adheres to open standards first, then move the back end.

That way you can use Windows, Linux, MacOS, BSD or whatever you want.

Get the back end sorted and the rest will follow.

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Unpatched=Unsafe

It seems to me that the main issue was unpatched systems. The IT support will have to have a major change for that to be any different, regardless of what OS they are using.

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Re: Unpatched=Unsafe

That's a big win for Linux given the relative speed and simplicity of applying patches.

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Re: Unpatched=Unsafe

They are only simple if you have an IT department who knows what they are doing. It could be said that Windows patches are equally simple and speedy to apply if they are being pushed out by a mechanism such as Windows Update for Business or by IT departments centrally for Enterprise installs.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Unpatched=Unsafe

ours are being done (eventually) by SCCM as far as i can tell. Is that the "best practice?"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Unpatched=Unsafe

"That's a big win for Linux given the relative speed and simplicity of applying patches."

You can't use set it and forget it in an enterprise. Windows has advanced features like WSUS (free) and SCCM (paid) that provide a proper controlled patching solution, reporting, etc. that is largely missing out of the box with Linux.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Unpatched=Unsafe

"You can't use set it and forget it in an enterprise."

Oh yes you can.

And WSUS? Please!

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Modified distro

A modified distro is a no no.

You DON'T want to do that!!

It would be way better to give 200.000£ o rmore to someone to take care of that.

Just use a "standard" deployment of LTS with specific packages, and call it a day, and learn to live with that.

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Linux

Re: Modified distro

Just use a "standard" deployment of LTS with specific packages,

Exactly! Unless your needs are very special, and you have immense technical talent at your disposal, do not even think about a making custom distro, or even basing your work on some less-known existing distro. Let Red Hat, Ubuntu or Suse deal with the base OS. (If on shoestring, just use CentOS. You essentially get the reliability and utterlly boring predictability of Red Hat Enterprise for free...).

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Paris Hilton

Re: Modified distro

Shoestring? I thought Linux was free?

Im a bit in the dark about all this. People charge for supporting a free Linux system right?

If these people in the article think they have the skills to re write it , surely they can support existing distro themselves? or do "Enterprises" pay regardless?

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Coat

Re: Modified distro

Currently the NHSbuntu proof of concept .iso appears to be a more or less standard Ubuntu 16.04 live image with some nice theming in 'classic' mode. Screen shot below from within a live session

http://sohcahtoa.org.uk/nhs2.jpg

Note use of MS Office-like icons for LibreOffice and standard Ubuntu repositories. Can't use ssh at present (keyring?) but apart from that looks bog standard. Now if someone could convince the Gnome project to just allow the top bar to be the bottom bar in classic mode...

I take the point that a real system is going to need custom software and then that implies maintenance. I hope this initiative gets gradual acceptance with a careful roll-out to appropriate client machines.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Modified distro

"I thought Linux was free?"

If your time has no value and you don't need support.

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Re: Modified distro

Shoestring? I thought Linux was free?

It is. But enterprise distributions require a subscription for support and updates. CentOS, which is a recompiled RHEL, gives you the updates for free, like most non-enterprise distributions.

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Re: Modified distro

Unless your needs are very special, and you have immense technical talent at your disposal,

£200 billion is not capable of purchasing "immense technical talent"? And they have been pretending their needs are very special for generations. Although if the "special" is it needs IE6, then perhaps it this is "special needs" as a tactful way of saying "developmentally challenged".

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Devil

Re: Modified distro

"enterprise distributions require a subscription for support and updates."

many IT departments prefer this. And the overall cost is lower than a Micro-shaft solution. win-win.

the alternative would be a support contract with some consultants, or hiring your own expert. But at least you have that choice, to contract with Red Hat [let's say], or with a local Linux admin consulting group, or hire your own expert. Whichever you pick, it's highly likely to be a cost savings over Micro-shaft. [I posted the Ernie Ball link already, no need to re-post]

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Connections

Are Microsoft well connected in the UK civil service, the Department of Health in particular?

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Re: Connections

Joined at hip. Apparently an orthopaedic surgeon got a tad confused...

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Re: Connections

"Are Microsoft well connected in the UK civil service, the Department of Health in particular?"

Yes and No. In my experience, Microsoft behave like any other supplier wishing to make a mutually beneficial relationship. Microsoft, VMware, Oracle, SAP, Dell et al are all doing similar things.

They'll appoint diligent contract managers who know a bit about customer requirements and are willing to learn. Customers will receive additional technical support -- e.g. accelerated connection to product specialists. Customers will receive free project consultancy -- bad if it is just about selling products, bloody brilliant when you get to work with independently-minded people who know their stuff. If you are in a position to participate in a product development programme as a working partner, they'll throw loads of resources your way.

Is this unfair to open source developers or small companies? A smaller outfit will never have the resources to match the big players. Sometimes modest resources are all that are necessary. If a company doesn't have to maintain 20+ years of cruft (e.g. VMware in year 2000), business can take off rapidly.

Congratulations to the NHSbuntu team for their work on smart cards and ID management.

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The city of Munich tried this

But found it cost too much. They recently announched a move back to Windows.

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/02/13/munich_may_dump_linux_for_windows/

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Re: The city of Munich tried this

"But found it cost too much. They recently announched a move back to Windows."

Nope. Politics. It helps not to have your local politician too chummy with vendors.

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Pint

Re: The city of Munich tried this

The vote went against that but I haven't seen a recent update other than they are keeping their options open. I'm in Munich next week - shall I ask them over a beer?

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Re: The city of Munich tried this

I'm in Munich next week - shall I ask them over a beer?

Please do, and tell us what is going on there!

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Re: The city of Munich tried this

Did you bother to read the item?

Even the title says "MAY".

Big difference between MAY and WILL.

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Re: The city of Munich tried this

And more to the point, it was crappy to use and the users hate it.

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Re: The city of Munich tried this

Are you talking about windows or Linux?

From my memory of the article, it was some HR department whinging about Linux, which has got to be a positive recommendation, and possibly even intentional.

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WTF?

I wonder what a "Head of Ecosystems Development" actually does. Sounds like one of those non-specific job titles so common in the senior public sector - "Director of Improvement" etc.

Also I call bovine excrement on "[T]he whole procurement process is geared to buying something off the shelf: something proprietary." Source: I procure NHS technology all the time, it's mostly open source (admittedly not clinical systems), and I've never seen any problems other than the usual ones when you try to procure anything in the NHS.

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Yet another distro?

Not to sound crude or downing anyone but is creating an entirely separate distribution really the best way forward?

I mean, there are several distributions which could be up to this task as they stand even some which could be highly tuned (Gentoo, Arch anyone?) surely the better way forward would be to use an existing distribution and add any required packages/features as an additional repository/ppa?

At least this way your applications are not tied to a custom distro and you can recompile them / package them for other distributions as and where required.

If support is an issue then you could go to someone such as Red Hat who for a subscription fee would be happy to provide any and all technical assistance where required. In addition they have a lot of experience in that particular field (supporting businesses).

I just feel that a new bistro isn't necessarily the best way forward. I understand that they may need specific applications or security tuning, but all of that could be easily accomplished by simply adding an extra repository and tuning to an existing bistro (you can roll your own install media/live image where required to avoid tuning each PC)

In addition, those doctors who are already using uBuntu would only have to add the PPA to their existing installs, avoiding a reinstall and in some cases confusion.

Just my 0.02 GBP.

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Thumb Up

Re: Yet another distro?

A dedicated NHS distro doesn't see a big deal to me. e.g. The CERN CentOS 7 distro used by the particle physics community worldwide is more or less done by one man + St Bernard dog. Canonical seem to produce and maintain a full functioned distro on about £85 million per year and I doubt anything remotely approaching that is needed. I suspect the cost would be less than the Microsoft licence fees.

As an indicator of the sort of sums that are ploughed into NHS IT, previous governments found £10bn to spend on the abandoned National Programme for IT system, which would have paid for a Canonical sized operation for more than a century.

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Re: Yet another distro?

"I mean, there are several distributions which could be up to this task as they stand even some which could be highly tuned (Gentoo, Arch anyone?) surely the better way forward would be to use an existing distribution and add any required packages/features as an additional repository/ppa?"

s/Gentoo, Arch/Ubuntu/ and you seem to have described what's described here.

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Re: Yet another distro?

"A dedicated NHS distro doesn't see a big deal to me."

Quite. AFAICS enterprise deployments of Windows seem to rely on their own build and routinely overwrite the vendor's install with their own. This doesn't seem to be much different.

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Re: Yet another distro?

I dont know know but Id guess ts more of a stripped down, less choices of a particular Ubuntu release - i.e. XFCE only, no dev stuff- bascia kernel, X, and web browser.

i.e. nothing more than a stripped down YUM repo.

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Anonymous Coward

It's also about automation...

To support paperless a great deal of automation is required. Today, and for many years, the NHS has relied on Office macros to function. Changing the OS will be trivial in comparison to changing office automation.

Anon 'cos guess where I work...

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Re: It's also about automation...

"for many years, the NHS has relied on Office macros to function"

like legal firms do the same thing from what I understand.

MS Office Macros are HIGHLY overrated [and a dangerous vector for malware]

I have to wonder how many of these could be re-done with simple shell scripts + python/Perl utilities

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Re: It's also about automation...

"the NHS has relied on Office macros to function."

Getting rid of those should be a security improvement in itself.

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MS won't take this lying down

Their NHS cash cow is far too big a revenue stream to lose.

All power to Leeds but I feel that once MS get their big guns out and start arm twisting in Whitehall it will come to nowt.

But if a properly hardened Linux can be made viable then brilliant and all those naysayers (it seems that many have posted here) will be proven wrong.

My only doubt is the LTS point. I think the NHS needs at least 10 years of support out of a distro. AFAIK, Ubuntu LTS does not give you that. AFAIK (and I am willing to be proved wrong) only RedHat and SUSE do that.

If by making their own distro they can get the 10 years of support then brilliant but anyone who has been around Linux long enough will know that distros come and with all the best will and intentions die after a few years because the people responsible give up or move onto other things. If by paying a company money for support the longevity of the distro can be secured then brilliant.

But as I said at the start of this post, watch out for the MS bully boy tactics.

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Re: MS won't take this lying down

A few years back this would have been the case but one of our glorious leaders decided to 'save' the public money by cancelling the licensing agreement between UK Gov & Microsoft.

As a result each NHS Trust (and local government) have to have their own licensing agreements with Microsoft, rough estimates have put the cost of this at 3 to 4 times the cost of the original agreement.

So one Trust moving to Linux means the lost of a single medium to large customer for MS.

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Black Helicopters

In other news

A few large, black "cleaner" vans have been spotted being loaded with bottles of FUD, lobbyists, lawyers and stuffed brown envelopes and been seen exiting the Microsoft UK parking lot, driving by grim-faced "agents".

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Re: In other news

driving by grim-faced "agents".

I see a couple of them have proved your point with downvotes.

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Coat

Re: In other news

grim-faced "agents".

Do they look a bit like cartoon paper-clips?

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WTF?

If smartcard support was the long pole in the NHS tent

Why did it take 5 years to get round to it?

I find it very hard to believe there are no other large organisations around the world that wanted smartcard support in a Linux distro. And note, if they feed the changes back upward it will not need to be a "custom" distro, it will the standard Ubunto build.

So Moorfields have an EPR system ready to go?

That is intriguing.

The question is does it cope anything other than eyes?

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Re: If smartcard support was the long pole in the NHS tent

I guess there were other tall nails that were handled over the last five years, the smartcard will just have been the most recent.

I rarely bother mentioning stuff I fixed a few months ago, let alone a few years ago. It's only what I did in the last few weeks that's news.

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“Power of community and collaboration is the real story here – being open source you don’t have commercial vested interests,” says Coates.

Yeah. Right. Ask Canonical customers what they think about that.

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Anonymous Coward

Only a matter of time till it gets released "accidentally"

if NOT illumina then drop 100 pr places

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> Only a matter of time till it gets released "accidentally"

No accident, it's already downloadable.

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Paris Hilton

Swings and roundabouts

Trouble is, in the NHS, you'll have a lot of "stick-in-the-mud" users who get in a big flap every time something changes.

What you save in Windows licences, you'll have to pay in retraining staff.

Note: this is based off experience from when I had several hospitals as clients... getting calls to attend on-site and "look into an error" that turned out to be a warning stating that the report that was about to run was quite big and take a bit of time... panic that data had been lost because they had switched to a different view mode... that sort of thing

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Re: Swings and roundabouts

I take your point about "stick in the mud users", but isn't there still retraining required when moving from Windows XP to Windows 10? Or indeed from IE6 to Edge, or MS Office (Creaky old edition that works) to MS Office (New super whizzy edition that finds novel ways to confuse you and lose your data).

Given that training will be required, doesn't it make sense to train for a less expensive option?

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Re: Swings and roundabouts

Also - an entire first and second line team at each trust with no experience other than (trust application collection)+windows.

I know "munich" got mentioned earlier in the comments, didn't they end up almost 2 years late and tens of millions over budget? End result was a system that did not work correctly and will shortly be scrapped.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Swings and roundabouts

---What you save in Windows licences, you'll have to pay in retraining staff---

Switch on computer

Call IT because nothing is on the screen.

Be informed that "computer" is that box the screen is standing on and you just turned the monitor on.

Turn on the computer.

Type name and password then press the Enter key.

Call IT again because you have forgotten your password for the fourth time this week (It's Tuesday)

Type in your password again.

Make the tea

and so on.

No retraining needed there. If an application is web based, it should look the same whatever the OS.

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Re: Swings and roundabouts

There's a simple solution to that kind of stupidity: Charge them for non-contracted support. (ie, callout for a non-error), at the non-contracted rate.

It's amazing how many ineducatable users suddenly decide to read the manuals when they find that their wallet is affected.

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Linux

Re: Swings and roundabouts

"What you save in Windows licences, you'll have to pay in retraining staff."

how would SHIFTING TO WIN-10-NIC be ANY different in this regard?

if you're going to have to re-train, go LINUX!

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