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US Army struggles with Windows to Linux overhaul

The greatest penguin migration of all time

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In multiple media reports over the past two weeks, the US Army has professed its love for the penguin. The Army eventually intends to move from a Windows-based infrastructure over to Linux for its new, roughly $200bn weapons program.

But the Army has largely been prepping new Linux-friendly weapons, vehicles, and devices before the completion of a software network to connect them to its existing Windows-based infrastructure — or blithely, putting the chariot before the warhorse.

When the Army began development of its next-gen hardware (dubbed Future Combat Systems, or FCS), they turned to Boeing and SAIC to develop the operating system rather than basing the software on its established Blue Force Tracking.

Blue Force is a Windows-based satellite tracking system designed by Boeing rival Northrop Grumman. It was used in combat in Afghanistan in 2002 and later in Iraq. Both the development of the FCS project and Blue Force are currently being funded at the same time. In 2008 the Army budgeted $3.1bn to the FCS program and $624m for Blue Force Tracking.

And while it seems both systems are being embraced by the Army, Boeing's OS and Blue Force may not share the sentiments with each other. FCS is going Linux.

"Boeing and the Army said they chose not to use Microsoft's proprietary software because they didn't want to be beholden to the company," reports The Washington Post. "Instead, they chose to develop a Linux-based operating system based on publicly available code."

That potentially presents a major problem for the first brigade of Linux-based FCS vehicles expected to be introduced in 2015. Linux-based systems have a limited ability to communicate with Microsoft-based systems. And interoperability issues aren't something you want to deal with in a war zone.

According to the US Army online pub, Defense News, they'll first try to patch things up using Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

"Red Hat 5 will link Linux with Microsoft and allow FCS forces to link with other brigade combat teams," an Army official told Defense News. "This will be an interim solution because over the long haul, eventually all of the Army's networks will be Linux-based."

For a long-haul migration from Microsoft to Linux — the Army doesn't seem to be so sure what it will do. So they're bringing some 70 programmers, engineers and other IT professionals to Washington to brainstorm in four "Battle Command" summits.

The first two summits were held in September and November, with two upcoming sessions in February and April. According to Defense News, the Army says there has been "progress" in outlining time lines for the integration.

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Correction:

Defense News is a part of an independent media organization that covers various aspects of the armed forces. We apologize for the error.

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