I had promised a little more info on Scientific Linux. This is a form of Linux with a name that changes faster than my shirt when I realize I’ve got it on inside out. Form the Fermi LInux site:

Fermi Linux is the generic name for linux distributions that are created and used at Fermi National Accelerator Lab. These releases have gone through different names: Fermi Linux, Fermi Linux LTS, LTS, Scientific Linux Fermi, SLF. At the time of this writting, the only officially supported Fermi Linux is Scientific Linux Fermi.

But the inside story is both less and more interesting than you might expect.

FermiCERNLTSScientificSLFETC Linux is …. wait, I have to explain something else first top make this clear …

Among the major distributions of Linux, one is Red Hat. Red Hat is actually a commercial distribution that has a fully open source ‘wing’ called Fedora. You buy Red Hat Linux, and they give you support and stuff. Or you buy the support and they give you the software. Whatever. (It is a subscription service.) Fedora is the open source version of Red Hat.

Well, Red Hat has two interesting characteristics: 1) It is very very good; and 2) almost every bit of code that is used to make Red Hat is available in an Open Source form if you know where to look.

So the geegazoids at Fermi Lab and other places apparently got together to generate a version of Linux that is as close to Red Hat as you can get and still be Open Source legal. It is Red Hat. Yet it is not.

That is sort of cool, in a way. But I’m a little disappointed because it does not seem to have anything especially ‘scientific’ about it. It’s just Linux. Oh well.


  1. #1 Trinifar
    July 9, 2008

    Nothing bad about being “just Linux” though. ;-)

    The bigger winner here is Fermi Lab who can now manage their own operating system source code and not be dependent on anyone else. Not a reasonable choice for the casual user but an important one for a high-end techie joint.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 9, 2008

    Very very good point.

  3. #3 llewellly
    July 9, 2008

    But I’m a little disappointed because it does not seem to have anything especially ‘scientific’ about it. It’s just Linux. Oh well.

    This is complaining that having a telescope fall on your head will not necessarily make you a scientist.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    July 9, 2008


    see, the thing is, they call it “scientific linux” in some of its incarnation. SO I was kinda expecting there to be something scientific about it. Like my Scienceblogs.com Linux distro is going to be.

  5. #5 hornlo
    July 10, 2008

    So they’ve re-developed CentOS? But I do understand the need for an in-house controlled OS (re @Trinifar).

    Maybe they should offer a Fermi Science Pack that is a self-contained (in a rpm-dependency sense) kit that’s layered on / installs on top of CentOS. That sounds kinda cool to me.

  6. #6 Lassi Hippeläinen
    July 10, 2008

    It is called Scientific Linux, because it comes with application software that is needed by scientists.

    BTW, it isn’t a Fermilab project. It is a co-operation of Fermilab and CERN. That explains its focus on high energy physics.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2008

    Lassi Hippeläinen:

    That conflicts with the information I have obtained. Do you have special knowledge of this? Like, what software is distributed with the distro? I would love to know.

    I have noted that it is a CERN/Fermilab project (perviously). However, it is currently called Fermilab Linux.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2008

    Why use FermiLab Red Hat or CentOS when you can use Debian? What would be the advantage other than style?

  9. #9 Ian
    July 10, 2008

    You’ve been threatening to do this for a couple of days now, but finally, this morning, you achieved a complete monopoly of the “Technology” section on the ‘front page’ of http://www.scienceblogs.com! Four articles listed, all by Greg Laden Congratulations!

  10. #10 Lassi Hippeläinen
    July 10, 2008

    I don’t have a full list, and the site http://www.scientificlinux.org seems to be somehow borked. OTOH, I haven’t checked RH lately (after switching to Kubuntu), so I don’t know if also RH contains today everything a scientist needs.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2008

    Thre is nothing on the Fermilab site to indicate this, and the article I read in Linux Journal (with an interview with the people who maintain it) describe it as a Red Hat that is not Red Hat in any way except all ways (but with no hats) and say nothing about the science.

    Which surprises me.

  12. #12 sdg
    July 11, 2008

    I had done a little research on Scientific Linux several months ago and if I recall correctly, Greg is correct, there is nothing particularly scientific about this disto. It was just an effort to have a common platform across labs. Also, I think there is a feature that makes it easier to make a customized version for a particular lab.

    Fedora is the open source version of Red Hat

    This is not quite true. First, Red Hat is open source. One may not be able to download a DVD or CD image for free but all of the source is available. This is what makes Scientific Linux and CentOS possible. Secondly, it would be more accurate to think of Fedora as a testing ground for Red Hat rather than a free version of it. New software makes it into Fedora first and then Red Hat takes what it likes from Fedora and integrates into Red Hat. Obviously this ends up with Fedora and Red Hat having many, many similarities but there are also quite a few differences.