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LOL, well, your pal is certainly correct that they used Linux, but that doesn't mean it would have been impossible to do it otherwise. Still, it shouldn't be a surprise that Linux was being used, since it was the best tool for the task at hand. There is the Scientific Linux project, in which CERN is a dominant force, so the tools used in the Higgs-Boson discovery were designed to be used for this type of project (or perhaps specifically the Higgs-Boson research).