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Linux vs. Windows for Schools? 553

Posted by Cliff
from the licensing-fees-or-lack-of-educational-software dept.
Fiachra06 writes "I am involved in helping to maintain the computer systems in the local school (200 ~ 250 pupils) in my home village. The children range in age from 4 to 12. The 14 PC's are running either Windows 95, Windows 98, and XP Home Edition and I find this rather abhorrent. The licensing fees to upgrade all the capable machines to XP pro is unreasonable for such a small school. What would the esteemed Slashdot readers think of shifting all these machines to a Linux distro (probably Ubuntu). I have no doubt the children will have no problem adapting to the new OS (although the teachers might), the main concerns are the availability of educational software for them to use, and practicality of maintenance for people who are new to the OS given that I am not there regularly enough to be a full time sys admin. Preferably I wouldn't like to running too much through Wine but it is still an option."
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Linux vs. Windows for Schools?

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  • How about... (Score:5, Informative)

    by spiritraveller (641174) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @08:49AM (#14815713)
    Edubuntu [edubuntu.org]?
  • What is education (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dattaway (3088) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @08:50AM (#14815715) Homepage Journal
    Is it more educational to buy a packaged education or take a classroom and create a learning environment? The best way to learn is to create the tools of learning rather than memorizing facts or being shown movies or games all day. Tell them they are smart, get them involved and make the system that will teach more generations. Turn them into leaders of the future, not followers of the past generations.
    • Is it more educational to buy a packaged education or take a classroom and create a learning environment?

      A learning environment for what though? These kids' focus is probably not learning computer desktop environments, it's more likely to be using some specialised educational software.

      My advice would be to stay with Windows in the general classes, and to put a 50/50 Windows/Linux split in the computing classes should the syllabus make that possible. Oh, and I'm an OS X user by the way, don't use Window

  • What are those PC's running? Strictly educational software for the kids? Or admin applications for the staff as well?

    2 different needs might lead you in 2 directions for getting things up and running with 'other than windows'.

  • Edubuntu (Score:5, Informative)

    by Silwenae (514138) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @08:52AM (#14815724) Homepage
    Edubuntu may be the way to go.

    Edubuntu FAQ [edubuntu.org]

    Looking at the Edubuntu Tour [edubuntu.org], some of the programs seem to be for a younger age, around kindergarten and up, but the SchoolTool calendar for teachers looks interesting.

    OpenOffice is included (of course). You don't mention what applications the kids may need - if it's just for internet browsing and research, and maybe some of the other educational things already included (Typing, etc), Edubuntu may fit your needs.

    The upcoming 6.04 release of Ubuntu's Dapper Drake may fit you better, as it will have a formal support cycle. (I want to say 3 years).
    • Looking at that page it seems like most of the actual edutainment software is from kdeedu or uses its own toolkit.

      Considering that PCs still running Win95 probably don't have that much RAM wouldn't it make more sense to use Kubuntu? KOffice should be enough for kids that age and isn't as dog slow as OOo, Konqueror needs less ressources than Firefox and Kiosk would allow to lock down the PCs for different classes and age groups.

    • I've been using Ubuntu for several months now. I like it very much, but there is one problem I've encountered for which I can't find a fix, and it could affect a school installation: I can't install any keyboard language except US English. If I try, it generates an ugly error.

      If not for this problem, I'd say that Ubuntu is the Linux distribution that is ready to conquer desktops everywhere.
  • When you says availability of educational software, you mean "none". You should use the OS that can run your software. I'm sure most of the software that you currently own runs on Windows. Why change then? Why upgrade to XP at all? Maybe you need a fresh reinstall on those '95 and '98 boxes. They should run okay.
    I'd love to switch to Linux at home too, but everytime time I get to thinking about what software I use everyday, I realize it's just all for Windows. The OS serves one pupose: to run your software
    • Close, but not quite. You're forgetting that you're not using the software for the software's sake; you're using it to acheive something. That is to say, the software isn't the be-all and end-all, it's just a means to an end.

      More than likely, the OP needed "A spreadsheet" but chose the actual application based on a variety of factors, one of which was probably the OS he was running at the time. He doesn't need to run spreadsheet Brand X, that's just his current choice; if spreadsheet Brand Y can fulfil t
    • Wrong. Software is irrelevant.

      The computer serves one purpose: to get your work done.

      Windows/Office/Winamp and Linux/Openoffice/XMMS are two means to the same end. What this guy needs to do is look at exactly what those computers are used for and see if mature packages exist for doing the job.
  • Ask Slashdot "Windows or Linux" ???

    Hmmm. Let me think now!

  • Look, whatever the ideal solution here might be in technical terms, if you are making decisions for these people on the basis of what you find 'abhorrent', then you should stop.

    People are trusting you to make an informed technical choice, and you are presumably presenting yourself as someone who adds value in the form of technical knowledge and ability, right? You can't turn around and lead these people down a path determined by the fact that you have a personal emotional issue with some software. It's pr
    • I think its abhorrent because of the way MS conducts business surrounding the educational world. They push their crap onto schools and such with "this great deal" and then stick them later with extra costs. Not to mention the motives in doing this include making sure the future students buy Windows instead of anything else in their own future. Look up the nambia school thing that turned down the MS offer because their "donation" in reality was going to cost them a fortune in extra MS crap to make the com
  • FWIW... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by catdevnull (531283) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @08:56AM (#14815749)
    Disclaimer: I don't like MS or their business practices...

    It might be in MS's best interest to grow their Windows users from the ground up by practically giving away their OS to K-12 institutions. I think they're shooting themselves in the foot by extorting money from them.

    From a purely practical point of view, because we live in a "Windows World," it would serve the kids best to know their way around it. It would be a disservice to them to make them use Macs or Linux boxes and breed ignorance to the real world.

    HOWEVER, it would also be a disservice to these kids to NOT know anything about the other OSs out there. High school is a good place to introduce *nix for basic programming/computer science curriculums.

    The bottom line: it's education. Kids should be given the opportunity to learn as much about the computing world as they can by having exposure to all the technology available. Because of its ubiquity, locking out MS would be a mistake (unless the goal is to breed absolute contempt for MS in the next generation which would bring MS down--but that's another thread, I'm sure).
    • " HOWEVER, it would also be a disservice to these kids to NOT know anything about the other OSs out there. High school is a good place to introduce *nix for basic programming/computer science curriculums."

      Well considering these kids ages range from 4-12, I doubt they are in high school (unless they skipped a grade or two).

    • Addendum:

      If MS is going to force K-12 school districts into heavy handed licensing fees, then I think the Ubuntu track is a good alternative. It's better for the kids to have a working updated computer than it is for them to have an outdated and virus infected one. As I said, my only reservation is "windows ignorance" when they enter college or the workforce. Like it or not, MS Office on Windows is what almost everyone who doesn't read slashdot uses.

    • The frist question I have is why it needs to be either/or.
      With 14 PCs there is the possibility of 10-Win + 4-Lin or some such combination. Better yet, dual-boot them all.

      The bottom line: it's education. Kids should be given the opportunity to learn as much about the computing world as they can by having exposure to all the technology available.

      Maybe only 10-12 need to be set up with permanent installs ... let the kids mess with various distros and other random [freebyte.com] OSs like BeOS...


    • "It would be a disservice to them to make them use Macs or Linux boxes and breed ignorance to the real world."

      Windows didn't exist when I was at school. I still to this day have to do all my work in BBC Basic and Logo. Getting modern programs to run in 32Kb is no fun, I can tell you.
  • What is it going to cost you to install Linux and give it a chance?

    All we are say....ing..... is give Linux a chance..

  • While I have no doubt that Linux is ready for such a task, I'm not sure your average school teacher is.

    Good luck explaining to them that they can't use some fancy piece of educational software they've already bought, or if they can but it will sort-of work and sort-of not work thanks to Wine. IME, few teachers would accept being told this - and regardless of whether or not you should educating youngsters in a specific operating system, you may have a hard time convincing teachers of this.

    I know it's not wh
  • The biggest problem is likely to be stuff that the exam boards assume you are using. I know where my sister works the exam boards assume one of two packages that are windows only. I suspect you'd need to check this one carefully, but that it wouldn't be a show stopper.

    Other than that, I've heard of schools in the UK going down the LTSP road and it being excellent. If someone is messing around, you kill their X, move them to the front, and log them back into exactly where they were. Kid kicks a power plu
  • Before spending any money the educators need to create a requirements document. How are the computers to be used? What are the educational objectives? Is there any specific software that needs to be run? Are there any compatibility requirements? What level of support is available?

    With this document in hand, alternatives from "do nothing" through various upgrade strategies to "all new computers" should be reviewed and evaluated. Anything less would be irresponsible.

    Here we have a large existing capital inves
  • You have got to sit down with the teachers and compile a list of what they are using the computers for and then determine if there are open source alternatives and if the teachers are willing to accomodate a wholesale OS change. If the open source versions of the tools they need exist, then they should be open to change based solely on cost savings. As a taxpayer, I want to know that the schools that are devouring my money are spending responsibly. However, as a taxpayer, and someone who who predates compu
  • First off, you need evaluate what you're doing with these computers. Are they for the students, or the teachers? What exactly are the people who are using them doing with them? Is the software specific to the OS, or can it be ported? Is there an alternative?

    From your description, it sounds like you have a mix of computers, ranging from older to newer. Getting XP to run on the older ones is likely to be an exercise in frustration all by itself.

    If the student's are the ones using the computers, wh

  • Kids should learn skills they can take from the classroom. Then they can help themselves, help Mum+Dad and help others.

    95% of people use Windows in wider society, including businesses.

    I use Linux every day, it pays my wage. But for the 0.01% of people who would use the power Linux features, Windows has Cygwin, Ethereal and all that.

    They must learn Windows.

    • I used to believe this, but I know now that it's wrong.

      Student are in school to learn generalities, not specifics. They need to learn how to learn, and not to be taught specific actions using a specific tools.

      If you teach students to use Word, you get a bunch of students who can use Word, and nothing else. You teach students how to use a *word processor*, they will feel comfortable using any word processor, because knowing what the capabilities of a word processor should they will know what to look for.
  • This project seems to be going well, and was covered in Linux Journal and on Slashdot.

    http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/6349 [linuxjournal.com]

    I have family that lives up that way and they get some help for there linix stuff from this guy.
  • Answering the question as you put it isn't really possible.

    First, you need to have a good understanding of what these computers need to do. You mention educational software and wine. Does that mean there are specific applications that the computers must run or just that there are just things the computers should be able to do. A requirement that the computers run Oregon Trail 2005 (or whatever) probably means that you must stay with Windows or attempt to run it slowly in wine. But if the requirement is
  • Ah, you've discovered one of the great joys of the educator -- indoctrinating little minds with your own opinions, whether it is on the true cause of the American Civil War, the proper way to read a poem, or the correct operating system to use.

    As long as you understand this, and have the kid's best interest in mind, you won't do to wrong by them.

    There is no difference in terms of usability for a child's standpoint. Adults are often a different matter, but if they are for the most part not required to admin
  • 1)Set up the old machines as thin clients on a network. (eg LTSP). That means you can still use them; you'll have good performance, and the upgrade will be much easier. Then buy one high-end ($2k) server.

    2)Keep a windows machine or 2. Run the windows software on it - and connect with VNC. Costs nothing; 100% compatible.
    [Wine is quite good these days, but if you already have the MS licenses...]

    3)Don't buy any new windows apps - you'll only feed the addiction!

    4)Rip the fonts out of your existing installs. The
  • You can't afford XP, so the decision is to use Linux.

    Decisions don't have to be difficult to be correct.
    • You clearly haven't been keeping up to date with the academic pricing of Microsoft licenses... but then don't let facts get in the way of your zealotry ;)
  • A few schools in Portland, Oregon, converted their computer labs from Windows boxes to a rack of application servers (running a modified version of Fedora Core) and cheap dummy terminals. In one high school they even use student volunteers to help run the lab. The teacher, for his part, only has to really maintain four machines, and the cost savings in hardware alone is enormous. You can get more information here [k12ltsp.org] and here [k12.or.us].

    Hope this helps.

  • Preferably I wouldn't like to running too much through Wine but it is still an option.

    maybe you can load up word via wine and check your grammar.
  • So..there is a concern about educational software available. So...those kids start learning on a *nix platform, known to be a very developer friendly enviroment. So sure, you probably aren't going to have your first generation of kids go through do much, but if they stick with learning on a *nix platform, you are potentially growing your own developers. I remember back in the days before the bloat, HS students were writing educational software for the grade school kids.
  • Take one class, convert one computer to Linux and get the kids to write a web-page about it. Post to your local LUG about the page and project. Sit back and wait for the local MS shill to drop off the Windows software the school would like for free. I know of one case where this happened though the school's intention was not to squeeze software from Microsoft.
  • A lot of great educational software runs on either DOS or Windows 95/98. An added bonus is that these older programs, such as Reader Rabbit, etc. can be gotten really cheap on ebay or garage sales, etc. You could try installing Ubuntu and using Dosbox and WINE to get some of these programs running.
  • I think the best plan is to have variety in the machines you expose your students too. Keep some on windows and the others on Linux.
  • http://ltsp.org/ [ltsp.org]

    very simple, very straightforward. it's set up to be useable by non-totally-technical administrators, with a looovely simple front-end for setting up DNS, DHCP, adding packages for use on the LTSP-clients (which includes rdesktop).

    You can add LTSP to ANY "desktoppy-servery" machine and it will be useable by dozens of simultaneous clients.
    So, you pick your distro (deadrat, debian, debian-edu, edubuntu) and then you just follow the LTSP instructions
    and voila, its desktop environment is magica
  • It depends what's your goal.
    If you want to endoctrinate the children provide 1 OS. And make them proficient in 1 OS.
    If you want to teach (impart) education, install more than 2 OS's and integrate services among them.
    Teach students to think OUTSIDE the BOX...Literally.
  • Why do you want to upgrade the machines? What purpose would it serve, what problem would it solve?

    Also, you say yourself that you're not there often enough to properly support the PCs alone, and that there are concerns about availability of required software. Those two things right there indicate pretty heavily against a switch to Linux.

    Your language (eg use of the word "abhorrent") and lack of stated requirement for the change makes it sound very much like your main (or even sole) reason for wanting to swi
  • Surely the idea is to teach the kids what they need to know when they leave school. If the Windows market share wasn't as ridiculously strong as it is, there might be an argument for running Linux...
  • This sounds like a job for Linux Terminal Server

    http://www.k12ltsp.org/ [k12ltsp.org]

    http://www.ltsp.org/ [ltsp.org]

    I actually run this at home, and am writing this post from a VNC enabled Linux Terminal Server. The machines you are using sound old, so if you are willing to invest a little in server hardware, this could be a good option. If you have PXE boot capable network cards, then you can boot from the network into linux. If not then it can also be accomplished with boot disks. For the must have Windows software packages, you
  • There was a posting here some while ago about a study that concluded that for people with no previous PC experience, Windows GUI was harder to learn and work with than Linux (+Gnome I think).
  • There's no need to change everything at once. Install Ububtu on one machine (if they are worried about loss of capacity, and you are able, then lend them a machine for a while). Let the teachers try, let the kids try. Get feedback then re-assess.

    It's also possible that one Ubuntu machine could provide you with more than one seat. If the machines are networked, then all the machines could access the one server (VNC?). Ultimately, something like the Ndiyo project [ndiyo.org] may end up providing small schools with

  • "The 14 PC's are running either Windows 95, Windows 98, and XP Home Edition and I find this rather abhorrent."

    So has anyone actually asked you to look into moving the PCs to a new operating system, or are you just a zealot trying to cram Linux down peoples' throats? You aren't going to win anyone over to Linux by being an arrogant prick and dumping a new OS on them just to show off how 31337 you are because you know how to install Linux and configure X.
  • It's going to cost you next to nothing to try out (ed)?ubuntu, so go for it! As long as you can afford one hard disk drive out of your own pocket, you needn't risk trashing the existing Windows installation on the machine you experiment with. Check out the applications available, and then show them to the teachers who will have to work with them. Seeing as Ubuntu prides itself on being i-tal, all applications will be Open Source; so there probably are versions compiled for Windows that the kids could tak
  • I also help with a small school (300 students k-12, ballpark).

    First of all, as the first comment states, if you have some machines running windows 95 or 98, they may be too old to run Windows XP anyway. Regardless, as he also pointed out, upgrading 14 PCs to Windows XP Pro would cost roughly $1400.

    The time you would spend administering 14 linux PCs would dwarf the time you would spend administering 14 Windows-based PCs, particularly if they're all Windows XP Pro. I presume, if your school situation is at
  • "Educational programs" are overrated ...

    Looking at the programs that come with Linux distros, you have software for writing, math, drawing, graphing, and other activities that learning requires.

    You also have a HUGE collection of FOSS utilities and games and compilers.

  • I was involved in a project to install a Linux network out of donated machines for a day care center. I was tasked to find educational software for the kids.
    There really was almost none. I happened to be in a store that had educational software on the shelves a little later and I realized that choosing Linux for these kids meant they could never use any of that stuff.
    I don't think Linux coders are very interested in making things like The oregon trail or Where in the world is Carmen San Diego. And commercia
  • Have a look at this story [linuxjournal.com] (also here [seul.org]). It's the tale of how one school's sysadmin converted the computer lab to Linux (Mandrake), KDE, and a host of open-source education and productivity applications.

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