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Education

Maine School & Linux 432

Feztaa writes "This story talks about a private school in Maine that has introduced linux into their computer labs, with smashing success. Apparently, they spent less than half of the money that other schools spent on new computer labs, and got better hardware to boot."
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Maine School & Linux

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  • by gentlewizard ( 300741 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:13PM (#5113517)
    Most middle school and high school "computer labs" seem to be oriented around the business department vocational education model. That is, they teach people how to keyboard quickly, use office productivity apps, maybe even edit a web page or develop a PowerPoint presentation.

    Using Linux in the computer lab is closer IMHO to a real computer science lab like at the university level, where one learns how computers work.

    It all depends on your intent. If the intent is to teach business apps, Windows is the right choice because that's what businesses use. But Linux offers a richer environment for understanding computer principles.
    • Yup (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ucblockhead ( 63650 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:22PM (#5113572) Homepage Journal
      An OS like Linux is far better for teaching about the guts of software because everything is exposed. And I'm not just talking about "the source". On a Linux box, you can go look at things like startup scripts and installed drivers, while on Windows, such things are (mostly) hidden.

      Windows does its damndest to prevent users from accidently encountering any confusing internals. Good, I suppose, for someone who doesn't care, but lousy if you are trying to teach those internals.
    • by teapot ( 2686 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:24PM (#5113579)
      Not true. Software change over time. When they exit school the windows software has already changed a lot.

      Applicationspecific learning does not yield any exceptionally good students. Also, the software range is much larger for linux, and in addition it has more fun software which they can try out.

      If you wanna try out random software in windows, you're subjected to a lot of crappy software. Eg. are there any good free astronomy programs for windows? And are they just as freely available? :)
    • I think the "everyone uses Widnows apps, so kids should learn to use Windows" is a silly bugaboo. I mean, take a look at the interface of Word next to the interface of OpenOffice. Same toolbar, same, editing screen, same drop-down menus. Ditto spreadsheets. If a person who knows OpenOffice pretty well sits down at a Windows machine, would it really take them very long to figure out how to write a letter in Word? It's not as if extensive retraining is required - the *concepts* are al the same.

      I think a lot of businesses get hung up on this, too. "We can't use Linux, we'd have to re-train all our people to use new applications." How long do they really thing it would take someone that used to use IE, to use Mozilla? The "back" button works the same way. The "Bold" button in OpenOffice works the same way as in Word. Evolution has folders for mail just like outlook.

      There's just not much of a learning curve at all for standard office apps. Once you learn to use one spreadsheet, it just ain't that hard to pick up another one. 95% of the concepts are the same.
      • by KDan ( 90353 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:58PM (#5113761) Homepage
        I think the "everyone uses Widnows apps, so kids should learn to use Windows" is a silly bugaboo.

        It's even simpler than that, especially in reference to the fact that the software that "everyone uses" changes through time. Because it changes to what? Mostly to the software that they were using at school and uni. So if you let kids play with linux instead of windows at school, and extend that through uni by giving them good and preferential access to linux computers, when they come out of school/uni and their employers realise that all these kids can use linux software, which is cheaper, and so don't need retraining, they'll switch to linux without a second thought.

        Daniel
      • I think the "everyone uses Widnows apps, so kids should learn to use Windows" is a silly bugaboo.

        Many people seem stuck in this reasoning:

        Why should everyone learn Windows? Because everyone uses Windows.

        Why should everyone use Windows? Because everyone is learning Windows.

        I'm sure there's more to it than that, but it is an easy mistake. (And I posted this from a Redhat 8.0 box.)
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 19, 2003 @02:55PM (#5114067)
        > "everyone uses Widnows apps, so kids should learn to use Windows" is a silly bugaboo.

        Not only that but when the current students get out into the workforce in 5 or so years time there is _no_ guarantee that Windows or Word will be the 'required' product to know.

        In 1981 the hot products were CP/M, WordStar and Supercalc. In 1986 this was dead and MS-DOS, WordPerfect and Loyus 123 were used by business. Another 5 years and the switch was to Windows 3.1 and early Word and Excell (or Multiplan).

        MS has only held on so long since then through strangling the competition, but in 5 years time MS Office may be obsolete, possibly just because of the punitive licence fees, or possibly just because a better product can survive long enough to be noticed.

        It may not be Star Office or OpenOffice.org either, but why throw money at MS when these will do the task.
    • by Big Sean O ( 317186 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:30PM (#5113616)
      I dunno...

      If you're teaching a student how to use a spreadsheet, it really doesn't make a difference whether they learn gnumeric or excel. The _principles_ are what you want to teach, not the specific application.

      The same thing with word processors. It should take more than 15 minutes for the average highschooler to adjust from Word to WordPerfect to Abiword. It's not like they're learning how to automatically generate table of contents or advanced table formatting; they're kids who are learning computers so they can write term papers...

      Especially since school computers don't get updated as frequently, it makes sense to use free software. What's the difference:
      • teaching a kid how to use Word 97 on Windows 95, or
      • teaching a kid how to use OpenOffice on Linux

      I assert that both of them will equally prepare the average kid for the 'real' business world (Word 2002 on Windows XP).
    • My experience is that you are wrong, not on the idea, but the reality.

      When I went to high school they were proud of there up to date computer lab running what buisness was running. Students were mostly taught WordPerfect5.1 for dos, on a Novell network (generally 8086 computers, which were plenty fast for that job). By the time I got out of college a 486 was slow, Nobody ran dos anymore. Most people had novell, but were making plans to move to NT (now implimented for the majority). Companies did not use products like Exchange, which now run the company, often getting more use than the word processor.

      In short technology is still changing far too fast to worry about teaching exactly the products used in school. Teach the concepts and let the kids learn the specific implimentation when they get there. Otherwise they will find themselves an expert in office2003 in a world where everyone uses office2006 (I'm just guessing on versions of course).

    • "If the intent is to teach business apps, Windows is the right choice because that's what businesses use."

      No, no, NO! That's exactly what any good middle or high school (or liberal arts college for that matter) should NOT do. That is the single biggest reason Microsoft has a monopoly. Training on specific apps makes for inflexible users. They should have a class which exposes people to as many platforms as they possibly can, and make people learn basic operations on all of them. Then teach basic word processing and spreadsheets, also making them do basic stuff on all of them. Teach the concepts, then make people learn the different implimentations. That way, when they see another one at work, they will adapt quickly. After a certain point a person learns how the logic of most computer interfaces works, and can figure out new variations fairly quickly. THAT is what schools should be teaching. Businesses can do specific training on applications/macros/whatever that the specific job uses, and people will be fast and flexible at it once they know how to learn new computer apps.

      Sorry about the rant, but that's a pet annoyance of mine.
  • Cloning (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnFluxx ( 413620 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:14PM (#5113520)
    "Having purchased 20 new, identical computers, it made sense to completely configure one machine and then clone the hard drive to the other 19 computers. However, Microsoft's EULA prevents a user from doing this, even if they have 20 copies of Windows."

    Surely this isn't correct... is it?
    Not even MS would do this - it makes no sense.
    • Re:Cloning (Score:3, Informative)

      by Libor Vanek ( 248963 )
      I'm afraid it's right. AFAIK even you must have one box per PC AND serial number from the one box must be installed (I dunno how's about some multi licence programs but they probably need more then 20 pcs...)
      • Re:Cloning (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cscx ( 541332 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @02:05PM (#5113801) Homepage
        I'm afraid you're wrong. As long as you have one *license* per machine, and you have the documentation, you use one serial number to install them all. I know this because I helped admin a Windows network back in HS, and I know for a fact we were in full license compliance.

        In fact (as someone else mentioned), Microsoft created a utility called sysprep that preps Windows 2000 machines for being cloned (see here [microsoft.com] - "The Windows 2000 System Preparation Tool (Sysprep) Version 1.1 enables administrators to prepare Windows 2000 System Images as part of an automated deployment.") It resets stuff like SIDs (which are used by Windows NT -- each machine should have a unique one on the network) so that after cloning, the boxes will eventually be unique as well.
        • I know this is the case for Win98 and Win2k, because we do it at work, too. Unfortunately, I don't think cloning hard drives or using Ghost is acceptable with Windows XP, even if a large pile of licenses or a site license is purchased. I'm not in charge of maintaining the XP boxen, but I haven't seen Ghost running lately. . .
    • by puto ( 533470 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @02:02PM (#5113786) Homepage
      No this is not correct. Even though some basn MS for anything people replied to it.

      From 2000 to XP you can prepare a hard drive. Use a tool called SYSPREP which prepares a drive for cloning.

      Once you clone the drive to x number of systems(as covered by your site licenses). The initial boot of the system conigures each one with a seperate SID. It also automates user responses. You can accept the EULA automatically.

      MS reccomends this for roll outs and even teaches you how to do it on their site.

      I have used this many times. Nothing against the EULA.

      See below link.

      http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/defaul t. asp?url=/technet/prodtechnol/windows2000pro/deploy /depopt/sysprep.asp

      I love Linux. And thing MS is evil in a lotta ways. But above all hate misinformation.

      Puto.
      • by div_2n ( 525075 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @02:25PM (#5113904)
        As opposed to just being able to do a bit for bit copy like you used to be able to do pre-W2K.

        I have used Sysprep and even RIS on W2K. It is NOT as easy or fast as doing straight "ghosting" of images. Problems can and do occur.

        Despite what any pro-MS people want to believe, licensing is just one more step that isn't necessary in what should be an otherwise simple process.

        IMHO, that is exactly why free software will succeed faster in most cases than proprietary. If you have an image with nothing but free software, you don't have to even stop to think about whether you have enough licenses to intall.

        I think RedHat is barking up the right tree by charging for access to their RH Network. Then if companies want to make it easier to update software, they pay per machine. If they don't really care about some workstation set up in a dark room for nothing but scanning and it isn't even hooked to the internet, do they really need to pay for support/updates?
    • However, Microsoft's EULA prevents a user from doing this, even if they have 20 copies of Windows.

      Surely this isn't correct... is it?

      I'm afraid it is, but companies/schools/everyone ignores this all the time with products like Norton Ghost [symantec.com] or PQDI [powerquest.com].

      With NT4 and 2K Ghost Walker (or some other tool) was also required to make sure your cloned machines had different sids (I'm not sure if that is still true with XP).

      At every company I've ever worked all desktop windows boxes are made from one of these cloning programs, so it can't be that illegal, right :)

  • by The Creator ( 4611 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:14PM (#5113525) Homepage Journal
    And kills the whole lab
  • It's about time. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Corvaith ( 538529 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:15PM (#5113528) Homepage
    Although I wish this would happen in more *public schools*.

    Instead of going with decent free software, it seems like the majority of public schools are so Windows-dependent that they'd rather keep Windows 95 until the end of time than switch. And that's just dumb. Sure, if the school system has enough to keep upgrading, it might be a little easier... but they never do.

    The primary reason usually lies somewhere along the lines of 'but we have this database and our database guy doesn't know how to do anything but Access!' Sigh.

    Windows has its merits. Continuing to use it when the only merits left are 'we're lazy and our tech people are ignorant'... that's not good.
    • they'd rather keep Windows 95 until the end of time
      Really? All the computers in my school's PC labs run Wondows 98.
      • You're doing better than some people, then.
    • QUOTE
      The primary reason usually lies somewhere along the lines of 'but we have this database and our database guy doesn't know how to do anything but Access!' Sigh.
      UNQUOTE

      This I suspect is a chicken or the egg situation. It's all about user-base, which is why this story made slashdot, for example. The kids learning on linux today might grow up tomorrow to be 'the database guy who knows postgres'.

      Also, there may be a more subtle reason why institutions keep older windows licenses active; annual depreciation is written off as expenses. I suppose if they canned the licenses, they'd a. lose this incentive b. have to write off what remained of the value of the licenses.

      If indeed the amortization period of f.ex. win9[58] exceeds [85] years...
    • There's a lot of "innovation" of this sort going on in Maine, especially in northern Maine. In some schools the shop class takes on construction and remodeling responsibilities for the school building. There's really no choice in the matter, because that area of the state is dirt poor.
  • Maine & Linux (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DigitalVolume ( 530975 ) <watanabe.danjiNO@SPAMmac.com> on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:16PM (#5113533) Homepage
    I'd like to see these schools get adequate support. I know that a few Linux distros are supported by their teams, but what happens in a core dump? What will Mrs. Teacher do when she drops back to a command line? What commands does she throw?

    Without proper training, this is bound to fail. I know all of the public schools in the state of Maine have iBooks for their 7th and 8th graders. It's been given quite a bit of praise under that program. While I'd LOVE to see Linux make it here, I don't think that it's ready yet.

    My $0.02
    • Re:Maine & Linux (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Quino ( 613400 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:31PM (#5113622)
      I'm not sure I get your point -- If there was a lack of technical expertise, the teacher would do the same thing that all people do now when their Windows boxen crashes, sigh (or curse!) and reboot the machine. In the case of total system collapse, and lacking a guru, I'd imagine they'd do what all Windows users are forced to do even now; reinstall or get someone who knows how to reinstall to reinstall for them.

      I guess I don't understand why this is a sticking point for Linux not being ready, nor why this is different from the Windows experience.

      Worst case scenario would be pulling the plug and restarting the machine (journaling file systems would help with this atrocity?).

      Am I missing something?

      (there are other sticking points, like maybe some websites that won't work w/o IE ... but I'm not convinced this is much of problem -- based of course on my personal experience, and mileage varies --)
      • Maybe, just maybe, someday everybody will be able to remember or at least find out where they saved their files when they later attempt to open them with a different program that starts the file open dialog in a different directory ???
    • What will Mrs. Teacher do when she drops back to a command line?
      Probably the same thing she does when she sees the BSOD.

      Wait a minute... that must mean that Windows isn't ready yet either.
    • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @02:48PM (#5114027)
      My girlfriend (yes ... even 40 year old L/Unix admins have real girlfriends) works as an admin assistant for the maintenance department of a local high school They use Windoze, and have more troubles than you can imagine. Now, to be fair, their admins are not the brightest pixels in the stream, but schools tend to not pay the most money, so they get what they pay for. Her boss has been waiting for a couple of weeks to get his 98 box fixed. From what I can tell, she knows more than the IT guys.

      That said, I taught a Linux class to several people a couple of months ago. Maine recently began a program to distribute laptops to all 7th graders. Since most schools had Apple systems, they were at a loss on how to integrate them.

      Enter Linux. In two days, I taught a group of Apple and Windows skilled folks Linux basics, stressing command line skills and how to use Google for support. I was blown away by how quickly they came up to speed. Since they already had basic computer skills, all they needed to do was learn a slightly different way to apply them. All but one were able to build Linux boxes with SAMBA and DHCP services that both the Apple and MS boxes could tap into. The one that couldn't refused to adapt and constantly whined about using the command line. (I know, almost all of this can be done with a GUI. But I wanted them to learn more than how to point, click, select the defaults.)

      So, I say hogwash to this failing. Those that don't want to learn, won't, you can't change that. Those that are able to take knowledge and apply it to new ideas will flourish.

      People that can learn and adapt will be the people most sought after in our society because they will move it forward.
  • by bafu ( 580052 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:17PM (#5113540)

    That was a pretty bold move considering his previous experience was very light on Linux. I found the bit about the common questions he was asked particularly interesting. I'm used to the assumptions about Windows and Linux that exist in an IT environment, but hadn't considered that education IT had it's own set of Linux/Windows shibboleths... ;-)

    Hm... speaking of shibboleths, I wonder how many posts it will take before someone seriously handwrings about it being a "Christian" academy adopting Linux... ;-)

  • by Pr0Hak ( 2504 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:20PM (#5113556)
    This seems to be a great market for Linux, especially with the downturn in the US economy. With software like the Linux Terminal Server Project [ltsp.org] the machines don't even have to have a disk in them. An old clunker with a fast network connection can easily serve the needs of a school computer lab.

    Linux also makes a lot of sense from a durability standpoint in primary/secondary education lab situations. The machines can be administered remotely, and can easily be kept in a consitent state. Administration becomes a breeze, keeping the Linux machines up and running can be a pretty much automated process. Try and do that with a Windows lab!

    The only problem I see with using Linux in these situations is finding trained personell to staff the labs. Good Linux people are still hard to find, especially with the lower-than-typical pay scale in primary/secondary education. I suppose this will change little by little as more users adopt Linux both in education and enterprise applications.
    • The only problem I see with using Linux in these situations is finding trained personell to staff the labs

      I don't really get this. It's a school, right? Why can the teachers not do what this guy did and teach themselves? I'd bet 99% of all Linux users ever had to learn themselves as opposed to going on a training course. Obviously they may have been helped by others, but I learnt it all myself and via IRC. Maybe for businesses where time is short, but schools are in no hurry.

      I get the feeling the "we need training" mentality is a bad one to have, if IT teachers can't learn new things themselves (or are scared to), why are they teaching IT?

  • Kids and computers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Boss, Pointy Haired ( 537010 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:20PM (#5113561)
    In 15-20 years time, Tech Support at companies is going to be SOOOO much easier.

    Currently, there are old farts that work at our place that take about 20 minutes to position the mouse cursor over the appropriate widget, and another 4 minutes to pluck up the courage to actually click on it.

    Last weekend I watched my 4 year old nephew as he fired up a PC, quickly and confidently navigated the START menu to his games folder, loaded a football game, and equally quickly and confidently maximimsed the window etc. What made it more interesting was that I then showed him Microsoft Paint. This was the first time he'd seen the program - but he immediately went for the Maximise button to make the application fill the screen.

    This means that he'd learnt the concept of the Maximise button - i.e. his understanding was deeper than simply pressing it as part of the start-up procedure of playing his football game.

    I guess I may just be underestimating the abilities of 4 year olds, but I tell you, when this generation leave school and get jobs tech support will be a thing of the past...
    • A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. now the tech support calls are 'my computer is broke, won't turn on...' (push the on button, or plug it in...) in the future the industry tech support calls will be 'after I reconfigured the CPU clock speed for better performance, the system won't boot, is that bad?' (this is in INDUSTRY, not the home user I'm referring about... not many accountants out there know how to overclock, thank god!)
      • Anecdote:

        When a professor calls with a computer problem, it's generally because the printer isn't turned on. Maybe coke got spilled in a keyboard.

        When a student calls with a computer problem, it's because he's gotten his computer infected with a virus or deleted KERN32.DLL while cleaning out his hard drive ("I never used it, so I assumed I didn't need it!").

    • when this generation leave school and get jobs tech support will be a thing of the past...

      In my opinion, I don't see tech support jobs being a thing of the past. Certainly - the overcharging of certain companies to solve problems might slowly fizzle away as home users would be knowledgeble with general maintanence problems, but in the office scene, there are so many variables like Exchange servers, Intranet servers, and a whole host of different systems integrated - this is where tech support of the future will still be needed.

      Tim

    • by dev_sda ( 533180 )
      guess I may just be underestimating the abilities of 4 year olds, but I tell you, when this generation leave school and get jobs tech support will be a thing of the past...


      Really? You say that because a four year old is displaying pattern recognition and functionality association? That strikes me as being extemely similar to seeing a four year old accurately insert shaped blocks into appropriately shaped holes on the first try and saying, "Welp, aint gonna need any carpenters when this generation grows up."

      Seriously, IT is about providing computer maintenance services for an enterpise that can't afford to have its staff sidetracked fixing their own computer problems. When you hire an individual to maintain your computer systems, what you are really buying is more productivity time for your employees.

      This linux in schools idea has a definite chance and the doubters who suggest that linux is ready for 'the real world,' as neat as it is, forget that these kids when they're done with their computer classes will not fear a command line, and will indeed have abstract computer knowledge that passes between OSs.

      Of course we'll see if Microsoft raises some sort of challenge to this as they hate losing school customers.
    • I didn't like literally mean Tech Support would be wiped out. Struth.
    • Ehhh, not everyone my age (12) is that good with computers. I recently had a friend ask me how to type roman numerals. I've also heard of people my age diagnosing a computer problem as "maybe you haven't downloaded the correct USB drivers for your hard drive".

      Trust me, as a member of the age group, many of us just run Kazaa (not Lite), ICQ, AIM, YIM and MSN (not trillian, just all 4 at once) with only 64MB of RAM.
      • You're either a very smart 12 year old or a very dumb adult/teen. I'm personally leaning towards the second of the two options here....
    • by Scarblac ( 122480 ) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Sunday January 19, 2003 @02:02PM (#5113785) Homepage

      I guess I may just be underestimating the abilities of 4 year olds, but I tell you, when this generation leave school and get jobs tech support will be a thing of the past...

      There will be a point where you won't be able to / won't want to keep up with all the new stuff, and just stick to the old stuff that you know. Then, that 4 year old who has grown up to be a 24 year old, has to give you tech support for whatever cyberspace/brainlink/Windows2023 we use then, and it'll be just as boring to him as it is to you now...

    • Not true!

      Son, we live in a world that has passwords! When a user forgets his password to email because, it is different from his password in the accounting application. Who is going to reset his password?

      You!??

      Face it son, you want tech support on that wall! You need tech support on that wall.

      But seriously, Tech support may morph into something more than basic user hand-holding. Just keep in mind a user with a little knowledge who thinks he is an expert, is far more dangerous than a user who is terrified of the computer. The ones who "think" they are computer experts are the ones who really keep tech support in business, since they are capable of inflicting the most damage.
  • by caluml ( 551744 ) <slashdot@nOspaM.spamgoeshere.calum.org> on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:21PM (#5113562) Homepage
    Diskless workstations, booting over NFS, loading Linux, and using RDesktop to connect to a Windows 2000 Terminal Server.

    Hey presto, everyone is happy.
    They save loads of money on harddisks, client OS's, but yet they keep their Windows users happy.

    Obviously, it'd be even better if they booted and ran X -query big.chunky.server, but you've got to walk before you can run.
  • they spent less than half of the money that other schools
    Well duh. I'm sure the majority of whats spent in a computer lab is on software and liscensing. I shudder to think what my school spent on 40 some liscenses to codewarrior. It sucks, they'll probably never be able to afford an upgrade to OSX. All those shiny (almost new) G4s going to waste.
  • If a school set up a linux lab, they'd actually have to get a computer teacher who knew what he/she was doing (maybe). Untill my HS Comp-Sci class (really just java), i thought schools only hired computer teachers to tell the kids how to open typing tutor and not throw the mouseballs around the classroom.
  • by AnyoneEB ( 574727 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:31PM (#5113619) Homepage
    Mirror:

    Moving the school computer lab to Linux was not an easy decision to make--but it was a beneficial one.

    As the bell rings to begin class at Greater Houlton Christian Academy, enthusiastic students sit down at their shiny, new computer workstations. In one corner, the red cabinet housing the server hums quietly as two stuffed penguins look on fondly from their perch. Other penguins keep watch from different locations as the students enter their user names and passwords to access their accounts. Ask a student who ``Tux'' is, and he or she will point to the large penguin painted on the front wall of the computer lab and say, ``He's the Linux penguin!'' About this time KDE has loaded, and young boys and girls are opening the application they need for class as easily as kicking a ball.

    Now for a little history. Greater Houlton Christian Academy (GHCA) is a private school and nonprofit organization in Maine. As such, it does not have the same access to funding as the public school system. As the computer science teacher and system administrator, this means I have to be creative about providing our students with computer technology while working with a tight budget. In the past I relied on area businesses and generous individuals to donate their used computers. While these donations were a great blessing to us, they were a temporary solution at best.

    Last year it became quite evident that we would need to replace our old, secondhand computers running Windows 95. The decision to move from donated computers to new computers was based on many factors, though our primary goal was to make sure our students had the best technology available for the enhancement of their educational experience. Therefore, this would be a software upgrade as well as a hardware upgrade. In fact, choosing the software was by far the bigger challenge.

    Interestingly enough, it was during this time that many schools in the western US were being audited by Microsoft concerning the school's use of Windows and Office software. I began to realize my ignorance concerning exactly how strict and inflexible the Microsoft EULA is. It was also during this time that Microsoft's new licensing initiative, called Software Assurance, was causing quite a stir in the tech headlines. As my research opened my eyes to the various limitations to proprietary software, I began to think that the answer for us might be found in open-source software.

    The decision to switch to an open-source platform for our new computer lab was not an easy one. My experience was with DOS and various versions of Windows and not with UNIX-compatible operating systems. I had experimented with Linux a few years earlier but found it somewhat difficult and incomplete. Because some time had passed, I decided to give Linux another try. Going with Mandrake's 8.0 distribution, I installed Linux at home to see if it could replace Windows in a desktop environment. To my amazement, I found Linux to be much more capable this time around. I was one step closer to making my decision to switch our computer lab to the Linux OS.

    Other factors went into the final decision to go with open-source software, not the least of which was cost. By purchasing bare-bones computer ``kits'', we were able to save considerable money on the hardware. Part of the savings in purchasing a bare-bones system is that the computer does not come with an operating system. We knew by then we would have to spend more money on software than we did on hardware if we went with Microsoft. Not only would I need to consider the initial purchase of the operating system and application software, but I would also need to factor in the costs of upgrading our software every couple of years. Needless to say, going with an open-source platform would save us considerable money now and in the future.

    Another key issue was flexibility. As many of you know, it takes time to install an operating system, customize it for the particular hardware it runs on and install the desired applications. Having purchased 20 new, identical computers, it made sense to completely configure one machine and then clone the hard drive to the other 19 computers. However, Microsoft's EULA prevents a user from doing this, even if they have 20 copies of Windows. Not only would Linux save me considerable time by allowing me to clone my configured PC, it also gave me great flexibility in the degree to which I could customize the OS for the hardware. By recompiling the kernel to take advantage of our specific hardware, I could fine-tune the OS to run at peak performance. Linux would even save us money in the cloning process, thanks to the dd command.

    A few aspects, however, made the decision to switch to Linux a difficult one. The smaller software base to choose from and the lack of mature drivers for our hardware were among the lesser obstacles. The major obstacle was my own lack of experience with the Linux OS. In fact, most of the money and time spent in the software upgrade of our computer lab was for a shelf full of books I had to purchase and read to really feel confident using and teaching Linux. It isn't always easy to teach an old dog new tricks, but I found the experience one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my IT career.

    Today our private school of over 170 students has one of the finest computer labs in Maine. We have 20 computers with Athlon 1600+ XP processors, 128MB of RAM, 20GB hard drives and all the accessories--3-D graphics, sound, 17" monitors and 100Mbps Ethernet networking. Our computers run Mandrake Linux 8.2 with KDE 3.0.2. What is most amazing is we upgraded our computer lab for under half the cost of what many neighboring schools paid for inferior equipment. Most of this savings was the result of switching to Linux.

    Our servers also run Linux. Using NFS, students can access their accounts from any computer in the lab. Student- and staff-owned files are backed up on a daily basis, so gone are the days of ``the computer lost my homework.'' Our proxy server runs Squid to help speed our wireless internet connection to 20 workstations, and we use proxy software along with iptables to provide firewall protection. A nice program called Dansguardian provides filtering to protect our children from pornography and other inappropriate content.

    Many of you may be asking at this point, ``How do you use Linux in teaching your students?'' GHCA is a K-12 school, and so we strive to offer some level of computer training for each grade. Kindergarten students, for example, can use such programs as Potato Guy to practice hand-eye coordination and familiarize themselves with how to use a mouse to manipulate objects on the computer screen. Elementary and secondary teachers integrate the computer lab into their curriculum by using the computer for research, multimedia enhancements or even something simple as coloring digital pictures.

    Starting with grade seven, education in computer science takes a more formal approach. Seventh graders are taught keyboarding skills using programs such as KTouch and TuxTyping. Grade-eight students are taught the basics of programming with the kate editor and yabasic interpreter. It is during this class that students gain a better understanding of how computers process instructions.

    Computer Fundamentals is a one-credit course that introduces the ninth-grade student to ``how a computer works'' and ``how to work a computer''. During the second semester, students learn about the purpose and use of the operating system and various applications, such as word processors, spreadsheets and web browsers. Because our computers run Linux, it is the Linux OS and open-source software that students learn in this class. Being sensitive to the fact that Microsoft currently dominates the PC market in corporate America, I do spend time discussing the similarities and differences between Linux and Windows.

    Tenth- through twelfth-grade students can chose from a variety of computer electives, including how to upgrade and repair computers, web site design, advanced programming and even an upcoming course in robotics. In making the switch to Linux, I easily found all the tools needed to teach these courses using open-source software. In many cases, the open-source software we now use is superior to the proprietary software originally donated to us.

    This is our first year with our new computer lab, and I am very pleased with how it is progressing. One of the most pleasing experiences I am having as a system administrator of a Linux-based lab is the actual ease of administration. Once I set something up in Linux, I rarely need to worry about it again. This was not the case with Windows. Last year we were constantly suffering from system crashes, frozen servers, strange bugs and the infamous ``blue screen of death''. Needless to say, it was a frustrating situation for many students. While Linux is not bug-free, it has been a far more stable operating system for both our workstations and servers. Linux also has shown itself to be a much more versatile operating system to administer in a network environment. My job is more pleasurable thanks to our switch to Linux.

    As a teacher of computer science, I am finding this year a fascinating test for Linux. Very few of our students, parents or teachers knew what Linux was before this year. I have actually found this to be a great advantage in teaching computers. In the past, I have found students to be disinterested in learning about the personal computer running Windows, because it is something most of them grew up with at home. This lack of interest made it more difficult to teach the more-advanced aspects of the operating system. However, Linux is something completely new, different and unexplored. Instead of being intimidated by the change, as many adults might be, young people are excited to explore the ``uncharted territory''. This opens a door for me as a teacher, allowing me to educate eager minds in the more-advanced aspects of computer operating systems and software. In fact, it only took two weeks until students began to ask me, ``Where can I get Linux?''

    People sometimes ask me, ``Is teaching our students Linux preparing them for the workplace?'' This question is based on the fact that Microsoft is the current dominating presence in operating systems and office software. It is a question I have thought over a long time, and the answer I always come up with is, ``Yes, most definitely.'' The basic principles of any type of operating system, office application or other similarly grouped software are the same. A student who becomes proficient in Linux will not find themselves lost in a Windows environment. I have found Linux to be the more advanced of the two operating systems, yet our students are very quickly and easily learning it. The process of copying a file or formatting a paragraph is not so different between one operating system and the other. The important thing is we are able to offer the latest in hardware and software tools to train our students in these fundamental principles--something we could not do if we went with proprietary software.

    Another question that may be even more important to ask is, ``What is the future of Linux?'' When our students graduate a few years from now, will they enter a Microsoft-dominated workplace or will the tide have changed? Even in our small New England town of Houlton, Maine, businesses are beginning to look to Linux as an alternative to proprietary operating systems. These businesses will need qualified personnel familiar with the Linux operating system and open-source applications. Greater Houlton Christian Academy will be graduating young men and women who will be able to meet that need, a claim not many schools in our nation can currently make. In fact, some of our students may go on to write the future applications for Linux, giving back to the community that helped them during their school years.

    For us, switching to open-source software running on the Linux operating system has been the right choice, allowing us to provide our students with modern equipment and software for a fraction of the cost of a computer lab running proprietary software. If Linux continues to grow in popularity and gain a foothold in the workplace, we will look back at our choice as one of the most important decisions we've ever made.

    __________

    The problem with using Linux is that the children won't learn how to use Windows, which is what most people use, but they will probably have Windows at home anyways. Maybe they'll even try Linux at home! :)
  • Has anyone looked at what educational programs work under wine?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Funny you should bring this up.

      This is the main problem I'm facing right now.
      I am the technical guy on my kid's school board(8 people plus the principal).
      This is a private k-8 school with about 300 students.

      Linux completely makes sense for this school barring one thing. Educational software. Among other pieces they have Reader Rabbit(tm) and HyperStudio. Neither of which I have been able to emulate in Linux.

      What we really need now is an organization to push the importance of having this software ported to Linux. As people start to realize that school's techonology budgets should go towards hardware instead of Microsoft licenses, Linux is becoming more and more important.

      OpenOffice.org is perfect for an office suite, but these other eductional software pieces really need to be ported.

      Many of these programs are DOS-based or even win32 + quicktime based(yuck). They are flashy noisy programs that younger kids really seem to like.

      The use SDL [libsdl.org] would make a lot more sense as a foundation for educational software. Bill Kendrick's Tuxpaint is one example of a fun little program that is cross-platform using SDL.

      If there's already an organization out there pushing Linux educational software, I haven't heard of it.
      It doesn't have have to be free as in beer or speech, but It should be cross-platform from the get go.
      • I'm facing the same problems. I'm currently trying to see how to get the various education programs to work under wine. I'm hoping I won't have to fix too much..

        Keep in touch and I'll keep you up to date on what I get working (if any - heh)
    • Has anyone looked at what educational programs work under wine?

      They don't. They run under KDE [kde.com].
  • by kravlor ( 597242 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:35PM (#5113644) Homepage
    "... many schools in the western US were being audited by Microsoft concerning the school's use of Windows and Office software..."

    After working in a public school district, the fear of Microsoft had certainly struck us. We had an entire room devoted to holding the "Welcome to Windows" manuals, licenses, and EULA's, and were hoping never to get that dreaded audit.

    While we were unable to make the switch to Linux while I was working at the district (we had entered into contracts beta-testing new Windows-based attendance/grading software), it certainly struck me as the way to go.

    In addition, the quality general computer instruction available at this school is something to strive for. I think that students are quite capable of utilizing Linux efficiently, especially if they are familiarized with it early on.

  • by mrsam ( 12205 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @01:38PM (#5113660) Homepage
    While reading the story, and looking at the photo which shows a bunch of fifth graders sitting behinds KDE workstations, with a huge Tux poster in the background, I had another idea how our government can save money.

    As we all know, nuclear tests have been banned for quite some time now. And government research labs all over the fruited plain spend enormous amounts of money on supercomputers that simulate nuclear explosions.

    Well, it should be much cheaper just to set up a bunch of cheap earthquake monitors in the northwest US; have someone print that picture from the story; mail it to Steve Ballmer's house; and carefully watch the monitors for the next couple of days.

    Seriously, if that article ever makes its way over to Redmond HQ, it's not going to get a warm reception. Given what I've observed about Microsoft's mentality, just the photo itself is good enough for a few ulcers. Seriously speaking, this is not a cheap yuck. That small picture clearly shows the biggest threat to the monopoly that Microsoft has spent the last decade building up. Stuff like this has to be a pepto-bismol moment for the MS bigwigs that read it.

  • Since their Public School System provided [apple.com] iBooks to every 7th and 8th grade teachers and students.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 19, 2003 @02:14PM (#5113846)
    About 500 years ago, a guy named Martin Luther decided to translate the Bible into German, thus was born the Protestant revolution. The point being, that before this, if you were German and could not read Latin, you had to have a priest translate the words of God AKA the Bible.

    A Brit named William Tyndale had the same idea, he printed 50 copies of the
    Bible *in English*, the establishment was that shocked at this idea, they burnt
    him at the stake. Probably because they thought the idea of the common people
    having direct access to the 'holy writ' would lead to them thinking for
    themselves and having dangerous ideas.

    How like the current debate between open source and closed source this all
    sounds. Just substitute operating system for Bible, money for God, the stock
    market for the Holy Roman Empire and Bill Gates as the Pope and it all lines up
    • How like the current debate between open source and closed source this all sounds. Just substitute operating system for Bible, money for God, the stock market for the Holy Roman Empire and Bill Gates as the Pope and it all lines up.

      And Palladium would be the Inquisition?

  • ...got better hardware to boot.

    Does this mean that low end hardware won't boot at that school?
  • by Veteran ( 203989 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @02:53PM (#5114055)
    Microsoft hopes that schools will clone their operating systems on multiple machines for which they have individual licenses. They then hope that over time the schools will missplace those licenses so that they can't be found quickly when Microsoft's licensing goons show up down the road.

    Microsoft makes a lot of money off of schools and governments with this ploy. The truth is that very few organizations can keep track of that information (the physical licenses) over a long period of time. If nothing else it tends to get lost in the mounds of paperwork that any organization produces. Lets see; did we file that under computers, licenses, software, Microsoft, EULA etc.

    I seriously doubt that the expenses of dealing with BSA thugs and having to pay multiple times for the same software, gets figured into the total cost of ownership figures that Microsoft touts.

    Schools could save even more money with Linux by taking advantage of the multi-user ability of Linux; convert old PC's into diskless X-terminals and have a few central machines running Linux for the whole school. Not only can the cost of the hardware go way down, but the system admin expenses can shrink enormously.
    • I think your are right in your assessment.

      Idea:

      Why make MS custodian of the Licenses. Make that a requirement during negotiation. Second the information should be available via web so you can make a hardcopy at the schools discretion. Thirdly this would allow the Independant schools district to get an overview on what they have and what they spend.

      If MS does not want to do this then make the dicision to phase MS out over a certain number of years and turn the Licensing tracking over to Apple or a Linux Services company that provides in education support.

      If such a services company does not exist, then lets make one.

  • I work with a school district in Central Washington that has networked the entire district (only three schools really) using Linux as the infrastructure (routers, mail, proxies and the like) and Winblows and Macs for the end (l)users. This mix has resulted in a huge increase in the number of computers supportable in the district and given students the skills employers expect. However my personal opinion is anyone who can use OpenOffice or KOffice would be able to learn MSOffice in just a few hours.
  • by pnelson ( 411151 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @05:11PM (#5114710) Homepage
    This school probably had to build their own PCs as you can't buy a Linux based PC for schools today. PLEASE tell me I'm wrong but if so it won't be because IMB, Dell or Gateway will do it. Walmart is now the leading option. Does anyone else think this strange?

    We had to build our own as do most schools using Linux. http://k12ltsp.org/rhs_casestudy.html [k12ltsp.org]

    When will large vendors realize that there is a market in K12 for Linux? EVERY install I see is the result of one or two hard working teachers, often supported by local LUGs working to save $$$ and provide technology to classrooms.

    It's great to see this but these teachers are the exception not the norm.

  • LTSP!! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tyreth ( 523822 ) on Sunday January 19, 2003 @09:52PM (#5116086)
    Why not use LTSP? It saves a great deal on admin work, and provides greater power and flexibility. Still, I am very impressed by this effort for someone not familiar with Linux - to even go so far as implementing it. Well done.

    I do find the following humorous:
    I had experimented with Linux a few years earlier but found it somewhat difficult and incomplete. Because some time had passed, I decided to give Linux another try. Going with Mandrake's 8.0 distribution, I installed Linux at home to see if it could replace Windows in a desktop environment. To my amazement, I found Linux to be much more capable this time around. I was one step closer to making my decision to switch our computer lab to the Linux OS.

    Yes, it's quite amazing how software changes over the years!

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