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Education

Linux in High School Labs 427

lexbaby writes "The Salt Lake Tribune has a story about how Logan High School (Logan, Utah) is using Linux in their student programming lab. The main use is for robotics. There is the old discussion about if Linux is truly cheaper to operate in the long run. Is Linux a legitimate solution to school districts facing a financial crunch?" I hope some of the students involved post pictures of the robots they're building in class.
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Linux in High School Labs

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  • by Genghis Troll ( 158585 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:03PM (#5373721) Homepage Journal
    "We've been talking about doing this for some time, so we just decided to drive off the cliff."
  • Its about time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CONTROL_ALT_F4 ( 585063 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:04PM (#5373731)
    Linux will have a much better corporate future if tomorrows business execs actually learn how to use it.

    It also warms my heart to see fewer tax payer dollars going into Microsoft's pocket.

    • Linux will have a much better corporate future if tomorrows business execs actually learn how to use it.

      Nonsense. That was Apple's plan with having Apple ][s and Macs in all the schools. The plan didn't work too well.
      • Re:Its about time (Score:5, Insightful)

        by KJE ( 640748 ) <ken@kje.ca> on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:31PM (#5374063) Homepage
        I don't know if you can draw that parallel between Linux and Apple, they're two different entities. As a company Apple might have tried to get their computers into primary and high schools, but what are kids doing with computers at that age? Mostly drawing pictures, writing essays, making posters, and maybe a little bit of programming. Extend those uses out a couple of years, and you see that Apple computer is competitive in the desktop publishing and artwork worlds. This is not to say that Apple didn't shit the bed in terms of marketing itself (and introducing marketable items) in the late 80's and early 90's. But for you to say that it's nonsense that linux wont be better off if today's highschool kids are using it, just because of Apple's faults, is a bit off.
      • Re:Its about time (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WatertonMan ( 550706 )
        The problem is that if you want business people to use your computers then you need to get business departments in universities using it. Getting kids in even high school using your computer is rather pointless. They aren't really learning much beyond generics. At best you might inspired some hackers, but Apple intentionally never went after that market. That and the dominance of Linux in the CS and Engineering departments is what enabled Linux to get into the back office at a lot of businesses.

        So Apple had the right idea. They just aimed it at the wrong audience. I'm not convinced that the lower education market is that useful. The margins are low and you are dealing with a market that doesn't count that much. At best you might get some kids to convince their parents to buy the trendy computer.

        Now if Apple can get OSX into more departments in colleges, then I'd start to think they are accomplishing something. With effectively doing everything Linux can do and more, that is very doable. The problem is the hardware. So, as with everyone else, we're all crossing fingers for the 970.

    • Re:Its about time (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pieroxy ( 222434 )
      Linux will have a much better corporate future if tomorrows business execs actually learn how to use it.

      Nonsense. They just barely know how to use windows, and please don't tell me that Linux is as easy to use as windows (for someone that doesn't have a background in CS at least).

      The factor that makes executives buy or deploy a certain OS is certainly not its usability! I can tell you they don't care about that *at all*.
  • by xchino ( 591175 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:05PM (#5373741)
    I thought M$ admitted that they couldn't compete with the Linux's TCO? They switched the page claiming a lower cost with a page outlining the benefits of windows over linux.
    • by Politburo ( 640618 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @07:03PM (#5374379)
      If Microsoft admits it, is that proof? So in cases where Microsoft speaks against Microsoft, their word is absolutely correct, but when Microsoft speaks for Microsoft, nothing can be trusted?
      • > So in cases where Microsoft speaks against Microsoft,
        > their word is absolutely correct, but when Microsoft speaks for Microsoft,
        > nothing can be trusted?

        you got it... When the defendent admits a crime the jury almost certainly will believe it, if he denies it this is not the case.
    • Sometimes Linux is "proven" to have higher TCO, sometimes Windows.
      It mostly comes down to who ordered the research. =)

      But one of the reasons for Linux to have a high TCO even though it is free is that the avarage person knows *a lot* less about Linux/Unix than Windows.
      If you start using Linux at schools, you'll have a whole generation of people who suddenly have a lot of experiance in Linux.
      That's why most smart corporations give free or dirt cheap licences to universities and colleges.
      If all new engineers are already trained at a certain developing tool, it makes sense to buy a licence of that when hireing new engineers.
      Same thing will apply here. If lots of people are used to using Linux as a platform, they will probably *use* Linux as a platform when starting a new project.
  • granted I graduated a couple years ago, but I came from a decently funded district...

    We had a single person that took care of ALL the computers at all the schools. He was a Mac person and most of the computers were Macs (except the libraries which had IBMs and in my senior year I believe they replaced all the Mac Classics w/IBMs)

    So if a single person is going to be administering these systems anyway, I don't see how it could be more expensive in the long run (considering that there has to be at least one administrator/staff member that knows Linux).

    It's going to be cheaper to share Mac/Windows files, it's going to be cheaper for hardware, and software costs are going to go down (as far as Windows is concerned).

    Apple made a big footprint in schools, why not Linux?
    • Contrary to what you might think, It'd be easier to admin such a situation. If you allow for centralized file storage on a large file server, and then remotely boot images of Linux in a terminal server type situation, bugfixes would be cake. Simply update the bootp image and force a reboot of all machines, fixed. This of course assumes consistent hardware, but this type of situation calls for little to no client end hardware so the boxes can be cheap.
      • This setup makes administration of software/network related issues a breeze. This is the model School District 73 in Kamloops, BC, Canada is using. 37 elementary school labs running over 1500 desktops, all running Linux. Most of the hardware was donated from the governement or purchased used via Computers for Schools.

        Remote administration via SSH and VNC/remote X is a snap, and most problems are solved interactively with the teacher in the school, reducing downtime. Updates are a matter of scripted SSH sessions afterhours.

        The only downside is that it is all done using Linux. But, that's a personal bias, as I find Linux to be horribly disorganised, disfunctional, and a royal pain to work with compared to FreeBSD. That's a discussion for another time, though. :)

        The students all love the system, the administration loves the system, the software techs like the system more and more as they use it, and the teachers love it as well. And it does save money in the long run: $10-20,000 in Novell licenses, $10-20,000 in MS Licenses, per year. And the time savings are enormous.
    • Apple made a big footprint in schools, why not Linux?

      if i recall correctly, apple made massive donations to educational institutions in the mid-late 80's as a buisness strategy. the idea was to get the elementary school kids used to the apple machines so they would buy them when they were older.

      since linux is an os and not an architecture, 'linux' can not be given to schools in the same way. linux is a free os (assuming no professional support), but the machines to run it on are not free. and even if an oem donated machines to a school, chances are they would be shipped with windows.
      • since linux is an os and not an architecture, 'linux' can not be given to schools in the same way. linux is a free os (assuming no professional support), but the machines to run it on are not free. and even if an oem donated machines to a school, chances are they would be shipped with windows.

        This does, however, give them the chance to recycle some of their older boxes, since Linux generally requires less hardware to do similar tasks. The machines that were on win95 which is no longer supported (pentium 75-266) will run just fine with linux, especially if mainly terminals, and now you have another small unix lab worth of computers. Or you can buy a few less new computers with windows. Or you can buy more new computers with linux, since you just saved a wad on licensing.

        Now, just imagine a Beowulf of high schools...

        (sorry, just couldn't pass that up)
        • The machines that were on win95 which is no longer supported (pentium 75-266) will run just fine with linux, especially if mainly terminals, and now you have another small unix lab worth of computers.


          There are lots of those old machines around, but it's not an idea that I have seen take hold.

          My uncle-in-law is pastor at a church that has an associated K-12 school, and I am thinking of proposing to set them up with a Linux or BSD computer lab. There's a auction site (a 'real world' auction site with real people bidding, etc.) that I go to weekly, and not long ago there were pallet lots of Dell machines, about 50 per pallet, and they went for $120 per pallet. I scarfed up the two good machines out of the bunch (a dual PPRO-200 box and an IBM RS/6000 workstation) for $40 for the pair. I am not sure what the salvage guy buying the rest of them had in mind, but they sure went cheap.
  • How long will it be before they get audited by Microsoft? Is this even legal anymore?

    Forrealthough, I applaud this effort. Linux is excellent for learning. Anything which can be torn down completely and put together by its pieces is good to show how such a complex thing can be constructed. Sometimes the whole picture is too bid to grasp, but understanding just 1 module is not.

    goodlookinout.
    • How long will it be before they get audited by Microsoft? Is this even legal anymore?

      It's already happened:

      "Microsoft had us do an audit last year that took two weeks out of my schedule," Rugg said. "That's two week's work of taxpayers' money to satisfy Microsoft."

      I wonder how long they've been using Linux. The timing of the audit is suspicious, unless it was the audit that got him to switch. (But knowing how long it takes to get grants, I doubt it.)

  • Linux in schools (Score:5, Informative)

    by absurdhero ( 614828 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:06PM (#5373760) Homepage
    We setup linux in one of our labs using old computers that otherwise were useless. Using ltsp [ltsp.org], we managed to make usable workstations for word processing and internet access. Based on our experience, linux definitely was cheaper than the expensive windows terminals and citrix licenses.
    • Re:Linux in schools (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Xibby ( 232218 )
      Too bad most school districts don't even know about windows terminal services and/or Citrix in the first place, and invest in hundreds of workstations that will be in use for 5+ years. Too bad that Linux and UNIX in general has fallen off the radar of K-12 education.

      Too bad that those making the decisions on equipment are usually school board members who only know what their IT managers give them at work and what they have at home.

      So you end up with the School Board deciding that Windows 98 is the current industry standard, and end up with a bunch of impossible to manage and totally insecure windows machines that studets will hack, install games, and generally make unusable and unstable.

      Oh, and did I mention that anyone working IT at a public school is likely underpaid, or has training that warrents that salery anyway?

      • Times are changing, however. There are several school district in BC, Canada that are moving toward an X Terminal setup in school computer labs. For instance, SD73 has implemented 37 Linux labs in elementary schools, and is piloting a CAD lab in a secondary.

        There are also school district in Oregan which are moving Linux into secondary school labs.

        Sure, these aren't super-huge districts in super-huge cities, but the movement has begun.

        Now, if only we could convince them all to drop Linux in favour of FreeBSD. Then we'd see the administration costs drop even further as sysadmins no longer have to fight dependency-hell, illogical filesystem, incompatibilities amongst distros, and all the other "niceties" that come with Linux. :)
    • by Lechter ( 205925 )

      This is coming a bit late to the discussion, but it would be great if someone were to tailor a distro or even provide tools to make a distro specifically towards repeatable installs in a lab environment. Something like that would greatly lower the barriers to entry for school labs. Especially if it were easy enough to update/reinstall machines when one of the students inevitablly roots or screws one of them up. After all most computer lab machines have duplicate setups and simply allow users to log in with a drive mapped, and maybe an open temporary directory. If setting this up could be made simple, I'm sure lots of schools would love to switch, especially when you consider the lower specs needed to run a basic linux machine.

  • Lucky people (Score:3, Informative)

    by RighteousFunby ( 649763 ) <joe@@@vjoebaldwin...co...uk> on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:06PM (#5373764) Homepage
    My school uses nothing but Win2K. It takes 5 minutes to log in, and all is disjointed. The sad thing is that they have just lost their last Linux server, which says a lot.
    • Re:Lucky people (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Politburo ( 640618 )
      The sad thing is that they have just lost their last Linux server, which says a lot.

      If this says so much, why don't you give us an example of what it "says"

      Furthermore, as others have noted, a 5 minute logon time has nothing to do with Win2k and is all about a poorly maintained system, which will ruin any OS.
  • by $$$$$exyGal ( 638164 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:07PM (#5373776) Homepage Journal
    First:

    "Microsoft had us do an audit last year that took two weeks out of my schedule," Rugg said. "That's two week's work of taxpayers' money to satisfy Microsoft."

    Then:

    Weeks said more experiments will have to be done before Linux could be considered for schoolwide use.

    Too bad they didn't do such rigorous "experiments" before they decided to go with Microsoft. If they had, then the Microsoft audit wouldn't have been such a surprise.

    --sex [slashdot.org]

    • Yeah, what are these experiments? Schoolwide use... is that like enterprise class software? I bet these "experiments" are for whomever said they could implement it to learn how to install RedHat and maybe connect to the internal network. I could very easily swap out the network of most schools with Linux hardware and software providing almost all services they current have in less than a month. I could probably do it in two weeks. And I'm but one linux admin.

      Why does it take people so long to figure these things out?
  • Yes yes yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nocomment ( 239368 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:07PM (#5373777) Homepage Journal
    This question comes up all the time. Is Linux a viable solution to use for $_?

    The answer is always yes. It's a viable alternative for database servers, for number crunching, for scanning the skies for aliens, to calculating water flow, and yes for high school programming labs. IN fact definatelly for high school programming labs. I think anyone who start programming on any *nix machine, will have a better understanding of how to prgram on windoze if they need to anyway.
  • YES!!! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Limburgher ( 523006 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:07PM (#5373778) Homepage Journal
    Also check out The Linux Terminal Server Project K-12, a cool project devoted to this sort of thing.
  • Linux in labs (Score:5, Informative)

    by snack-a-lot ( 443111 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:08PM (#5373782)
    We use Linux in the robots labs at my University's CS department. Because it's robotics we're talking about here, the cost savings aren't significant as the hardware is much more expensive than the software, ratio-wise. The benefit of using Linux is its 'hackability'.
    • Word to this. We use it at my college for Operating Systems classes, because they do a lot of work with filesystems (FAT12, ironically enough), and programming in linux lets you really get down and dirty with the hardware and rudimentary parts of an OS.

      Also, later on in the course, they do some work with boot sectors and such, so it's nice to have a fast debian mirror on an ftp server, so when you screw your workstation up, just drop a floppy in the drive, come back in about 20 minutes, and it's good to go (yes, I know ghost would be easier but we lost our copy of that somewhere).
  • by Space Coyote ( 413320 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:09PM (#5373794) Homepage
    I see a problem with the corporate linux vendors being too dependent on selling support. Would that make them hesitant to develop a turnkey network distribution that could be set up to keep a school humming with minimal effort?

    It will probably take a specialized, targeted distro to really break the Microsoft monopoly in schools.

    The way you used to be able to set up a simple AppleTalk network should be the goal for a modern classroom OS.
  • by Fammy2000 ( 612663 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:09PM (#5373796) Homepage
    When I was in high school we programmed on MS-DOS (both ways in the snow!)

    Some command-line adventures would be good for kids these days.
    • When I was in high school we programmed on MS-DOS (both ways in the snow!)

      Well, when I was in school, we didn't even have computers. Either way, even without snow. I had a VIC-20 at home, which impressed the chess club and not much of anybody else.

      When I went to college, I took with me an Amstrad 8088. w00t. I once wrote a term paper using 'copy con lpt1'. My Hercules monochrome monitor broke.

      Some command-line adventures would be good for kids these days.

      Agreed. The hot summers in Phoenix plus a new cassette drive for the VIC-20 gave me the wherewithal to write an asteroids-ish game in BASIC at age 14. Many months of hunched over typey typey made me what I am today: a 75 WPM hunt-and-peck typist with strange notions about programming. Kids these days should be so lucky.

      -B

  • Absolutely (Score:2, Insightful)

    The hundreds of thousands (millions?) of dollars that public schools pay to license MS software could be put to better use. Linux can enable this.

    Then there are the benefits of training tomorrow's tech workers in an open software environment...
  • with all of the budget cuts, why wouldn't system administrators for school districts not be intrested in putting linux on computer networks?

    Now obviously there are some compatability issues(microsoft office, etc). But in my area.. a grand total of zero schools go to the alternative route of using linux..
    • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara,hudson&barbara-hudson,com> on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:38PM (#5374143) Journal
      What I've found is that the people "in charge" really don't have much of a clue. They know how to turn a computer on, how to type with 2 fingers, and how to hit the "save" icon -- but then they can't find where they've saved their file to.

      This is unfortunate, but all too common. Mind you, there are side-effects that are "beneficial". I was once asked to hack into an administrative box because someone had forgotten their password, and it was the weekend, yadda, yadda. Took me 3 guesses, no password cracking program ... full access to all accounts, downloads, lesson plans, mail, etc.

      Yep, their password system was as clueless as they were :-) That's why they don't change - most of them simply aren't capable of investing the time in learning something new, when they can "get by" with what they know.

      Before I get modded down as flaming, this is the same sort of situation as last week, when people were posting about that "we're going to get a bunch of developers together to code a game, and if it sells, we'll all make money" crap. It's happened (more often than I would like) that people have approached me with their "great idea that will make us a lot of money - it just needs to be coded".

      When I offer to teach them how to code for free rather than waste my time developing their wet-dream financial fantasy , most go "what the ..." They don't want to invest the time required, either.

      In summary, schools won't switch to Linux because too many people in the school system are just putting in their time, w/o any real zeal for what they do. This is a real shame.

  • Good Start (Score:5, Informative)

    by j_kenpo ( 571930 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:10PM (#5373807)
    I think this is a great step towards educating technology students about platforms other than Windows. I think its even more interesting that they are doing robotics in high school. We had a similar program at the high school I went to where we did all sorts of stuff with electronics from robots to electronic repair. The courses counted towards credit with the local university. The program eventually grew to groom students into network engineers working on getting them prepped and ready for their Cisco certifications (maybe a few others at this point). Its good to see that with all the criticism of public schools, that some are still scrapping together enough money to do some interesting projects.
  • License Costs (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lugae ( 88858 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:10PM (#5373808) Homepage
    When I was in high school the programming that we did was all done by telnetting into a Linux box and using GCC. This proved to be cheaper for the school district in terms of licenses for compilers (zero cost). This way we were able to keep the costs for computer science courses separate from the costs for maintaining a computer lab. Also, using Linux (and before that some form of UNIX) for computer science put me lightyears ahead of those who had never touched the command line in introductory college CS courses.
  • Duh (Score:4, Informative)

    by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:11PM (#5373814) Journal
    The TCO in this environment should be far lower then a Microsoft equivalent. The operating system is free, there are no licenses, and no fees for the purchase of the renewal of licenses for Windows based development software. The support overhead should be non-existant, as the school district IT staff should just set them all up as terminals, or can have images handy for quick ghosting (if needs be).
    • Re:Duh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sfgoth ( 102423 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @07:11PM (#5374462) Homepage Journal
      The support overhead should be non-existant, as the school district IT staff should just set them all up as terminals, or can have images handy for quick ghosting (if needs be).

      So the sysadmin that they don't have should be doing all this work (for free?)

      Since when did TCO stop including the cost of deployment and support?
  • Unfortunatly there are some "programming" or computer teachers that can barely handle windows. I think a student led linux movement probably has more of a chance of getting anywhere. We all know the average kid can handle computers better than the average adult. Can't figure out how to get yoru VCR to stop flashing "12:00"? Give your kid the remote and stand back...
  • Yes of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kasperd ( 592156 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:12PM (#5373828) Homepage Journal
    Is Linux a legitimate solution to school districts facing a financial crunch?

    Yes of course it is. Some people says students should be tought to use the software being used in the "real life". Why? If the students learn to acomplish the same task with cheaper software, how could that be bad?

    But much rather than sticking with one choice of software, I'd see students trying a few different systems, so they can learn what are the differences and similarities between them, and they can learn how to learn using a new system, and they can make up their own minds about what they like and dislike. Because you cannot teach them how to use the software they are going to find themselves with in a few years, but you can theach them how to learn.

    So let them try Linux, Unix, Windows, BSD, OSX, and let them find the best for each task.
    • So let them try Linux, Unix, Windows, BSD, OSX, and let them find the best for each task.

      Kind of off topic, I know, but still; My high school IT book described the functions of an os and went on saying "Examples of operating system are Windows 95, Windows 2000 and Windows NT".

      I never could decide if that was ignorance, sensorship or propaganda. Or all of the above.

    • And, of course, Linux isn't being used anywhere in "real life."

      I wonder who people who say such things think are tending all the Apache servers running on Linux?

      One of the so called reasons for Windows having a lower TCO is because of the *shortage* of trained personel, who can thus demand higher wages.

      It looks to me as if MS is arguing that schools should be staying up all night training students in the use of Linux, or they are doing them a public disservice by training them for lower paying jobs in a glutted market.

      But maybe that's just me.

      KFG
  • by Aliencow ( 653119 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:13PM (#5373844) Homepage Journal
    The GHCA (Greater Houlton Christian Academy) has a nice Linux based lab too. They say they saved a lot of money doing it this way, which seems pretty obvious... Their webpage is here [agaweb.com]
    • You might also want to see Mike Surran's article in Linux Journel, Linux from Kindergarten to High School [linuxjournal.com]. It is a good read about the specifics of his journey in switching over to Linux. He brings up some good points in the article, for example he talks about how he had to buy a whole bunch of Linux books to prep himself for the switch. That is one of the hurdles of implementing Linux, learning how to use it. But of course that can be said about any new solution. Anyone know if Redhat or others have support options for schools? -Jonathan Hughes
  • by d00dman ( 653178 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:13PM (#5373848)
    People should quit spending so much time talking about how low cost Linux is to use. If thats all that mattered, people whould be using it exclusively, wouldnt they? especially in schools where money is always tight. Its this type of news which is holding the Linux and other free UNIX vairants back by making them look "cheap". There are too many people who believe you get what you pay for. What really matters is how a platform can make your life easier.
    • There will always be people willing and able to pay $500 for a garden spade.

      Since this is the case there will always be people willing to make a good living by selling it to them.

      The failure is in the perception of the people, not the $20 spade.

      Cost *is* a valid feature to consider. People educated in the idea of *value* can inherently make better choices for themselves and for whomever they are responsible for/to.

      Where do we educate people?

      AHA!

      KFG
      • There will always be people willing and able to pay $500 for a garden spade.

        True. The amazing thing is that the person who bought the $500 spade will find a way to justify the cost, even though it and the $20 spade shovel the same shit the same way. ;-)

        Soko
  • by dracken ( 453199 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:14PM (#5373857) Homepage
    There is the old discussion about if Linux is truly cheaper to operate in the long run. Is Linux a legitimate solution to school districts facing a financial crunch?

    I dont know about schools in US. In India, an entire undergraduate programming intro lab (where we were taught Unix, C, C++, Shell Scripting and Perl) were 30-40 386 boxen used as dumb terminals for a behemoth running Linux. Contrary to what you would believe the machine was fast enough to support 35 students programming (in text mode) vi, emacs and running gcc.

    The lab was cheap, the 386 boxen had a new lease of life we ended up being great C, C++ programmers. More importantly, learned to love Unix. Was Linux cheap for introducing C, C++, Perl and Unix ? Surely !
    • And yet in America all we seem to teach our children is to buy more than you need to learn something they don't (6 months to learn how to use word?!?) Even if Linux is used there still needs to be a change to teach children something rather than babysit them.

      [note: general statement meant to be generally insightful as *MOST, NOT ALL* American public schools follow this general statement, just as I am sure some Indian schools waste money and time on overpowered machines teaching word]
  • by domninus.DDR ( 582538 ) <domninus@hotmail.com> on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:16PM (#5373877) Homepage
    my highschool uses windows everywhere and does a horrible job with the network (netware without using zen, which they have licenses for). Ive been in computer science for 3 years and instead of dealing with turbo c++ 4.5 and codewarrior I brought in cygwin and started using g++ for the projects and such. People started seeing the benefits of crazy stuff like 32bit integers and the STL so now we at least use Visual. My teaher was suprisingly receptive to linux though, he is letting me do linux from scratch for a project now (so I can know more about it, not that I need a specialized distro or anything)

  • SLC schools are pretty good, but more often than not I would say the real problem is the nature of public schools in general. The problem is that what looks politically popular is not necissarly the most intellectual or in the kids best interest. More often than not, no matter how incompetent, irresponsible, stupid, and foolish public schools are - you can't keep them from getting your tax money anyhow, unless you go through monumental god like efforts. The best solution is to do what you can to send your kids to non-public schools whenever possible.
  • the critical thing is that it's being used in the PROGRAMMING lab, NOT a production lab where students would need the computers to write papers, do homework etc.
  • by SaXisT4LiF ( 120908 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:20PM (#5373930)
    According to Linuxworld.com, a Linux operator would earn an annual salary of about $65,000, while a Windows operator might make $45,000 -- costs a school district would bear.

    I would have gladly managed a Linux network at my high school just to get out of class every now and then, and I even had the skills to do so.

    Then again, I wouldn't have gotten out of as many classes as I did fixing the computers running windows...
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:23PM (#5373963)
    Between the years 1993 and 1997 my own small business, with only three computers, spent several thousand hard earned dollars on Windows software.

    From 1998 when I switched entirely to Linux our total software cost has been $0 ( I was given a copy of Linux For Dummies with Red Hat 5.2 as a gift).

    No additional expenditures have been needed because of making the switch,

    Nor has, at any time, any "privation" of functionality ever been felt.

    Indeed I've been able to greatly expand functionality because software previously out of my reach on a cost/benifit basis is now readily available, at will.

    Others may debate TCO all they want. I know Linux is free.

    And freeing, because now all license issues have been slaughtered on a wholesale basis. Compliance is part of the TCO.

    I'll make this offer to any school. I will come in for a few days and show you how you can do what I have done, and I'll do it at *half* the rate you're paying your MS person. I'll even train the poor sod if you'd like.

    KFG
  • I hope some of the students involved post pictures of the robots they're building in class.

    With the power of linux, one of those kids is going to end up with this project [terminator3.com].
  • -in high schools:

    Well, I can't help but think back to my own high-school experiences. The guy who was 'the network admin' for the school was also 1. a teacher (one of the lower-level science classes and two computer classes), and 2. coach of one of the school's many athletic teams.

    Point being, how many schools even have a full-time, dedicated admin? Granted, I graduated in '97 so I hope things have improved, but in terms of cost, many schools seem to look for 'jack/jill-of-many-trades' teachers. These might know enough to restart the computer as common M$ 'fail-recovery protocol,' but lack of experience, knowledge, and general DESIRE to be 'in the know' like us hobbyists, tend keep them away from Linux...

    • by knobmaker ( 523595 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @07:48PM (#5374820) Homepage Journal
      Point being, how many schools even have a full-time, dedicated admin?

      Here's a sad little story. A few years ago, when my daughter was in grade school, she decided to run for student council president. She asked me to help with her campaign. I noticed that her opponents, while usually well-financed, had failed to come up with any campaign issues. So I suggested that if she won, I would come to her school and give lessons on HTML, so the various classes could have their own web pages.

      She incorporated this into her campaign posters, and won, to my surprise and horror. So, in order not to make my daughter a liar, I was forced to go to the school and meet with the principle and the "media person," a woman who knew almost nothing about computers, but who was fiercely protective of her turf. After much reluctance, I persuaded the principle to allow me to teach a class on simple web-building. Two students from each classroom would be allowed to attend a class lasting 20 minutes, once a week, for the remainder of the semester. As you might imagine, this was not enough time to teach anything of any significance to 5th and 4th graders.

      It was a depressing and frustrating experience, which I stuck out only for my daughter's sake. Everything had to be approved through several layers of bureaucracy, even the installation of simple freeware HTML editors on a few of the school's machines. And we never got so far as getting approval to host the class pages on the school district's servers.

      So, at least at this otherwise fairly good school, even free instruction wasn't cost-effective enough for the administration to accept. I expect this sort of proud ignorance is widespread in American schools, which now seem obsessively consumed by the desire to do well in comparative testing. Actually teaching kids stuff they can use is of secondary importance.

  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:26PM (#5373999) Homepage Journal
    "One Linux operator can manage 45 computers while a Windows operator can manage only 10 because it's harder," Mello said.

    FUD ALERT! That's just plain malarky.

    I started off managing windows systems, and later moved on to linux. Mello is just plain wrong here.

    Now as far as flexability is concerned, yes you can do all sorts of neat tricks with linux, but for day to day admin operations, MS has very polished tools that save a MS admin tons of time in implementation.

    Let's compare services...

    Web Server.
    Windows, go to add/remove software, add IIS. Run the microsoft management console, and tweak it to your delight, if you get stuck the help file is right there, or burn a call on the credit card to MS support.

    Linux, go to apache.org, download the source, make install, go out and have a cig, come back and see if the compile is finished, go out to lunch, come back. Ok now you have to edit your rc.d scripts to run apache on start, do a little configuring in /usr/local/etc/apache, get stuck? Dig through millions of irrelevant howto's and newsgroups posts to find the answer. Live support? Go into IRC and get called n00b by every facist l33tist in there. Try a suggestion, and it breaks something else, rinse and repeat.

    It took me a good 4 years of tinkering with linux before I became proficient enough to run a server, compile my kernel (which is m00t these days because of modules) and basically make it do the same things my windows boxes do. Most of this time was spent wading through useless irrelevent documention, trial and error, ect.

    I charge for my research time, don't know about you other IT guys out there, but everytime I read a howto, or browse support.microsoft.com i'm earning.

    As far as desktop management is concerned, group policies, netlogon scripts, and active directory makes it easy enough for a child to manage a MS domain.

    I'm not trying to bag on linux here, it's awesome to have a system that never crashes even on shitty hardware. If linux had gui based management tools that were on par with their MS counterparts, I would agree with the above quote. I've tried everything from linuxconf, to webmin and all tcl/tk tools in between, and yes they are quite good, but not nearly as good as what i've seen come out of redmond. None of these tools have anything even closeley resembling the functionality of creating a software group policy object that will install across 1000's of computers in an organization.

    From a personal standpoint though, I would pick any *nix or BSD for running my mission critical applications any day of the week over a MS box. For managing a buttload of user desktops and apps, MS wins hands down.
    • by Pengo ( 28814 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:52PM (#5374288) Journal

      I agree with what your saying, you have paid your due's and now your probably being compensated well for it. After four years of trial and error, your probably quite proficient with your craft.

      Seems that getting things setup and working is only 20% of the task tho, and keeping things running is the other 80% .. or the real work. I don't see system administration any more untrue to the 80/20 rule that programming.

      I wouldn't be surprised if someone who has 4 years experience in Linux really 'knows' the underworking of the OS and the critical components much better than someone who has been admining a NT server for four years. I wouldn't be surprised if that same person has ability to easier manage more servers because of the profound skill and knowledge he has of the environment than a shallow understanding of how high-level gui's work.

      I am sure that as distributions get more and more advanced, not as many Linux users will know how to write their own custom init scripts, watchdog monitors, runlevel options, boot into single user mode, etc.

      I can't believe that just because Windows is easy to use that these same tricks of the trade are any easier. If anything, in my experience, getting things going in windows is quite easy, but when something goes wrong, really wrong, is when I seem to get quite frustrated. Now, the only experience I have had managing windows software was a small NT server at a company I was at that used it for exchange and file serving. I admit, I am a programmer and not an admin, but small companies.. you do what you have to do :).

      I have spent about 4-5 years myself working on linux.. VERY long nights of hacking and playing, twiddling and recompiling.. endless greps through uesless mailing lists, etc. But in the end it has paid off BIG time, I am landing more a year than any windows admin I know and am using a tool set that I control and understand.

      Your much better off having taken the harder path my friend, I am sure when something goes wrong you understand the problem, and not just the symptom. You will be much more effective in solving problems when shit really hits the fan. I dont think you keep 1 NT admin per 10 servers for when things are going good... or getting setup, but going bad and having problems. Maybe thats why you don't need so many people to manage linux boxes.. not for deployment, but for post deployment trauma. :)

      Enjoyed your post tho.. I agree that Linux does need a standard base for configuration. But don't worry, we will get there :)

      Cheers
    • The *nix-side of the story on configuring desktops:

      Standardize on a *proper* free OS for corporate desktop use and no that's probably not Gentoo or Slack.
      Yes you will spend time setting up the groundwork. However once you have the apps you need all neatly packaged up in your own .rpm's (or other package format) there's hardly anything that can go wrong upon distributing them. You can easily write a shell script that checks for updates upon every login and have those fetched from a server. That'd be YOUR installations, set up by YOUR scripts, conforming to YOUR company's policy and the way they do business, so that YOU are in control and not some closed group policy service which you can only trust because there's no way for you to find out what it actually does. Nice pickle when something goes wrong.. and I've been there..
      Then there's NFS and such things as mounting things like /usr and /home directories remotely. Everything is always available to everyone and given a few clever shell scripts on the clients and some replication between servers this can be very easily load-balanced, centrally managed and backed up at the same time as well.

      Your Apache vs. IIS example isn't a very strong one either. Many good tools are available to configure Apache, check the recent RedHat ISO's. And even if you were to compile it from source because of some funky module requirement, you could package the resulting binary for re-use on every other box you need to serve pages. For IIS the funky functionality would most likely simply not even be available.. Besides, how often do you set up a real webserver anyway?

      Final example: FreeBSD actually does let me set up a DNS/DHCP/LDAP server the way *I* want it.. Win2K is easy until you want something out of the ordinary or something goes south and it's not in the knowledge base yet. I'm in love with my /var/log ;-)

      Ok, so far for my ranting. A constructive suggestion: just give SuSE 8.1 or Redhat 8.0 a whirl. Your post sounds like you've been away from Linux for quite some time. It's come a long way, and the configurability has gotten much easier. I popped in a RH 8.0 CD a few weeks ago, clicked a few simple buttons, and was up and running with a system that'd be right at home in any small office environment. I had a full office suite, could use my fairly exotic scanner, printer works, ADSL works, could burn CD's.. if it werent for the butt-ugly BlueCurve theme I'd say I was on an Apple ;-)
  • by 1nv4d3r ( 642775 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:27PM (#5374010) Homepage
    The technicians have to match up all the computers with a license number for each piece of software that is installed. This becomes even more difficult when computers are donated with unregistered software already installed.

    I like that wording. Not 'impossible' to produce licenses for pirated software. Just 'more difficult' than if you are legal. This is exactly the kind of "can-do" attitude that the youth of America needs as an example. Don't let that 5GB of pr0n your girlfriend found drag you down! It's simply 'harder' to explain than if it weren't there.
  • lately i've been thinking about teaching as a profession. (guess that means i'd need to finish my BSc first, eh? ;)) my mom was a teacher, as was my grandfather. Anyway. I'd probably end up teaching computer science plus some other science, and for the CS curricula I think open source is by far preferable. The setup that I think would be be the most advatageous would be a decent Linux server accessed by any pre-extant client machines running the appropriate client software, with accounts and groups as needed for the students in the various classes, semesters, etc. This means that the students could work from home, and that all data is central for security and backup purposes. Remote gui's are of course possible, but frankly for most of the kinds of programming that a typical high schooler will be messing with, the console is fine. The server could also be used to host web development/design projects in additon to the traditional AP computer science curricula. A real database could be exposed to the business students to learn SQL and data modeling on. Given a simple problem space and a relatively brawny machine, the server could even be used to add a computational supplement to the science courses (e.g. model these three molecules to get x, y, and z bond lengths as noted {water, ethanol, diatomic oxygen). The "one big server" approach also does not require any dedicated client hardware, so the client machines in the lab can also be used for other, non-programming uses such as an office skills class or art/design class (adobe toolchain). There's even no real requirement on the client hardware present, as even a 386 or ancient mac could be used as an ssh term becuase all the action is taking place on the server. If on the off chance that the curricula included, say, GUI java work... that's possible on most any client machine natively and with a vnc-server or remotely-fired X session as well. Sorry if this is kind of a brain-dump, i'm incredibly tired right now. It should be noted that this scenario is not choosing open source becuase it is free, but becuase it is more capable. Linux could work as a method to reduce cost but then you're on somewhat shakier ground. Yes, you save money on client licensing. BUT! This assumes you are able to get functional equivalents for all the proprietary software you need. (E.g. you're doing the design students a disservice if you replace Photoshop + Illustrator with the Gimp... Sorry, the gimp is a good program for some things but PS +Ill it is not.) Also, you could just as easily use an Apple Xserve in place of the linux server i mention above, which would be extra good for most schools that probably already have an apple infrastructure. Or sub in some other free Unix for Linux... From the student's perspective the difference between an openbsd server and a linux server would be nil.
  • Woohoo!! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Uhh_Duh ( 125375 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:28PM (#5374029) Homepage
    I live and work in Logan as a UNIX engineer/CTO of a technology company -- this is great news. If you guys at Logan high school need some UNIX/Linux expertise, let me know. I'd be happy to donate my time/services. :) (brian@zyx.net)
  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:28PM (#5374032)
    I'm a teacher in a 50,000+ student school district. The district is seriously considering tossing off Microsoft's yoke, dumping both Microsoft and Novell, and setting up an all-Linux network. Microsoft has been trying to extort more and more from the district (a few months ago, one of the reps was simply asked to leave the Tech Center), and school districts in Texas are all facing reduced state funding next year.

    So yes, Linux is being considered. But it's a slow road. For example, I'm working with the district to set up Linux servers for use as internal web servers in the high school computer labs. An incredible amount of emphasis is focused on security, since all grading is now on-line as well. As you can imagine, high schools have their fair share of script kiddies just wetting their pants over the opportunity to hack a new box on the network. We will be monitoring all hits on the boxes to try and profile what kind of attacks occur so we can keep the boxes as secure as possible. Whether or not the district decides to pursue Linux on the desktop depends upon how secure we can keep the lowly intranet servers.

    My suggestion to anyone who is thinking about trying to convince school administrators to go open-source is to start small. Don't propose retrofitting the entire district in a summer--this simply doesn't fly, and makes you look like a zealot with an agenda. Offer to set up and administer a few Linux boxes, and go along with the security program. If they don't want qmail or sendmail running, fine -- there's time later to broach the subject.

    As it is, news has quickly spread through our district's 7 high schools that we are getting our own server. Now they want one too. So I've been given the mandate to start setting them up for all the high schools. All because I pitched the idea of one lowly server for a computer science class I'm teaching.
  • by webster ( 22696 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:33PM (#5374077)
    If students are doing the system and network administration, then I don't see how Linux could possibly not be less expensive than any proprietary OS. There's little or no up-front cost, and no ongoing software maintenance cost. Even if there were penalties in the amount of time it took to do things using Linux (a doubtful proposition, in any case), that extra time would be used by the students learning very valuable lessons about computers.

    If students are not the admins, why not?
  • A Viable Solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DaytonCIM ( 100144 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:35PM (#5374099) Homepage Journal
    Is Linux a legitimate solution to school districts facing a financial crunch?

    Of course it is: it's free. The only "real" cost that a school district incurs by using Linux is either 1) hiring a Linux educated instructor or 2) training a current instructor. Both options are much less expensive than the Microsoft alternative.

    In addition, students are able to install Linux at home at no cost. And with most school districts cutting costs by closing campuses immediately after the final bell, a student with Linux at home is still able to complete projects and even do "outside" projects/exploring.

    Maybe a better question is whether or not Linux offers high school students a viable introduction in the world of computer software/science?

    While not as "popular" in the business industry as Windows, Linux is still a powerful alternative to Windows. In addition, the source code is OPEN and hence, can be customized, changed, etc... There exists a plethora of educational possibilities in Linux, all of which are controlled by the school, teacher, and student and not a corporation in Redmond.
    • Linux in schools is such a no-brainer that it's testament to the power of the Microsoft marketing machine that it's even an issue. For a server there's zero to minimal cost to implement a Linux solution. If you can set up a Windows server you can set up a Linux server. Every standard application has a gui configurator.

      For workstation use it's a similar story. Students will need word processing, spreadsheets, scientific and math applications, maybe some programming tools for some classes. All of these are *standard* with any major Linux distribution. In other words, pay once for the CD (or even once for every seat) and you not only get the OS, but applications such as GNUPlot, maxima, SciLAB, MuPAD, OpenOffice.org, Gnumeric, etc..

      The number of mathematics applications alone is worth buying a copy for every seat. Of course, a school wouldn't need to do so. But even if they did, the cost of the software alone would be a fraction of the Microsoft academic pricing with comparable software loaded.
  • by Vilim ( 615798 ) <ryan@jabber w o ck.ca> on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:37PM (#5374121) Homepage
    My school has been adopting Linux in many areas. First of all the forum server (where students get thier homework, and teachers discuss) runs Redhat (I wanted to put Debian on there but Redhat was a much better distro to teach the people who will be taking over when I am gone next year) which was migrated by me and another student from Windows 2000. Many of my friends use Knoppix instead of the Novell junk, and we are workign to get a few computers in the Senior Computer Science classes set up with dual boots so that other people can learn the ways of the penguin. Although I do admit that since I am the Linux guru of the school I have been the one to make the most difference in the degree of adoption that my school has pursued thus far, many students other than I are taking Linux into thier own hands
  • by eniu!uine ( 317250 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:41PM (#5374174)
    I never learn anything from these articles. I run Linux, and I know what it's capable of... I know it will be even better when it hits the mainstream(desktopwise) and I can't wait. So I read these articles for yet another hint that what I'm waiting for is coming to pass.

  • by Kakurenbo Shogun ( 64436 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:46PM (#5374224) Homepage
    "Microsoft had us do an audit last year that took two weeks out of my schedule," Rugg said. "That's two week's work of taxpayers' money to satisfy Microsoft."

    With no MS software, who knows, maybe MS would audit anyway. But all you'd have to do is say, "take a look--no MS software", and the audit would be over.

    As an LHS alumni, it's exciting to see that my alma matter has made Slashdot, especially since they did something GOOD to earn the honor.

  • by Idaho ( 12907 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @06:59PM (#5374341)
    The University of Twente (the Netherlands) has had a dualboot system between Linux and Win NT (now Win 2000) for years, even before I was a student there (we are talking 1996-1997 here).

    And we're not talking 'a few' computers, all computers in the CS department (at least all the systems that students can use) have both Linux and Windows. Has been like this for over 6 years, maybe even longer.

    I would have assumed that a lot of uni's in the States would have the same thing? Am I wrong in assuming this? You're kidding me....
  • by Cyno ( 85911 )
    It depends. If you have a Linux expert or a sys admin its certainly more cost effective to use free software than to use expensive software. However, if nobody knows how to do anything at all, then the software isnt' very effective, even though it costs you nothing.

    I would say give it a shot and see if you can make it work for you. If you can't, well, I'd probably just think you're stoopid. In which case, go pay as much as you can afford for someone else to solve your problems for you.

    Schools should have no excuses when it comes to computer competence. Schools are where we go to get educated, afterall. If they don't know, they shouldn't be in the business of education.
  • I used to be a technology purchaser for a school district. In Texas, school districts can purchase the latest edition of Windows for somewhere around $26. Office goes for somewhere under $30. SMS (to do system management) runs $118.

    RedHat Network is $60/"entitlement" (retail) or something like $50/"entitlement" (bulk purchase). Plus you have to retrain the entire population of the school who have used computers at home or other places of business, then you have to find state-approved curriculum that is generic enough to work well with Linux (it's much more difficult to teach a business applications course when all your textbooks cover Access and Excel and you only have mySQL and Gnumeric).

    If school districts are honest up front about paying for their licenses, it is indeed cheaper to go the Microsoft route - hands down. When we Open-Sourcers start volunteering our services at our local schools, then their might be a competition.
  • by MeanMF ( 631837 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @07:18PM (#5374535) Homepage
    There is the old discussion about if Linux is truly cheaper to operate in the long run. Is Linux a legitimate solution to school districts facing a financial crunch

    Linux is perfect for a local school district.. Schools have the benefit of free student labor, and they don't have to worry about deadlines or downtime. Linux on cheap hardware is perfect for this kind of environment.
  • The reason to move more towards *nix platforms in public schools (pre-school through university) is the difference in what you take away from working with it. Under Windows, you are trained to click here, then click there, and if it doesn't work, you restart. With *nix, you have the opportunity to be educated in what is going on beneath the pretty graphics (assuming here that suitably pretty graphics exist for your application, YMMV).

    Case in point: I switched over to Linux in November, and have a four box LAN at home. I'm trying to set up the ability to access different printers over the network. Is it taking me a lot longer than it would under Windows? Yes. Is it frustrating? Extremely. But that's the point! As a physics prof of mine put it, "the learning is in the struggle." I already understand many points of networking/printing better than when I started, and when I finally (with the help of others) get this blasted setup working, I'll be educated further. And that will make it easier the next time I see this problem or a variant thereof, because I will understand what's going on beneath the pretty interface.

    By the way, another way of paraphrasing my physics prof is: "No pain, no gain."
  • by Da VinMan ( 7669 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @07:28PM (#5374623)
    It doesn't matter if Linux is cheaper in the long run to schools. Why not? Because the cost of Linux vs. Windows on paper is clearly going to favor Linux in terms of the up front costs. Since those are the costs which get line items on the budget, that's what matters.

    Once it gets in the door, it's game over.

    It's arguably true that having computers in classrooms doesn't add a lot to education anyway. The long term benefit of computers in the classroom may be more a result of having students set up, maintain, and program those systems than from any so-called educational software.

    Frankly, I don't understand why vendors like Microsoft aren't tripping over themselves to give away software to school districts. They can't be making much money from schools anyway, they don't get good press for sticking it to school districts, and having students see that software in use is good advertising.

    Whatever...

    Of course, all of the above assumes that school districts start evaluating software based purely on cost instead of the "pain in the ass factor". This subtlety is pretty much the only reason Apple still gets chosen above all others in many school districts. Of course, savings on PITA factor also translates to money, but I don't see how most school districts care about that anyway since their IT departments are grossly understaffed anyway. It's not like they budget for "PITA time" anyway.

  • I am a Senior Network Administrator at a magnet high school in Austin, TX (LBJHS). I am in my junior year (Class of '04) and I (along with three other guys) manage nearly all aspects of the network at the school - from servers to workstations and infrastructure. Our organization, Student Technology Administration Council (www.stac.org [stac.org] is our website), has been managing the network at our school, independent of the school district's network since 1994.

    We now have 300-400 workstations (mostly W2K except one Slackware lab) being served by a small army of linux servers on our own campus T1. This program is an incredible and unique learning experience for us - being able to manage an entire building's network while still in High School with little to no aid from outside adults.

    I like to brag that our network's stability is significantly better than the network that the rest of the school district is on.
  • by brownie_in_de ( 320274 ) on Monday February 24, 2003 @11:25PM (#5376163)
    This is a long tale of woe, but it does get to the point eventually. Bare with me, I suspect other school tech folks have had similar experiences.

    I am a District Technology Coordinator. Last summer our small district (3300 students) in the Mid-Atlantic paid Micro$oft over $100,000 in license upgrades. The state had a number of sessions scheduled with the MS Reps who came to explain the new licensing agreement. The company was moving from Upgrade Advantage to Software Assurance pricing schedules.

    We were in the process of our Win2K rollout and we were confronted with MS retiring the ability to upgrade certain licenses. Our state contracts with a "Select" vendor who we are required to purchase all MS software. The vendor had conflicting upgrade paths than what MS had explained in the meetings.

    At a later meeting when I asked about this they suggested the "School Agreement" as an alternative which is an annual subscription that allows schools to use any number of licenses but you must resubscribe every year.

    I explained that I did calculations on purchase upgrades and compared the numbers to this "subscription" license and discovered that it was more expensive. I surmise that conflicting purchase information and random threats of audit in the education community makes choosing the school agreement a no brainer. If this was a marketing decision it is extortion.

    During the course of this licensing process I went to the CIO of the district informing him that we could save nearly $40K by using Open Office on student only machines. Even after giving him a copy, and showing the software around to key individuals, he didn't feel that he could support Technology against the inevitable backlash from staff members.

    He recommended a pilot before implementation. Since there was a deadline, we bought MS Office licenses. BTW we finally got resolution on the correct upgrade paths.

    Now to the Linux in school stuff.

    After this experience, the fiddling I was doing with Linux became a higher priority in the investment of my Tech Learning Time.

    There is lots of great stuff out there for schools. The Linux Terminal Server Project http://www.ltsp.org/ gets around the windows legacy app problem. Or perhaps Linux Educational Apps could replace windows edutainment titles. A wealth of titles can be found at http://k12os.org/.

    Personally I believe that what is best for our district is to get away from managing the desktop. So many rogue initiatives bubble up from the class room.

    Example:
    Mrs Jones goes and buys "10,000 Handouts Galore" CD-ROM ; ) at the grocery store and then expects technicians to not only install this buggy code from heaven knows where, but also expects poor frazzled "Fred" to divine the arcane structure of how it works, train her on it, and continually fix the pathetic workstation that crashes because the software is not totally compliant to windows standards. All this effort just so she can print a worksheet for the kids to sit and fill out.

    How does this fundamentally change education? If you take the computer away can she still create a handout? I suspect that manually she could probably do it in less time with more focus on content and far less frustration.

    In my opinion, district administration, curriculum leaders, principals as well as tech coordinators, network folks and programmers should work together to identify what problem really needs to be solved.

    The direction we are going in is interactive web applications that provide collabortive opportunities to respond to various activities or projects.

    One such Open Source package is the Authenticated User Community -- http://auc.sourceforge.net/. It is essentially groupware for education. Students can review and submit assignments, check email, post comments on a forum and store files. Teachers can track student activities retrieve assignments and initiate discussion. Mom and Pop can see what's going on from home! We are piloting this now.

    Our TechTeam is using software called Tutos (http://www.tutos.org/homepage/index.html) to manage projects. This is useful software and since its on the Web it is transparent and ubiquitous.

    Imagine if other useful software was converted to the web. The connection of Apache with MySQL (or other DB) could allow us to link every student activity with state standards and some sort of performance evaluation. This would give teachers the ability to make day to day teaching decisions based on DATA that will have real impact on High Stakes Testing.

    We also using some network based diagnostic software packages. They are called Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math and are published by Renaissance learning (http://www.renlearn.com). These programs allow students to interactively and dynamically record their performace on-line.

    Unfortunately these programs are Windows apps. They are written in ToolBook and are not even 32bit compliant. Consequently there are frequent network issues since they are being used in manner contrary to their design. I wish there was a version of this software that ran on Apache and MySQL.

    If a clear vision of curricular problems drove the purchase/solution implementation decisions rather than random marketing (ed conferences and journals) and individual (rogue) initiatives, resources such as technician support and capital funds for equipment and software would not be caught up in this merry go round of assumpion, consumption, no function and blame.

    Micro$oft products give users just enough ability to use computers to be hugely expensive to larger organizations. Products running on this platform are sold as solutions to users problems, but not necessarily one that needs to be solved.

    Users devise their own rogue initiatives with the grand ideas sold to them, but rarely are successful without technical help. The minute a technician provides that help they become responsible for the outcome and the initiative becomes sanctified by the organization.

    Linux can solve this problem. It forces decisions to be made that focus on the problem. Since every teacher, administrator and student is not familiar (or "Expert" because their nephew works at CompUSA) with this platform they are not dreaming of a panacea like solution where they take off the shrink wrap and all their problems go away with no hardwork or learning curve. District leadership has time to focus on their curricular objectives and devise a plan that has a scope and sequence of events and a series of check points to evaluate progress.

    Once the problem is defined and the objectives are spelled out there is lots of stuff in the Open Source community that can be selected as potential "off the shelf" alternatives. But what is even more exciting is the notion that through collaboration with others with similar objectives solutions start to move closer and closer to the needs at hand.

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