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Linux in South Africa 85

Corel CEO Michael Cowpland, whom I'm sure many of you know as a keynote speaker from several of the recent Linux conferences, has extended a gracious offer: Corel WordPerfect for every computer in the school system. The kicker? Corel WordPerfect for Linux. I'm interested in knowing what happens (and if they accept!). If you have any more info, please, submit it!
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Linux in South Africa

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    is this really such a great idea? i mean, linux, no matter how much i like it isn't as easy to use or maintain as windows, i just don't have the experience yet... how are a bunch of schoolkids supposed to use it? i just don't think its ready for the masses yet.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Look at it this way: Is the South African government more or less likely to invest in more computers if they're offered the OS and office applications for free, so it's a hardware only cost?

    If this means less money spent on software, and more on extra machines, that's a good thing.

  • But that still doesn't answer the quesion. Why haven't the offers been made? It costs nothing for Corel to make an offer that isn't taken up. In fact, if they aren't taken up, it's more fodder for the DOJ, which would also benefit Corel.

    If Corel could break the MS establishment in the U.S., it would, I think, result in far greater benefits.

  • I'm not trying to sound like an isolationist here, but why South Africa? I understand the offer came as part of an interview, but why hasn't Corel offered to supply, say, the Chicago school district with lots of goodies? Seems to me the U.S. would be a rather large and important market for Corel.

    What about England, Germany or Russia? Corel has made offers to Mexico. Why not Canada or Japan?

    I'm just curious.

  • Posted by FascDot Killed My Previous Use:

    A properly setup Linux station is EASIER to maintain and use than a Windows95 station.

    The only reason it seems more difficult to you is that it is unfamiliar. It makes sense for you to tell your neighbor "Linux will be difficult for you" because that statement ends implicitly with "...because you are used to Win95." But it doesn't make sense to say "Linux will be difficult for students" because they may not be used to Win95.

  • Supplying the schools of the sovereign nation of Chicago is not as impressive a publicity stunt as influencing an entire country.

    Besides, anywhere in North America is likely to be stocked with bureaucrats who are in Microsoft's pocket (*cough* SLADE GORTON *cough*).

    Hey, I've got an idea. How about they supply the schools of Redmond with free Linux WordPerfects?

  • >> I am NOT a halfwit...

    Then don't act like one. Your post made you sound like a spoiled child, which probably was not what you intended.

    Much respect for the mail filtering system (though my old job entailed similar duties for 7000 people), but you really must deliver your point with more finesse if you want it to stick.

    For example,

    >> you can all F**K off

    is not a persuasive rebuttal to anyone's argument.

  • But in general... People who don't expect computers to have little buttons and icons are a lot less intimidated when they don't see 'em.

    Proven, of course, by how popular DOS once was. Not. CLIs cause fear in adults. There is no non-computer-related object which has an interface analogous to a CLI: I type pseudo-English commands and that causes stuff to happen. OTOH, there are non-computer analogies to buttons and switches. (On the GUI side, it's the mouse which has no analogy.)

    The case could be made that today's kids would be less intimidated by a lone dollar sign prompt with a blinking cursor a space away.
    $ _
  • If you think Windows is easier to maintain than Linux, then you've probably not tried to maintain many Windows machines before.

    Linux tends to be slightly more difficult to configure the first time around than, say, Windows NT, but once you configure it, it's solid as a rock for as long as you want. After you've configured a few Linux boxes, it's considerably easier to configure Linux than Windows NT after you've configured a few NT boxes. At least that's my experience.

    Windows NT configuration is a black art. Linux is just a collection of text files that are easily backed up and restored as you purchase new machines. I find cloning NT configurations much more difficult. For a school which sets up lots and lots of machines, I think Linux is the better choice.
  • I think this is a great idea.

    The question being asked is how on earth can this materialize. Is it possible.

    1. There isn't enough schools with computers. (You are quite right but there is a few schools that do have computer labs most of these was paid out of funds collected by the students themselves but there is.)

    2. How are they going to maintain these systems if they move over to Linux and WP. Again I can comfortably administrate a 160 computer lab with linux installed. It would be easy to get students involved to keep the labs operational (for a very small fee compared to comercial offerings.)

    The problems that was mentioned so far is not really that significant and can easilly be overcome. Eg. I'm sure that labs can be shared by scholls in the same area I'm sure you can get people for cheap to help setup and maintain the lab.

    The biggest problem in these schools is Linux and applications themselves.

    SA schools do not use Word Processors in their labs. Very rorelly will you see this being used. The labs are normally used for something like Computers Science invariably given by someone with less than a years computer knowledge. In most cases around half the class knows more about the su bject than the teacher.

    The only advantages and programs that a school in SA really needs is course ware. (Presenting multimedia courses as well as testing ). This is sorelly lacking on Linux (in anycase I have not found a project yet that is usefull).

    Give me that type of software or the money to develop that type of software for linux and I will get the goverment to pay for Linux installations and maintenance of the software.

    Linux is already in most institutional orginitations on Tertiary level but they arestill not in the Educational labs and until it gets there Linux would be useless to schools.

    I'll gladly install Linux and Wordperfect on the school in my surrounding area. But will they be using it ?
  • I wouldn't really class the UK, Germany, Russia, Canada and Japan as "moderately affluent, or trying to appear so". Not only does it sound a little snobbish but it's just plain wrong. Four of those rank in the top 7 richest countries in the world (i.e. are very affluent). Russia, as you may have figure out if you have watched the news at all in the past year, does not. In fact South Africa has a higher ppp GDP per capita than Russia - by over 30% ($6200 vs $4700)


  • It far easier to do this sort of thing in places where computer adoption is much smaller, as a percentage. MS is well 'established' in the US, and quite a few other countries, but not South Africa. Basically, you're not fighting against 'network effects' - ie because Tom, Dick and Harry do it, you do it too.
  • Damn, you beat me to it. That was exactly the quote I was going to use.


  • by Wheely ( 2500 )
    I thought the QE2 was a boat!
  • That Corel should make the WordPerfect suite entirely free for educational use?

    I remember how excited I was, sitting in the Computer Systems Lab at Thomas Jefferson [] and hearing that Corel would release a free "personal" version of WP. Sure, it wouldn't have some of the features. But finally there would be a word processor for the masses in the CSL (which has been UNIX based since forever). And then I read the license agreement, and lo and behold, it's not free for educational use. What a bummer.

    We should start an email campaign to Corel. Who's with me?

    Oh well, everyone there learnes LaTeX anyhow.
  • I'm finding myself pretty much pessimistic about this. My impression of Corel is that the company is driven more by an obsession with getting even with Microsoft than by a desire to make good, profitable products. This offer strikes me as more of the same.

    I think they're setting up a public relations fiasco way beyond the black eye they gave to Java. As much as I enjoy Linux, it's simply not ready for this kind of use, for a couple more years.

    Ideally, Corel would concentrate on making good quality Linux (and Windows and Mac) applications. In reality, they're jumping on the newest anti-MS bandwagon in the same half-assed way they did with Java. I predict that in two years they'll abandon Linux and be on to some completely new kick - Be, maybe?

  • Actually, the reason I said it like that is because Linux has always had a fairly big following from college students. I was trying to differentiate between that group, which has long used Linux, and the earlier schools, where it is not so prevalent.

    No slight to anybody's intelligence was meant.
  • It looks like Corel will be taking a page from Apple's book. Get into the schools and you can work your way up. If nothing else, if people see students (grammer school students) using Linux then they will begin to realize that anybody can use it. By the time it's deployed and people start to notice, that will probably be true.

  • I suspect it's because these countries are struggling with deep economic problems, and there's no way in hell they could afford to buy software for their schools. England, Germany, Russia, Canada, and Japan are either moderately affluent, or are trying to appear so.

    I hope that giving computer resources to schools will result in well-educated children, who may then be able to tackle the problems facing their countries.


  • (Whoops, found this old miscommunication I thought I'd clear up.)

    No, no, I didn't mean it that way. I meant at least moderately affluent; I never thought that "moderately affluent" could be taken as a slur. For that matter, I don't think "poor" is a slur either. And the "trying to appear that way" refers to Russia. I like the Russians I know, but the country's having trouble and the government keeps pretending nothing's wrong. I worry that national pride might prevent them from taking (perceived) charity.

  • Last weeks Cringely [] details exactly how MS "buys" shelf space.

  • That's a very interesting point that you make about the non-coverage of the Mexico deal. I guess it would not stroke the ego of the typical American to learn that a perceived "less educated" country is going to use a "very complex" OS in their schools. This point shoud be remembered the next time some American PHB spouts off about Linux being too complex.

    I predict that the Mexicans will run gnome.:)
  • "The free software offered by Cowpland is the version of WordPerfect built for the Linux operating system, which is itself available for free off the Internet."

    So... he's offering something for free... that was already free in the first place. Ok. Please forgive me if I'm less than enthusiastic about it all.

    One problem that school systems seem to miss (at least the one I was in back in high school) is the teachers are never trained. Untrained teachers don't know how to use the computers. Ignorant teachers can't teach students how to use the computers. Computers stagnate and rot in a corner somewhere. All the technology in the world won't help if no one knows how to use it.

    I fear the security risks if linux is installed by unknowledgable people. It would sit there, not being updated with any security patches whatsoever, no firewall or blocking of any kind. Just open to the world. Maybe Mr. Cowpland, in all his generosity, would help pay for training and installation?

    This all seems like a publicity stunt to me. He dosen't give a rat's ass about the South African school system. He's just after more marketshare. Nothing entirely wrong about that, although he shouldn't be portrayed as such a great guy as the article suggests.
  • ooohh.. oops. 'scuse my misinformation.
  • Ah, that got your attention.

    We're all mostly agreed that Linux will have long-term success, while Windows is doomed, right?

    And the entire nation of Mexico is using Linux in its schools, right?

    I wonder what nation will grow the next generation of quality programmers, eh? What nation will have an incredible number of highly skilled Linux hackers, eh? What nation will lead software production...

  • Untrained teachers can be a problem. But at least having the systems available will allow motivated students to gain or improve their skills. We used to blow instructors away with what we could do.

    I don't think I was ever in a computer class where the instructor knew more than I did about the subject until I hit college.

    Education is 80% about what you (the student) put into it.
  • It's a nobrainer to offer this to SA market,
    because that market is negligible
    compared to US for instance.

    Maybe he doesn't know that a fraction of
    a percent of SA schools have computers
    for students -- I'll give him the benefit
    of the doubt on that.

    But all South African schools with computers
    will be using Linux, WordPerfect, etcetera,
    in the future anyway, with so many
    Linux advocates/professionals in South Africa
    carrying the flag :-)
  • What a great article.

    I doubt any established IT news services in the states will cover the issue of Linux in South Africa, and that really pisses me off. They've ignored the Mexico deal almost completely.

    I wish the popluar American media would make a bigger deal of Mexico's decision to go with Linux. A quarter of a million workstations and servers over the next few years, all running linux and in the hands of a nation on its way to some serious economic development. I see Mexico's thinking as another nail in the coffin of M$.

    I guess the popular American IT media disagrees.
  • Think Again Pal!

    The formerly 'black/coloured' high-school in Kakamas has a fully equiped computer lab. And is by no means the exception. Upington, Keimoes... the list goes on. Rural government schools have to a large extent realized the importance of giving their students an edge in IT. Also, most rural areas have excellent rate-paying records. Keimoes won a National RDP award a few years back for being a town with %100 of rates being paid. This might not seem like a big deal, but it makes governing the town a lot easier when you have the support of all the people and all the peoples.
    I cannot speak for the rest of the provinces, but Northern Cape is by no means a backwater when it comes to IT. This might be explained by the fact that the average rural household probably has a lot more disposable income than the city-dwellers, who's cost of living is much higher (again, this holds true in the Northern Cape AFAIK)

    Moreover, more and more big companies are throwing out old high-end 486s and low-end Pentiums. These make excellent Linux boxes. This opens up a means for even the most cash-strapped schools to get into the game.

  • Um, Corel will probably want to sell their suite some day. Giving it to an entire country is good PR. Giving it to a city in the US will simply create a precedent they may not want to back up...
  • This is a great post. Microslop has a vested interest in keeping people, especially children, ignorant about computers and how powerful they can be. The only way to be good with computers is to dive in and read the instructions. You can bet that's what Mexicans will be doing.

  • My old high school was a mess, it has a small network of around mabye 16 win32 computers in it.
    All win95 clients to a winNT 3.51 server, which, suprisingly, never really had crashes, nt 3.51 is a lot better then 4.0 if you ask me. Course thats like saying getting your head cut off is better then drowning, its true, but you don't want either!

    anyway, all I and my friends ever did was keep telling the other students how to do things in windows... they had no idea, so i figure why not tell thim things in linux instead of windows since windows obviously isnt really inituvitive anyway.

    Cheers to WP, its a marketing thing, but its side benefits are good for all.
  • Oh, give me a break. Sure, Apple's sales have been down, but the two markets in which they've traditionally had huge penetration are the educational and graphic design markets. In the former case, that's largely because they've very aggressively marketed to schools. Corel would be well advised to take a page from that book.
  • Because WordPerfect is only free for indivdual use, not for educational insitutions or business use. This would be an exception.
  • I think the /. effect is going to kill the server. It's already slow, and the story was just posted!

    Perhaps this has already been discussed, but should /. voluntarily mirror any page it references when the server probably can't handle the load? Like this one?
  • Third-last paragraph sez: Cowpland stressed that it was a full-featured package, and not a scaled-down offering produced cheaply....

    ...So it looks like it could be the full version (parallel to the regular UNIX version - Server version perhaps?), not the downloadable "Personal Edition". There's plenty of room for interpretation from the wording of the article though. YMMV.
  • Are you serious? All you need (depending on the size of the school, of course) are few admins to keep things sailing, and I'd think Linux is much better than Windows for a school environment. The main reason being that you can keep the pesky little buggers away from the important stuff, thus preventing a major hosing of the system.

    As for ease of use...bah! Slap a GUI on it, put the necessary icons on the panel or desktop or "start" menu, and let them have at it! Then encourage them to REALLY get to know Linux and the CLI.

    Plus, with all that uptime, the kids can actually DO stuff! What a concept.

    Seems like a great plan to me.

  • My question's answered.

    It's fixed now.
  • I certianly agree with this!

    I've many times seen a Windows 95/98/NT machine hosed by what should have been a trivial application instalation.

    Windows is simply unstable and fragile as all-get-out!

    Once you get a Linux box configured the way you want it, it's virtually bullet proof, swapping or upgrading hardware is almost always less painfull with Linux too.
  • Oh, By the Way, I'm a Grammar School Student who uses Linux and I'm not just anyone thankyou! I just happen to be the youngest Computing Student in England - not some halfwit - Thanks.

    (Jonathan C. Masters)
  • My name is Jonathan Masters. I am a "Grammar School Student" but I am NOT a halfwit. In addition to being the youngest Computing Student in the UK, I have also been using Linux for over 4 years and do in fact know what I am doing. How many of you can say that you have set up a complex mail filtering system for 750 students from one mailbox, a proxy server, etc.... and not be accused of knowing something :-) So basically you can all F**K off if you're going to call "School Kids" Stupid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh yeah, and I'm doing the same for several Primary Schools now too!!!! + GNOME interface - Beats M$ any day!

    Yet another reason to not make generalistic statements.
  • Boy and Apple has been such a spectacular success over the years... best to emulate them. This is why Corel has been a second rate company for all these years.
  • With the high costs of telecommunications down here in South Africa (partly because its 3rd world country and partly because telecomms is regulated/monopolised by the government) few schools can afford to be online at this stage. Most school websites here are hosted on other commercial/sponsored servers.

    In fact, from what I can tell, only a relatively small percentage of schools here even have computers (maybe the top 5 to 15% ?), so I'm not entirely sure what they're going to install this stuff on, but it would definitely be a good idea if the government were to standardize on something right now. And since this country is so poor, it *shouldn't* be a Microsoft solution - we can't afford to get stuck in a massive upgrade cycle, constantly forking over more and more US$ to get "upgrades".

    Lack of skills would also be a problem, although I'd be willing to do a bit of volunteer work myself. Nonetheless, kids are very fast learners. Teachers, on the other hand ...

    I'm sure this is a publicity stunt, but it doesn't seem like such a bad idea either. It does need *someone* to fund training/installation, and it only seems right that Mr Cowpland considers this.

    BTW .. Linux/Corel may already by freely available here, but it isn't so easy to get hold of. Very few people have the bandwidth required to download Linux and WP. Not that many people have CD writers either. Don't count on stores to provide this stuff either - the local computer store here USED TO sell Linux, but about a year ago Microsoft "bought" ALL their shelf space somehow, so now Linux is nowhere to be seen there. All that remains is academia, and even they've gotten very stingy lately with bandwidth and so on.
  • Being a Canadian company, Corel already dumps tonnes of money/software into the local education systems, especially in the Capital Region (Ottawa), where they are located. Many secondary schools (at least in my home town) are often associated with a corporate sponsor (well, that's not the term they use, but let's not mince words). Corporations are more than willing to sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into school systems for infrastructure. It makes good PR, and makes up for insufficient government or regional funding. And no, we didn't have their logo tatooed onto our foreheads :) Most people weren't even aware of the sponsorship, except our new auditorium got a new name :)
    South Africa was probably chosen semi-randomly. Perhaps because, as previous indicated by others, of the smaller Redmond-influence.
  • I know that in some American public schools, they have huge problems with troublemakers who think it's funny to install a virus, format the C: drive, etc. on the school PCs.

    At least with a Unix-style system, you can configure the permissions to keep them from doing malicious things.
  • is this really such a great idea? i mean, linux, no matter how much i like it isn't as easy to use or maintain as windows, i just don't have the experience yet... how are a bunch of schoolkids supposed to use it? i just don't think its ready for the masses yet.

    Once it is installed and properly configured, Linux can be just as easy or even easier to use than windows. Also, have you checked out the new Caldera install? I've heard it kicks Window's butt in the ease of use catagory.


  • "Excessive punctuation is the sign of a sick mind" - Terry Pratchett

    HTH. HAND.
  • I only wish they had started teaching UNIX in my middle school and high school. If we really want younger generations to become computer literate, technology fluent, and competitive why don't we teach them the REAL DEAL from the start.

    Unix in the schools, Unix in the schools, Rah!
  • What is with the recent spurt of nationalism on Slashdot?? First it was: "American programmers are lazy", now it is "Mexico will kick your ass."

    Anyone out there feel that all of this "nation state" stuff is outdated anyway? Screw geography, this is the internet!!

  • Coming from South Africa, I wouldn't be so sure about saying there's a smaller Microsoft influence in SA. Microsoft SA is pretty big, and they do sponsor a lot of web-related things, etc. In fact, I think Microsoft SA could teach Microsoft a thing or two in terms of their public image etc. etc. Not that I'm saying they're particularly good or anything, just better.
  • I hate to nitpick, but there are a tiny amount of government schools that have computers. Last year I was at a government school that had a computer lab. Not big or anything, but there was one. Only problem was that there was only one computer with Linux on in the whole school! And I'm pretty sure that was one more Linux boxes than most schools!
  • linux, no matter how much i like it isn't as easy to use or maintain as windows

    linux in schools, however, can be all about the learning experience.

    Case in point, Bennett [] high school in Maryland, which has a network entirely student maintained. If a student or teacher needs some service or capability, the students have to come up with solutions. For the students, it's an incredible oportuninty.


  • In many ways, Corel's current obsession with beating MS reminds me of Novell's similar obsession a few years back. And look at where Novell is now.

    Pessimistic as I am, I still hope it works.
  • Okay, I stand corrected. There is at least one government school in South Africa that has a computer. However, I'm willing to bet that this was not one of the rural, or township schools. Maybe some of the wealthier schools might have a few computers, but they really don't account for a large segment of South Africa's education system. The majority of schools out here would consider a computer a frivolous expense. When you don't even have textbooks, WordPerfect and Linux mean nothing.

    My sister used to teach biology, and you would not believe the grim picture she painted of the education system out here.

    Best Regards,
    Peter K.
  • The problem is that there is no way at all the government could afford the hardware ( even with free software ). It just makes no difference. Teachers out here are being retrenched at an alarming rate. Quite frankly, even if someone donated hardware along with the software, it would still be worthless. Most of the rural schools couldn't afford the electricity ( and often there isn't any electrictity at all ).

    I think that an offer like this is not going to be received well down here. These schools don't want software. They want heating, desks, electricity, blackboards and a host of other 'basic' requirements. Why don't Corel just offer a free training program for disadvantaged communities. That way, Corel can provide some hardware with Linux and WordPerfect installed, as well as the location for the training. These communities would receive some much needed computer exposure. That would be appreciated more.

    Best Regards,
    Peter K.
  • Hang on here. I live in South Africa, and I fail to see the importance of this offer. To whom is the offer being made? According to the article, it's the South African government. I don't understand then. The schools that will receive a copy of WordPerfect are all government schools. I hate to break it to Corel, but basically not one government school has a computer. I'm serious, most of these schools ( especially the black rural ones that need the most help ) don't even have desks. This is a complete joke. All the private schools can afford WordPerfect, and the public schools can't use it. Do they think that all these schools have PC's just waiting for WordPerfect?

    Peter K.
  • I rememeber the days when I got my hands on my first computer. It was an Apple ][e and I thought it was the greatest thing ever invented. I automatically associated this joy with the Apple logo sitting on the keyboard, and subsequently the Apple company.

    It may have been costly for apple to provide the computers below retail cost to schools, but the effects of that lasted for years, and resulted in numerous sales of their computers.

    The question has to be asked: will students associate the same feelings of loyalty towards an operating system as they do the hardware it is running on?

    Maybe they will have familiarity with the environment, and maybe they will be familiar with clicking on icons, but will they really get to compile a kernel, and download source and compile their own applications ? Surely not in a school environment.

    What is more likely to happen in a scenario like this is that the company that sells hardware to the school, will get a good reputation for the machine being stable, when in fact it is Linux that is the cause of the stability.

    As Apple was wholely responsible for both the OS and the hardware, much of this got tied into the mutual benefit of Apple. This is not the case with Linux, as it is not the owner of the hardware.

    I believe a more profound effect could be achieved through providing grants and technical resources in teaching students how GNU/Linux works, and what they can do with it. Do we want to educate a generation of end users of an OS, or do we want to produce a generation of people who will look at whatever they have on their PC, and then try to find innovative ways of using it to meet their needs ?

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.