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Schools and Open Source

Schools need to save money (know any school districts so rich money doesn't matter?) and one way to do so is via Open Source Software. That's the premise behind the story How one school system makes the most of open source. Yet the story doesn't talk about one of the best ways to save money while reducing security risks in a variety of ways: using Linux and OpenOffice in place of Microsoft Windows and Office.

Think of the savings: very little or no money upfront for the software, fewer security problems because the students wouldn't be running Windows and Internet Explorer when surfing, and students couldn't download and run the spyware-ridden applications that entice them so. Another savings would be the value of older PCs which respond faster when running Linux than Windows XP.

Some classes may need to keep Microsoft Windows and Office, such as those training students for jobs after graduation. However, several of the Linux distributions work so much like Windows the training time between the two are negligible. Several experts now say that OpenOffice 2.0, the current Open Source office suite, looks far more like Microsoft Office 2003 than does the upcoming Office 2007. Just a thought.

Seems like we mentioned CompUSA just the other day, and here they're making new headlines: Retailer CompUSA to offer NetSuite's hosted software says the headline. Interesting twist selling an online service via a brick and mortar store, but that's the plan. If you go to your local CompUSA soon, let me know what's going on over there.

While I don't like announcing software months before release (can you say Microsoft?) I don't mind announcing software just days early. That's the situation with the popular Open Source Software CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software suite called SugarCRM and their plans to unveil a commercial portal in July.

I have friends selling SugarCRM to customers in lieu of regular commercial CRM applications, and they report all manner of good things. It makes sense that the Open Source companies would figure out how to make money out of "free" software, and this may be one approach.

Back to Small Business Tech Notes

Comments

For those interested in the use of Open Source software in K-12 Schools, we've got an email list at groups.google.com/group/k12opensource for beginners, and a wiki resource at www.k12opensource.com.

Also, each year at the National Educational Computing Convention (NECC) we have a big Open Source Lab for people to come and play with different Open Source programs.

Posted by: Steve Hargadon on June 28, 2006 12:40 PM

I've actually been asked what to stock a Information Processing class, and I asked what their budget was, and since they don't have all that cash to blow, I suggested the Gimp, and Blender, open office, etc.. And I think they are pretty satisfied.

The downfall is, are those programs are usually harder to teach, less known, and not industry standard.

Goods and bads I guess.

Posted by: Mike on June 28, 2006 09:27 PM

Good article! Not convinced about linux but open office would be a good start. Getting them to use safer browsers like Firefox would be another.

I'd broaden this out and argue that social organisations and charities could really do well by going open source too...

Posted by: leon on June 28, 2006 09:34 PM

I am the tech coordinator for a school district. Nearly all attempts at getting teachers to CONSIDER open source as an alternate have failed. I have loaded Open Office as an alternative in tandem with MS Office. I have pointed out that we can distribute it free to students who are not financially capable for buying MS Office. I have given copies of Linux Distros to teachers, shown them GIMP and the GIMPShop skin system to make it look like PhotoShop (FREE!!), burned and handed out LIVE Distro CD's, offered to go to there HOMES on my time to install Linux on an older machine they have just so they will try it. With rare exception ( about 2 people out of dozens who I have approached, I have been heavily criticized by teaching staff, with one irony being, the kids (students) usually have no problems, it is the staff who are resistant. It is absolutely amazing the amount of blind resistance these changes or suggested changes are met with. I firmly believe that many schools have the same financial issues, and while open source might not be the answer in all cases, it warrants immediate consideration, testing, trials, etc. I also think a much larger issue is how schools teach technology. They teach applications, not concepts. They teach 'word' instead or 'digital document creation or editing. They teach powerpoint instead of 'Digital Media presentation skills. Programming classes are non-existant( in my district), even though many open source programming options exist. Money spent on software could at least PARTIALLY go to fund other things (more teachers, more tech staff, more security, etc), but it never seems to get a serious look, even when I evangelize it. It is very frustrating to know there are possibilities and alternatives that we cannot use or pursue due to political, mental or work culture roadblocks. Our teachers and staff are generally dedicated to our students, but this area (considering open source alternatives) has been one of genuine frustration and represents money spent where it could be re-allocated, if only I could get people to be open to it.

Posted by: Dean Massalsky on June 28, 2006 11:51 PM

Its easier said than done.
And YAWN. This is the billionth article Im reading about implementing open source in schools.
People cant use windows properly. What makes you think that they will use Linux? With its poor documentation and poor usability?
Im a geek and im in education. I love Linux but I love Windows more because they at least try to make your life with the computer easier to use.

Posted by: Nikhil on June 29, 2006 01:12 AM

But we didn't have any computers when I was in school and that Kaiser was still a BAAAAAAAD dude.

Posted by: anonymous on June 29, 2006 08:42 AM

What the hell is this... people post URL's but they are not links and you cannot copy-and-paste to your address bar.

What kind of second-class blog you running - and your a techie?

ROFLMAO

Posted by: jack on June 29, 2006 08:47 AM

Dean - most teachers are morons. Studies show they are below-average intelligence.

They hate technology and consider "typing" on a computer BIG technology skills, what, with that spell-check and all...

They also don't teach literature and reading for understanding. For example, many teach Moby Dick and the like as if those stories had the meaning of life - they do so without teaching an appreciation of literature.

It ain't just the technology, dude. Most educators don't have a clue!

Posted by: jack on June 29, 2006 08:49 AM

Rachel,

I was talking to you about open source programs yesterday in class when I was showing you how I bulilt and uploaded my webpage. This is an interesting article. If you haven't yet heard of it, you should check out OpenOffice.org. Its the entire Micro$oft suite, but FREE.

-Tim Rudis

Posted by: Dr. Rachel on June 29, 2006 12:57 PM

Many school divisions are locked into Windows hook, line and sinker. A few have switched to Linux for the right reasons: it works, it's free, it's free, and it is highly configurable. A few have switched because their systems have aged and they cannot afford to upgrade the Micro$oft way. I am fortunate to have been hired to work for a school that has an ancient system, but they are building a new school and have funds for a new system. When they saw how Linux works and that they could buy twice as much hardware for the money in the computer budget, they had only a few questions left: "How long will it take teachers to get the hang of it?" and "What happens when you die?". I had installed Linux on the principal's personal machine and he answered the first question. We will build the system from scratch over the summer to train a few local computer geeks so that I will be replaceable.

I have been using LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) for a few years to serve labs and classrooms and have built up quite an infrastructure of webpages and databases to copy over to the new system, so the setup should be somewhat automated. I plan on using the EdUbuntu distro with plain Debian + LTSP as a backup plan. One adventurous thing we plan is multi-seat X clients. The clients will be AMD64 with gigabit interfaces so we cut down a lot on networking costs by running fewer lines. The hardware and labur costs apart from cables and patch panels comes to CDN$99000 for 150 seats. That includes printers, scanners, digital cameras, and video projectors. The nearest competitive quote was $150000 for 150 seats and no toys using that other OS.

Posted by: Robert Pogson on July 1, 2006 02:30 PM

I, too, am in education. I'm at a very wealthy school district in a very wealthy part of the United States. It's not that the educators are of below average intelligence, it's that, in this way, they're often kind of lazy. "Oh, I'll have to re-do my whole curriculum!", they scream. "Oh, I can't learn this new thing, I don't have time!", they whine. "YOU don't know what it's like to have to face a bunch of 'unruly' children in a *real* classroom, YOU NON-TEACHER, YOU!", they complain.

When that MS audit threat came out in 2002, we were one of the districts threatened in the same way that Portland Public Schools in Oregon was threatened. Our top brass seemed nearly orgasmic with delight at the idea of signing up for Licensing 6.0 and Software Assurance. Their justification? "We are preparing our children for the Real World (TM) through exposure to the latest technology." Umm...sorry, elementary school is not where you "train good little employees." But again, my school district is *FILTHY RICH*.

Finally, too many teachers seem to think that a computer is a baby-sitting tool. They plop a child in front of a screen with Reader Rabbit, etc. all day and call that "modern education". I call it "insane". I see the results in our schools all the time, and what I see is rote-learning to pass some standardized test, not the actual understanding of concepts. Again, insane.

The problem is systemic. Top management of schools, from the school boards on down, are scared silly of anything that isn't corporately endorsed. It's all about "looking bad", in their minds, not actual education of the students.

To top it off, the instructional side of the house seems to have this rather extreme animosity to the IT side of the house (as a systems engineer, I feel the brunt of this all the time from teachers/principals/etc.). Dean, that's why those teachers won't listen to you. In their minds, I've learned over the years, folks like you and I, who aren't teachers, are "the enemy". That can change only by electing school boards that have a clue.

Posted by: Sum Yung Gai on July 3, 2006 04:13 PM