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School Daze

We all have the common thread of school - good memories and bad. Talking about any school subject stirs up the waters pretty good, as your responses to my comments about Open Source software offering advantages to schools.

Some responses were favorable (the majority, thank you). Reader Mike said, "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, OpenOffice, etc.. And I think they are pretty satisfied."

Gimp, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, offers image manglers great functionality for free. I didn't know about Blender, but it's a 3D modeling and rendering program. OpenOffice is the Microsoft Office equivalent available for Windows and Linux operating systems with a price tag of zero (zip, nada, zilch).

Mike continues, saying, "the downfall is, those programs are usually harder to teach, less known, and not industry standard." I don't know Blender, but Gimp and OpenOffice have achieved what I would consider mainstream acceptance. Certainly their price makes a strong argument for their use. If the choice is teach a non-commercial application or don't teach computing at all, I say teaching something technical is better than teaching nothing.

My comments were aimed less at classroom instruction than reference computers used by students to complete assignments and research on the Web. Reader Leon said, "Good article! Not convinced about Linux but OpenOffice 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 organizations and charities could really do well by going open source too."

I am convinced about Linux for security reasons if nothing else. A Linux desktop with Browser and Word Processor icons would give students what they need while avoiding the security hassles of Windows.

Not everyone agrees with me. Reader Nikhil said, "Its easier said than done. And YAWN. This is the billionth article I'm reading about implementing Open Source in schools. People can't use Windows properly. What makes you think that they will use Linux? With its poor documentation and poor usability?"

It is easier said than done, but teaching students things they don't know is the entire idea. I also believe Linux documentation (especially online help) and usability improvements just about equal what we get from Microsoft today.

Reader Dean offers a long personal story (check the feedback from the original article for the entire note) but says getting teachers to even consider Open Source as an alternative has failed. Dean makes a great point that at least giving students who can't afford Microsoft Office (even at the educational price of $149) free copies of OpenOffice solves a serious problem quickly and easily. As Tech Coordinator of his school district, Dean would be the main guy to implement Open Source, but says only two out of dozens of teachers and administrators he's approached have been receptive. Not surprisingly, students have no problem with the concept.

Do you have a success story helping schools or non-profit organizations save money with Open Source software? If so, let us know.

Back to Small Business Tech Notes


The high school I just graduated from had a technology program, so many of the students were knowledgeable about computers, many of them even ran Linux as their primary or secondary operating system. However, the students (including myself) were installing and using Firefox on the school computers instead of IE, but the school actually removed the installations and prevented all users from running it because it was "against county policy". So this is a story of the schools working not for, but against OSS, which is rather unfortunate.

Posted by: Aevin on July 2, 2006 09:47 PM

Here is an interview of SchoolNet, a Linux operation to provide computer access to a wide range of users.

Posted by: Bruno Coudoin on July 3, 2006 04:22 AM

I think this is the URL Bruno had in mind:


Posted by: James Gaskin on July 3, 2006 06:32 PM

I think that using open source in school is a good idea. The first time that I used Linux was as a student in college about five years ago after being introduced to it by a professor. I had heard of open source before that time but I had the typical misconceptions, such as those you mention from the school administration. Now, I run Linux on all of my machines. Also, I do not understand the argument that Linux is difficult to use and maintain. I think anyone who is able to use Windows could easily use an OS such as Ubuntu with little difficulty. With most of the modern distros a user doesn't need to use the command line or the more technical aspects unless they want.

I think the students are much better off learning open source software. As mentioned in the article it gives the poorer students a chance to use powerful software that they may not know exists. I think the greatest benefit of using Linux or other open source software is the student gains a greater technical knowledge. Many of classes just teach the students to click here or there and the student is not able to truely understand what is going on. I have had classes in college that show how to use Word with a book containing the things they need to click to get a task accomplished. I found this class useless. Using open source software would result in a greater number of students learning to program in junior high and high school. For the students who are inspired to learn all of the documentation and code is available.

I also wish more colleges would support open source. I am a computer science student and even the lab at school is all Windows computers, which I really don't understand. The computers in the lab are for the most part unusable because of spyware and viruses.

Posted by: Nathan Balon on July 4, 2006 01:31 AM

The overall thought is that Yes people now can not use MS properly so if you hand them Linux (OO, Gimp, etc) how is that going to help?
Well the money not spent on MS etc can be spent on Training.
That is really what people need to be safe and productive with computers.
Some are good at training them selves some need others to train them?

Posted by: Alfred on July 4, 2006 07:18 AM