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School Successes

I asked for successes at schools using Open Source Software, and I received a wide variety of them. Although schools aren't typically thought of as a small business, I believe if a technology will work in schools it will work anywhere.

Several readers mentioned the K-12Linux Project (Linux thin-client distribution for schools). The motto, according to Reader Paul, is "It works. It's free. Duh..." Yes, that's a school-friendly motto.

Reader Tim said, "This year we dropped in the K12LSTP distribution on a machine that was literally pulled from the garbage and attached what was left of the dozen WinNT boxes as thin clients (rip out the hard drive, set the BIOS to boot over the network). We then added additional machines that were cast-offs (200 MHz, 128 MB of RAM). We ended up with 16 workstations and a pair of laser printers running off a "server" that would be a typical secretarial machine elsewhere (1.4 GHz PIII). It cost us nothing but our time and we have had zero maintenance on it. It has also eliminated the bus trips that Riverwoods used to have to schedule to a local college campus to make use of their computer labs."

You probably agree with me that running Windows XP on a 1.4GHz PIII would make that user unhappy. And yet that's the server for the Linux system driving 16 stations (they'll double that next year).

Reader Don speaks directly to low income student populations: "We also adopted OpenOffice 2.0 as our software standard in student computer labs with some resistance from teachers. We live in a high poverty area with many transient students and parents who don't have the resources to afford MS Office at home. Being able to offer them an alternative software with all or nearly all the features of OpenOffice was very compelling."

The software for those low income students came from Software for Starving Students (SSS). That's a project worth supporting if you believe computing skills can give students a chance at a good job.

Reader Don also has a note about servers. "We also use Red Hat Enterprise 3 to host our Lotus Domino Server for email services. We have been running Domino on Linux for two years and it is extremely stable. Our server is a Dell PowerEdge that is five years old and it just runs. It's been up for 250 days without a restart."

Reader Steve offers another resource: "For those interested in the use of Open Source software in K-12 Schools, we've got an email list for beginners, and a wiki resource."

Finally, Reader Carla says, "It's true that when my tech coordinator broached the possibility of switching to Open Source a few years ago, I wasn't receptive. When it was forced on me, though, I discovered that it wasn't a big switch. It's like driving someone else's car: at first things seem strange, but once you get used to it, you find you can still get where you're going. The students had almost no trouble making the adjustment. Some especially appreciated the opportunity to load the software on their home computers, legally and without cost, so that they could continue their schoolwork at home. I am now telling everyone how good this experience has been. There's no evangelist like a recent convert, right?)." My teacher wife uses Carla's excellent Web site.

Thanks for the feedback, folks. Glad to hear at least some schools are moving forward and saving money.

Back to Small Business Tech Notes


We installed a Linux Server at a high school. The school reports their network has never been as stable. One teacher said this is how computers run in heaven. We installed an OpenSuse 10 server with around 1200 users. We have been commissioned to add a second server for teachers/school admin and later to switch all of the desktop machines to Linux.

Posted by: Raymond Koekemoer on July 5, 2006 02:59 PM

Hi there,
Here in my country (Chile) the Educational Ministry has installed 600 schools with EduLinux. EduLinux is a chilean distribution developed in Instituto de Informática Educativa, of La Frontera University. EduLinux uses K12 distribution as base, and then makes some changes.

This year, EduLinux is going to be installed around 1700 new schools with EduLinux.

EduLinux uses OpenOffice and Firefox, and the students and teacher uses with out any problem. As EduLinux recover old computers, teachers are so glad to have old computers running modern software.

Posted by: Luis Sepúlveda on July 5, 2006 06:33 PM


I'm volunteering in a project called Skolelinux (School-linux). This was a small project started in 2001. It's basically a custom Debian distribution, specially designed for schools. It's now more known as Debian-Edu.

There is a lot of schools here in Norway using this solution. And there has also been an increasing number in Europe. See this map for schools that has registered that they are using/testing the solution:

The solution is built up around three installation-profiles.
- The server profile (fileserver, proxy, print, ldap, backup, +++),
- The thinclient server profile (LTSP server, mount the users filesystem from, and authentication against the main server)
- The workstations profile (thick client mounting the users home dirs. from, and authentication to the main server.)

So to install a complete solution, first install the main server, then the thinclient server and workstations. Add the users, and a firewall. And then you are finished.

Read more about the solution on our wiki.

Posted by: Frode Jemtland on July 6, 2006 05:20 AM

Our local linux user group was involved in a similar project in the spring of 2005 which was featured in The Gentoo Weekly Newsletter. Went off without a problem and is still in use by the students!

Canada: Elementary school Gentoo LTSP installation

Cory Oldford is the vice-president of Prairie Linux User Group and manager for a remarkable community project in Winnipeg. His group was approached some time ago to switch a lab at a local private elementary school to Gentoo Linux. The lab consisted of about 30 workstations ranging from a P75 with 16MB RAM to a handful of PIII 667mhz with 128MB RAM. The machines were constantly plagued with issues caused by hardware failures and outdated operating systems and software.

It was originally thought the PIIIs wouldn't be able to handle the workload, and that administering several LTSP servers would be too cumbersome. The solution devised by the HC-Linux team (as in "Holy Cross", the name of the school) was an openMosix-enabled LTSP, Gentoo Linux server. After the server's filesystem was built, however, the administrator at the school scraped up much more suitable server hardware, an AMD Sempron 2500 with 1.2GB of RAM.

openMosix worked great for a time, says Cory, but in the class room environment it turned into a liability, because students would insist on powering off the machines. Currently openMosix is disabled, but could be fired up anytime simply by starting the service. The diskless clients don't share their own load, so they just wait for openMosix on the server to farm out processes anyway.

LTSP functioned as expected after a few network issues were resolved, but the desired desktop environment presented a challenge at first: The memory requirements of up to 30 instances of KDE and Konqueror caused the server to start swapping under load. With only one slow 40GB IDE drive, the performance of the server went down dramatically when 30 students were working in the lab. Switching to icewm and a simplified (kludged) ROX-Filer resolved this. The switch to a less voracious desktop environment also left enough RAM to precache the major applications and related libraries on a RAM disk for a greater performance boost.

The HC-Linux PLUGgers get called in for minor issues from time to time, but the server has been running reliably for months now. Cory is grateful for the support he received from the community: "Thanks to Michael Imhof and the rest of the cluster team, and to all the other Gentoo developers for their hard work."

Posted by: Mike Crawford on July 6, 2006 06:27 AM

Our school has been running the linux terminals for students for over two years. We currently have 110 student terminals available. We use OpenOffice for our student and faculty. The conversion has been a great success, savings are over $100,000 while our users remain satisfied with the computer tools they have available.

Posted by: John Hansknecht on July 6, 2006 09:57 AM

Free, Open Source Software (FOSS) in schools is an obvious good choice... If you know about such choices.

Getting FOSS into schools isn't a matter of demonstrating that it is effective. It is a matter of getting knowledgeable systems administrators into schools with the power to make such decisions.

It is often the case that school software choice is decided by school boards and non-technical school administrators who almost always have no idea about FOSS and/or are forced to use proprietary operating systems to support previously installed (or state-mandated) proprietary software.

"I have a license to kill -9"

Posted by: Riskable on July 6, 2006 02:28 PM

We successfully transitioned an entire public elementary school's student computers from Win 95/98 to K12LTSP; it has been an outstanding success. The average classroom went from having 1-3 working student computers to an average of about 7 (and as many as 12). The student/computer ratio by the end of the year was 2:1. Because we wanted to take advantage of existing desktops, most classes run off an individual server but the entire 5th grade (about 40 stations in 4 classrooms) runs off a single P4 dual core server. The software just works - training and transition were minimal and everyone loves their computers. More importantly, we've seen a fundamental seachange in how computers are used in the classroom - this is the point that is often overlooked in these conversations. And, by using existing old, donated and new, inexpensive thin clients, we did this all for about a tenth of the cost of the "proprietary" paradigm. Our school system was impressed enough that they will be piloting K12LTSP in 6 other schools next year.

Posted by: William Fragakis on July 6, 2006 06:46 PM

Does anyone have any successes (or frustrations) to share with using SchoolBell or SchoolTool?

Posted by: James Stansell on July 8, 2006 12:04 AM

EDU-Nix is a Live CD, this means that it is a complete computer
Operating System that runs off of a Compact Disc instead of being
installed onto the computer's hard drive.

EDU-Nix is based upon Gentoo Linux and the K Desktop Environment;
EDU-Nix is Free Software, meaning school districts may legally copy and
redistribute the system to students and faculty.

EDU-Nix also contains installation programs for for
Windows, a fully-featured Office Productivity Suite that is Free to use
and redistribute, as well as Windows installers for Mozilla Firefox Web
Browser, Anagramarama, TuxPaint, TuxType, TuxMath and Celestia.

EDU-Nix contains numerous Educational, Office Productivity and Internet
programs within a portable, Live CD Environment. You can access the
EDU-Nix desktop on any PC that can boot from CD, bringing your system
with you wherever you go.

EDU-Nix provides an incredible amount of Free Open Source Windows
software, as well as a feature-packed Linux Live CD Environment, all at
no cost to districts and completely redistributable.

Posted by: shane on July 8, 2006 06:43 AM