Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education Software Linux

A School District's Education in Free Software 288

Posted by Zonk
from the penguins-in-your-brain dept.
david.jonathan.russe writes "The school district in Kamloops, BC, Canada has been working on a linux-based terminal infrastructure for several years. They now have a system in place district wide and they can not keep up with all of the requests for info. They have a great hybrid system, using diskless workstations all booting from local servers. 'The second-generation system cost the Kamloops district about $47,000 to implement, as well as the cost of training and the release time for personal study and taking exams. However, Ferrie has no doubt of the savings overall. License costs are disappearing as the district phases out its Novell NetWare licenses, and the district no longer needs to purchase productivity software. Ferrie also figures that the increased reliability represents a substantial savings, although he admits that it is hard to quantify. However, perhaps the greatest benefit of switching to free software is that the reliability of the new system frees up technical staff to do more than routine support.'" Linux.com and Slashdot are both owned by SourceForge.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A School District's Education in Free Software

Comments Filter:
  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @01:43PM (#19459051)

    However, resistance among educators crumbled with the emergence of an advocate of the new system. In 2005, Dean Coder, a principal from the Prince George district with whom Ferrie had corresponded, transferred to the Kamloops district because he wanted to become involved in its transition to free software. Assigned to Barriere secondary school, Coder decided to convert all 110 computers at the school over to the thin client system. Systems analyst Dean Montgomery began work on a second-generation system, using state-of-the-art equipment.

    By this point, applications such as OpenOffice.org and Scribus had evolved to the point that teachers were "awestruck" by the new pilot system. However, what really convinced teachers that the change was worthwhile, Ferrie says, was Coder's advocacy. "He put his own reputation on the line and said to the staff, 'I'm going to be there for you.'" A young principal at the district's largest school soon requested the new system, and several others quickly followed. Now, Ferrie says, "we're struggling to implement it at the rest of our secondaries." In the end, an advocate who was both an educator and an administrator, he maintains, made all the difference in getting the system accepted.
    Nomen est omen?
  • the IT staff having to process all the requests for info from other school districts ;-).

    Actually, congrats to them. In areas where you have competent IT staff and are willing to do the work yourself, Linux offers great cost savings *and* the ability to have a system tailored exactly to your needs. Other places, it just offers the latter.
    • In areas where you have competent IT staff and are willing to do the work yourself, Linux offers great cost savings *and* the ability to have a system tailored exactly to your needs.

      This is something that will be repeated because free software is like that and the pioneering days are over.

      Ferrie has nothing but praise for his staff for working through the conflict and learning new skills."Even the technicians who struggled a little bit initially are very good," Ferrie says. "They're phenomenal now. On

      • by einhverfr (238914)

        In areas where you have competent IT staff and are willing to do the work yourself, Linux offers great cost savings *and* the ability to have a system tailored exactly to your needs.

        This is something that will be repeated because free software is like that and the pioneering days are over.

        Ferrie has nothing but praise for his staff for working through the conflict and learning new skills."Even the technicians who struggled a little bit initially are very good," Ferrie says. "They're phenomenal now. Once we really got through all the angst and the problems and sat down and did some serious planning for them, everything started to go great."

        The beauty of free software is where it can take otherwise mediocre staff. One of the greatest motivators is a chance to make a difference, as proved by GE lighting experiments back in the 1920s. In the non free world, you do your job in a very limited box only to watch your work torn out by the next version in the upgrade train. In the free software world, you have all the tools everyone else does and what you do can stand on it's merit. Eventually, the picture that emerges is that there was nothing wrong with your people other than poor tools.

        I suppose I would agree. Note that I said competent, not outstanding. I have seen schools with sufficiently bad IT staff that I wouldn't willingly let them go near any computers running any sort of software at all....

        Having said this, the cost of doing an initial migratio may not be so small if the staff is not really familiar with the best ways to go about things. For example, they said diskless workstations (presumably thick clients running with remote storage). Yes, this is easier to do, but if all y

    • Yes, congratulations. However, they are building on years of effort by the Kindergarten to 12th grade Linux [k12linux.org] project, and other such projects. The K12Linux Project was originally started for the Multnomah County Education Service District [k12.or.us], using hardware donated by Intel. (Intel does some of its processor design in a big facility which is also in Portland, Oregon, USA.)

      Perhaps 8 years ago, one of the founders of the K12Linux project told me that the total cost of maintenance of Linux was less than half that of Windows. (He gave a figure much less than half, but I don't remember the actual figure.)

      My experience with Windows is that it is sloppily coded, and lots of things cause Windows to need maintenance. For example, the CPU hogging bug in Firefox, which seems to be worse in Firefox version 2.0.0.4, sometimes causes Windows XP Professional SP2 to become unstable and require re-starting the computer. When Firefox hogs the CPU under Linux, it is only necessary to kill Firefox. Linux remains stable.

      If Microsoft paid schools $100 per copy to take Windows, the cost of Windows would still be far higher than K12Linux.

      The K12Linux Project home page gives links to other Linux-in-schools projects, also.

      A side benefit of Linux is that it is much more secure, partly because of its design, and partly because students are less likely to know how to tinker with it, I was told.

      It is far easier to maintain a terminal server [k12ltsp.org] with numerous simple terminals, than separate stand-alone computers, too, and Linux is fast enough to be used that way.

      I feel a little uncomfortable with what I said above, because I am vastly understating the savings of using Linux rather than Windows. Microsoft can't even make "Microsoft Genuine Advantage" work correctly; that is a GENUINE disadvantage of Windows [microsoft.com]. (I am using the word "genuine" in its honest sense, not in its abusive public relations spin sense.)

      Another problem with a Windows system is hiring people who are willing to work with products from a company such as Microsoft that is so abusive. It's tiring to work with abusiveness.

      Again, I still feel uncomfortable because I am understating the case. My company has had considerable trouble with error messages from Windows Update [microsoft.com], for example. We've had about 8 different kinds of problems, some of which have required hours to solve. Judging from the many, many complaints on the newsgroup, there seem to be many other kinds of Windows Update problems we haven't had.

      People who work in IT sometimes like Microsoft because the sloppy Microsoft products give them more work.
      • by TrancePhreak (576593) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @04:27PM (#19460017)

        My experience with Windows is that it is sloppily coded, and lots of things cause Windows to need maintenance. For example, the CPU hogging bug in Firefox, which seems to be worse in Firefox version 2.0.0.4, sometimes causes Windows XP Professional SP2 to become unstable and require re-starting the computer. When Firefox hogs the CPU under Linux, it is only necessary to kill Firefox. Linux remains stable.
        Or you could say, just kill the process in Windows.

        A side benefit of Linux is that it is much more secure, partly because of its design, and partly because students are less likely to know how to tinker with it, I was told.
        The whole point of computers in schools is to familiarise students with them. There's always going to be at least one uber-geek able to take down the whole network with a flick of the wrist. Anecdotal evidence does not setup your computer to be the most secure platform.

        Another problem with a Windows system is hiring people who are willing to work with products from a company such as Microsoft that is so abusive. It's tiring to work with abusiveness.
        I'm sure it's hard to hire from all those millions of certified people.
        • "Or you could say, just kill the process in Windows."

          Yes, and after killing the Firefox CPU hogging process, the ENTIRE OS is unstable.

          The founders of the K12Linux project were the kind of people who will always have work. They enjoyed reducing the workload as much as possible. A lot of the discussion of Windows comes from people who wouldn't have a job if Windows weren't so difficult to maintain.
      • In my experience, companies pay for Linux systems whatever they can afford to pay. The cost of maintenance is lower, but the system offers a larger number of options to optimize it to a specific environment. More often than not, companies pay *more* for the Linux solution than for a Windows one because they want to put their money into making sure it gets done right. Thus while there is some truth to Microsoft's TCO figures, they only tell a small portion of the story.

        I would add that:

        1) It is usually possible to migrate entirely from Windows to Linux over a total migration cycle with no added expenses. For most businesses, that is about 5 years. Some of my customers are at the end of their migration cycle and only have the accounting systems and the like to migrate.

        2) Linux costs whatever you are willing to pay. It can cost less if you want to just use out of the box configurations. It can cost more if you want to put the effort into making it work perfectly for your business. Since schools usually have lower budgets, this generally forces them to do more in-house and rely on consultants less. This has good and bad points....

        3) Linux always costs less to maintain than Windows. This means that these cost savings can go towards improving the computing environment in other ways... No need to cut your budget, just get more for your money :-).

        4) Though many businesses find a higher TCO with Linux than Windows, this is because they are willingly investing more into their networks. Hence, it can fit any budget...
      • by Blakey Rat (99501)
        My experience with Windows is that it is sloppily coded, and lots of things cause Windows to need maintenance. For example, the CPU hogging bug in Firefox, which seems to be worse in Firefox version 2.0.0.4, sometimes causes Windows XP Professional SP2 to become unstable and require re-starting the computer. When Firefox hogs the CPU under Linux, it is only necessary to kill Firefox. Linux remains stable.

        1) Why are you saying that WIndows is bad because of a bug in a third-party program coded by, and let's
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by EvilRyry (1025309)

          What reality are you in? It's far easier to hire admins who know Windows well, even high quality admins. And they come cheaper than Linux admins.

          I'll agree that its easier to find a Windows admin... a competent Windows admin on the other hand is just as hard to find as a competent Linux admin. The vast majority of Windows admins I run into are complete idiots, not to say its set in stone.

          As far as being cheaper, that is generally correct. However surveys repeatedly show that Linux admins can cover a much larger amount of systems than Windows admins, greatly reducing or eliminating the total cost difference between them.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        My experience with Windows is that it is sloppily coded, and lots of things cause Windows to need maintenance.


        but all the articles in the "highly reliable times" say otherwise! How can you refute Microsoft marketing with facts like that?

        By the way, the windows people that will disagree about the terminal server are those that have earned their battle scars on Citrix and windows terminal server... both incredibly crappy and unreliable products that turn fres 21 year old IT staff into grey and wrinkled with
  • which distro? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FudRucker (866063)
    no mention in the article of which distro or if many distros that were implemented...
    • Doesn't matter. The differences between Unix distributions are only superficial. The better you know Unix, the less these little differences matter. Yes, I am saying Unix, since I include the BSDs, OSX and Solaris. Deep down, they are all the same.
      • by LinuxGeek (6139) *

        The differences between Unix distributions are only superficial.


        Have you actually worked with many different OSes? I have found VMS, Linux, various BSDs and AIX to be very different. Especially when talking about administration tasks. Not very superficial at all, related like a family, but can be as different as two children from the same parents.
        • I've worked with (used as a personal desktop or production server for more than a month) Red Hat, Debian, Ubuntu, Slackware, SuSE, Gentoo, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and Solaris. From a user perspective, they are all basically the same. From an admin or programmer perspective there are differences, but they're not really relevant - it's stuff like the first SATA disk being /dev/sd0 instead of /dev/wd0 or the default shell being ksh instead of bash or the package manager being different. Any competent admin for one c

    • No, and that would be somewhat interesting.

      A close relitive of mine set up a high school in Turkey, and at first they used the K-12 LTSP project which is Fedora Based, he switched to Mandriva and likes it a lot better.

      He found a bit of a learning curve as well, but had the time to spend since he was spending so much less time administrating.

      What I would find interesting is what they found the optimal size for the servers, how many terminals they support, how the ram and the drives were configured optimally,
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bl8n8r (649187)
      My first reaction was that it may be TraitorousWhore-StickItUptheCommunityAss-Linux [suselinux.com] since it appears on the a Microvell [suseblog.com] blog, but I found an article [sd73.bc.ca] on the school website [sd73.bc.ca] that may suggest otherwise:

      (from Linux in Education Project link, on right column)
      "Here is a list of some of the free software technologies that we use: Debian, Free BSD, RedHat, MySQL, PHP, OpenOffice, Linux Terminal Server Project, Diskless Clients, Dansguardian, Squid, Cyrus, Squirrelmail, Scribus, Qcad, Cycus, and more..."
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @01:52PM (#19459093)
    All the problems that companies have with OSS, like having to train their supporters and techs, or a fear of loss of productivity due to unknown software, don't apply for schools. They usually have a fair lot of clued students at their hands who would gladly offer support in exchange for additional credit or at least other services the school can provide (like net access and so on), and the loss of productivity is, if it applies at all, on the head of the student, not the school.
    • What does apply... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Sunday June 10, 2007 @03:22PM (#19459629) Journal
      Microsoft and Apple, among others, are willing to give stuff to schools. With Linux, the software may be free, but you probably have to buy your own hardware.

      It's true, it may be cheaper in the long run, if you're not a highly technical school -- meaning, you don't have to upgrade your hardware very often. But even then, many schools prefer to take the first hit free, and then be stuck with the recurring licencing fees.

      Personally, though, schools are the first places I'd want to start on free software, as unlikely as it is. That way, when they graduate, they'll be ready to move their workplace over -- or at least be easily trainable for anything -- and if they go on to be programmers, they'll be more likely to fix the free tools than to buy the commercial ones.

      Contrast that to the way it is now, where you only use the proprietary stuff because it's free in school and easy to pirate at home, so when you get to work, you insist that the company buy you the same tools, and the company figures it's cheaper than retraining you.
      • Microsoft and Apple, among others, are willing to give stuff to schools. With Linux, the software may be free, but you probably have to buy your own hardware.

        They may give stuff (even hardware) or discount it - but there are usually strings attached such as only certain products, or limited licensing quantity/discounts. Even if they gave stuff there is still the license tracking nightmare as well as the hodge-podge of the different granted unit configurations (i.e. the new Dell systems may have differen

    • by v1 (525388)
      Also (I work in a school as desktop support) you are not just teaching the staff, you are also teaching the students. (or the staff is teaching the students, as is most often the case) The students are not entirely a blank slate, but close. Once you get the staff up to speed, the ball is rolling and it doesn't matter that it's linux or Macintosh or Windows, the students learn it in the same time. They don't have to "un-learn" windows.

      Since the teachers don't use windows at school, they don't often buy wi
  • by Taimat (944976) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @01:54PM (#19459111)
    I had to laugh... when I clicked to the article, the embedded ad was this ad that people were switching from linux to windows servers....

    http://spe.atdmt.com/b/NMMRTUMISITP/mrs06245_swit_ 336x280_DEF.gif [atdmt.com]
    • What's funny is that there's an animated version of that that plays with the stories on slashdot occasionally. It's a fake newspaper called "Windows Server Times" or something and one of the headlines is that companies are switching from Linux to Windows Server. Of course, why you'd be inclined to trust Pro-Microsoft articles in a news rag called, "Windows Server Times" even if it was real is a mystery to me.
  • good, (Score:4, Insightful)

    by joe 155 (937621) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @01:54PM (#19459113) Journal
    I was pleased to read about how they handled staffing issues, with help and support for the people to retrain and time off to train in their own time and to get good qualifications. That's just good management. Bringing people to open source software will probably need initiatives like this to reassure people that the skills that they have won't now be wasted...

    Good effort by them.
  • by zymano (581466) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @01:57PM (#19459127)
    It's not about saving money. Campaign donations and influence rule.

    Kc schools want laptops for all the students. Yikes. More higher property taxes.

    I heard there's a place in Florida that's NOT building any schools just to stop the ever increasing taxes that schools create.
    • What happened in Florida was the result of the high deficit of the federal government that Bush created.

      Florida used to receive billions in federal revenue and loans. Now since money is tight I do not believe they receive any assistance.

      So when Florida had more money they increased spending and now they can not afford to pay for everything. Texas, California and many other states are in the same boat with huge gapping deficits. IF you are going to cut off money you need to so do gradually and not just overn
      • by shmlco (594907)
        First rule of a bureaucracy: Spend ALL of your budget. Spend more if you can.

        Because if you (shudder) spend less, the powers that be might actually CUT your budget to what you actually need.
        • by Dan Ost (415913)
          Process is the antithesis of innovation.
          Similarly, bureaucracy is the antithesis of progress.

          The business world is just now starting to figure out that it's better to build a framework to support something than it is to build a process to do the same thing. That's because a framework can support multiple things whereas a process that is modified from it's original purpose becomes an unwieldy beast.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by daeg (828071)
      Do not let your district fall for the "laptop for every child" ploy. It's a trap. The productivity gains are none whatsoever. Combine that with even higher IT costs, licensing costs, etc, and it's a taxpayer's nightmare.

      Try to push for the library to have laptops instead that students can check out like they do books. Set them up on Linux -- if the student is just typing, they shouldn't need Internet outside of school. Set up an easy system to wipe/re-image the drives upon return. Everyone wins.
  • Schools should use free software. They should educate their students about their digital freedom. They should expand their Microsoft-only view.
    Why do you think no non-geeks care about digital freedom in our time? They don't know what freedom of software is like, because no one educated them.
    • But... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by blowdart (31458)
      That's fine up to a point; the majority of businesses still use MS Office and windows and will want to see that experience, and if you completely replace everything with linux or other free alternatives you're just creating another monoculture, and push a free-only view; which is, to my mind, just as bad.
      • Re:But... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Bert64 (520050) <bert&slashdot,firenzee,com> on Sunday June 10, 2007 @02:45PM (#19459435) Homepage
        We used wordperfect in school, now that i have left school i find that noone uses wordperfect in the workplace.
        Those who learn word in school today will probably be using something totally different by the time they enter the workplace anyway.
        Atleast for them, whatever they end up using will almost certainly be an improvement, to someone taught on wordperfect word is a huge step down.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ant P. (974313)
          We used Wordperfect in our school as well, until in 2001-2 they replaced all the 512k Macs with Pentium 2 PCs running Win2k and Office 2000. They were slower, crashed more and caused us to miss more classes (several times we had to waste an entire hour following instructions from the teacher to run virus removal tools and windows update, because they'd apparently never heard of SUS).
        • Probably half of lawyers use it. People who produce really enormous quantities of documents appreciate the quality, stability and archive value of WP.
        • by prat393 (757559)
          I don't think it's particularly meaningful to use the word processor as our example. The basic word processor is a well-understood piece of software, and any decently well-done implementation will offer students what they need in the "typing a paper" department. There are, however, other distinct advantages to free software: free 3D modeling, music editing, laboratory data sampling, image processing, publishing. Teach the students to do these things with a computer, and I think... well, wordperfect will s
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by KingOfBLASH (620432)
          But any software students use will teach them about using software, and give them basic computer skills.

          Who cares if the functions in OpenOffice use a ; instead of a ,, the students will learn how to use a spreadsheet.

          And, at least with open software, there's the chance they may be able to learn something about how to put together software.

          When I was in school, I took a computer course in Pascal. I was so excited, I wanted a copy for myself to program in on my spare time -- but it Borland Pascal cost somet
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dvice_null (981029)
        > you're just creating another monoculture, and push a free-only view; which is, to my mind, just as bad

        Do you know what is the difference between Microsoft monoculture and open source monoculture?

        I give you a hint. The other has huge license costs and you have to like what you get. And the other doesn't have license costs and if you don't like something, you can always either fix it yourself, ask anyone else to fix it or pay anyone to fix it for you. Please note the term "anyone". It is very importan wo
      • if you completely replace everything with linux or other free alternatives you're just creating another monoculture, and push a free-only view; which is, to my mind, just as bad.

        Replacing everything with Linux *or* other free alternatives might create a software monoculture, but that's only if everyone really chooses the same free alternative. Replacing some things with Ubuntu, some things with SuSE, some things with FreeBSD, some things with Solaris, etc., would not quite be a monoculture.

        There's a lot

      • Re:But... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JohnBailey (1092697) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @04:30PM (#19460029)
        So instead of teaching applications, teach concepts. There is no profound difference in using Windows and associated apps and using Linux and the alternatives until you start doing the admin stuff. Outside any computer tech classes, that isn't even a consideration. These are school kids not IT admins. You still click on a menu or an icon to open a program, you still need to use a menu or a button to save a document. And last time I checked, Open Office didn't require you to convert everything to hex and back to decimal to do any calculations, Same old formulas in cells stuff as Excel.

        I agree, a monoculture is bad.. So how are you proposing that it changes? Teaching kids that the only way to use a computer is with Microsoft products just maintains the current state. Teaching them to use different systems can only be an advantage. If nothing else, it will give the kids a chance to see a different system in use. At worst, it will require them to do a little more study to get up to speed with Office.
      • Re:But... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CheeseTroll (696413) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @05:27PM (#19460347)
        I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Are we sending our kids to secretarial school, or are we teaching them to think? I used AppleWorks to type papers in high school, and wrote them out in cursive before that. Who the heck writes in cursive anymore (except grandparents and elementary schoolkids)? But amazingly enough, I have *somehow* managed to get jobs and be a productive member of society.
      • by caseih (160668)
        That's actually okay. I have almost exclusively a Linux background. Yet I am every bit as marketable as a MCSE. I actually have real experience in various technologies themselves, like LDAP, SQL, etc, not just experience in one MS implementation of said technologies. Employers who can't recognize the broader background will continue to higher MCSEs, which is fine by me. But my current employer recognizes that because I came from a Linux background, the depth and breadth of my underlying skills are much
  • by fishthegeek (943099) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @02:45PM (#19459433) Journal
    In the US, or at least the school district I teach in there is tremendous resistance to anything that isn't blessed by the Gods of Redmond. I teach with Ubuntu in the classroom and I am forever getting snide remarks about it. They've even asked me not to put the machines on the network for what they claim are security reasons as if they actually don't want any secure machines on the lan or something. I put the machines behind a router and have safely hidden my enclave of FLOSS goodness. The problem I have with homogeneous networks is that the kids I'm teaching now will probably never see one in real life because in real life there is a mix of *nix and Windows out there and they need those integration skills badly. If anyone knows a way to convince lifetime IT employees at a school district of anything please let me know because these guys and gals are stuck in 1997 and they aren't willing to let it go.
    • How many real IT administrators do you have? I'm guessing it's between 0 and 1/aleph-null.

      What you probably have is a load of ignorant MCSEs. They have worked through the manuals, they have done the multiple choice tests, but they don't really have a clue outside the point and click. Why am I doing this? I don't know, you just have to. If you don't, security demons come and eat your soul. Or something. The fix for any problem? Upgrade. I guess we can't do that in XP, have to wait for Vista. No, I don't know

    • by Ant P. (974313) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @03:40PM (#19459731) Homepage
      Easy answer.

      Every second Tuesday of the month, walk by the IT office and remind them what day it is with a snide remark of your own.
    • by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @03:53PM (#19459801)
      Keep up the good work. Mixed networks are sloooooooly making a comeback. At the large company I work, almost all IT stuff is MS. However, most of the products we build and deliver are *nix and the pressure from the engineers to get Linux desktops is growing. Many engineers are running CDROM based Linux versions on their laptops and desktops and never boot into the IT installed MS configuration. Our customers are feeling the same pressure, since we keep installing Linux systems for them.
    • If anyone knows a way to convince lifetime IT employees at a school district of anything please let me know...

      Easy. Outlive them.
      • Ha ha... those folks have been at there job a long long time. It's typical government employment. I overheard one of them claim to still be using gopher the other day. Personally I think that, like most spawn of Evil they are immortal, and I should probably try exorcism first.
  • by mattr (78516)
    I understand my elementary school nephews in Stowe, Vermont are going to be learning on Vista in their school. It's nice they are getting any exposure at all (though they've been playing Harry Potter on a PC at home for years) but I'm worried about what their first experience will be, and also why an OS that most businesses are leery about and which ties up huge computing resources is being used in an elementary school. True I had a fabulous opportunity when I was young to learn on a keypunch terminal and f
  • Connect the dots (Score:3, Interesting)

    by starfishsystems (834319) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @03:12PM (#19459565) Homepage
    Ferrie also figures that the increased reliability represents a substantial savings, although he admits that it is hard to quantify.
    ...
    However, perhaps the greatest benefit of switching to free software is that the reliability of the new system frees up technical staff to do more than routine support.

    I agree that it takes a fair amount of tracking to quantify total cost of ownership beyond the large but incidental fixed cost of implementation.

    Still, staff salaries are usually a significant cost to any operation, so if staff resources are able to shift into new activities as a result of the change, it would seem common sense to begin by tracking that. The article has two sentences side by side. It shouldn't be hard to connect the dots between them.

    Moreover, if we're measuring true TCO, we should look at overall effect on staff time, not just tech support staff. In a Linux terminal server environment, the entire staff population will now be spending zero time on fiddling with their workstations. It would be nice to compare this with the number of hours on average that individual staff members previously spent in dealing with issues on Windows workstations. That's a big part of TCO as well, but if you never measure it, how can you know when you've improved it?

    I don't know the answer in this case, but I'll make one general observation. When Microsoft promotes its lower TCO calculations, look to see whether they fairly compare the total staff time spent in system configuration, software installation, failures due to bugs, compatibility and security issues, problem analysis and resolution.

    • So? You also need to factor in installing litle programs, if Linux is so secure users should be allowed to install applications!

      If I need a peice of software I now need to talk to a tech support instead of just installing it myself.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        If Linux is so secure users should be allowed to install applications!

        Absolutely. Users already can install applications. There's no great mystery to it. They're also free to develop applications, if they care to. All the tools they might need are there, or can be downloaded off the net.

        Of course, with Linux being a secure environment, your system administrators probably won't let you have root, and they may restrict what you can do in other ways, even to the extent of disallowing programs to execut

  • by gobbo (567674) <wrewrite AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday June 10, 2007 @03:23PM (#19459639) Journal
    I live in a mainly rural school district 64 in the same province, and we're starting to undergo a similar process. The local principal is interested, and I've given him a copy of Edubuntu to evaluate the upcoming changes--though I'm not so sure the district is going that direction, I think they're emulating Kamloops (thin client etc.). The comment in the article about the staff having more time for things like a help desk and hardware support is understated, it's absolutely huge in making a difference for teachers, especially at isolated schools. It's important to me, because I want to start a computer club at my kids' (40 student rural) elementary, and I've been giving away old boxes with puppy linux on them for a while now, with some success.

    Nice thing about successful changeovers like this is that they're infectious.
    • by Dan Ost (415913)
      Nice thing about successful changeovers like this is that they're infectious.

      This can't be emphasized enough. Success breeds imitation. If the imitators are similarly successful, that's when things really take off because now you've got a community.
  • ... how much the school could save if the staff could maintain the boilers, plow snow in the parking lot and wash the windows too.
    • Most school districts DO have staff to maintain boilers and wash windows. I bet over 50% of schools never see snow, so that is optional.
      • by Dan Ost (415913)
        Keep in mind that this is in Canada. The vast majority of schools in Canada deal with snow.
  • by Prospero2007 (1113755) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @03:42PM (#19459747)
    Hello All,
    I have a similar story.

    My name is Josh Beck, and I'm the IT coordinator at a magnet middle school within the Northeast Independent School District.(San Antonio, TX) Last year I piloted about 9 classroom Ubuntu computers in my lab. As the year went on, I modified the default setup so that I have an image that is secure and hopefully %100 percent functional. I've spent the last week exporting this image to 5 computer labs, approximately 150 computers. When the teachers and kids come back next year , they'll have the option to boot Windows or Linux. (The Linux side is sporting the fancy Beryl desktop. It won a lot of the kids over last year, and I'm thinking it will do the same next year.)

    If you are in Education, and you want to migrate your school's computers so that open-source is at least an option, be warned. There really can be a whole lot of resistance. I have to agree with what I read here in that respect. I really did put my job on the line when I wiped out my first 9 licensed computers to replace them with open-source alternatives. The district-level IT coordinators put up a bit of a fight.

    Although I'm in agreement that Novel can easily be phased out, I do use the Linux client. It isn't easy to bring online, and if your primary net device is listed as anything other that 'ETH0' you have to reprogram and recompile the thing, but Novel access through Linux works. Here's a more detailed look if you are interested:

    Novel on Linux How To [ubuntuforums.org]

    At this point in time my feeling is that it's probably more realistic to offer teachers and students a choice, and then educate them about what's involved with that choice. If they want to use Windows, and your school district has a healthy tax-base, by all means purchase the license and allow them to do so. I can tell you this. When I offered the choice last year, the Linux seats were hot real estate. The kids love it.

    Here's a video with one of my students:
    Eject! [youtube.com]

    Josh Beck
    IT Coordinator
    Interactive Media Applications at Krueger Middle School
    Northeast ISD
    San Antonio, Texas

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Im kind of curious..

      Did you experiment in using Xen to use Windows AND some version of Linux (Ubuntu is the craze these days)?

      With both running, you could have students choose without rebooting and such annoying things, however memdisks are a bit problematic.

      The only other downside is that it raises complexity by a nice factor of 4: configure Xen and system properly, then install/configure guest OSes properly.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Prospero2007 (1113755)
        By Xen, I'm assuming you mean virtualization. (I apologize if I didn't catch your drift.) Yes, we used virtualization to run Windows on Linux, but the machine running in the virtualized window took too much of a performance hit. I used VMWARE. Make a commitment and stick to it for at least 10 minutes is an excellent lesson for middle school kids don't you think? As far as complexity, using dd in conjuction with netcat makes exporting a fully configured system from one machine to another a snap. Virtualize
  • I'm a Network Analyst for a school district in Nor Cal, and having just DUMPED a terminal server type installation, I'll give you my perspective of terminals in a school environment.

    1) Terminal Servers suck using presentation software. Two or three people on one machine is enough to bring it to its knees. Adding Servers to the farm is not really a viable option for every three people doing "Powerpoints".

    2) Using Web based applications can bring the server to its knees with about 10-15 users. Combine with #1
    • by statusbar (314703)
      I don't think you are talking about linux terminal services... Perhaps you are thinking of the limitations of windows terminal services?

      --jeffk++
      • Nope.

        Try telling Teachers that their favorite software doesn't run on Linux. They don't care, and they don't want cheesy alternatives that barely work. Just one example: Tux Typing is cute and all, but lacks features needed in a classroom.
        • by statusbar (314703)
          What features are needed in a classroom? Besides of course teaching "Microsoft Word" which no one utilizes properly anyway?

          --jeffk++
    • by DaMattster (977781) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @05:43PM (#19460439)
      I have had a lot of luck with the Open Source variety of Terminal Services. I use FreeBSD as a server for 25 diskless workstations at a very small, private, special ed school. It even works fine on slightly older hardware. Most of the expense in deploying this came with an upgrade to a gigabit switch and two high end dell servers. I was lucky in that most of the other workstations from 2-3 years ago on had gb ethernet cards in them. But, all in all, it's been nicely cruising along since the Christmas holiday and there is plenty of extra power for growth. We had only one outage due to power loss and the UPS's shut everything down safely. I love FreeBSD's acupsd (power management daemon.) The gigabit ethernet makes lots of difference.

      Deployment was also relatively simple. I created accounts for all of our students and teachers. I used samba to connect to the existing student/teacher data on our old Windows 2000 Small Business Server and copied the data to one of the new servers. One server was going to be used as the Application Server and the other as the File Server. Secondly, I went around to all of the PCs, yanked the hard disks and set them to PXE Boot. The teachers came back early for an inservice and to see the new system. During the presentation, the older PC I was using died. I got a few snickers and snide comments. They were mesmerized when I shrugged my shoulders and grabbed its new-in-box replacement, turned it on and the presentation resumed. Here the teachers thought they'd get a coffee break while I would have to image a new machine. Instead I just cut the tape off of a new Dell box and was up and running in under 5 minutes. The returning students were greeted to a flashy, student-designed GNOME login screen and an equally slick desktop. Mostly, I got comments like, "You mean I don't have to reboot!?" and "Every time I print, it actually prints."

      Now, I can devote more time to some of my passions. I took the old Win SBS box and turned it into a FreeBSD machine that I use for teaching system administration to interested students who then become assistants. These student will come out with a far stronger knowledge of TCP/IP networks than any MCSE. In fact, if some should decide to go on to careers, they will be further ahead of the curve and, most likely, will be able to run rings around many of the MCSE teachers.

  • Here was the most tragic line in the piece for me

    secondary schools in British Columbia are supposed to teach skills rather than specific software, in practice, many teachers had developed courses that specified particular pieces of software. "You get a teacher who's been around 20-30 years, and they're not that keen on developing their course again," Ferrie says in wry hindsight. Also, many schools had already paid for textbooks that referred to specific proprietary software.

    The teacher is absolutely right in this assertion: students should be learning about concepts and ideas - not only about examples and instances. It's fine if an algebra student can derive the quadratic formula from rote memorization; but it is far more important that she develops the skills to think critically on how to attack this problem on her own.

    In the best computer science programs and programming books; you walk away with a deeper understanding of the science behind the code. Learning should be focused on cultivating concepts and ideas that can be applied to a broad range of implementations; not churning out specifically Java or C# developers. Similarly, children should learn about core computer concepts and ideas - not on how to create flashing text in Microsoft Word.

  • I am a level one tech support volunteer who has gotten some assistance building a 33-seat thin client network in a public school in San Francisco. We could use the help of a one or two higher-level network admins on a few issues. We have been up and running nicely for two years. We could just use some help occasionally. It's a public school, so there is almost no budget. We are doing almost all of this on legacy hardware. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, and would like to help with a few issues, please email me at einfeldt at digitaltippingpoint dot com. Thanks either way! Christian Einfeldt
  • Poignant... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rickb928 (945187)
    I've done a lot of work with schools, and mostly in NetWare systems. While I saved them a bunch of $$$ over using Windows, not much is cheaper than free...

    And I looked at the LTSP back in 2003 thought it was so not ready. Two systems asked me if it was something they should consider, and I told they yes, but 1)let it mature a little technically, and 2)find an advocate in the system, even *just* a teacher, who would drive the project. I knew this would cut my consulting fees dramatically, but I thought th
    • Are you located in Maine? I'm being approached to do some LTSP work for a couple of schools. Drop me a line, I'd be interested in talking to you.
  • by fm6 (162816)
    The professional usage nazi in me hates the submitter for calling these systems "terminals". A "terminal" is just a brainless box that passes data back and forth, without the ability to actually run applications locally. A diskless system that boots off a server is a thin client, which is actually a lot more impressive. What's ironic is that you see lots of systems such as the Sun Ray that are sold as "thin clients", but are actually just terminals!

    But my inner usage nazi needs to get over it. This usag
  • by nurb432 (527695)
    Sounds a lot like what the ndiyo project ( http://www.ndiyo.org/ [ndiyo.org] ) is trying to do, except they are also working on providing their own ( sub 100$ ) hardware to go along with the concept.
  • the Pros and Cons (Score:2, Informative)

    by jmnugent (705421)
    FWIW..I spent the last 3 years working as the (only full time) IT admin/tech for a K-12 school district. (approx 5 schools,.. total when I left of about 700 workstations.) What they did right (in the article) was (seemingly) they had good management who understood what they were doing and put an organized effort into re-training the staff and valuing the "soft" side of the equation (human factors) as much as the technical side. (Although I would also like to see specifications on exactly how many systems t
    • School districts are full of politics and "resistance" and very little money. (as shown by the fact that this "project" took them 10 years to implement)

      Ten years, yes, but the guy in Kamloops was a pioneer. Cloning the Kamloops system (hardware, software, and humanware) should take far, far less time.

  • by kbahey (102895) on Sunday June 10, 2007 @05:49PM (#19460465) Homepage
    Nice to see that. Better have the money going to local business than licensing fees that go outside the country.

    I did something similar for the home network.

    Completely diskless PCs are less practical in a home environment (need to source the cards, the Boot ROMs, ...etc., and disks are cheap anyway).

    For the home network, I don't want to chase viruses and malware. So except for one dual boot machine, everything is Linux (5 workstations, and one server).

    A server at home stores all the user data. NFS handles file sharing, and NIS handles authentication (do not forget to configure /etc/nsswitch.conf to give precedence to NIS over local files). /etc/fstab has the NFS shares and what they map to.

    All this is on on kubuntu for the workstations and ubuntu server on the server. I think I started doing this with Dapper, and moved on to Breezy, Edgy then now it is on Feisty.

    For general computing, kubuntu is very usable. OpenOffice, FireFox and Gaim/Kopete for the basics. Skype works well, and so does Opera.

    I used to have autofs too so all home directories were mounted automatically from the server, but stopped doing that several months ago. I can't remember what it was, but it was an upgrade that caused some issues (maybe around Edgy).

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made. -- Jean Giraudoux

Working...