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High School Students Develop Linux Imaging and Help Desk Software 116

An anonymous reader writes "A Pennsylvania school district is going Linux and building an open source high school with the help of student technology apprentices. As part of a 1:1 laptop learning program, 1725 high school students at Penn Manor School District are receiving new laptops running Ubuntu and open source software exclusively. Central to the program is a student help desk where student programmers created a Linux multicast imaging system titled Fast Linux Deployment Toolkit. The district posted pictures of the imaging process in action. Working alongside school IT staff, students also developed help desk software and other programs in support of the 1:1 student laptop program. The student tech apprentices also provide peer support for fellow students."
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High School Students Develop Linux Imaging and Help Desk Software

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 24, 2014 @11:56PM (#46064169)

    Somewhere in an office in Redmond, chairs are being thrown.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @12:09AM (#46064251)

    In schools there is quite a bit of windows only stuff (part why macs are not as big in schools as they used to be) but the big part is lack of office on Linux and open office does not fully work with office files.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Thong ( 218859 )

      For me the problem is always the other way around. Microsoft Office doesn't work well with .od? files.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I graduated from college recently. I've never even owned office, or used open office. I've been fine with basic rtf when I need formatting, or Latex for a couple things where that was the encouraged approach.

        Mostly I've needed to read PDFs (Ick!). The few word documents I had to open that have complex formatting crap were just things I hard to read, and thus broken formatting was fine. TextEdit or Google Docs worked well enough.

        Really, whats office for? Formatting text? Thats not an important part of my lif

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I graduated from grad school recently (PhD in physics), also without touching Microsoft Office. I did use Microsoft Word on Mac a tiny bit, in versions that pre-dated Windows; but, by the time I was doing anything sophisticated enough to need more than a plain .txt editor, I was using LaTeX (via LyX). So, I can't answer what Office is for --- neither I, nor most of my colleagues, have any need for it (despite generating substantial quantities of documents requiring sophisticated typesetting). Formatting te

          • by Anonymous Coward

            It's nice that you took the hard way, but not everyone wants to do that. Most people want to focus on their degree and not trying to figure out how to make their computer do what they want it to do.

            • by Another, completely ( 812244 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @04:54AM (#46065269)

              And you think Word does that? If you are going to write a doctoral thesis in Word, then you have my pity starting out. With LaTeX, you have a formatting area at the front, your references in a nice separate bibliography file, and most of your document is just the text you have written. Setting up a master document that includes separate documents for each chapter, allowing cross-referencing, a single bibliography, and a table of contents is possible in Word, but it's dead simple in LaTeX.

              Setting it up in the first place may take a little looking into, but building a master document in Word isn't intuitive either. If it takes more than a day to get your basic file structure sorted, then you aren't trying. It's three or four years of your life that you will be writing this thing. If the format guidelines change during that time, you can fix it in one place (in fact, some procrastinating student will probably build a fresh style file to share so you don't even need to fix it yourself). How long would it take you in Word to change the margins or line-spacing for a multi-chapter document? What about copying formatted text from a research paper you just finished, keeping all the figure references and citations, but in your university format instead of the journal publisher's?

              I'm in business now, and use Word and Excel regularly because that's the de facto standard. Every time I need to re-format anything in Word I wish I just had to edit LaTeX instead. It's just simpler. In the long run, it will save you time and agony.

            • In my pre-master time I had to write some SW documentation using Word. I guess there is a reason Word is named "Word" and not "Text" - that's why I wrote my master thesis with LaTeX as well (typing most of it in emacs), and I'm pretty certain it saved me a lot of work, even if it meant to invest a small bit up-front in learning.
              • Just to clarify: The SW documentation I had to write was for my job, not for my education. At the university I never had to use any MS product. Even in the nineties, some tools were available only for Linux, and Linux was encouraged.

                At work, I was later able to switch release note generation from Word to LaTeX, which was much easier to script (extract change logs from the vcs, match with some extracts from the error database and test results etc, feed a database with release specific information [which b

            • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @11:18AM (#46066315)

              Which is why they teach LaTeX.

              If you want to spend 20% of your effort on formatting my school suggests using Word.

              If you want to spend 5% on your formatting and 95% on your content you use LaTeX.

          • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

            so you never touched office, cept when you touched office


          • by Axynter ( 684016 )

            I graduated from grad school recently (PhD in physics), also without touching Microsoft Office. I did use Microsoft Word on Mac a tiny bit, in versions that pre-dated Windows; but, by the time I was doing anything sophisticated enough to need more than a plain .txt editor, I was using LaTeX (via LyX).

            Really? Which particular versions are you referring to? Anyway, Office != Word, and as much as I hate storing data in Excel files, a lot of basic things are just much easier in Excel ("real" data and complex manipulation are a different thing, obviously). Then there's Powerpoint, which is actually pretty good for group presentations, teaching, etc, as well as OneNote, another fantastic tool (the enterprise features of office, such as Outlook/Exchange, I'm not particularly impressed with, but I can see many

          • by fisted ( 2295862 )
            Well I engineer enterprise grade software, and this wouldn't be at all possible if there was no MS-Office, and hence no VBA.
            • by Anonymous Coward

              Well I engineer enterprise grade software, and this wouldn't be at all possible if there was no MS-Office, and hence no VBA.

              Enterprise grade software and VBA is a contradiction. I'm sure you write some kind of software, and I'm sure somebody somewhere hobbles along with it, but please don't call VBA "enterprise grade".

              • by fisted ( 2295862 )
                Welcome to the real world. Ever used an ATM? Or a wall socket, for that matter? A financial transaction? At some point, there's one of my enterprise-grade VBA programs involved (in some cases it might actually be military/aerospace-grade).

                Or did you honestly think those ATMs and power plant control systems would autostart and background MS-office for no reason?

                Now you know.
        • When it's just you producing the document in your cloister for submission to the Obscure Journal of Esoteric Research, nobody cares what tool you use. When you have to pass the document around at work and have 13 people edit different sections, it helps to have everyone be able to do it. For better or worse, MS Office is the dominant product in the real, income-producing salary paying world for most areas of commerce. So you need to be able to effectively read and write MS Office documents. If you give

      • by symbolset ( 646467 ) * on Saturday January 25, 2014 @01:48AM (#46064733) Journal

        What about viruses, anti viruses, malware and antimalware? Novell network compatibility? Flash and Silverlight, IE and Exchange compatibility - and persistent mutual incompatibility? Patch Tuesday and its need to intercept updates, test against your set of mission critical apps before rolling them out and then triage and treat the inevitable undiscovered issues? Recurrent planned obsolescence? SharePoint and pirated Photoshop? Landsharks? Goblin invasion?

        It appears they have chosen to operate in a domain where these problems don't exist. Good on 'em.

      • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

        office was chosen over dozens of competitors, but somehow its a problem when od files are not the norm, when 99% of the world doesn't use them

    • by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @12:17AM (#46064305)

      I look at it the other way. Microsoft products do not fully work with open formats. Public institutions really should be using open formats.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And yet the rest of the world could care less about open formats.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Open Office and Libre Office *really* need the Excel equivalent (Calc) to be able to print better (like zooming, fit to page, select a range).
        • Open Office and Libre Office *really* need the Excel equivalent (Calc) to be able to print better (like zooming, fit to page, select a range).

          How about having a chart as a sheet to itself? Has either project ever gotten around to that?

          Polynomial regression trendlines? Passing an entire column as a range to a function (e.g. SUM(A:A) rather than SUM(A1:A1195756262959999287362))?

          Calc makes me a Sad Panda.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            If you're going to be summing up to A1195756262959999287362, then you shouldn't be using Calc. Or Excel. Learn a proper programming language for data analysis --- there are great tools in everything from Python to C, plus specialized mathematical/statistical environments like R, Octave, or Maxima. Spreadsheets of any variety are a poor choice for serious work; once you go beyond adding a couple dozen numbers, you'll be wasting more time fighting against the inherent shortcomings of spreadsheets than the lea

            • Thanks. I already use R as appropriate. Your overly generalized comment about spreadsheets being inappropriate will be taken under advisement.

              The satire of the row offset is based on the fact that once there is enough data that there are rows offscreen, *I don't want to have to care* what the final row in the data is... I want to apply the function to the entire column. Excel makes this easy with full column references like B:B, whereas with Calc one has to come up with a guess for a final row number that w

          • [] In Javelin, you defined a variable (like Electric Usage or Product X Sales) as having a period (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly...), you had a screen for entering values into a variable at any time period, and you could use those variables in functions that automatically split or combined values appropriately. Then you'd lay out a worksheet (not a spreadsheet!) for whatever combination of variables and time periods you liked. Charts and graphs existed independen
            • No Mystery. Managers and executives are exempt from having to learn to use the tools of their trade, which are generally reporting tools. Most of the time, even a small business would be WAY better off with a web based client-server core business system (be it stock management, documentation tracking, transaction handling, etc) with reporting baked right in. Instead, they all use Excel and Email. This is understandble for a very small business, in which there simply isn't time to deal with IT and getting uc
        • If that's all you can find you are reaching. Most of that is the fault of the MS Windows mess in the print system where most printer vendors have to roll a lot of stuff their own anyway. I could easily find worse problems in excel charts (it's been shit at XY plots since day one and still has stupid defaults) and I'm sure there's worse in libre/openoffice too.
          I suggest try libre/openoffice with a different printer, or on a Mac or linux and that problem will most likely go away.
          • I prefer Free Software, Excel has been able to do that since 1994 on Windows 3.1. I should haven't to switch to a Mac or Linux to be able to print "Fit to page" or "Fit to width". Besides, I can't --- this is at work and most of the software is Windows only.

            And please don't say something like "I should switch employers" or something unhelpful like that.
    • Link to a document that does not open correctly in up to date Open/Libreoffice.

      It is harder than you think. It has been on par for a while now.
      And if the entire school uses it then there is no Office anyway.

      • I don't thing the full back office work / school district is windows free / outside stuff needs office files.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          outside stuff needs office files

          Then as OP requested, please link to a file that cannot be opened in Open/Libreoffice.

          In my experience, the import filters have been steadily improving to the point where its rare to have a problem with MSO files any more. If you have evidence otherwise, please produce it.

      • by Axynter ( 684016 )
        My wife regularly gets Word documents from work containing schedules for the week, etc. I have yet to see one that actually renders 100% correctly in LibreOffice (I can't check the version now, but she downloaded it in September 2013 I think). The main problem seems to be with the placement of tables, which sometimes get overlaid on top of text that should be placed before or next to them. I can't link to those docs for obvious reasons, but trust me, compatibility is an issue, both for my wife, and for me (
        • Like I said, care to share one of the documents? (Redact personal info if needed)
          I've never actually seen a table issue since they are so similar to HTML tables these days.

      • Documents with "shared" access on network drives do not open properly. The render correctly, but LibreOffice will remove the shared status causing the next person to open it to lock the file and have it no longer shared.

        That's the only situation I've found, but it is a pretty big deal at my office. I use LibreOffice everywhere except there.

    • If the school's going to make a commitment to Linux, Open Office is usually compatible enough. Yes, you can probably build a spreadsheet or word doc that doesn't render correctly on OpenOffice, but you don't need to do that if you have people doing most of their new documents in open software.

    • by Noxal ( 816780 )

      It works well enough. I work for a city that has been using Linux exclusively for many years and between WordPerfect, OpenOffice, and LibreOffice shit gets done just fine. Sure we have the occasional formatting problem but it's better to rack up some small help desk charges here and there than shell out for a ton of M$ Office licenses (and Windows licenses....and Windows Server licenses....)

    • My mother was upset when her new copy of Word wouldn't open her Word files that are so important to her like her will, all of the family recipes, etc. She feared that she had lost everything.

      I opened them in LibreOffice with no problems at all. In this respect, older files, Word is the one program that is not compatible with Word. OpenOffice/ LibreOffice can handle older Word documents; Word cannot.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @12:13AM (#46064285)

    Does this image system do UEFI? Clonezilla does

    Clonezilla also can do Multicast as well as PXE and Wake-on-LAN

    • Apparently their system works with the hardware they have. They don't have to borrow trouble. In the future they can choose hardware that works with it.

      My quick reflex was to ask "whar Clonezilla" too. I use cz to image systems by the thousand and ltsp to netboot guest thin clients. They are both great stuff. Apparently they considered the lessons Clonezilla gave and leapt from there. Don't forget that as useful as clonezilla is the primary purpose is to image supercomputer nodes, not end-user laptop

  • by rogoshen1 ( 2922505 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @12:48AM (#46064483)
    Refreshing to see a HS teach something tech related that's actually useful, and will teach these kids to find work later in life.
    so often it seems the answer is just "throw some money at it, give the little shits an iPad" with no real .. technical chops being conferred.
    any idiot can use a computer for lowly office grunt work. Basically, that is to technology what working at McDonald's is to culinary training.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Great part is because it is open source they will learn to program, and not have a few students being exploited be there closed software overlords {Um hmmm MS, Apple]. The will be able to share and hopefully be open minded enough to accept any criticism or help in being able to better there programming, and in turn add to the community him/herself...

      Kudos to the school!!!!!

  • THAT'S education (Score:5, Interesting)

    by emaname ( 1014225 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @12:53AM (#46064509)

    Kudos to that school's admin staff. This is a real educational experience. You can't beat hands-on. Plus the students are engaged in the operation of their school; IOW they have some ownership or at least a partnership.

    I agree with the comments re compatibility. MS is the odd-man-out. They've been forcing their proprietary stuff on the world for too long. And innovation has been stunted as a result of their dominance. My peers and I witnessed time and again in the 80's when someone would come out with a great idea and then MS would buy them and the great idea would disappear so there would be no competition in the marketplace.


    open office does not fully work with office files

    To be more specific, that comment must be with re to macros because I've never had any problems and I still don't.

    I did a lot of support work for a one of the divisions of a large, world-wide corporation. One of the things I did was edit/fix Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. I pulled the files into OpenOffice, fixed all the formatting, spelling, grammar, calculation, and punctuation mistakes and then exported the files back to the appropriate MS Office file format. Nobody knew and I always received compliments re how nice everything looked. As a matter of fact, I did most of that work on a Mac and later on Linux. And, of course, that corporation was Windows only.

    It still brings a smile to my face. They were paying huge sums of money for their licenses and here I was using an open-source solution to fix all their problems.

  • This off. I know I once tried to explain it to one. Group think works better than one god.
  • Sooo frustrating! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pav ( 4298 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @01:39AM (#46064711)

    There has been a powerful infrastructure almost ready to do this (plus much more) available for ages : A GUI + LDAP based web interface called GOsa [] and a more active fork called FusionDirectory []. It does almost everything, but noone has pulled the trigger on an important piece to allow imaging and/or OS installation - this requires a plugin for their messaging daemon. This messaging daemon is either called GOsa-si, or Argonaut in the two projects respectively). This has worked in the past... though bitrot and lack of interest has broken that particular piece.

    Right now it allows GUI administration of DNS, DHCP, Samba, your choice of SMTP and POP/IMAP daemons, multiple groupware, Squid, rSyslog, Asterisk, Nagios and much more... with the ability to extend the interface via plugins. If/when the messaging daemon bits get completed it will be able to deploy clients and servers... using FAI/puppet for Linux and OPSI for MS. This HAS worked in the past, and I even believe the Munich Linux project may have had this working for years - but they've only packaged it for their own distro.

  • It's about time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ikhider ( 2837593 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @02:01AM (#46064775)
    Finally, someone is getting it right. Students have access to run great programs, the source code, the ability to modify the programs AND share. This is how it should be, in public schools and the rest of the public domain. Now kindly extend this policy to the rest of the schools throughout North America. This is far more empowering than either of the proprietary routes.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation push for charter schools (along with friendly help from the Waltons of Walmart, et al.) --- to destroy the public schools infrastructure --- is not going to be promoting Free Software in the new generation of corporate-controlled indoctrination --- excuse me, "education" --- centers.

      • BMG foundation is doing needful stuff. Their volunteers are risking their lives to rid the world of the scourge of polio. Some are dying for the cause.
    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      these kids are shooting videos of common "i cant facebooks" problems, not exactly writing anything, let alone of some value

  • by RandomUsername99 ( 574692 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @03:08AM (#46065001)

    The people that point out existing technologically superior software solutions are being unforgivably obtuse.

    Of course there are existing open source and commercial options out there, that make this high school student implemented project technologically obsolete; there are also existing craftspeople and professionally run woodworking shops that make the products in wood shop class obsolete, as well as many tailors, restaurants, fashion schools, and culinary schools that crush what home-ec classes teach... Not to mention the many science-oriented-businesses with technology and products that dwarf the technology that you would find at a high school science fair. See it for what it is: a learning experience!!

    If there was some alternate dimension where I had had a chance to work on a project like this in high school, I probably would not have gotten kicked out for boredom fueled truancy, and would have worked my way into a decent comp-sci program at a college rather than working my way up in my 20s through shitty tech support and lower level IT positions... I Would have been making my current, totally decent software dev salary YEARS before I actually earned it in this dimension.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is a good move for the children. It goes beyond IT education and will impact their lives with very good outcomes.

    Since i switched to linux in 2005 all the command line skills and fundamental understanding of the OS and how it works has changed very little. Hence no new UI rewrite can hurt my productivity. Linux is a 'you have to learn it not guess it' system and taking the time to learn regular expressions, a bit of bash and back in the day deal with package management problems or compile your own driv

  • So the kids created 'yet another lame management tool'.. *yawn*

    The community needs to stop re-inventing the wheel and work on improving existing ones. Hard to take over the world when your car is always on blocks.

  • How did this get transformed again into a discussion about Office... if these young gentlemen are preparing themselves for an IT career, Office is as relevant as eyes on a tapeworm... we could as well discuss Photoshop or some video editing package...
    In "Enterprise IT" most of your communication will be done through e-mail or a ticket management system... you may have to read some documentation in PDF format... or WORD but guess what... it will be some text about application footprint/interfaces/configurat
    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      I have to disagree, as regardless of what you personally like or dislike, MSO is still prevalent in the business world and if you are going to be in IT and actually have a job, you have to at least have a clue of what your future companies end users are working with. Once ( if ) you grow up and get out in the real world, you will find out how things actually work out there. .

      Hell, most likely you will start working the help desk and supporting it, to prove you have skills.. so better suck it up, and shut u

      • If you're manning the help desk, MSO is just one of the standard corporate apps. You don't need to understand how to exactly use it to the last detail/function or be proficient at it. That would be the users' concern. Your concern will be to check if MSO is installed and able to start/work on the user's workstation. If not, you'll schedule an installation or re-imaging of the workstation.
        • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

          In any large organization i have worked for, if all you did is blow the customer off and call for a reload because they asked how to do something simple in MSO, you would not be there the next day. ( this would apply to both level 1 and higher levels, and in some cases you are expected to know a hell of a lot more at higher levels ). If all you do is say 'is it installed' then you are a call center robot, not a help desk.

          Do you need to be at a expert level? Most often not, but a working knowledge is requi

          • You either must have worked for some really nice organizations or this was a long time ago... What I see these days are IT Depts starved to death by "cost cuts" initiatives to the point that they can offer only the bare minimum level of support.
            A typical scenario these days would be that the level 1 guy is located offshore and all he does is to capture whatever you're telling him over the phone, using the enterprise ticket management system; then assign it to the proper queue and give you a ticket nr. Then
            • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

              You either must have worked for some really nice organizations or this was a long time ago...

              Still valid as of of yesterday. ( we have Saturday staff ). Been doing the IT thing for 30 years. ( not the same company all that time )

              Perhaps i'm spoiled/lucky, but i haven't experienced these companies you speak of that don't care about their users ( not caring about internal staff, sure.. ) .. And sure there are always limits on how far we go, which vary from place to place, but no where near the limits you have seen apparently.

              Sad really. Without the users there would be little need for IT staff in

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson