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Re: [school-discuss] Educational Killer App for OpenSource (was: Ah . . . sorry . . . I did not mean that Drupal is the killer app)

Hi Dan, everyone....

Perhaps that which can be defined as the killer app is not the true killer app. ;-)

I think what we're all looking toward here is pervasiveness where softwares are used anywhere, via any media or hosts.

One project I pursued was creating an "educational pack" of all the portable apps that can be used on any wintel machine, like those at portablefreeware or winpenpack.

I'm also looking at ultra-mobile Linux... When I can run a USB-bootable GrafPup VM on a quadcore 3 GHz machine, it seems to me it ought to be "just as good" as running directly on a 2 GHz machine. ( http://www.grafpup.org )

The beauty of ubiquity and pervasiveness is manifold: Students can use the same tools at home as they use at school, cost- and piracy-free. They can continue using the tools in the future, the schools can host levels of application hosting with full dual-boot OS host installations for high-resource applications, thinclient elsewhere, X-platform applications & VM'd Linux apps on USB flash drives elsewhere.

LTSP and Citrix solve one problem but create another. I tried LTSP and if the network hiccupped, the thinclients didn't boot. So instead I opted for reliability and independence. For me answer to complexity wasn't overcentralization but other methods to attain reliability (these were a fleet of W2K machines, so I used WinGate / K9, F-Prot, SpyBot, network update scripts & machine cloning (in Linux) to address security, network admin & content filtering). Moreover I had to meet content filter mandates, and I couldn't find an easy-to-install client-side content filter for Linux (complex setup of squid/Dan's Guardian), so I was almost compelled to rely on Windows for the workstations b/c of the availability of inexpensive content filters for Windows workstations. It was the best compromise I could derive but the emphasis was on independence.

One other benefit of portable applications is the ability to mirror/quick-install any software on any OS host. School districts have tried to tackle complexity through recentralization which creates a new problem, increased restrictions and overcentralization. This is what MS is facing: Operating systems are only infrastructure for the real applications. All the groovy GUI nonsense on Vista, Aqua & KDE are pure bloat and belie a naive excess that thinks of the OS as the focus of the user's experience. In claiming a dialectic of free vs. nonfree, FLOSS enthusiasts are insisting on less freedom, not more. Of course Mac/Win impose an infrastructure tax on hardware, but in certain respects they do it so well. But if we make the OS host secondary to actual end-user applications, the same case can be made for cross-platform applications as server-agnostic clients, but for all platforms and all applications. An underpinning common applications framework is required (and I don't think Java is it) and we're seeing it in cross-platform GTK wrappers and compilers like Lazarus (OO Pascal / FLOSS Delphi).

Pervasiveness solves many problems, fiduciary (licensing), administration, ubiquity, user independence and so on. A full cultural software solution would entail libraries, schools and other organizations hosting the physical infrastructure for free, independent but pervasive applications. Google is trying to rein users into server dependency with AJAX apps & cloud computing, but is that in the interest of end-users?

The use of PCs in the 1980's overthrew the reigning minicomputer, only to have IBM try to control the world with OS/2, inspiring MS to launch a winning counteroffensive that took the majority of users captive. Looks to me that end-user cloud computing is yet another attempt at creating yet more server-side dependencies, which is just more of the same.


From: Daniel Howard <dhhoward@xxxxxxxxxxx>
To: schoolforge-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 10:54:02 AM
Subject: [school-discuss] Educational Killer App for OpenSource (was: Ah . . . sorry . . . I did not mean that Drupal is the killer app)

After watching teachers and students use the K12LTSP system here in Atlanta, in detail in elementary and now middle school, my vote for the killer app/use case to make OpenSource become truly mainstream in education is...drum roll...

Netbooks capable of also running as thin clients over wireless LAN

Here's why: netbooks, especially when they get below $200, are designed for the key applications for education: web access, office suite (mainly word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet), and to a lesser extent, image manipulation.  We set up a MAC lab in my daughter's middle school and while Garage Band, iVideo, etc. were big hits when a teacher was dedicated to running the lab, this year that teacher is doing a science classroom, so guess what the other teachers use the Mac lab for?  Web access and word processing.

The only real thing holding netbooks back is the same thing holding back our initial thin client rollout, that of supporting video w/o choppy playout.  But if the netbook has at least 250 MB RAM and can run the browser/decoder locally, that would solve that problem, and the far lower electricity requirements coupled with mobility and ability to run them as thin clients over a wireless network, that solves all the classroom wiring issues.  And if HiVision ever makes good its claim to offer $98 netbooks, then a netbook would be on the order of the cost of a plotting calculator.  For a classroom of say 30 kids, $100 netbooks and a classroom LTSP server would cost about the same as some of those expensive interactive whiteboards, less if the parents supply the netbooks like they often currently do the plotting calculators.

Which is why I want wireless thin client use as well: that opens up all the use cases that interactive whiteboards using applications like TeacherTool and iTalc would allow.  Hence my vote for netbooks that can be used as wireless thin clients in addition to their normal standalone use at home.  Heck, even the Economist recommends Linux on netbooks now:


Best, Daniel

Evan Leibovitch wrote:
> Les R wrote:
>>> Actually, Moodle is probably the killer app in this context, but really I am
>>> talking about a need that only Open Source Software and Open Content can fill -
>>> bringing affordable classes to kids.
>> Agreed.
> I'm not so sure that this goal is best brought about by seeking to define a "killer app" anymore. The software world is so competitive and complex that it's hard to think that any single application would be compelling enough to make people change their operating systems and, indeed, their overall approach to computing.

-- Daniel Howard
President and CEO
Georgia Open Source Education Foundation