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[school-discuss] draft of article re oss for schools - comments?

Dear Schoolforgers,

If you have any suggestions for me on the attached article for Scholastic
Administrator, please let me know by Sunday night EST. Anyone have some good
pictures? If I should add names or give credit _anywhere_, please let me know.

I'm writing it in OpenOffice on my linux laptop, so I'm saving it as text to
send; in other words, italicized titles won't be italicized anymore.

The article is too long, but I'm hoping they won't cut the lists of links.

Best wishes,


http://members.iteachnet.org/~home About Membership
http://opensourceschools.org Open Source Schools Journal
http://schoolforge.net member Schoolforge Coalition for Open Educational Resources

Leaning toward Linux: Free and Open Source Software for Schools
By David M. Bucknell
Although there are lots of good philosophical reasons that schools should use Linux and other free and open source software, most choose it because it works. This is not surprising, because open source software is designed to solve some problem, or, as Eric Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar puts it, open source software is designed to "scratch an itch." If you are a school IT decision maker, then you are frequently asked to solve, or scratch, some itch or another - yours or your boss's.  If you don't already know about it, you'll be glad to learn that open source software is designed by and for folks in just your situation. It's more than likely, then, that someone, somewhere has experienced just the sort of problems you are now facing and that you could draw on their experiences. I know, for when given the "opportunity" to put the first Web and mail server into an international school in Thailand back in 1995, I worried most about price and reliability. Through a series of coincidences, I ended up being able to install Linux, and because it was designed by people who had exactly the same worries I did, it didn't let me down.

You'll be interested to know that after setting it up on a donated box for the price of a local Linux guru's time for three days, that box worked and worked and simply collected dust unless we wanted to add users and fiddle with Web cgi's. The guru* threw in windows-like file sharing using a tool called Samba, pop mail downloading and distribution to users (fetchmail) and Network Address Translation (NAT) and firewall (ipchains) which worked over a dialup connection, activated on demand (php script in a Web page). This was long before any of the major vendors offered NAT via windows and so we were extremely pleased to give our school all those services for such a low price. And they only broke when I fiddled with them trying to figure out how they worked (Don't worry, I learned quickly to fix them). 

Some of you might be saying, "Ah,  but that was then." Not so. Since the dot.com bubble burst, almost every day brings a new reason to add Linux and other free and open source tools to your school network. It used to be that Linux quietly offered an amazing alternative to commercial servers of all kinds. Now, however, the options it offers are a whole lot more wide-ranging. The main reason I say this is that the Linux desktops, led by KDE.org and Gnome.org, and the applications that run on them, have recently passed into the all-important category called "stable." This means that, for the first time, there exist cross-platform office, Web and graphics suites that are all open source and all backed by vibrant development communities. Consequently, open source is no longer for the geek alone, but scales with the needs and knowledge of users like no other system; from newbies to sytem administrators to NASA programmers, users find Linux works for them, and allows them to work with others. 

As the world of networked technology becomes more complex, more and more tech decision makers are beginning to worry about the long term. How are their schools going to afford perpetual software upgrades? How are they going to provide users with the reliable tools; and how are they, the tech people, going to be able to keep up? Whatever your worry, or itch, you won't lose anything by seeing if open source has some way to scratch it - or at least a way which you could adapt for your needs. Let me point out some of the worries, or itches, for which others have found relief from open source software.
I already told you how our server didn't ever crash back in 1995.  If you check the uptime on http://www.Netcraft.com for our OpenSourceSchools.org server, you'll see that nothing's changed in the 00's.  Even when being worked on frequently, Linux boxes do not require rebooting after the installation of a new application. They might ask you to restart a process or two, but that's it; what's more, having an entire system hang is a rarity and a sure sign that you simply haven't made careful choices in your software mix. Fortunately, Linux makes it easy to add and delete and modify until you like the way your machine(s) work. 

Now, if I've just hit a nerve because you feel you don't know how to "add  and delete and modify" anything on an open source system, never fear. The only thing you have to fear about using open source is being afraid to accept help. As with any computing system, you'll want to make sure there is backup help during and after installation. Help comes in several forms. Perhaps not intuitively, your best help is always close-at-hand, but you find it on the Web. It's called your Linux User Group (LUG). (http://www.linux.org/groups)This is where, no matter where you are in the world, you'll find someone, or someone who knows someone, who is experienced at what you want to do. 

The Linux guru I mentioned earlier was also the founder of the local LUG.  LUG people come in all shapes and sizes of knowledge, but a little digging will lead you to that someone who not only cares about education, but knows the computing world like few you've ever met. It is not uncommon to find LUG members who know Mac, wintel and UNIX like the backs of their hands, but prefer to "put  it all together" with Linux. Tell them what you need, establish a relationship with them, and begin working together. Concentrate on dependability as well as knowledge; integrity ranks high among the valued virtues in the open source world.

LUGS themselves rely on larger networks, often international. Among the first you should know about for education is Schoolforge, the coalition for "open resources" in education. Schoolforge will lead you to all of the other groups (It has a hundred member organizations) as well as to specific software, news, schools and case studies of the use of open source in education. Although the coalition is for organizations, individuals are encouraged to join the schoolforge-discuss mailing list by filling out the form on http://www.schoolforge.net/sfdiscuss.php.

 If you have a bit of a budget, you might go to a middle-man company that will have done the legwork for you in hiring a Linux Guru. Certainly Red Hat, SUSE, Mandrake and even IBM, Dell and Compaq are ready to offer you "solutions" if you're willing to pay them enough.  Whoever you choose, you can't risk thinking of open source solutions the way you do those that are "off-the-shelf." You,  or at least the people working directly with the tools you plan to use, need to begin a learning program.  Lack, not the possession, of knowledge is a dangerous thing when it comes to open source. Luckily, you have lots of places on the Web to begin and can even pursue certification of several different types if you are so inclined. 

The need to learn about the tools you're using brings up the issue of control. Open Source Users want the power and Linux and its friends deliver it. Recently, for example {August 26, 2002], a medium-sized public library in Ohio announced its plans to switch to an open source Library software catalog and OPAC called Koha, developed at a library in New Zealand. The reasons given for choosing Koha, illustrate what I'm saying very well: "We  needed the freedom to change things,

to change the code if necessary, because the types of things we want to do are not going to appear in commercial library software for years. [Koha mailing lists: http://lists.katipo.co.nz/mailman/listinfo/koha]

So, the power is there if you want it. Take note: this is the heart of the matter. If you choose Linux and open source tools, you should do so because you want more, not less control over your life. If you have so much money at your school that you feel fine letting "the  experts" at your local software retailer make decisions for your school, then you don't need open source. If you need to be able to "have  it your way," then you won't regret the time it takes to get comfortable with open source. It won't be long before you're helping someone else realize the same benefits you've gained.

Another aspect of control that will be appreciated by every network manager is that the Linux desktop requires each user to be authenticated. Linux is a multiuser animal. This is the real reason, in addition to license cost, I want an all-Linux workstation environment. Nobody has access to a Linux workstation without a username and password. These are commonly standardized across a network using such tools as LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocal) making it possible for users to authenticate on any machine on your system without requiring the administrator to create users on every machine . 

If you really want control of the workstations, though, you might profit from a look at the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP)(http://www.k12os.org). This cusomization of Linux  makes it possible to set up "thin client" workstations easily. They need no hard disk and require fewer resources than do the latest multimedia desktops from from Microsoft or Apple, so more and more schools are beginning to switch aging machines to LTSP clients rather than spending time and money on upgrading for the latest commercial desktops. This  and other Linux thin client projects give hardware a whole new lease on life, and network managers sanity: almost everything is done on one machine: the server. When users log in, they are presented with their home directories and run applications off the server. Contrary to what you might expect, users report increases in speed over previous stand-alone workstations.
As a member of the Schoolforge coalition for free and open resources in education, I frequently learn from others about how to save money. A member of the mailing list recently wrote to crow (justifiably) over how he had replaced an expensive  router with a five-year-old Linux box (freesco). This is not an uncommon story. A number of list members wrote telling of similar successes, and then others asked for details so they could try it themselves. 

Likewise, we frequently hear of schools implementing Web content management systems which would ordinarily cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per installation (compare the price of Geeklog to commercial Blog alternatives). On iteachnet.org, we host over a hundred individual teachers' blogs and course portals on a single box with nary a hiccup. Although it does cost us our time to maintain this service, we don't have to pass licensing costs onto our users and we have a close relationship with the software developers. 

Schools and companies can save money in ways not forseen by software developers. Mimerdesk developer, Teemu Arina, recently sent me a copy of a note he received from a company whose long distance telephoning costs were out of control; they got costs back under control by adopting Mimerdesk as their group collaboration tool.

We export to 14 countries and 4 continents and as you can imagine, incur incredible telephone bills. But now with MimerDesk, not only are our bills cut to size but our information is centralized and decentralized at the same time. Managers all over the world can meet at one point and interact as if in the same office and at the same time keep their individual personal data at the same platform. 
If you haven't gotten the point from what I've said so far, let me be explicit: although the latest releases of the most-used Linux distributions are as easy to install as either Windows or Macintosh, the world of free and open source software is not about ease as much as it is about power to choose.  There's always more than one way to scratch an itch, after all, and so the open source world usually has several possible solutions for every problem. A look at the Seul/edu Application index shows 23 categories, 22 of which have more than one option. A similar search on the more broadly focused software project sites such as sourceforge.net and freshmeat.net reveals even more diversity. The point is, that the open source world is as broad as it is deep in solutions. 

Given the fact that open source licensing allows code modification, if you can't find exactly what you need, someone can always adapt an existing tool to your needs. I guarantee you that the price will be less than the off-the-shelf alternative and, in return for supporting an open source developer, your school will gain a foothold in a community that believes in education and wants to support it anyway. This is an area of which k-12 schools have not previously taken advantage. My hope is that now that now that you know about this world of solutions, the next time you or someone has a software need, or itch, you'll look into a way to scratch it from Linux and the rest of your free and open source colleagues - because you won't be sorry when you do.                                         

*Francois Wautier

Open Source in Education:
1.Blue Linux: http://www.bluelinux.org
2.Freeduc Software Index:  http://www.ofset.org/freeduc/
3.GNU and Education: http://www.gnu.org/education/education.html
4.Linux Terminal Server Project: http://www.k12os.org
5.Open Source Education Foundation:  http://www.osef.org/
6.OSS Links: http://opensourceschools.org/links.php
7.OSS Table of Equivalent Applications: http://opensourceschools.org/article.php?story=20020419225839968
8.Schoolforge Software Index:  http://schoolforge.net/software.php
9.SEUL App Index: http://richtech.ca/
10.SEUL School Case Studies: http://casestudy.seul.org/

General Open Source Resources
1.Freshmeat: Open Source Software Announcments and Downloads: http://www.freshmeat.net
2.Linux Distribution Choices: http://www.linux.org/dist/index.html
3.Linux Journal Resource List http://www.linuxjournal.com/resources.php
4.Linux Weekly News http://www.lwn.net
5.Linux User Groups: http://www.linux.org/groups/
6.Open Source News: http://www.newsforge.net
7.OSS Pocket Guide to Open Source:  http://opensourceschools.org/article.php?story=20011004192328505
8.Savannah, GNU.org's Software Foundry: http://savannah.gnu.org
9.Slashdot, News for Geeks: http://www.Slashdot.net
10.Sourceforge, VA Linux's Software Foundry: http://sourceforge.net

More Than Just Software:
1.etc: Streaming Gutenberg over the Web: http://www.etc-edu.com/
2.Ibiblio: The Public's Library: http://www.ibiblio.org
3.Open Content License: http://OpenContent.org
4.Open Book: http://www.ibiblio.org/openbook
5.Project Gutenberg: http://gutenberg.net/
6.Schoolforge Coalition: http://schoolforge.net
A Bit of Why and How:
1.Software Strength Through Diversity: http://members.iteachnet.org/webzine/article.php?story=20020510191936985
2.The Story Behind Open Source: http://opensourceschools.org/article.php?story=20020506224812885
3.The Open Source Pocket URL: http://opensourceschools.org/article.php?story=20011004192328505
4.Table of Equivalent MS, Mac and Linux Apps: http://opensourceschools.org/article.php?story=20020419225839968

A Few School Web Apps:
1.Dansguardian: http://Dansguardian.org
2.Future Learning Environment: http://fle2.uiah.fi/
3.Geeklog: http://Geeklog.sf.net
4.Koha: http://www.Koha.org
5.Manhattan: http://Manhattan.sf.net
6.Mimerdesk: http://www.Mimerdesk.org
7.Moodle: http://moodle.com/
8.Online Course: http://www.networklogic.com/course_demo2/login_form
9.phpWebSite: http://phpWebsite.sf.net
10.Schoolmation: http://www.Schoolmation.com

A Few School Desktop Apps:
1.OpenOffice: http://www.openoffice.org
2.Abiword: http://www.abisource.com/
3.Mozilla: http://www.mozilla.org
4.The GIMP: http://www.gimp.org
5.Tux for Kids: http://www.tux4kids.org/
6.Gcompris: http://www.ofset.org/gcompris/about.html
7.Astronomy: http://edu.kde.org/kstars
8.Chemistry: http://edu.kde.org/Kalzium
9.Languages: http://edu.kde.org/projects/languages.phtml
10.Mathematics: http://edu.kde.org/projects/maths.phtml