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5/29/2013
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3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools

Why haven't cash-strapped American schools embraced open-source operating systems on the desktop?

 8 MOOCs Transforming Education
8 MOOCs Transforming Education
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Come December, about 500 Indonesian schools will be running openSUSE Edu Li-f-e (Linux for Education).

In the Indonesian deployment, which began in 2010, each school has one local server running about 20 client PCs. Using rsync, the schools' Moodle course management databases are synchronized with a central data center weekly. Each school also has a Web page, through which students access coursework via a Flash-enabled Web browser, such as Firefox.

"With openSUSE Education, we don't have to install additional software -- it's there already -- and we can even use the same DVD for server and client," Edwin Zakaria said. Zakaria is an IT administrator for the Educational Quality Enhancement Program, which is endorsed by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology of Indonesia and the Office of Education in Yogyakarta Province, Indonesia.

[ Will cash prizes encourage software developers to build educational applications? See Education Tech Vendors Launch Apps Contest. ]

Like other Linux distributions aimed at the education market, Edu Li-f-e includes a selection of open-source software for students, educators, IT administrators and parents. The DVD image can be installed on a hard drive or run "live" from a DVD or memory card.

Although emerging markets such as Indonesia and China have embraced open source in their classrooms, adoption has been much spottier in the US.

Observers and practitioners cite three broad reasons:

1. Lack Of Market Share.

Commercial OSs, notably Microsoft Windows and Apple's Mac OS, enjoy a decades-old hold in the mulitbillion-dollar education market. Both Microsoft and Apple have built substantial, dedicated sales and marketing operations, and both offer a variety of educational discounts for schools and students alike.

2. Unfamiliarity.

Tied to the marketing reach of Microsoft and Apple is the simple fact that most teachers are unfamiliar with the Linux desktop. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Linux offers so many options for desktop environments (known in Linux parlance as "DEs"). Linux can run on a high-powered desktop using a graphics-intensive DE like KDE or a low-power system using a DE like Xfce or LDME. However, this profusion of desktop choices can be very confusing to new users. Edu Li-f-e, for example, ships with the KDE, Gnome, Cinnamon and Sugar desktops.

Offering multiple desktops is a mixed blessing, said Zakaria. "In our experience, it is not easy to train the teacher about how to use desktop," he said in an email. "Selecting one default desktop can make our life easier."

3. Technical Gaps.

The last and most powerful objection to using Linux on school desktops is that these OSs still lack services required by school administrators or technical staffs. Even advocates of desktop Linux in schools consider it a problem.

"Linux is easy to put on a desktop," David Burke told InformationWeek Education in a phone interview. "But getting it on a domain with an Active Directory Server or your own central authentication takes a lot of work." The backend configuration tools for Linux systems aren't as intuitive as those for Windows, he added.

Burke serves as a part-time director of IT at Cristo Rey Brooklyn, a private school for low-income high-school students. A couple of years ago, he set up 25-seat computer lab, complete with donated Pentium 4-era PCs and a high-speed Internet connection, all for around $2,000. "I don't think you could do that" except by using open source, he said, adding, "Schools with more money don't care, because they can afford expensive licensing fees and faster PCs running Windows 8."

The lab uses Edubuntu 12.04, which is based on Ubuntu 12.04. Last April, U.K. firm Canonical Ltd., which administers both Edubuntu and Ubuntu, unveiled Edubuntu 12.04, its first Long Term Support (LTS) release. The LTS will be supported for five years.

Nevertheless, the Cristo Rey deployment wasn't without issues, even for Burke, an experienced IT consultant whose company, burkesoftware.com, specializes in using open source in schools. For one thing, the school's staff and teachers teachers balked at using LibreOffice, the open source office suite that comes with many Linux distributions.

"So we bought Microsoft Office and run it with CrossOver," Burke said. CrossOver is a commercial version of Wine, a compatibility layer application for running Windows applications under Linux.

A bigger problem, Burke said, was setting up server authentication and shared folder synchronization in Linux. "It isn't trivial to get that working well," Burke said. "So I suspect a lot of these poor schools can't go out and hire a highly-paid system admin."

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Ellis Booker
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Ellis Booker,
User Rank: Strategist
6/5/2013 | 3:03:30 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
Which reminds me, I really need to pull the trigger and buy a Chromebook. (Have been waiting for new models--larger screens--out of Samsung.)
Mordock
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Mordock,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/4/2013 | 4:11:42 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
The linux advocates here are missing the goal of education. The goal is to teach our kids skills that they can use in the real world once they graduate and get a job. Not even 1 in 1000 US businesses are using Linux. They use Windows and Office. To teach our kids anything else is wasting everyone's time and money and doing a gross injustice to our children.

The goal of education isn't to save money by teaching our kids useless skills instead of what they need to survive in business. And as many people have said, it is arguable whether it really saves the schools anything, between the additional management required and all the educational discounts available from Microsoft and to the hardware vendors that bundle MS products with their equipment.

The kids don't need the confusion of having one OS at school then coming home to their parent's computer running Windows or even their own computer that is running windows. Keep in mind, even if the parents wanted to, they can't go down to the store and buy a computer that is pre-installed with Linux, let alone the flavor of the week that the school might be using.

As an IT administrator, I can't afford to keep experts on staff for both Windows and Linux, let alone people with knowledge of 42 different flavors of linux "distributions" that are out there. My users would revolt if I even talked about converting, and the majority of all business applications run only on Windows. So business is stuck on Windows whether you like it or not. We need to teach our kids Windows, not Linux.
SMP
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SMP,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/4/2013 | 6:32:45 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
No you don't get it.

What schools want is a preloaded, OS maintained by others. What they get with Linux is a more powerful, flexible, stable, secure and cheaper OS than Windows, but one that requires the school to install it and maintain updates from scratch. Most schools have no IT capability at all. While this makes use of Windows difficult and problematic, it makes use of Linux impossible.
SMP
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SMP,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/4/2013 | 6:28:32 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
What is this article on about? Chromebooks which are storming the education market, and Google Apps for education which is widely used run on Linux. Basically Education is looking for a teaching tool for conveyance of information, not something to teach a particular OS or particular app, and the icing on the cake for Chromebooks is that they are Zero Maintenance, Zero Touch Administration clients.
TreeInMyCube
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TreeInMyCube,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/3/2013 | 5:26:20 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
Yes, I agree. Showing people what to do with a system (Android or Linux) requires little effort. Consider the amount of *setup* that an Android system requires -- take it out of the box, turn it on, go to your app store. To get that level of "ease-of-setup" from a Linux laptop, you need a Linux SME -- either paid or volunteer.
ANON1234983254489
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ANON1234983254489,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/3/2013 | 3:07:56 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
In my experience, kids that know multiple operating systems are better versed overall. It's like learning a second language, instead of a single language. It's been proven that learning multiple languages makes you more fluent. It's the same concept in operating systems. The "standard" platform, what is that? Didn't you have to learn Windows at some point? Learning an OS is not as difficult at some tend to believe. I agree with this article that GNU/Linux takes a little of setup work however, but most school staff needs a computer guru around no matter what OS they are running anyway.
fyrelab
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fyrelab,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 8:28:42 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
I don't get it. I see laptops for $200 with W8 installed. Who can beat that price using a Linux OS? I'm sure if someone worked directly with China (Lenovo), there would be additional discounts. What's the big deal? Just negotiate with whoever supplies the hardware if you think you can save a buck. Granted, W8 is as user friendly as Linux, so Linux has a shot at the market, but while Linux is considered "free," it still comes with a lot of expense.

I've been watching this "Linux" debate for years. If it's so great, then use it. You don't have to sell it if it's free.
MichaelADeBose
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MichaelADeBose,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 6:27:43 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
One issue is awareness. Opensource software still seems like the great unknown to the average American. Even though many US corporations utilize and benefit from opensource software, the credit goes to the brand, a la IBM, Android, Apple (BSD and a technicality), but not opensource. The other issue is cultural and solely the fault of the opensource community. Probably a very over the top simplification, but we know that when the concept of Windows was first introduced to IBM, they felt that if you needed training wheels, you didn't need a computer. Interestingly this tends to be the prevailing attitude in opensource. Despite the fact that systems like Windows and OS X rule the consumer space, many in opensource would rather blame the user, for not wanting to deal with repos. A lot of us in opensource do not see freedom to choose not to hack as a choice or a right when in fact it is. The barrier to entry in the Linux world is the boot loader and look how many there are. If the open source world is really serious about greater adoption, there needs to be agreement on a single trouble-free-config-neutral install for the curious in every distro, then every distro agrees to mate that install to the exact same trouble free boot loader and all distros would call this install setup the same exact thing. This way, the curious, don't have to learn the peculiarities of a bootloader just to try a distro. Second by all distros referring to this trouble free setup as the same exact thing, the curious have a consistent idea of what they are getting regardless which distro they are actually trying. When new users don't have to figure out things that they don't have to worry about when installing Windows, then and only then will we begin to see greater adoption. Hence, Secure Boot, but we can solve that one too.
DarkWyrm
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DarkWyrm,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 10:54:08 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
As a computer teacher in a central Ohio private school, I can easily say that Mr. Booker has nailed it pretty well. All student laptops at my school dual boot and all student machines in the library run only Linux. The students are more receptive than the staff to trying new things. The staff... not so much. Unfamiliarity and resistance to change are the biggest hurdles for them.
C64
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C64,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 10:21:44 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
Simple America doesn't educate it's people on options within their country. Another is that America is very introverted when it comes to companies, they see Microsoft or Google and even Apple and think yeah American and go with it. It's all about education and it just doesnt happen in the US away from businesses
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