Government // Enterprise Architecture
News
5/29/2013
12:01 PM
Connect Directly
Facebook
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

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
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
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."

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 3 / 3
moarsauce123
50%
50%
moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
5/30/2013 | 10:19:38 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
While I somewhat agree I wonder how then Android became the #1 mobile OS. Android is just another *nix flavor and there was nobody that showed anyone with their Samsung phones or Kindle tabs on how to use that system.
It is a people issue in the sense that nobody gets fired for buying Microsoft and for most that is reason enough to do just that.
TreeInMyCube
50%
50%
TreeInMyCube,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 7:41:10 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
I have to agree w/ Mr. Booker, and would generalize his points 1 and 3 -- it's about the people. Having a sales rep (and possibly a technical sales support person) who can talk to the people at your school or school district is important. Each of the commenters are self-supporting, and so Mr. Booker's point #2 (unfamiliarity) is just not applicable to you. Unfamiliarity -- especially in the areas of system configuration and trouble-shooting -- is a fact of life, and a hurdle to be overcome for further adoption of FOSS in K-12 education. I am certain that there are K-12 success stories, which have been catalyzed by knowledgeable parents and teachers, who have already crossed the unfamilarity barrier. I am certain that there are many school districts where the entire IT team consists of one teacher in each building, doing this task on top of lesson plans and grading papers. If that person doesn't already know Linux, it is a non-trivial even to ask him (and it usually is "him") to get trained up. Ignore the people issues, and you've missed the boat.
moarsauce123
50%
50%
moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
5/30/2013 | 6:31:42 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
I think it is solely because there is no multibillion Dollar business giant behind a Linux flavor that pushes this to the masses with sleazy deals...and it isn't from Microsoft, so many IT leaders already say 'No' to it even if that is the only reason.
Ellis Booker
50%
50%
Ellis Booker,
User Rank: Strategist
5/30/2013 | 4:35:29 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
kmcowan, you should know that I'm a Linux user myself, and I was trying to parse out why--why, for heavens sake!--open-source isn't more common in U.S. education. To your point, discounts from MS and Apple aren't the reason people don't use free software. Rather, the discounts are an answer to this competitive threat (growing out of an effort to stave off illegal copies).

I completely agree with you, by the way, about the inherent benefits of "greater security, reliability and stability." So, why isn't Linux more common in K-12? If I had to pick one thing, it'd be lack of familiarity, followed by the understandably fractured nature of this platform, which has lots of flavors (one of reasons I love it).

Another excellent point raised in the comments above concerns the impact of browsers and cloud services. Once everything happens using a browser front-end, switching OS horses becomes a much more trivial issue. --Ellis Booker
marcus777
50%
50%
marcus777,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 6:00:49 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
@davidfcarr:disqus

kmcowan is correct. My young people used primarily firefox. Chrome has come into the picture for them (although I don't like it, its not free software [spyware, handcuffs]) and LibreOffice (formerly they used OpenOffice) is not only open&free it also supports all common formats including docx... so they have had no real hassle.

I will be completely open and honest with you on this point because we did have one tiny baby snag... in physics class. The prof wants the kids to signon to Minds On Physics to run their mops exercises. This requires a special flash plugin that is proprietary (and doesn't really work right under the best conditions on either IE or Safari either for that matter. So, for that one exercise they used a library computer tweaked just for them.... Yes, the MOPS people heard from me big time. time will tell.

There is no such thing as a non-standard browser. That's the point of a browser period. *ANY* browser should do the trick, and all browsers should be supporting HTML(5) with no DRM (no SWF no Flash, no Quicktime.... We must all insist on open file and document formats and refuse to use anything proprietary. Our freedoms in the future depend on it !

Cheers
kmcowan
50%
50%
kmcowan,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 3:16:48 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
I have to agree with Marcus777 and take issue with your thesis, Mr. Booker. The primary mission of your article appears to be to try and obscure the reality of the situation, and at the same time propagate tired, old myths. The truth is that these 'educational discounts' you mention come with strings attached that translate to a proprietary lock on the software environments, and to billions in profits for the aforementioned companies. The truth is that Linux offers greater security, reliability and stability, hands down. The open-source community provides a wealth of supporting applications for user and network administration. And all for far, far less than any of these discounts.
kmcowan
50%
50%
kmcowan,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 3:04:34 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
If a child learns on Linux, Windows and Mac are no problem. As for non-standard browsers, you need to check out current distributions. Chrome and Firefox, etc are available for all platforms. A child learning on Linux will be far better prepared for the future than a child learning on Windows or Mac.
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
5/30/2013 | 1:07:57 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
I'd be curious how often your kids ran into extra hassles because they weren't on the standard/expected platform. With more online distribution of content, I'd think using non-standard browsers or file formats could be an even bigger issue.
marcus777
50%
50%
marcus777,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/29/2013 | 7:01:06 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
The only reason gnu/linux has not been widely adopted in the classroom is one(1): capitalist oligarchy. <===== the reason

The Win-Tel and Apple iSlave marketing engines (and dollars) are the sole reason for late adopters in the public schools. (see reason one above)

The good news is that gnu/linux is being used widely by students @home. I have raised two teens on the gnu/linux challenge (one is a senior next season, the other is a sophomore in college next season) whereby they used only free (as in freedom) software : ie, they did not use mac or win products... ever.

My kids pushed hard into FOSS, and did all of their class research and school projects using gnu/linux and LibreOffice (everything in our home from the cable modem to the print servers are gnu/linux based... as are all of our client machines which are mostly AMD based notebooks )

Education of course is the key to education! My kids are advocates too. More of their friends are leaning into the FOSS movement and the power and freedom of gnu/linux systems. Many of their teachers are now using gnu/linux @home and that means only 'time' before we see it in our neighborhood in the classroom.

Dream big, work hard, think smart.

Cheers
<<   <   Page 3 / 3
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - August 27, 2014
Who wins in cloud price wars? Short answer: not IT. Enterprises don't want bare-bones IaaS. Providers must focus on support, not undercutting rivals.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Howard Marks talks about steps to take in choosing the right cloud storage solutions for your IT problems
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.