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 1 / 3   >   >>
oliver stieber
50%
50%
oliver stieber,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/15/2013 | 11:09:31 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
teachers or such, that's the problem. As you say they could leave their beloved office behind. (ok email is good in office etc.. apart from that I find Libra office or LayTex much much better)
oliver stieber
50%
50%
oliver stieber,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/15/2013 | 11:07:15 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
I've run Linux at home for donkeys years (over 13) and all my flat mate and friends use it (many computer novices, some with much more windows experience [used for uni etc...], some with no experience at all in computer).
I've never had anyone really have any issue, maybe had to point out which app to use the first time (or create a friendly icon / link for it)

Some also use windows at work, or started to use windows at work more either before or after being my flat mate, partner or just general drop in who needed to use a computer. Still no complaints about the differences, as they are generally minor or Linux can be setup to be smoother.

You'd expect adults to be a bit more of a difficult buch when it comes to change or non 'standard'

As for getting initial configuration setup, a whole bunch of poor schools could chip in together to get one or two well skilled staff to get the setup working and standardized across all of them.
oliver stieber
50%
50%
oliver stieber,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/15/2013 | 11:00:59 AM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
setting up file sharing on the network isn't necessarily hard and should be scriptable so you only have to do it once for clients, but it is non trivial.
To that point, I couldn't for the life of me get windows to share a folder on the network so that other things could see it, but I managed this in Linux with little problem (though I hadn't set-up security like a pro would, more like my windows 7 home basic would)
I haven't however tried other options such as VPN and in house /third party cloud services for file management.
Of course I run FTP/HTTP/VFS/Samba and all that kind of stuff, it's more the ldap type stuff and getting user management and ~ directories syncing nicely to a server so they can be backed up. I haven't seen a distro that does that nicely out of the box though it's really escencially for even home users with more than one computer on the network to be able to share stuff and sync passords, the local machine pam configurations that distros come with just aren't 'real world'

Just like none of them seem to come with LVM by default, which surly any sane person would want to use, and it can be fiddly to get working on install
Mordock
50%
50%
Mordock,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/24/2013 | 11:22:18 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
You apparently did not understand my post. Not 1 in 10,000 businesses use Libre Office. By teaching your children Libre Office instead of MS Office, you have delegated them to second class citizen without the skills to get a job. Worse yet, you have placed them and yourself into the position of arguing with teachers and tech support personnel. Hardly the way to get along in the world or get an A in a class.
tannji
50%
50%
tannji,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/23/2013 | 6:24:08 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
I taught older daycare kids and my two step-children to use Libre Office. It was easy to do, and once they had their feet wet, they largely taught each other, EXACTLY as they do with console gaming and cell phones. I ran into situations where they had incomplete school work because various staff at the schools "knew" that my kids didn't know how to use MS Office, and that their file formats were incompatible. We had a couple of very terse and brief conversations on the subject, the upshot being LISTEN to the student before you decide what you decide they can't do. My 13 year old eventually taught their IT wonk that it WAS possible to use a MS Works file in the current MS Office environment, and why he should have been using "free" software to begin with.
tannji
50%
50%
tannji,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/23/2013 | 6:01:16 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
Arguing over who doesn't get what is obscuring who can and does get it. I have played with Linux off and on for years. The necessity of command-line tinkering threw me off, and only recently have I gone back, utilizing distros that mostly just work. Coincidentally or not, I also struggle far less now when I do use a terminal. I ran a large private daycare for about 10 years. My kids (in the 4 to 10 year old range) cared not one wit about what OS was running on the PC's I let them use, just as they never struggled with transitioning between console game "OS's". They also quickly learned to use Google to expose me when-ever I "doubted" that we could add something they wanted to the PC's in use. (I grew to encourage them in this)

Ask anyone in the job market if there is bias and ignorance at play in who gets hired... Of course there is, the same bias and ignorance at play in deciding what is possible or practical in IT infrastructure. Challenge these teachers and administrators to try and keep up with their students in a trial OS switch. I have already seen the results on a small scale, and the kids greatly enjoyed the challenge.

The greater challenge is in the dark back-rooms of security and shared-resource policy. If someone with any training or experience comes to dread setting up a secure environment for Linux users, it isn't going to happen in the vast majority of cases. THAT is where emphasis and development needs to be in the future. Capitalist Oligarchies are all well and good... But ask Nokia and RIM what happened to their former dominance? RIM in particular only hung in as long as it did because those corporations were more comfortable with the proven security policies for millions of Crackberries than any of the more able and capable androids.
Bob_Robert
50%
50%
Bob_Robert,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/6/2013 | 6:13:19 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
Here's where the stagnant nature of the Public Schools becomes obvious.

Nothing would be easier than doing what the colleges do, and give credit for "graduate students" to take care of these things.

Rather than lock students into learning the standard text about the Civil War again, no matter how important it is to inculcate the supremacy of the state, why aren't the older students taking care of the IT infrastructure?

Senior Project: Upgrade the school to Debian Wheezy, ensure all network printers are never unreachable. Grade dependent upon degree of success.

Easy.
Bob_Robert
50%
50%
Bob_Robert,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/6/2013 | 2:36:45 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
Pure politics.

Keep in mind that the customer of the public schools is not the student, and it's not the parents, it's the politicians and bureaucrats who pay the bills.

These bureaucrats and politicians are lobbied HARD by Microsoft. They're told that "nobody" uses anything but Microsoft products, that "nobody" will be wanted in the workplace without skills in Microsoft products, and this is constantly pushed on both administrators and teachers.

F/OSS has no downside for education. The downside is pure politics.
+ürniS017
50%
50%
+ürniS017,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/5/2013 | 7:23:19 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
I manage a small intranet (30-40 workstations). I love open source and use Ubuntu for all my work needs.

I tried using Samba and OpenLDAP for auth, fileservice and printing, couldn't make it work. I tried Samba last time about 7 years ago and was horrified to find it in mostly the same state of config hell as I left it.
Michelle
50%
50%
Michelle,
User Rank: Strategist
6/5/2013 | 3:59:28 PM
re: 3 Reasons Linux Doesn't Star In U.S. Schools
Ellis is right in his assessment - in plenty of school districts. The nearest district to me still uses Windows machines. They even have a collection of machines running Windows 98. Thankfully they don't connect those dinosaurs to the Internet. Other machines in the school were donated or purchased long ago. They usually run Windows XP. There is at least one high-end Apple computer lab for design, video, and audio editing on one of the campuses but it's likely the only lab running a modern operating system.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and community news at InformationWeek.com.
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.