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Some 20,000 Linux desktops have landed in Indiana schools, and more are on the way. Could the Midwest state be breeding future Linux users?
How's this for back-to-school fashion: Some 20,000 Linux workstations have landed in Indiana schools in the past year because of a state grant, and more are expected.

Schools are getting the workstations under the Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student program. Mike Huffman, special assistant for technology at the Indiana Department of Education, expects Linux desktop deployments to expand from 24 to 80 high schools this year, driven by lower costs, higher functionality, and early successes.

"The use of [Novell] SLED 10, I think, will increase significantly this year in schools, and we have Red Hat participating," Huffman says, adding that one school district has been having "a good deal of success with Ubuntu."

While Indiana teenagers are getting exposed to desktop Linux, its impact is insignificant compared with the server variety. Linux will account for just 1.7% of the desktop operating system market this year and is expected to grow to 2.1% by 2010, according to Gartner. Desktop Linux got a boost last week, however, when PC maker Lenovo and Novell began offering a ThinkPad workstation running SLED 10.

Low-cost Linux can't be beat, Huffman says. "We have a million kids in the state of Indiana," he says. "If we were to pay $100 for software on each machine, each year, that's $100 million. That's well beyond our ability." Linux costs $5 a year per desktop, he says.

Dell and Hewlett-Packard are among the PC hardware suppliers for the program.

Huffman says he's eager to get a read on student acceptance. Yet one student responded in typical teenager fashion to his question as to whether the student preferred Linux to Windows: "Who cares?"

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