Tuesday, February 21, 2006

How Two Schools Saved Big Money with Open Source Software

Two good articles on how schools can save money using Open Source software.

Mike Weber of Noxon School District in remote northwest Montana gives an overview of Open Source software, and then details how his district of 270 students saved over $90,000 just in the setup of their 185 computer workstations and backbone servers. Mike gives good detail on all their costs, and estimates that their ten-year savings will be over $335,000. http://spidertools.com/oss.php

University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy converted one their schoold labs to Linux and Open Office as a test in the spring of 2003, and then compled a conversion of 268 computers that summer at an estimated savings of over $100,000. The article in Newsforge (here) provides a model for "Six steps to a successful OSS migration" that is well worth reading, and discusses the importance of educating the decision-makers in advance, and of running a pilot project to prepare and train. "The school has found some unexpected benefits. Not only has the use of LTSP extended the life of existing hardware, it has actually improved the response time and stability of the systems involved."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Chile's Linux Thin Client Installation: 1800 Schools Now

Last year, it was reported that Edulinux, a distribution of Linux based on the K12linux builds with LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project), would be installed in 600 schools in Chile (see link). Now, according to the Edulinux website, they are planning to install Edulinux 2006 in 1800 schools in Chile (link).

If previous estimates of the number of workstations hold true, this would represent some 30,000 older computers to be reused as thin clients in Chile. Wow.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Norway Has Linux Thin Client in 234 Schools with 33,000 Workstations

The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Reasearch released a report recently detailing their deployment of Skolelinux, a thin-client Linux model for schools built on top of LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project). 234 schools, 33,000 client machines, and 101,000 pupils and teachers. (See http://d.skolelinux.no/ for the Skolelinux site, http://d.skolelinux.no/ressurssparing.html for the report--only in Nowegian.)

South Africa's TuXlabs project has installed over 160 labs in schools there. Chile announced a few months back a plan to install Linux thin client in 600 schools. Brazil has over 140 computer labs for the poorest of the poor in Sao Paulo--also with Linux thin client.

I'm hoping we can mount a comparably visible Linux thin client presence here in the United States. It may start with an impoverished public school district, or a chain of private schools. Or maybe as a second-tier effort to the work being done in Indiana by Mike Huffman as part of their very, very interesting INAccess program (http://www.doe.state.in.us/technology/inaccess.html).

I keep hoping some successful business-person, whose company has really benefitted from Linux or Open Source, will decide to make a bold move and help fun Linux thin-client labs in some large number of schools...

Is Anybody Teaching "The Worry-Free Web Server?"

Redmondmag.com, "The Independent Voice of the Microsoft IT Community," writes that:

"The open source Apache Web server is by far the most popular Web server in the world. According to Netcraft Ltd.’s December 2005 survey, nearly 70 percent of the developers they surveyed said they worked with Apache. That same survey revealed that only 20 percent worked with its nearest competitor, Microsoft’s IIS." (http://redmondmag.com/features/article.asp?editorialsid=552)

This is a very good article discussing the merits of Apache, concluding that unless you need Microsoft IIS to integerate with other Microsoft products on an internet, "Apache is a better way to go" for Web services.

OK, so here is my question. Apache runs 70% of the world's web servers. It is free. It can be set up on an old (and I mean OLD) PC that most people would love to donate to a student instead of putting it in landfill. A student who learns to set up Linux, install Apache, and then host websites now has some real, tangible skills to bring to the marketplace. And they don't have to be able to afford to buy an expensive computer and software to keep their skills up after school. So why is Apache not taught in our schools?

1. Because there are no marketing dollars promoting it at Ed Tech shows.
2. Because teaching Apache requires a skill level that may not be available from existing teachers.
3. Because it's less glamorous.

The last point affects both the teachers and the students. If I have limited computer background, and I have a choice between learning Photoshop or Publisher to teach to my kids, or learning Apache and core networking concepts, I'll choose Photoshop and Publisher any day. And if you ask the students what they want to learn--same answer.

I talked yesterday with a neat guy helping to start a technical school in a public school district. They are going to focus on computer media--publishing, video, etc. I asked him if they had plans to teach any programming or networking--he said not now, since the first thing they have to do is to attract students to the school. OK, I understand that, but it does seem to me that the computer classes then become a lot like the dance classes--in most schools, they are fun to be in, but someone serious about dance goes somewhere and takes private lessons to get the real fundamentals.

Huge Reductions in Federal Funding for EdTech

From eSchool News (http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6102)

"President Bush's 2007 budget proposal would cut the main source of federal funding for school technology out of the budget entirely--but state and local school leaders already are grappling with a sharp reduction in ed-tech funding this fiscal year."

Signed into law at the end of December was a 45% or $200 million reduction in the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program. The article states that cuts are mainly affecting "poor, minority students in urban areas and at-rick, low income students in rural areas." The examples of the programs that are going to be cut, interestingly enough, were for instructional software applications--not hardware.

Technology in Schools (Soapbox Alert)

Some background: I helped organize the Open Source Pavilion at the NECC show in Philadelphia last summer, and expect that I may have a similar role this summer in San Diego. NECC (National Educational Computing
Conference) is run by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). In March I'm running an 80-computer Open Source Pavilion for CUE.org, the California branch of ISTE. All with used computers--48 in Linux thin client, and 32 as standalone "WebStations" (see www.LiveKiosk.com). We've made some progress in showcasing Free and Open Source software, and you can see the speakers I've arranged for that at http://www.cue.org/conference/opensource/. You can also see a map I started of thin-client Linux installations at www.k12ltsp.com, and in the past few months I've had a couple of articles published about Linux thin client.

What's fascinating to me about all of this is that for all the good publicity that we have gotten, for the great presence at these shows, there feels like there is much less momentum for Open Source software in schools that there should be. With some limited exceptions, our clients tend to be private or charter schools with so little tech funding that they try our Linux solutions (www.technologyrescue.com) out of sheer desperation--and then discover that they have found something worthwhile.

There's a bigger story here--a la "The Emperor Has No Clothes"--because US schools have spent incredible amounts of money on technology and then we find that business leaders are lamenting the fact that few come out of high school with any real technical skills. I don't know how we could expect to get any other result when we spend prime dollars on cutting edge computers and software, but a program like Apache, which runs 70% of the world's web servers, is virtually untaught in schools. A student who has learned Photoshop or Publisher on a P4 computer may have had fun doing so, but the student who has learned to set up a network and run Apache on an old P2 will likely have a job right out of school.

Now, this isn't just the fault of the companies marketing to schools, it's also the fact that in the US we shirk from teaching the basics and like to believe that we can solve our problems in one fell swoop with some technology advance. Give every child a laptop, we cry, and all our problems will be solved. But use our old computers to learn MySQL, or PHP, or Samba, or Apache, or Python--well, that's a hard sell. And there aren't many teachers who could teach these programs. And to be fair, most parents don't know enough about real computer technical skills to know what to ask the schools for--and so, the standard measure of success becomes the "newness" of the technology.

If this sounds like a soapbox speech, it is. Do I have a good answer? I don't. I think that our kids here in the US are going to lose jobs to kids who are learning real skills in other countries with used hardware and open source software. I look with fascination at South Africa, Chile, and Spain, where Linux is being adopted in schools in large ways--and I think of students who will be exposed to Linux and open source and have the chance to really learn how computers, and networks, and the internet work. Just look at the list of sponsors for the Ed Tech shows--are they going promote the free software that might also really benefit students? No, because in a selling environment, they are going to promote the solutions that they have, and it's hard to blame them for that. Unfortunately, as long as schools have large amounts of money to devote to technology purchases, I think we'll keep operating on the assumption that newer technology equals a better education.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How to Save Money: Set Up Used PCs as Thin Clients

You may not have realized it, but computers as old as Pentium Ones make great, fast thin-client workstations, and can be set up to work both with Windows and/or Linux servers.

Since these workstations do not require any software licensing, you can save $200 - $400 per workstation by using your old PCs. And if you connect to a Linux server, you won't have any software or user licensing fees at all.

We'd love to show you how this technology works. We are providing an 80-computer lab at the CUE.org show in Palm Springs, California, March 9 - 11. Forty-eight refurbished PCs will be showcasing this setup for thin client use, and thirty-two will be set up with our free Internet WebStation software (see www.LiveKiosk.com).

If Palm Springs isn't in your backyard (smile), then we'd like to bring the show to you. You can't see this technology and not be impressed, so we would like to demonstrate it for you. Call me or send me an email, and let's see if we can arrange a time to show you the benefits of thin-client computing.