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A School District's Education in Free Software

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the penguins-in-your-brain dept.

Education 288

david.jonathan.russe writes "The school district in Kamloops, BC, Canada has been working on a linux-based terminal infrastructure for several years. They now have a system in place district wide and they can not keep up with all of the requests for info. They have a great hybrid system, using diskless workstations all booting from local servers. 'The second-generation system cost the Kamloops district about $47,000 to implement, as well as the cost of training and the release time for personal study and taking exams. However, Ferrie has no doubt of the savings overall. License costs are disappearing as the district phases out its Novell NetWare licenses, and the district no longer needs to purchase productivity software. Ferrie also figures that the increased reliability represents a substantial savings, although he admits that it is hard to quantify. However, perhaps the greatest benefit of switching to free software is that the reliability of the new system frees up technical staff to do more than routine support.'" Linux.com and Slashdot are both owned by SourceForge.

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288 comments

Education in free goatse (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459045)

Learn this! [goatse.cz]

Finally someone gets it in education... (4, Funny)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459051)

However, resistance among educators crumbled with the emergence of an advocate of the new system. In 2005, Dean Coder, a principal from the Prince George district with whom Ferrie had corresponded, transferred to the Kamloops district because he wanted to become involved in its transition to free software. Assigned to Barriere secondary school, Coder decided to convert all 110 computers at the school over to the thin client system. Systems analyst Dean Montgomery began work on a second-generation system, using state-of-the-art equipment.

By this point, applications such as OpenOffice.org and Scribus had evolved to the point that teachers were "awestruck" by the new pilot system. However, what really convinced teachers that the change was worthwhile, Ferrie says, was Coder's advocacy. "He put his own reputation on the line and said to the staff, 'I'm going to be there for you.'" A young principal at the district's largest school soon requested the new system, and several others quickly followed. Now, Ferrie says, "we're struggling to implement it at the rest of our secondaries." In the end, an advocate who was both an educator and an administrator, he maintains, made all the difference in getting the system accepted.
Nomen est omen?

Re:Finally someone gets it in education... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459709)

"applications such as OpenOffice.org and Scribus had evolved to the point that teachers were "awestruck" by the new pilot system."

Don't worry, they'll open Gimp and a chorus of Photoshop Phan-boyz will jump out chanting "CMYK! CMYK! CMYK!"

And all the cost savings are eaten up by (4, Insightful)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459059)

the IT staff having to process all the requests for info from other school districts ;-).

Actually, congrats to them. In areas where you have competent IT staff and are willing to do the work yourself, Linux offers great cost savings *and* the ability to have a system tailored exactly to your needs. Other places, it just offers the latter.

Re:And all the cost savings are eaten up by (1)

Brotherred (1015243) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459449)

This underscores the importance of learning your system. As my quote says "Those that do not know pay for it" Indeed many companies and organizations and individuals do not take the time to learn the programs that they are trying to run. Along with that is the fact that "You will never know what you refuse to understand" Also one of my quotes. It is a vicious and expensive circle for those that are content with ignorance.

Re:And all the cost savings are eaten up by (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459453)

Congratulations to Ferrie, his IT Staff, Teachers and the students for taking a big step to secure there freedom of choice and avalibility of strong working software to compliment the hardware. I hope many more schools are clued in to this exciting teasure chest for our current generation and the generations to come.

Re:And all the cost savings are eaten up by (0, Troll)

shmlco (594907) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459675)

".. In areas where you have competent IT staff and are willing to do the work yourself .."

Yeah, I'm sure having your IT staff doing all of that work entails a great cost savings. I mean, it's not like they're paid employees or anything...

TANSTAAFL

Re:And all the cost savings are eaten up by (1, Insightful)

Ortega-Starfire (930563) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459769)

"Yeah, I'm sure having your IT staff doing all of that work entails a great cost savings. I mean, it's not like they're paid employees or anything..."

"TANSTAAFL"

You have to pay them anyhow. So while it is not a free lunch, it is a cheaper one.

Free Software made them competent. (1, Insightful)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459703)

In areas where you have competent IT staff and are willing to do the work yourself, Linux offers great cost savings *and* the ability to have a system tailored exactly to your needs.

This is something that will be repeated because free software is like that and the pioneering days are over.

Ferrie has nothing but praise for his staff for working through the conflict and learning new skills."Even the technicians who struggled a little bit initially are very good," Ferrie says. "They're phenomenal now. Once we really got through all the angst and the problems and sat down and did some serious planning for them, everything started to go great."

The beauty of free software is where it can take otherwise mediocre staff. One of the greatest motivators is a chance to make a difference, as proved by GE lighting experiments back in the 1920s. In the non free world, you do your job in a very limited box only to watch your work torn out by the next version in the upgrade train. In the free software world, you have all the tools everyone else does and what you do can stand on it's merit. Eventually, the picture that emerges is that there was nothing wrong with your people other than poor tools.

The very worst case, once most of the work is already done, is that you just use the software like any other non free shop. This still represents an improvement, because free software gives you more for your money.

Congratulations to them, but... (4, Informative)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459871)

Yes, congratulations. However, they are building on years of effort by the Kindergarten to 12th grade Linux [k12linux.org] project, and other such projects. The K12Linux Project was originally started for the Multnomah County Education Service District [k12.or.us] , using hardware donated by Intel. (Intel does some of its processor design in a big facility which is also in Portland, Oregon, USA.)

Perhaps 8 years ago, one of the founders of the K12Linux project told me that the total cost of maintenance of Linux was less than half that of Windows. (He gave a figure much less than half, but I don't remember the actual figure.)

My experience with Windows is that it is sloppily coded, and lots of things cause Windows to need maintenance. For example, the CPU hogging bug in Firefox, which seems to be worse in Firefox version 2.0.0.4, sometimes causes Windows XP Professional SP2 to become unstable and require re-starting the computer. When Firefox hogs the CPU under Linux, it is only necessary to kill Firefox. Linux remains stable.

If Microsoft paid schools $100 per copy to take Windows, the cost of Windows would still be far higher than K12Linux.

The K12Linux Project home page gives links to other Linux-in-schools projects, also.

A side benefit of Linux is that it is much more secure, partly because of its design, and partly because students are less likely to know how to tinker with it, I was told.

It is far easier to maintain a terminal server [k12ltsp.org] with numerous simple terminals, than separate stand-alone computers, too, and Linux is fast enough to be used that way.

I feel a little uncomfortable with what I said above, because I am vastly understating the savings of using Linux rather than Windows. Microsoft can't even make "Microsoft Genuine Advantage" work correctly; that is a GENUINE disadvantage of Windows [microsoft.com] . (I am using the word "genuine" in its honest sense, not in its abusive public relations spin sense.)

Another problem with a Windows system is hiring people who are willing to work with products from a company such as Microsoft that is so abusive. It's tiring to work with abusiveness.

Again, I still feel uncomfortable because I am understating the case. My company has had considerable trouble with error messages from Windows Update [microsoft.com] , for example. We've had about 8 different kinds of problems, some of which have required hours to solve. Judging from the many, many complaints on the newsgroup, there seem to be many other kinds of Windows Update problems we haven't had.

People who work in IT sometimes like Microsoft because the sloppy Microsoft products give them more work.

Re:Congratulations to them, but... (4, Insightful)

TrancePhreak (576593) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460017)

My experience with Windows is that it is sloppily coded, and lots of things cause Windows to need maintenance. For example, the CPU hogging bug in Firefox, which seems to be worse in Firefox version 2.0.0.4, sometimes causes Windows XP Professional SP2 to become unstable and require re-starting the computer. When Firefox hogs the CPU under Linux, it is only necessary to kill Firefox. Linux remains stable.
Or you could say, just kill the process in Windows.

A side benefit of Linux is that it is much more secure, partly because of its design, and partly because students are less likely to know how to tinker with it, I was told.
The whole point of computers in schools is to familiarise students with them. There's always going to be at least one uber-geek able to take down the whole network with a flick of the wrist. Anecdotal evidence does not setup your computer to be the most secure platform.

Another problem with a Windows system is hiring people who are willing to work with products from a company such as Microsoft that is so abusive. It's tiring to work with abusiveness.
I'm sure it's hard to hire from all those millions of certified people.

Good managers enjoy reducing the workload. (2, Insightful)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460067)

"Or you could say, just kill the process in Windows."

Yes, and after killing the Firefox CPU hogging process, the ENTIRE OS is unstable.

The founders of the K12Linux project were the kind of people who will always have work. They enjoyed reducing the workload as much as possible. A lot of the discussion of Windows comes from people who wouldn't have a job if Windows weren't so difficult to maintain.

which distro? (2, Interesting)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459083)

no mention in the article of which distro or if many distros that were implemented...

Re:which distro? (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459761)

Doesn't matter. The differences between Unix distributions are only superficial. The better you know Unix, the less these little differences matter. Yes, I am saying Unix, since I include the BSDs, OSX and Solaris. Deep down, they are all the same.

Re:which distro? (1)

zurtle (785688) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459827)

Try POSIX instead...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/POSIX [wikipedia.org]

That's perhaps a more accurate reference (though not sure why Microsoft Windows operating systems are listed on there!).

Re:which distro? (1)

WGR (32993) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460157)

POSIX is a standard for an API, not an operating system standard. Many non-*nix OS implement the POSIX API, including Windows NT and above, QNX etc. Having POSIZ available as an API is a requirement for many U.S. government contracts so it comes with Windows NT+.

Re:which distro? (1)

LinuxGeek (6139) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459947)

The differences between Unix distributions are only superficial.


Have you actually worked with many different OSes? I have found VMS, Linux, various BSDs and AIX to be very different. Especially when talking about administration tasks. Not very superficial at all, related like a family, but can be as different as two children from the same parents.

Re:which distro? (1)

John Jamieson (890438) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459797)

No, and that would be somewhat interesting.

A close relitive of mine set up a high school in Turkey, and at first they used the K-12 LTSP project which is Fedora Based, he switched to Mandriva and likes it a lot better.

He found a bit of a learning curve as well, but had the time to spend since he was spending so much less time administrating.

What I would find interesting is what they found the optimal size for the servers, how many terminals they support, how the ram and the drives were configured optimally, are there dual Gigabit nics, or do they find the network doesn't saturate?

I have been asked to build a new Server to run two additional classrooms. To keep costs low, I was initially thinking of a dual core, with another socket to be populated if needed, with 8 gigs of ram. Any pearls of wisdom are appreciated.

Re:which distro? (3, Informative)

bl8n8r (649187) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460039)

My first reaction was that it may be TraitorousWhore-StickItUptheCommunityAss-Linux [suselinux.com] since it appears on the a Microvell [suseblog.com] blog, but I found an article [sd73.bc.ca] on the school website [sd73.bc.ca] that may suggest otherwise:

(from Linux in Education Project link, on right column)
"Here is a list of some of the free software technologies that we use: Debian, Free BSD, RedHat, MySQL, PHP, OpenOffice, Linux Terminal Server Project, Diskless Clients, Dansguardian, Squid, Cyrus, Squirrelmail, Scribus, Qcad, Cycus, and more..."

Schools can switch easily (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459093)

All the problems that companies have with OSS, like having to train their supporters and techs, or a fear of loss of productivity due to unknown software, don't apply for schools. They usually have a fair lot of clued students at their hands who would gladly offer support in exchange for additional credit or at least other services the school can provide (like net access and so on), and the loss of productivity is, if it applies at all, on the head of the student, not the school.

Re:Schools can switch easily (0)

xTown (94562) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459323)

Of course they apply, because eventually someone--staff or student--is going to fuck things up and then it becomes the district's problem to fix it. "Clued" doesn't mean "professional"; even the smartest kid in the world probably isn't going to understand a school's business needs, which means they'd need training in that.

When I worked at a large school district in the Midwestern United States, lo these many years ago, we were told specifically that students were not allowed to have administrative access to anything at all for liability reasons. (Of course, "professional" doesn't mean "clued," either; I still remember with some fondness the person who wanted to replace the district's AS/400s with Macintoshes. Yikes.)

Re:Schools can switch easily (0)

chris_eineke (634570) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459369)

They usually have a fair lot of clued students at their hands who would gladly offer support in exchange for additional credit [...]
They really don't, of course. The public education system is not designed to produce "clued" students. Everyone's brains is squished to a mix of blind obedience and regurgitation of useless trivia.

Re:Schools can switch easily (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459395)

This is true, but save for dedicated diehards and idealists fresh out of school themselves, the same applies to teachers in the system. The clueful kids are the one-eyed in the kingdom of the blind.

That said, you just don't have your students admin your systems, and the reasons should be obvious.

Re:Schools can switch easily (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459717)

Actually, the Solaris email server at my public high school was ran by a student. The students who are intelligent and worthwhile rise above the crap. We broke through the all sorts of things they put in our way, and on the whole we "clued" students knew more than our schools IT staff did.

Re:Schools can switch easily (0)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459821)

I think maybe 'clued' is the wrong word. 'Driven' maybe. 'Not willing to settle for the minimum' maybe.

They exist at every school. It's impossible to stop them from learning more than the system provides because they are too curious and will just look it up at home if they are blocked at school.

Obviously, I feel I'm one of them.

In high school, we had a 'video' class where we were to learn to use the equipment and put on a morning news show (5 min long, max) each morning. The problem? No equipment. It was on order, but all we had until then was a VCR, TV, and home camcorder. Luckily, I had gotten bored a few years prior and knew how to edit from vcr to vcr, on non-professional equipment. It was about half the school year that we proceeded like that. I ended up doing the majority of the work until then, but it wasn't -hard-, just a bit tedious. Eventually, we got the professional equipment and the job fell to someone else to learn, and I got to relax the rest of the year.

I was also the one who figured out you could 'hack' the boot floppies for the IBMs and display messages when someone booted, and still allow them access to the program afterwards. I was also the one who figured out that you could have it erase the message so they couldn't show the teacher afterwards, if you were clever enough. I was also the one that showed how to fix everything when the teachers had no clue.

Could I have run a Linux server and terminals? It wouldn't have been easy, but I think I could have learned. Now, it's easy enough that I -know- I could learn if I were that age again.

I wouldn't rely on there being a stupid who can handle it, but if there was, I would use that as a learning opportunity for the few who had the inclination. Take them as 'apprentices' and show them how to maintain the system. Only those-who-want-to need apply.

I don't know how common it is, but our small high school didn't have 'clubs'. There were a few sports teams, and band, and Hi-Q (like Jeopardy), but -nothing- else. There was no opportunity for learning computers or art other than the minimal classes offered as electives. No chance to get together with others that have the same passion you do. These clubs would be perfect for things like this... Students who don't care, don't apply. Those who do, work hard at it.

Unfortunately, I think schools will continue to be a decade behind as students become the teachers and fix the problems they experienced. Other than putting a lot more effort and money into a nation-wide system for schooling, I don't see a solution. The minimum requirements are pretty much the same nation-wide, but the methods differ greatly, and it all depends on the local people and their limited pool of knowledge.

-looks down at the soapbox- Whoops. That's enough.

Re:Schools can switch easily (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459841)

>Actually, the Solaris email server at my public high school was ran by a student.

It's a pity you didn't actually learn English there.

Re:Schools can switch easily (1)

Tangent128 (1112197) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459373)

They usually have a fair lot of clued students at their hands who would gladly offer support in exchange for additional credit or at least other services the school can provide (like net access and so on).
Or just because we'd find it fun...

Re:Schools can switch easily (1)

kenb215 (984963) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459417)

That may be true for high schools, where there might be a fair number of nerds able, and willing, to help out. But in elementary schools (grades 1 through 4), any computer-expert-to-be would still be just learning the basics.

Re:Schools can switch easily (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459739)

Back in the days of Win95 (before proper security) I was in 6th grade, and we had all sorts of fun with the Network Neighborhood, hahaha....

What does apply... (3, Insightful)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459629)

Microsoft and Apple, among others, are willing to give stuff to schools. With Linux, the software may be free, but you probably have to buy your own hardware.

It's true, it may be cheaper in the long run, if you're not a highly technical school -- meaning, you don't have to upgrade your hardware very often. But even then, many schools prefer to take the first hit free, and then be stuck with the recurring licencing fees.

Personally, though, schools are the first places I'd want to start on free software, as unlikely as it is. That way, when they graduate, they'll be ready to move their workplace over -- or at least be easily trainable for anything -- and if they go on to be programmers, they'll be more likely to fix the free tools than to buy the commercial ones.

Contrast that to the way it is now, where you only use the proprietary stuff because it's free in school and easy to pirate at home, so when you get to work, you insist that the company buy you the same tools, and the company figures it's cheaper than retraining you.

Re:Schools can switch easily (0)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459775)

They usually have a fair lot of clued students at their hands who would gladly offer support in exchange for additional credit or at least other services the school can provide

We're talking about Primary and Secondary schools here, not a University. The students in question can't offer tech support to anyone. I can't believe any of them will possibly have any grasp of Unix systems (or Windows for that matter). That's about the age when kids are getting interested in technology, but really still just fumbling around in the dark, clicking on things they don't understand.

Switching to Windows (5, Funny)

Taimat (944976) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459111)

I had to laugh... when I clicked to the article, the embedded ad was this ad that people were switching from linux to windows servers....

http://spe.atdmt.com/b/NMMRTUMISITP/mrs06245_swit_ 336x280_DEF.gif [atdmt.com]

Re:Switching to Windows (0, Troll)

JoshJ (1009085) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459161)

Why do you still see ads at all? I almost never see ads, and those I do, I only see once.

Re:Switching to Windows (1)

fluch (126140) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459217)

And just a moment I was wondering what was wrong with my browser not showing the GIF image when I was following the link. Hahaha! :-)

What is so funny? (0, Troll)

El Lobo (994537) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459491)

Believe it or not there are people switching both ways. Pharmacy [apoteken.se] in Sweden just switched it's Linuzzz servers to Windows 3000 one. And they are happy with it. No and nobody "forced" them to do so. No and their technicians are no idiots either.

Re:What is so funny? (1)

enziarro (641783) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459549)

where can I obtain a copy of this glorious server operating system of the future?

Re:What is so funny? (1)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459851)

Windows 3000.
Operating systems that can time-travel don't count.*


*Yet, although if a time machine were possible, it'd have to be invented in all time periods simultaneously, otherwise what happens when you go back to a time when there were no time machines?? ;-D

Re:What is so funny? (1)

k1e0x (1040314) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459881)

Yes, it's very advanced, if it finds there is a security exploit in the wild it will just travel back in time before the exploit is known to the general public. The method is known as security through time compression.

Re:Switching to Windows (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19460043)

I had to laugh at someone that still wastes their bandwidth on ads (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/18 65)

Re:Switching to Windows (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460173)

What's funny is that there's an animated version of that that plays with the stories on slashdot occasionally. It's a fake newspaper called "Windows Server Times" or something and one of the headlines is that companies are switching from Linux to Windows Server. Of course, why you'd be inclined to trust Pro-Microsoft articles in a news rag called, "Windows Server Times" even if it was real is a mystery to me.

good, (3, Insightful)

joe 155 (937621) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459113)

I was pleased to read about how they handled staffing issues, with help and support for the people to retrain and time off to train in their own time and to get good qualifications. That's just good management. Bringing people to open source software will probably need initiatives like this to reassure people that the skills that they have won't now be wasted...

Good effort by them.

Wasted Skills (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459297)

Competent IT professionals already know that transferability of skills and adaptablility are the hallmarks of a successful career. Government workers are nothing more than whining children who probably would never survive in the real world marketplace. However, at least these government workers were able to adapt and seemingly have been successful in providing a better solution for the students and by extension to society.

US schools = owned by Apple and Microsoft???? (2, Interesting)

zymano (581466) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459127)

It's not about saving money. Campaign donations and influence rule.

Kc schools want laptops for all the students. Yikes. More higher property taxes.

I heard there's a place in Florida that's NOT building any schools just to stop the ever increasing taxes that schools create.

Re:US schools = owned by Apple and Microsoft???? (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459155)

What happened in Florida was the result of the high deficit of the federal government that Bush created.

Florida used to receive billions in federal revenue and loans. Now since money is tight I do not believe they receive any assistance.

So when Florida had more money they increased spending and now they can not afford to pay for everything. Texas, California and many other states are in the same boat with huge gapping deficits. IF you are going to cut off money you need to so do gradually and not just overnight.

Re:US schools = owned by Apple and Microsoft???? (1)

aichpvee (631243) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459193)

You also forgot that Florida's governor is no longer the presidents brother and since he's not up for reelection can't be bothered to buy off the idiot voters in Florida again.

Re:US schools = owned by Apple and Microsoft???? (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459697)

First rule of a bureaucracy: Spend ALL of your budget. Spend more if you can.

Because if you (shudder) spend less, the powers that be might actually CUT your budget to what you actually need.

Re:US schools = owned by Apple and Microsoft???? (2, Insightful)

daeg (828071) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459351)

Do not let your district fall for the "laptop for every child" ploy. It's a trap. The productivity gains are none whatsoever. Combine that with even higher IT costs, licensing costs, etc, and it's a taxpayer's nightmare.

Try to push for the library to have laptops instead that students can check out like they do books. Set them up on Linux -- if the student is just typing, they shouldn't need Internet outside of school. Set up an easy system to wipe/re-image the drives upon return. Everyone wins.

Dickless again? (0, Troll)

iamacat (583406) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459261)

Time and time again, this architecture proved to overwhelm resources of local client that can not access swap space, become sluggish at inconvenient times as network and/or server is overwhelmed, completely drop the connection and lose all user's changes because of a congestion, intermittent noise in the LAN or just someone kicking the cable, fail to reboot most of the machines after a power outage, making it difficult to impossible for the user to get his own data from a USB drive, require unnecessary amount of effort to make an extra application available to a particular user... And still control freaks everywhere are pushing for an architecture that inhibits user creativity, kills performance and suffers frequent outages.

There are decent alternatives though, such as a fast, convenient way to re-image the machine over the network. It doesn't require any more IT support, as the user would be required to do this with a machine where he is experiencing problems before any other investigation is done. I had this setup on a NeXT network around 20 years ago.

Re:Dickless again? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459347)

You are an idiot. The job of IT is not to encourage user activity. Users are stupid and suck. The goal of IT is to keep everything running and limit the user to only what their purpose is in the organization (In school, only whitelist a few sites. In a business, only provide what is required to perform their job such as CRM or accounting software). Users are bottom-feeding scum. Never give them anything more than the minimum.

Re:Dickless again? (3, Insightful)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459457)

fail to reboot most of the machines after a power outage
Wouldn't someone pressing the power button fix this right up?

require unnecessary amount of effort to make an extra application available to a particular user...
It's a school they don't want suers to install apps,if they did they'd have kids failing out for skipping classes to play games in the library while making it impossible for library systems to be used for actual work (yes this happened in my HS). Then there is all the fan wanna-be hackers that'd be putting trojans on the systems.

And still control freaks everywhere are pushing for an architecture that inhibits user creativity,
User creativity in schools by students generally means figuring out how to break the school network, repeatably. I think the only thing that wasn't compromised at my HS was the grade system and the main admin's password. The later was was mostly since no one cared enough to get it (it'd be quite possible to fake a problem, get someone with the pass to need to log in locally while modifying the keyboard to have a hardware keylogger). The former was rumored to be very difficult to break into and the punishment for trying was a suspension, no one card enough to risk it. Oh and the students weren't above dissembling school computers in semi-public areas (mostly to bypass hardware security devices), one library desktop lost a cpu and the server room got raided as well.

Re:Dickless again? (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459927)

It's a school they don't want suers to install apps,

True, but it's actually because they're control freaks. Giving users a small amount of freedom can only be a good thing.

they'd have kids failing out for skipping classes to play games in the library while making it impossible for library systems to be used for actual work

The kids should be getting punished for skipping classes in the first place. Thrown out of the library for hogging the computers for unrelated work in the second place.

The ability to install programs isn't responsible in the slightest. Browser-based Java and Flash games are quite common, and will still work. And if not for games, kids would be ditching class and occupying the computers just to surf the web and other trivialities. Locking down the computers is attacking one of the minor symptoms, rather than the disease. You could use the same justifications to say students shouldn't have internet access, or computers at all...

Then there is all the fan wanna-be hackers that'd be putting trojans on the systems.

Not an issue for any operating systems with any decent security.

User creativity in schools by students generally means figuring out how to break the school network, repeatably.

Students are bored to death. If you give them nothing else to do, yes, that's where their frustration is going to be vented.

Personally, I'd spend just a little time getting around restrictions, and looking around. A couple of my teachers put me to work fixing computer problems... Most of them, though, had a tendency to go ape-shit ballistic, because I held the terrifying capacity to change the screen saver.

Diskless again. (2, Interesting)

xdroop (4039) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459533)

The parent has been unfairly modded as a Troll, because he's right. Network-based PXE reinstallation systems exist and work well (RedHat linux users may be interested in googling for "Cobbler" for example.) However he's also wrong. The best solution is to have ultra-thin clients like Sun Rays. That way there is no expensive gear on student's desks, and everything is run on computers locked safely up in a data center. Plus you'll get session portability and hardware homogenity benefits. You can even run rdesktop or the Sun connector app to connect to Windows Terminal Servers (or, if you have the resources, individual VMware sessions for each user) to grant access to those evil, evil windows applications. Troll me too, moderators.

Re:Diskless again. (1)

John Jamieson (890438) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459845)

Sorry, I consider Sun Rays to be nice equipment, but NOT inexpensive. The real "thin clients" on the desktop of the LTSP school I work with are $150 US each.

They work well, and they are very green (very low current draw).

Re:Dickless again? (1)

aarmenaa (712174) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459547)

Do you know how many organizations go through deleting mass storage drivers off their Windows systems, because they don't want that type of stuff to work? Also, if there's anywhere a system like this makes sense, it's at a school. Pretty much every school system I've seen goes to great lengths to make sure students and even staff can't modify the software setup even a little bit. To me, it always seemed useless to build full PCs and deal with all the maintenance that entails when you've essentially turned them into dumb terminals anyways. Also, I do believe there are ways to handle local drives, though I don't have any solutions off the top of my head. In a perfect world I'd just grab any data I needed from my account on the central server, or be able to connect remotely to my computer at home and grab my data. If only we lived in a perfect world.

Re:Dickless again? (1)

iamacat (583406) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459873)

Umm, school students are not allowed to bring their homework on CD-Rs or USB drives and work on it in school? They don't get to actually upload and work with their own photos in a digital photography class? If the same kind of "education" is taking place in my town, I better take another look at private or home schooling and demand a voucher so that I don't have to pay for installation of useless bricks in other kids' classrooms.

deep freeze (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459563)

deep freeze works good in school as all you have to do is reboot the system to undo any changes and then you don't have to lock down the systems as much as you do with other setups.

Re:deep freeze (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459723)

First of all you probably don't want students to be able to do whatever they want till a reboot. Second of all deep freeze is a last line of defense not a first. It took a single compromised system acting as a file server at my HS to let everyone play games on the network.

Re:deep freeze (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460125)

I have see system with so much lock down software that things don't work right and then you need more It people to be there to unlock stuff when needed and with deep freeze you do not need to give the students full admin anyways.

Re:Dickless again? (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459815)

fail to reboot most of the machines after a power outage,

Hmm... That sounds like the kind of problem that solves itself...

Re:Dickless again? (1)

John Jamieson (890438) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459893)

Having been involved in a LTSP project, I really don't know what you are talking about. We don't have problems with congestion, and I don't know why individual students want to directly access swap space? And this is on single core P4's and Athlons.

In the next month we are building a server to handle two new classrooms, and while I am VERY interested in finding the perfect hardware configuration, I am not worried about all the issues you talk about. (by the way, I would invest the hundered bucks on a UPS regardless of having data loss from power failure or not)

Re:Dickless again? (2, Interesting)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460031)

It would seem the article dis agrees with you?

If the terms are just remote X-Terms there is no swap problems, config problems.

I would advise you to re-read your comments and apply them to any network architecture. Lack of network or power is usually an end to user productivity.

20+ years ago I worked on system that had 1,000 concurrent users, downtime never happened in my tenure, 5 years, the users treated the system like the phone system, it was always there for them, always. The IT staff totaled 9 in operations and 4 in development plus 2 managers and a IT director.

Today I work on many systems that support a total of 800 users, downtime is a weekly occurance. The users treat the system like a mortally wounded rhino, the longer the thing stays down the happier they are. IT staff is over 25. The quality of the staff is less, the quality of the machines is less, the quality of the systems is less. I wish I could say that this is an isolated example.

I have worked on both terminal and tiered systems, terminal based services are far easier on every level.

In short, I am firmly convinced that IT made a huge mistake investing in PCs and tiered architecture. I see Linux as slowly changing this balance. I long for the day when at work I have a fully fault tolerant server and thousands of terminals. Where control of the data is the hands of IT and access to the data is wide open to any employee.

Schools should use free software (2, Interesting)

saibot834 (1061528) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459279)

Schools should use free software. They should educate their students about their digital freedom. They should expand their Microsoft-only view.
Why do you think no non-geeks care about digital freedom in our time? They don't know what freedom of software is like, because no one educated them.

But... (2, Insightful)

blowdart (31458) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459359)

That's fine up to a point; the majority of businesses still use MS Office and windows and will want to see that experience, and if you completely replace everything with linux or other free alternatives you're just creating another monoculture, and push a free-only view; which is, to my mind, just as bad.

Re:But... (3, Insightful)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459435)

We used wordperfect in school, now that i have left school i find that noone uses wordperfect in the workplace.
Those who learn word in school today will probably be using something totally different by the time they enter the workplace anyway.
Atleast for them, whatever they end up using will almost certainly be an improvement, to someone taught on wordperfect word is a huge step down.

Re:But... (2, Insightful)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459721)

We used Wordperfect in our school as well, until in 2001-2 they replaced all the 512k Macs with Pentium 2 PCs running Win2k and Office 2000. They were slower, crashed more and caused us to miss more classes (several times we had to waste an entire hour following instructions from the teacher to run virus removal tools and windows update, because they'd apparently never heard of SUS).

Re:But... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459777)

Probably half of lawyers use it. People who produce really enormous quantities of documents appreciate the quality, stability and archive value of WP.

Re:But... (1)

prat393 (757559) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459953)

I don't think it's particularly meaningful to use the word processor as our example. The basic word processor is a well-understood piece of software, and any decently well-done implementation will offer students what they need in the "typing a paper" department. There are, however, other distinct advantages to free software: free 3D modeling, music editing, laboratory data sampling, image processing, publishing. Teach the students to do these things with a computer, and I think... well, wordperfect will still be a huge step down, but more importantly, I think there will be a shift in who picks what software you use at the workplace. In the absence of the requirement of hugely expensive site licenses, I think it may become economical for each department or project, dare I dream even person, to pick what applications suit them best.

Re:But... (1)

howlingmadhowie (943150) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459543)

That's fine up to a point; the majority of businesses still use MS Office and windows and will want to see that experience, and if you completely replace everything with linux or other free alternatives you're just creating another monoculture, and push a free-only view; which is, to my mind, just as bad.
first clause: yes, true.

second clause: no, false

free and open-source software is not a monoculture like individual pieces of proprietary software are. it is a flourishing biosystem.

Re:But... (2, Insightful)

dvice_null (981029) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459651)

> you're just creating another monoculture, and push a free-only view; which is, to my mind, just as bad

Do you know what is the difference between Microsoft monoculture and open source monoculture?

I give you a hint. The other has huge license costs and you have to like what you get. And the other doesn't have license costs and if you don't like something, you can always either fix it yourself, ask anyone else to fix it or pay anyone to fix it for you. Please note the term "anyone". It is very importan word in this case. Imagine that you would live in New York. Let's say that you need to product every day. Let it be milk or bread or what ever. Now imagine these two alternatives:
a) There would be only one shop selling those products. No-one else could sell them.
b) __Anyone__ could sell those products and there would be a lot of shops selling them. You could even make those products by yourself.

Now, here we have two monocultures, a) and b), Do they still sound just as bad?

Re:But... (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459669)

if you completely replace everything with linux or other free alternatives you're just creating another monoculture, and push a free-only view; which is, to my mind, just as bad.

Replacing everything with Linux *or* other free alternatives might create a software monoculture, but that's only if everyone really chooses the same free alternative. Replacing some things with Ubuntu, some things with SuSE, some things with FreeBSD, some things with Solaris, etc., would not quite be a monoculture.

There's a lot of options with the scope of "free software", and if the purpose is to educate the students, they would ideally be exposed to multiple different software packages. This might but need not include Microsoft products, but the point is this: if people learn to use multiple word processors, they'll be more able to figure out whatever new word processor you put in front of them.

free software "monoculture" (0, Troll)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459781)

if you completely replace everything with linux or other free alternatives you're just creating another monoculture, and push a free-only view; which is, to my mind, just as bad.

Ignoring the fact that linux and other free laternatives divides your supposed monoculture by two, free software offers choice and modifications non free software will never match. Do you really think BSD, HURD and Linux are the same thing? How can you imagine a monoculture when all three of those choices will run on dozens of different hardware platforms? When you permutate these already dizzying choices by the number of distributions available with procompiled binaries, your monoculture starts to look like an old growth jungle. Compare that to the old i386 binary crap from M$ that loads exactly the same memory footprint on boot regardless of hardware, which looks more like a Soviet apartment block.

Re:But... (5, Insightful)

JohnBailey (1092697) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460029)

So instead of teaching applications, teach concepts. There is no profound difference in using Windows and associated apps and using Linux and the alternatives until you start doing the admin stuff. Outside any computer tech classes, that isn't even a consideration. These are school kids not IT admins. You still click on a menu or an icon to open a program, you still need to use a menu or a button to save a document. And last time I checked, Open Office didn't require you to convert everything to hex and back to decimal to do any calculations, Same old formulas in cells stuff as Excel.

I agree, a monoculture is bad.. So how are you proposing that it changes? Teaching kids that the only way to use a computer is with Microsoft products just maintains the current state. Teaching them to use different systems can only be an advantage. If nothing else, it will give the kids a chance to see a different system in use. At worst, it will require them to do a little more study to get up to speed with Office.

Re:Schools should use free software (-1, Troll)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459427)

Schools should use teach intelligent design. They should educate their students about gods actions. They should expand their evolution-only view. Why do you think no non-geeks care about real history in our time? They don't know what intelligent design is like, because no one educated them.

Now can you see whats wrong with your desire to stick you agenda down the throats of school kids?

Re:Schools should use free software (1)

ldj (726828) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459583)

Wow, talk about a bad analogy! You should stick to software/car analogies. Even though they're highly limited, at least there is some relevance. If you think that using and/or educating about software alternatives is akin to teaching intelligent design, then you must consider anything new or out of the norm to be unworthy of being taught. Our youth probably shouldn't be learning those new-fangled concepts being spread by the science community (bunch of radicals). Newton's discoveries were good enough, eh?

FOSS is to intelligent design as public libraries are to, uh, intelligent design?

Yeah, until ... (0, Troll)

david@ecsd.com (45841) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459383)

... Microsoft start suing the schools for using Linux without paying the proper license fees...

Bah!

Re:Yeah, until ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459685)

Leave it to Microsoft to cash in on other people's hard work. Just because they filed on a likely obvious "idea."

Thin Clients at School (5, Interesting)

fishthegeek (943099) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459433)

In the US, or at least the school district I teach in there is tremendous resistance to anything that isn't blessed by the Gods of Redmond. I teach with Ubuntu in the classroom and I am forever getting snide remarks about it. They've even asked me not to put the machines on the network for what they claim are security reasons as if they actually don't want any secure machines on the lan or something. I put the machines behind a router and have safely hidden my enclave of FLOSS goodness. The problem I have with homogeneous networks is that the kids I'm teaching now will probably never see one in real life because in real life there is a mix of *nix and Windows out there and they need those integration skills badly. If anyone knows a way to convince lifetime IT employees at a school district of anything please let me know because these guys and gals are stuck in 1997 and they aren't willing to let it go.

It's fear. Ignorance and fear. And sloth (2, Insightful)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459585)

How many real IT administrators do you have? I'm guessing it's between 0 and 1/aleph-null.

What you probably have is a load of ignorant MCSEs. They have worked through the manuals, they have done the multiple choice tests, but they don't really have a clue outside the point and click. Why am I doing this? I don't know, you just have to. If you don't, security demons come and eat your soul. Or something. The fix for any problem? Upgrade. I guess we can't do that in XP, have to wait for Vista. No, I don't know how to do that in Word, I guess you can't, you have to wait for Office 2007. Meanwhile, I don't have to learn anything new, I can just go home at 5 and kick the kids.

This is the way of the world. As soon as you try to democratise a new technology, the skill levels of the early adopters are diluted because there just are not that many really able people about. And the dilution itself reduces expectations. If all the plumbers you meet are incompetent, you don't expect a competent plumber. And if you yourself know nothing about plumbing, you won't be surprised when the plumber takes five hours to swap out a central heating pump.

In my time I have come across "mechanical engineers" who didn't know you had to supply and remove the energy stored in rotating objects, "electrical engineers" who were capable of using the earth wire to short out a toroidal transformer and not understand why the wire melted, an "industrial chemist" who thought if you diluted an acid spill with plenty of water the sewage company wouldn't notice, an "environmental systems engineer" who thought that it was safe to fill a large plastic tank with a hydrogen/air mixture (he didn't know how the Van der Graaf generator works. It was a _big_ bang). These people were probably the average level of their occupations, and simply were not capable of independent thought. Your IT staff are at that level. As with this school district, you need someone with the support of the management and some real drive to push the thing through, and persuade these people that it's worth learning new skills because they create new opportunities. But they have to be pushed and jollied along, because otherwise they will lapse into sloth. And when they have the new skills - they will plateau again.

Re:Thin Clients at School (5, Insightful)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459731)

Easy answer.

Every second Tuesday of the month, walk by the IT office and remind them what day it is with a snide remark of your own.

Re:Thin Clients at School (3, Interesting)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459801)

Keep up the good work. Mixed networks are sloooooooly making a comeback. At the large company I work, almost all IT stuff is MS. However, most of the products we build and deliver are *nix and the pressure from the engineers to get Linux desktops is growing. Many engineers are running CDROM based Linux versions on their laptops and desktops and never boot into the IT installed MS configuration. Our customers are feeling the same pressure, since we keep installing Linux systems for them.

I have one wish (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459445)

I have one wish. I wish that the headlines were not about this just being a switch from Windows to Linux, but also that this is a switch for users from PC-driven displays to network-driven displays, aka terminals. Yes, it is that, but for the people who just open up the newspaper and read about this this story and stories like it are framed within the idea that it is about moving from one operating system to another. I wish that the news would be that users don't each need their own PC, that they only need a display that is attached to the network. That would be news - that the users at the school can use software without needing a PC at every desk, or even in the building.

Vermont (1)

mattr (78516) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459537)

I understand my elementary school nephews in Stowe, Vermont are going to be learning on Vista in their school. It's nice they are getting any exposure at all (though they've been playing Harry Potter on a PC at home for years) but I'm worried about what their first experience will be, and also why an OS that most businesses are leery about and which ties up huge computing resources is being used in an elementary school. True I had a fabulous opportunity when I was young to learn on a keypunch terminal and feed Hollerith cards into a job hopper, and I had an early Apple II later.. but I think most households in the U.S. anyway young kids have experience with games (Wii fun, PS2 has too much gore and difficult games, PC has the ones you spend hours on constantly) and not much else. They don't "get" computers but they use them. What kind of lessons are they going to be taught? And will Cancel/Allow train their minds? Will they even learn there is a box to think outside of or will it always be what are they allowed to do? Apparently kids these days are told a lot more about what they are "allowed" to do from what they (my 3 nephews) tell me.

Connect the dots (2, Interesting)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459565)

Ferrie also figures that the increased reliability represents a substantial savings, although he admits that it is hard to quantify.
...
However, perhaps the greatest benefit of switching to free software is that the reliability of the new system frees up technical staff to do more than routine support.

I agree that it takes a fair amount of tracking to quantify total cost of ownership beyond the large but incidental fixed cost of implementation.

Still, staff salaries are usually a significant cost to any operation, so if staff resources are able to shift into new activities as a result of the change, it would seem common sense to begin by tracking that. The article has two sentences side by side. It shouldn't be hard to connect the dots between them.

Moreover, if we're measuring true TCO, we should look at overall effect on staff time, not just tech support staff. In a Linux terminal server environment, the entire staff population will now be spending zero time on fiddling with their workstations. It would be nice to compare this with the number of hours on average that individual staff members previously spent in dealing with issues on Windows workstations. That's a big part of TCO as well, but if you never measure it, how can you know when you've improved it?

I don't know the answer in this case, but I'll make one general observation. When Microsoft promotes its lower TCO calculations, look to see whether they fairly compare the total staff time spent in system configuration, software installation, failures due to bugs, compatibility and security issues, problem analysis and resolution.

Another BC School District, too (3, Informative)

gobbo (567674) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459639)

I live in a mainly rural school district 64 in the same province, and we're starting to undergo a similar process. The local principal is interested, and I've given him a copy of Edubuntu to evaluate the upcoming changes--though I'm not so sure the district is going that direction, I think they're emulating Kamloops (thin client etc.). The comment in the article about the staff having more time for things like a help desk and hardware support is understated, it's absolutely huge in making a difference for teachers, especially at isolated schools. It's important to me, because I want to start a computer club at my kids' (40 student rural) elementary, and I've been giving away old boxes with puppy linux on them for a while now, with some success.

Nice thing about successful changeovers like this is that they're infectious.

Just imagine ... (1)

jamesl (106902) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459659)

... how much the school could save if the staff could maintain the boilers, plow snow in the parking lot and wash the windows too.

Re:Just imagine ... (1)

John Jamieson (890438) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459935)

Most school districts DO have staff to maintain boilers and wash windows. I bet over 50% of schools never see snow, so that is optional.

Wow, sounds like the district has come along way.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19459689)

I went to high school in this district, and it sounds like they have come along way. The teachers used to be so paranoid about ANYTHING computer related it was ridiculous. I was actually suspended from grade 8 for using the Windows 3.1 built-in "recorder" software that I used to record a 30 second video of the mouse opening programs and closing them, then setting it on repeat just before class was over.

The next student who came in freaked out, called the teacher over, who in turn went ballistic, thinking it was some massive virus taking over the network, he didn't know or even think to press "ESC" to stop the cycle. Next thing I knew I was suspended.

Free Software Project in San Antonio is Similar (5, Informative)

Prospero2007 (1113755) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459747)

Hello All,
I have a similar story.

My name is Josh Beck, and I'm the IT coordinator at a magnet middle school within the Northeast Independent School District.(San Antonio, TX) Last year I piloted about 9 classroom Ubuntu computers in my lab. As the year went on, I modified the default setup so that I have an image that is secure and hopefully %100 percent functional. I've spent the last week exporting this image to 5 computer labs, approximately 150 computers. When the teachers and kids come back next year , they'll have the option to boot Windows or Linux. (The Linux side is sporting the fancy Beryl desktop. It won a lot of the kids over last year, and I'm thinking it will do the same next year.)

If you are in Education, and you want to migrate your school's computers so that open-source is at least an option, be warned. There really can be a whole lot of resistance. I have to agree with what I read here in that respect. I really did put my job on the line when I wiped out my first 9 licensed computers to replace them with open-source alternatives. The district-level IT coordinators put up a bit of a fight.

Although I'm in agreement that Novel can easily be phased out, I do use the Linux client. It isn't easy to bring online, and if your primary net device is listed as anything other that 'ETH0' you have to reprogram and recompile the thing, but Novel access through Linux works. Here's a more detailed look if you are interested:

Novel on Linux How To [ubuntuforums.org]

At this point in time my feeling is that it's probably more realistic to offer teachers and students a choice, and then educate them about what's involved with that choice. If they want to use Windows, and your school district has a healthy tax-base, by all means purchase the license and allow them to do so. I can tell you this. When I offered the choice last year, the Linux seats were hot real estate. The kids love it.

Here's a video with one of my students:
Eject! [youtube.com]

Josh Beck
IT Coordinator
Interactive Media Applications at Krueger Middle School
Northeast ISD
San Antonio, Texas

Re:Free Software Project in San Antonio is Similar (1, Interesting)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459961)

Im kind of curious..

Did you experiment in using Xen to use Windows AND some version of Linux (Ubuntu is the craze these days)?

With both running, you could have students choose without rebooting and such annoying things, however memdisks are a bit problematic.

The only other downside is that it raises complexity by a nice factor of 4: configure Xen and system properly, then install/configure guest OSes properly.

Re:Free Software Project in San Antonio is Similar (2, Informative)

Prospero2007 (1113755) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460057)

By Xen, I'm assuming you mean virtualization. (I apologize if I didn't catch your drift.) Yes, we used virtualization to run Windows on Linux, but the machine running in the virtualized window took too much of a performance hit. I used VMWARE. Make a commitment and stick to it for at least 10 minutes is an excellent lesson for middle school kids don't you think? As far as complexity, using dd in conjuction with netcat makes exporting a fully configured system from one machine to another a snap. Virtualized configurations and all. Josh Beck

School District Techie (1, Informative)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459915)

I'm a Network Analyst for a school district in Nor Cal, and having just DUMPED a terminal server type installation, I'll give you my perspective of terminals in a school environment.

1) Terminal Servers suck using presentation software. Two or three people on one machine is enough to bring it to its knees. Adding Servers to the farm is not really a viable option for every three people doing "Powerpoints".

2) Using Web based applications can bring the server to its knees with about 10-15 users. Combine with #1 and you are toast.

3) Teachers want to use whatever software they want to use. Telling them that they can't run X because it is 1) Windows and we're Linux, 2) wasn't designed for Term Servers, 3) will bring the Term Servers to their knees with minimal users, IS NOT AN OPTION to them. They don't care, and will run whining to the site admin, or to the District Office about how unsupportive IT is to teaching etc.

4) Flash/Shockwave Nuff said.

So, we've pulled out the client server environment and replace it with stand alone computers. With modern imaging software and RIS/Windows Deployment Services I don't care if Little Johnny Rotten has just installed malware, I just re-image the machine and it is only down for less than 1/2 hour, and comes back fully patched and ready do go.

No longer am I required to spend countless hours trying to defend why some piece of software doesn't run right, and won't be supported. Nor am I spending weeks trying to figure out a work around for application X that doesn't work right on Term Servers. Now I tell them to install whatever they want, they are responsible, and if it fubars the computer it will be reset. I can reset 40 / 50 computers a day if necissary, and it is mostly brain dead work.

Which frees me to be more productive with my time. It is much better for IT when a Network Analyst can help teachers with technology rather than being a stumbling block of "not possible", "no", "we can't". It is all fine and good to try Term Services with the latest Linux distro, but in the long run, it wasn't feasible considering the requirements/desires of the Teaching staff.

I wish them well, and hope they have better luck than I did. I just know that Terminal Servers didn't work for us.

Re:School District Techie (1)

statusbar (314703) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460077)

I don't think you are talking about linux terminal services... Perhaps you are thinking of the limitations of windows terminal services?

--jeffk++

Re:School District Techie (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19460183)

I am a the sysadmin at a school using K12LTSP, we have two linux terminal servers, 120 thin clients, and less than 8 hours downtime PER YEAR! and oh, that sluggishness you are talking about for points 1,2 and 4. Don't really see it except when 40+ people all try and launch the StarOffice/Openoffice presentation software simultaneously. As for point 3, well, yes the teachers have to learn to look at all the options available, and with the money that is freed up, they take the kids on field trips to see stuff/learn about stuff. Since we got 'buy-in' from the front office/district office first, everyone has learned to adjust. For those absolutely must have windows-only based apps, well, that is why we have a Windows Terminal server which we access using rdesktop from the linux-based terminal servers.

We give the kids copies of the software used in the school, which removes a barrier with students having to buy other software. I have found many companies willing to work with us getting their software to work on Linux or in a windows terminal services environment (great marketing for them since it means they can talk about consolidating resources, saving money, etc for the schools).

It does work, but it requires that the IT staff wants to have it work, management gives it a chance to work, and teachers understand the benefit of it working.

Just my two cents.

Children learning products instead of concepts? (4, Insightful)

kungfoolery (1022787) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459917)

Here was the most tragic line in the piece for me

secondary schools in British Columbia are supposed to teach skills rather than specific software, in practice, many teachers had developed courses that specified particular pieces of software. "You get a teacher who's been around 20-30 years, and they're not that keen on developing their course again," Ferrie says in wry hindsight. Also, many schools had already paid for textbooks that referred to specific proprietary software.

The teacher is absolutely right in this assertion: students should be learning about concepts and ideas - not only about examples and instances. It's fine if an algebra student can derive the quadratic formula from rote memorization; but it is far more important that she develops the skills to think critically on how to attack this problem on her own.

In the best computer science programs and programming books; you walk away with a deeper understanding of the science behind the code. Learning should be focused on cultivating concepts and ideas that can be applied to a broad range of implementations; not churning out specifically Java or C# developers. Similarly, children should learn about core computer concepts and ideas - not on how to create flashing text in Microsoft Word.

Help with a K12LTSP lab in San Francisco (5, Informative)

christian.einfeldt (874074) | more than 7 years ago | (#19459933)

I am a level one tech support volunteer who has gotten some assistance building a 33-seat thin client network in a public school in San Francisco. We could use the help of a one or two higher-level network admins on a few issues. We have been up and running nicely for two years. We could just use some help occasionally. It's a public school, so there is almost no budget. We are doing almost all of this on legacy hardware. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, and would like to help with a few issues, please email me at einfeldt at digitaltippingpoint dot com. Thanks either way! Christian Einfeldt

don't help this joker! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19460159)

public schools do nothing but breed statists [wikipedia.org] , free software has a poor enough image as a movement defined by communist principles, the last thing we need are more idiotic do-gooders giving the majority of us who are Libertarians a bad name

Poignant... (2, Interesting)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460061)

I've done a lot of work with schools, and mostly in NetWare systems. While I saved them a bunch of $$$ over using Windows, not much is cheaper than free...

And I looked at the LTSP back in 2003 thought it was so not ready. Two systems asked me if it was something they should consider, and I told they yes, but 1)let it mature a little technically, and 2)find an advocate in the system, even *just* a teacher, who would drive the project. I knew this would cut my consulting fees dramatically, but I thought then it was inevitable.

Unfortunately, this was in Maine, and the MLTI (Apple iBooks for 7th and 8th grades) pretty much slammed the door shut on open source. Apple declared 'other' software completely unacceptable, though we got several NetWare systems talking to the Apple systems quite nicely, thank you very much. Microsoft, of course, straddled the fence. Linux systems were actively fought against by the Apple engineers, being the only true threat to their business.

I'm hoping that the LTSP catches hold. It has tremendous potential for schools, and frankly for most any application where there is a limited number of applications necessary. And maybe more than that...

Backwards (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 7 years ago | (#19460131)

The professional usage nazi in me hates the submitter for calling these systems "terminals". A "terminal" is just a brainless box that passes data back and forth, without the ability to actually run applications locally. A diskless system that boots off a server is a thin client, which is actually a lot more impressive. What's ironic is that you see lots of systems such as the Sun Ray that are sold as "thin clients", but are actually just terminals!

But my inner usage nazi needs to get over it. This usage is lame, but too well established to go away. Time to move on.
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