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Getting Open Source help for schools (a comment as post) September 7, 2007

Posted by Nigel Ajay Kumar (NAyK) in Article Watch, Blogging, Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, OpenOffice, Other Distros, PCLinuxOS, Piracy, Recommendation, Software, Windows, Working with Linux.

The following post is not written by me, but was a comment on a previous post about the real-life problems facing Open Source implementation in the fact of Microsoft loaded schools. This unusually large comment has a host of links that are geared to help individuals/institutions to grow in their awareness of Linux and MS. I’m posting this comment here as a post because I believe it could be helpful to more than me. The author of the comment goes by the name “Jose”. So thanks Jose, here’s your ‘comment’ as post.

(disclaimer: I don’t know anything more of Jose than this comment. So his views are his own, not mine. Similarly, I’ve not had a chance to test all his links, so even though I think I trust Jose, please click with caution).


By Jose, 7 September, 2007

If the schools asks for help, I am sure there are some fairly cheap offerings. LTSP is both practical (saves headaches managing it once you understand Linux) and cheap.

Nice story btw. Scouting (bringing problems like this one into the open) is very important in order to figure out what problems exist and how they might be tackled (word of mouth market research).

I think I understand you not wanting to impose your views on the school nor risk losing credibility in the process. If you have a good track record and can accept rejection, you may want to approach your supervisors with a plan for a pilot. You (with help maybe) can work on possible solutions off-line in order to make a presentation. Maybe you will also find a way, in the interest of student education and well-roundedness, to encourage students that may like Linux/FLOSS (w/parents’ help perhaps) to put initiatives forward. Do you want it or do the students want it? Reports show that Linux is growing, including for example, job offerings on Dice.com as a recent survey revealed. It seems a bad move for educational institutions to ignore Linux just on account of this momentum statistic (I’m not even considering all the other benefits of FLOSS to anyone, much less to an educational institution).

This is an educational institution to serve the students. It seems short-sighted not to offer a Linux option especially being free and with students willing to do their own research (after school club if nothing else).


There are sites dedicated to schools and linux. There are commercial and free Linux distros that focus on schools. There is a modest amount of FLOSS that is useful specifically to teachers and administrators.

Here is a very recent story dealing with libraries and Linux: http://www.linuxtoday.com/infrastructure/2007090700526OSPB

There are many sites for newbies.

How can you go wrong with a LiveCD? Have they tried PCLOS? Do they know that you can customize many LiveCD distros and then burn another LiveCD so as to have that exact setup matching your needs and preferences wherever whenever?

Can something like this, http://olpc.tv/2007/05/19/preview-60-minutes-about-olpc/ , be all that bad and scary? [OLPC may be a great advocacy tool, browse around olpc.tv for neat videos.]

Would you be a fanatic? an advocate? or just someone finding it very difficult to ignore a good thing whose “business case” just keeps getting better and better?

Microsoft has a long tradition of illegal (court of law) and unethical behavior, assaults on OPEN and FREE software, and on extremely aggressive lock-in techniques (a part of “embrace, extend, and extinguish”). Expect Microsoft licenses to only keep getting more draconian and more expensive. Expect Microsoft products to keep getting more disrespectful of the end users’ privacy (I think this is a big concern for most people). Vista phones home with a lot of personal detail (it’s part of the license too.. you sign away many rights).

And with the lawsuits and bad news mounting, what will the school do if, heaven’s forbid, Microsoft should go out of business? What is the backup plan? Will the kids have continuity and an ability to go further with whatever they might be building.

Has the school done a cost analysis just of licensing costs for the next ten years (Linux downtime is much lower and management is easier in many ways.. again, look at LTSP offerings)? Do these take Microsoft’s steady price increases into account and the requirements for hardware buys? How about all the many and powerful Linux software that costs $0. What would that cost for Windows over 10 years for all computers? Ouch! [Note, students may want to put up their own websites and such]

There are many success stories (even of grandma’s) which should help inspire confidence, but I think the key is a presentation/pilot program to show before everyone’s eyes that it can work. [And don’t forget that the kids needs and wants will trump most other concerns.]

Linux commercial support is growing fast. The communities are in abundance. In fact, you can probably find rather easily 20 websites with volunteers pushing Linux. Why so many people willing to help out for free? [And yes, it can be fun.]

Would the school be doing its duty in not providing at least some support for the greatest educational tool of all time?

You own Linux, really. You help define Linux.. and there is so much that is new and free!

More links:

It may even work to seek out stories on Linus and others that would bring a human dimension to Linux. Tux is the penguin mascot. Top supercomputers (eg, from IBM) run Linux so Linux isn’t just cute. Shrek likes Linux, too: http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/9653 . Even the US military trusts Linux when they don’t trust Microsoft.

It’s also too easy to beat up on Vista (stories of Bad Vista abound). There are also horror stories of XBox360 problems.. which comes back to the point of how trustworthy is Microsoft and will they be around in 5, ten, or fifteen years? And what will their prices be like (can’t repeat this enough times).


And wow them with some Beryl/Compiz. Yes, this is Linux, too. [This should open eyes, of the faculty, but also students’ eyes.]
http://youtube.com/watch?v=T67kricXYRE sabayon is popular, too.

Bad Microsoft.. long rap sheet
Recent MS abuse of power and unethical behavior with OOXML. Last minute gold partners joined up on MS’s “request.”
Despite all this, OOXML failed to get accepted.

As for the Gates Foundation, I wrote this little bit up recently. I joke around, but it’s no joke that Microsoft gives to biomed research and MS software, both areas where he has significant private interests. The Foundation has made many contributions of MS software, so the Foundation subsidizes Microsoft [Bill’s left pocket pays his right one]. I mention this just in case (if it comes up) people put up with Microsoft because they think Gates is a nice person and that they are doing the right thing even if it is expensive. http://www.linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2007-09-01-006-26-OP-CY-PB-0011

And if you get down, or if you simply want to show others that it’s not supposed to be a walk in the part to go through change, here is a review of Linux by someone. What is striking is how this person’s perceptions changed over just 5 months http://www.linuxtoday.com/infrastructure/2007080900326OPSW . He isn’t the only one, btw. If you give Linux a little bit of time, it really grows on you (it takes a while to undo the brainwashing of Windows and realize that there is such a thing as freedom and control and it can be easy and fun if you give it a little time). Many people that have not heard of Linux have no clue how extensive support is for Linux and for open source (we have a huge community).

A link to the GPL may also be useful (four freedoms etc).

Sorry, to put up so few links, but I still have to organize my files.

Finally, if you have doubts about whether or not you are doing a good thing presenting a FLOSS alternative, ask youself how much of a good thing it is for the kids for them to stay along the current path [I don’t mean to pressure you, only to help overcome doubts and guilt should you want to do something.]



1. Jose - September 8, 2007

The following essay has a related theme to the original story here (about free/pirated Windows software being responsible for holding back or slowing Linux adoption)
http://articles.tlug.jp/Windows_Is_Free .

The desired link seems to be broken.
>> http://www.oreillynet.com/linux/blog/2006/05/greatgrandmother_hoists_the_jo.html

Use this next direct link instead of the broken indirect one http://blog.lobby4linux.com/index.php?/archives/70-86-Year-Old-Great-Grandmother-Hoists-The-Jolly-Roger.html

The story shows how Linux is not that hard to pick up and is very liberating. As with any tool, you can pirate with Linux as you can with Windows XP. The difference is that you now have a lot less temptation to want to pirate since you already get so much for free. Anyone that is honest doesn’t have to struggle to get the minimum system and tools. When you gain so much, you have spare cash and less incentive to pirate than when you feel you are being robbed blindly already [thanks Microsoft].

Some items not to be missed from a link above [ http://www.bellevuelinux.org/linux_educ.html ]

>> (3) Students can be provided with legal copies of Linux and other open source software for use at home at no cost to the students or the schools.
>> (4) Linux allows older and less expensive hardware to be used than is possible with Microsoft Windows, and it thus helps extend the life of old computers.
>> (5) Administration and maintenance costs can be reduced to very low levels for Linux systems after system administrators and other staff members attain a certain degree of expertise. One reason for this is the inherent stability of Linux, i.e., it rarely crashes or needs rebooting. Also, with proper configuration, Linux is highly resistant to viruses, worms, trojans and other types of malicious code, thus very little time and effort needs to be devoted to applying security patches.
>> (6) Linux can mitigate or eliminate the cost and disruption of frequent retraining of faculty and other staff members for new versions of the operating system and other software. This is because there are no “forced upgrades.” Also, although new versions of Linux and other open source software are frequently introduced, existing and even older versions usually have more than sufficient power and functionality for most academic applications. Moreover, even if open source software is upgraded, the new versions are usually very similar to, and backwards compatible with, earlier versions, and thus little or no additional training is usually necessary.
>> (8) The internal workings of Linux are completely open and available for inspection, modification and experimentation. [Not all source code is impossibly complex. Students will be able to make changes here and there to see effects immediately. This doesn’t however mean they will be able to do it to the school’s system since you still have access restrictions.]
>> (9) The use of Linux in the classroom will encourage (or compel) teachers to learn about Linux. This will help them to understand and teach more effectively about computers. It will also give them a better foundation for understanding other aspects of technology, which, in turn, can be transmitted to students. [This may appear scary, but no one is forced since likely there will be a few that can manage the system for the rest. However, there is something very liberating about knowing how and why something works. This is superior to learning by rote only.]
>> (10) Acquiring Linux skills has already begun to facilitate and encourage collaboration among educators and others to develop new, high quality software specifically for educational use. [That’s right. Linux is potentially addictive enough that real teachers have actually learned to program in order to work with others to build the tools just the way they want them to work.]
>> (11) Linux can help prepare students for the real world in which there is a diversity of operating systems and platforms. Although most households still just use Microsoft Windows, major corporations generally employ a variety of operating systems…. [And Linux use, even on the desktop, is on an uptrend.]
>> (13) Open source software tends to be compliant with industry standards and thus protects school data from becoming locked into proprietary file formats which the schools do not own and which may become unsupported, obsolete and even inaccessable in the future. [Do not underestimate the importance of this given that Microsoft refuses to adapt to standards like the existing document standard ODF. Do you want to be able to open your files in 10 years?
>> (2) Linux is becoming increasingly easy to install and use.

Some more audio production Linux distributions that might be interesting in their own right and even useful for a music class
http://news.softpedia.com/news/Top-10-Linux-Distributions-for-Audio-Production-64552.shtml .

I liked to take a stab at answering a particular question many may have: How can a packed LiveCD/DVD be so inexpensive when commercial software is so expensive? [Ref: http://www.linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2007-08-16-030-26-OP-MS-SW-0001 ]

How can this be true? In a Linux distro you have various pieces of software that have few commercial equivalents yet are very useful. You then have software than should be worth tens or even hundreds of dollars judging by their commercial competitors (eg, it’s hard to argue that Openoffice isn’t worth at least $100 given what one pays for MS Office). So how can that whole package itself be worth less than say $1000, much less be worth $0?

Several things to understand. First, proprietary software, eg, MS Office, is overpriced. Microsoft is getting hammered by Google and various other competitors in various areas. Just recently they took a one billion charge on their XBox business to cover a ridiculous high percentage of defective game systems. Bill and Steve still make some nice money. Microsoft’s has a very large work force and many are not top performers as are some of the leaders of some of these FLOSS software projects. Ever seen how much Microsoft advertises? Wonder how many employees work for marketing, HR, and various other departments? Do you not think that Microsoft has many projects that fail and lead to nothing but large expenses (all large companies have many of these)? Did you note that Microsoft has monopoly control (and excerts monopoly pricing) in various areas, most significantly being in the office productivity software segment?

The second thing to understand is that FLOSS is underpriced. It is written mostly by its users who on average gain from improvements even if they didn’t get a salary. You have top contributors and then many many that fill bug reports and fix little things here and there. Sales staff.. what sales staff? Right now I am automatically a volunteer member of a non specific Linux “sales staff” in writing this post. No one is paying me anything. Do you honestly think I would do this “work” for free for Microsoft? In this way, much of the work for FLOSS is done by volunteers. This even includes some of the heavy development lifting. In enough cases, the work is subsidized by various groups. For example, diverse profit companies, non profits, and governments have employees that product FLOSS and release it for no charge to the community. You also have many that code in order to improve a product that they service and extend for clients. And again, there are many that contribute suggestions and tiny improvements (including documentation) for no charge. Think about it. I am claiming that all of this software might be worth over $1000 judging by commercial competition. If you got that and it came from many that worked for free, and you are getting many intangibles too like knowing that no company out there controls your computer or your data or will force you to upgrade (FLOSS is highly standards-based, but more importantly, it is open so it is difficult to lock you in to force an upgrade). You are getting this $1000+ package over and over through the years because you don’t have to pay for upgrades you may take every few years. With all of this, it is not too difficult to understand why some would want to give back to the already generous community (“generosity” here is a self-fulfilling effect because so many need only contribute a tiny amount to end up with a huge amount overall for everyone, making it more likely to contribute even more — it’s like voting when you are one among millions, yet many still do it). Heck, there are people that would even contribute to Microsoft for free (maybe by providing free feedback). As compared to Microsoft, you have a much reduced paid work force, much reduced advertising and marketing budget, no alternative businesses like web search or gaming to be subsidized, ultra-low cost distribution system (online downloads and users “press” the CD’s for free), etc. In fact, most of FLOSS participants have OTHER jobs (including for tech companies that sell hardware, services, customizations, insurance, etc). It’s not too difficult to believe that some people put their very best and lots of time for a hobby. This is how FLOSS is built.

Understanding these two things now makes it much easier to understand the pricing. In short, a distro is underpriced at $0 by at least a few hundred if not by a few thousand. And software like MS Office (by itself) is overpriced by a few hundred, making a fully stocked Windows desktop overpriced by thousands perhaps.

There is no magic. There are logical reasons because the economics of the FLOSS development model is completely different. One option (FLOSS) is clearly the better value. The question to ask yourself is do you want to pay little and be part of a community that contributes to what it has, or do you want to pay a lot to be part of a hostage network where only the lead players make decisions (in exchange for very high fees)? [BTW, don’t confuse “forced” Communism with this; FLOSS is a participatory system where the work is attractive enough to survive solely on volunteer work (software can be leveraged highly, like through zero cost distribution/replication).]

2. Taiweepward - May 14, 2010

This idea is necessary just by the way

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