Patrick's Rants


Ruminations From the LTSP List

Filed under: Geek News and Stuff — site admin @ 8:11 am

The mailing list that I follow, and occasionally reply to, for users of the K12LTSP software turned up a discussion of how hard it is to get schools and school districts off the Microsoft tit:

I have to chime in here as well. I had worked for a school district who has been extremely resistant to any OSS, even though I was saving them tens of thousands of dollars each year by expanding the number of computer classes taught with absolutely no extra costs involved. I taught a computer repair class using recycled computers I had to seek out the computers myself, because the assistant superintendent/technology coordinator refused to funnel any broken or used equipment our direction. I taught web design (HTML) and advanced web design (PHP and MySQL) running off of a LAMP server I had purchased and maintained myself. I pulled my “textbook” off of free resources on the web. I offered up my networking class to re-cable to some labs that were in horrible shape, only to be rejected. The last
straw for me was when the tech coordinator, her secretary, and two consultants working overtime to swap out 6 switches, when I had asked for my students to have the experience. Something as simple as swapping out switches. They’d rather pay in the neighborhood of $90/hr rather than give students an educational opportunity. When I presented my concerns to the school board, they just shrugged their shoulders and admitted how they deferred technology matters to the tech coordinator because they really didn’t understand.
Quite frankly, I am rather disgusted with the mindset of technology education in the US. The whole goal seems to be to restrict information rather than guide the students how to find reliable information. I have not heard of once decent financial nor educational argument against FOSS from anyone ever. Educational leaders use lots of taxpayer money and their ignorance to keep students from learning.

Sorry for venting. It is at least re-assuring to hear that other
countries are having the same problems.


The problem is not limited to K-12, but exists in universities as well. The administration gets a bulk deal on MS products, and then pretends to provide them free to the entire campus. They think it’s normal to throw computers into the trash on a four year obsolescence cycle. There never seems to be enough money for research and teaching, but there is always enough money to buy commercial software and replace perfectly good computers.

This is especially ironic at the University of Manitoba, where I teach.
Our central Unix system is the finest I have seen at any university anywhere. The system is professionally managed and software is kept up to date. I have a SunRay thin client on my desk which gives me the full power of the clustered Unix servers, RAID backup, performance and availability. I do my heavy numbercrunching for research, as well as preparing lecture notes and presentations, all on a single Unix desktop, using what is now a 6-year old thin client.

Thin clients could easily replace 99% of the PCs on campus, cutting the cost and eliminating the need for sysadmins to spend their days roaming from on PC to another, trying to figure out what each user did to their machine. Or deleting viruses.

But, when it comes to computers, people are very very afraid to try anything new. There also seems to be a fear that if students work on a day to day basis with something other than Windows, they will not be able to function in the “real” world. My own experience in teaching scientific computing at the university level is that Windows is where people tend to pick up their bad habits in the first place. A student trained on a Unix/Linux platform will probably end up being a better Windows user.

And finally:

and in private business … piracy, over-deployment, inappropriate licensing for intended use (commercial use of educational product, commercial use of test/dev product, etc…)

My answers: Build it anyway. Build it subversively. Build it on your own time. Research it on Saturday, build it on Sunday, demo it on Monday. Make one for your family, your church, your charity of choice, or your geeky friends. Never try to sell vapor. Show them how it does just what they want. Ask what they like best about the Microsoft product, and find a way that the Free product does a better job. Don’t bother to try to sell them product that doesn’t actually out-perform what they already have. Free software is attacking at more points than Microsoft can defend. We out-virtualize, out-share, out-interoperate, and out-collaborate them. They can’t possibly keep up because they are one company with vast-but-still-limited resources. We are the “Free world” and we have, as a group, unlimited resources, unlimited interest, and the ability to respond silently and efficiently to anything and everything that we like. We, as a group, have time to do everything.

Show-and-tell your favorite things, don’t just talk about them, and defeat Microsoft not because they cost more, but because the Free products are plainly better.

Here are three products I can sell, not because they cost less, but because they are so much better than the Microsoft-based equivalent products, or there just isn’t any equivalent Microsoft product:
– VMware Server (on Linux)
– VMware Workstation (on Linux)
– OpenFiler
– Untangle
– Zimbra
– DimDim
– Nagios

It has been seven or eight years since I set up an office running the K12LTSP software. We/I replace hardware as needed not on any fixed schedule. And (almost) everything just works.

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