How to Sell Linux to Schools

28 May

In my earlier post ‘How to Sell Linux’ I looked at three different ways how to popularize Linux and make it more mainstream as well as a household name. In the post I will look specifically at how I would sell Linux to schools, examining all the aspects of such a deployment and how I would do it and what distro and software I would use.

Here is the order I will look at things in this post-:

  1. What Distro would be used?
  2. What Software would be pre-installed?
  3. What would be the Incentive?
  4. How Cost Effective would it be?
  5. How quickly could new users Adapt?
  6. Poll and Conclusion

The Distro

In my view the best Linux distro for the job of being used in a school which is both fast and user-friendly would have to be Ubuntu, as it has a great community and lots of support available. Certainly the Ubuntu distro which I would chose would have to Lucid Lynx (10.04) which is a Long Term Support (normally called LTS)distro meaning that it will be updated as much as possible for around 3 to 4 years by the Ubuntu developers and community. In some respects Linux Mint 9 would be a better choice for schools because most children and teenagers won’t have tried Linux before and Mint is more like Windows in the menu aspect of it. Mint is also a spin-off of Ubuntu so it is like it in many ways including the Software Center and the different applications available for it alongside the the ability to install .deb files easily.

Ubuntu Logo

Once the distro is installed on the computer there are two options for what to do about students having accounts these are; 1. Everyone has a unique username and password or 2. there are only 2 accounts on all the computers- Administrator  and User. The Administrator would have a very complicated password known only by certain teachers or people with authority and the User password would be known to the whole school. For storage all users would have a unique Ubuntu One (check out here) account with 2GB of storage each giving them the ability to save stuff in school and download it at home (I’ll discuss that later).

Ubuntu One Logo

The Software

In any educational environment there is some basic software which is definitely necessary these programs include; an office suite, a notepad, a web browser, a media player, a CD/DVD creator and of course a calculator. Here are the pieces of software I would pre-install in an edition of Ubuntu which I would install in a school.

As an office suite I would use OpenOffice.org which includes a word processor, powerpoint creator, spreadsheet application and a drawing application.

Open Office Logo

As a notepad I would use Gedit the standard editor in Gnome versions of Ubuntu.

I would use Chromium as a web browser.

Chromium Logo

Totum player as the media player.

For a DVD/CD creator I would use the built in one in Ubuntu.

Another important aspect of using Linux in schools is storage for which I would use Ubuntu One which is easily set up and students can have their own accounts created very quickly which would give them 2GB of storage straightaway however there is also the alternative of Ubuntu One which is of course DropBox which once you invite your friends and family to join via a referral link you can get up to  8GB of storage for free.

DropBox

The Incentive

Schools, or any organization for that matter will not do anything without an incentive. People, particularly people in authority, will not just wake up one morning and say to themselves “I know what I’ll do today- I’ll go into my workplace and totally change the company (or school’s) technology services completely.” it just doesn’t happen. Everybody needs an incentive to do everything whether it be shopping at Amazon.com instead of Play.com because Amazon has a discount today or shopping at Wall-mart rather than Aldi because Wall-mart is better quality- there needs to be an incentive.

In my view the best incentive for swapping to Ubuntu is that it is substantially cheaper than Windows (as I will discuss later) and as we all know: people will take anything for free but are rarely given anything for free- this is where Linux comes into the equation. It is free. Plain and simple.

Dollar Eyed Smiley

The Cost

As I mentioned in the above paragraph about incentives cost plays a major role in determining whether or not a school or organization will chose a new IT system. If you are going to upgrade you entire school and the network then you are looking at perhaps a cost of $30,000+ which is a lot of money. This is, again, where Linux (specifically Ubuntu) comes in as it is totally free and will save the school a fortune since they won’t have to upgrade the computers unless they are very old as Ubuntu has less than half of the requirements a Windows distribution.

On top of that all of the software would be totally free and the school would not need to purchase a full Microsoft office suit or Apple works. Thus saving the school in excess of $20,000 depending on the size of the school.

Piggy Bank

Adaption Time

The time it takes for new users to adapt to using Linux varies on the distro they are using, with Linux Mint probably being the easiest and CentOS being a harder addition, varies completely from person to person. Many factors go into this including; previous experience, natural ability, usage time and support. Usage time and support will in my opinion be the key factors going into this because, as the saying goes “Practice Makes Perfect” and without support they won’t know what to do.

I am sure however if Linux was introduced in schools we would have a whole breed of Linux whizzes running amok in the Linux communities.

Programmer

Conclusion

Well those are my views and I would love for you to comment on it and tell me what you think.

If you think this is worth showing you friends, please do and subscribe you and your friends to the blog by reader. Check out the poll below and vote on whether you would like Linux to be deployed in schools.

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32 Responses to “How to Sell Linux to Schools”

  1. David May 29, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    What about rights? user seperation? backups? its nice that you have found out how to use ubuntu, but you might want something like a share for 1 or 2 classes instead of dropbox, or you don’t want the wallpaper to change. Very basic examples, one of the solutions would be AD or Fedora Directory…

    • linuxandall May 29, 2010 at 11:49 am #

      Yes valid points and I’m loving learning from these comments.

  2. Glenn May 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    Agreed. In this era of budget cuts for schools across America I think that Linux in general would be a great way for the school systems to save, in some cases, millions. It will free up cash to be used in other areas as well.

    • linuxandall May 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

      Yeah thats another point. Make sure you subscribe in a reader if you want the updates on this topic :D

      Sandy

  3. Marjana May 29, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Very nice article. I’m a technics/computer teacher of one of the primary schools here in Slovenia and as the recession has also hit us our school needed to find a way to be more economical. And for me this meant to look at some alternatives. Which in the end brought me to Linux and all the nice Free and open source software that is there. We did a pilot for about 2 months with almost half of the computers in one of the computer classrooms running Linux (we used Edubuntu) and it turned out to be very positive experience. So instead of expensive upgrades to Windows 7 and all the antivirus software our plan is now to move slowly all the computers to Linux. The biggest obstacle currently is lack of support for this from the government and lack of textbooks and other content that would be written for linux and open source apps. So this is one important poin to work on. As for the pupils, they didn’t have any problem at all with the switch. They only nagged about Edubuntu looking old and ugly, so we ended up switching the desktop on more powerful computers to KDE, which they liked a lot and all the numerous apps from the great KDE Education project also blended more nicely with the desktop then. So yeah here was our experience in short and for the future I hope government would tell us more about such a nice option and support it more (i hear in Brazil they are extremely good at this). Government could save a lot of taxpayers money this way. And also a lot of teachers’ nerves as there is not a need to worry about viruses and Windows crashes anymore. Oh yeah during my research in alternatives I’ve also come across this article – One of the best Linux distributions – that clearly shows that there are more advantages to using open source in schools than just economic.

    • Marjana May 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      Ups. I failed to past the link to the article correctly. So here it goes: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/schools.html

    • linuxandall May 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

      Thats very interesting. I am looking into having deployed at my high school.

    • opentechdiva May 30, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

      Marjana, it is great to read about your experience piloting Edubuntu. The comment about the desktop background from the students was interesting. Of all the things that could emerge from the pilot…it was good to hear that you adopted the KDE option. You can add additional Ubuntu themes (this is based on 9.10) http://bit.ly/aEa3tf

      Once proprietary software vendors (M$) find that you are considering open source alternatives, they will of course manipulate the process by offering their software at a low or no-cost option (for a short time)

      One comment that stands out in the article which you linked to from Richard Stallman…
      What schools should refuse to do is teach dependence. Those corporations offer free samples to schools for the same reason tobacco companies distribute free cigarettes to minors: to get children addicted (1). They will not give discounts to these students once they’ve grown up and graduated.
      This is the same manner in which Apple made such headway in Education (and graphic design). They donated systems to many schools and a generation of students grew up comfortable on them
      As you mentioned, Brazil Ministry of Education has been highly successful in deploying “Linux Educacional 2.0″ as a very clean Debian-based distribution, with KDE 3.5, KDE-Edu, KDE-Games on close to a million workstations

  4. Doug Loss May 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    You’re a bit late to the party. :) There have been organizations working on this for years. Take a look at Schoolforge, for one. There are links from there to many others.

  5. Seb T. May 29, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

    Thanks.. an interesting article, but one that fails to answer a few of the more fundamental questions for me as an experienced Linux user and developer who might want to pitch Linux at a local school. Here are some examples:

    - Support. By this I don’t mean updates from repos and the community, I mean “what do I do when my desktop won’t boot”. Or, “I’ve lost a file”. Or, “my printer won’t print”. Like many organisations, schools inevitably have staff members (and sometimes students!) who are familiar with the basics of rudimentary Windows support. Support is a big deal for schools, indeed for any corporate or organisation, and an issue that I would expect to be high on any list: where can we get it, how much will it cost, will we need a lot more external support than we did with windows. Last but not least: the support fear bubble. What we don’t know frightens us, amplifying (at least in our heads) by a factor of 10 all the previous issues. For instance, in your Ubuntu recommendation, what are the support options?

    - Interoperability. How will our Linux desktops integrate with windows (and Mac) users. It’s almost inevitable that any move towards Linux will be piecemeal, so confidence and strategies are needed to reassure any organisation wishing to make the move, that this can go smoothly. Common questions I get routinely asked are utterly basic, like “If I copy this file onto a usb stick from linux, wont that stop windows people being able to use it?”, or “you can’t use a linux MP3 file in windows” etc..

    - Servers. Actually, this is probably one of the first things that could save a lot of money in the transition from redmond to unix, while introducing a school to the joys of Linux and building confidence in the professionalism of open source: before dumping the obligatory ££££’s onto the forced upgrade from ageing NT4/2000 servers to 2003 or 2008, Exchange, etc. etc.. stop! and think about Linux servers instead. Windows networking and file sharing is fully supported, there are plenty of options for email, either basic POP/IMAP/SMTP or advanced value added Exchange replacements like Zimbra/Scalix. And some real benefits, like unrestricted no-cost options for web hosting for either internal or public sites and pages. Students can create their own pages and sites under the school’s guidance. SQL databases and web-fronts can easily be built tailored exactly for the needs of the school, providing reporting and actually some kind of IT value-adding. The money that was spent on a one size fits all MS server can be spent hiring a few local developers, or encouraging a few bright students, to participate in developing stuff for the school itself.

    - Educational software. What are the options, and what can and can’t Wine cover for those essential windows apps. I don’t have the answers here but a bit of labtesting would go a long way to providing unique insight for schools.

    To answer the question set out in the article title, I feel that these issues, in addition to more, need to be examined. Sorry to be critical, but it’s only meant in a constructive way. On the plus siide though, a good start!

    Seb.

    • linuxandall May 29, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

      Hmmm… Some points to ponder there. If you ever do pitch Linux at a school please do document so the entire community can benefit from it.

  6. J S May 30, 2010 at 4:58 am #

    The money case is easy, and clearly evident for anyone contemplating making the switch. The kids don’t really care as they are quite flexible for any OS and software that is given them.

    The difficulty comes in at the teacher and administrator level. They are frightened of software change, that they barely know how to do x,y,z on MSOffice but they figured it out five years ago and don’t want to learn a new way “no time for that” (but they were forced to learn the MS Office 2007 “ribbon” interface…). The teachers and administrators have a strong voice and will put effort in avoiding or delaying any introduction.

    When someone trots out ‘the cost of retraining’ all the employees they can easily make the hard-savings in licensing, hardware, and service fees suddenly evaporate in comparison to soft “retraining costs”. Then they’ll say that students should be learning on the same software they will see in industry for jobs (real growth in OSS use by business is rapidly growing though) – and parents will back them up. FUD has won again!

    Open Office is indistinguishable for 95% of the real user base – designed that way. Using KDE on Linux makes it 95% indistinguishable from Windows, Gnome is practically like using Mac OS X. Driving a Ford is mostly like driving a Chevy – and people somehow get to work. But change their office productivity software and _it_just_won’t_work.

    Hard savings is there. It takes commitment.

    There are some big school systems making the switch, foreign governments now running Linux, and small to big businesses.

    • linuxandall May 30, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

      I hear that India has adopted Linux very rapidly and well. Your point about the teachers talking about the ‘retraining costs’ was proven in my school about 3 weeks ago when I mentioned it to a teacher and they immediately mention it.

  7. Henry Dubb May 30, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    The reason most schools traded in their Apple2e for Windows was Novell user management. Most computers in our district are still XP. This is good news for linux in that it excels at user management and much of Novell development is within Linux.

    I don’t think Ubuntu One is a good solution for user management. Or pushing it as an option would not b an incentive to adopting. Ubuntu one is exactly the thing that terrific school districts and would be most receptive to a distribution where that is not an option. Schools want to control what information gets into their system and what information gets out.

    I think most importantly it comes down to the network admin. He not only has to be on board but the move must come from him.

    An alternative to this would be an adopt a lab where 2-3 Linux admin adopt computers in a lab – old ones maybe. They set them up, offer support, and offer a lab to answer questions.

    • linuxandall May 30, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

      Some good points you’ve made there, however, I do think Ubuntu One is a viable option for student space. I think your point about what information gets out is a very good point to think about.

      Thanks for the comment.

  8. chip May 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    Most school systems would not be swayed by the incentive to save money. That’s not at all what they are about. Schools are about spending, big budgets, big annual budget increases. Schools are not about education or efficiency.

    If you tell someone that you can set them up with linux and that it is free they will think you get what you pay for, linux must not be very good or it would not be free. Microsoft on the other hand must be very good because it’s very expensive. And of course that is what they most likely know and are comfortable with.

    If you were able to get started on a linux migration project and it appeared to be gaining some traction you can bet that the people in charge who make decisions will be lobbied by a company that has billions of dollars at their disposal due to past illegal monopolistic practices and the project might change or be shut down.

    • Nice Guy May 30, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

      Yep, Microshaft$ has shut down many, many linux labs in schools, through multiple methods, for example, “free software and trips to ‘educational workshops’” for techies, managers, school administrators, etc. Yep, good old graft and corruption. However, there are a few competent, genuine education organizations that have been using linux in schools for YEARS! :-)
      For example, check out the Indiana ACCESS project, or school district 73 in British Columbia Canada, or Brazil, or in India, etc.. Many more articles, with links, about linux in education can be found, for example, at:
      http://cdneducation.blogspot.com/

      • linuxandall May 30, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

        Thanks for the blog link. And yes Microsoft is very controlling over existing customers. I have a lot about India using Linux. Very cool

        Sandy

    • linuxandall May 30, 2010 at 8:36 pm #

      I’m not sure where you are reading from, however, in my area: East Dunbartonshire, Scotland the budgets ate being cut majorly and the school is very much about education.

      Yes that is a problem that people think Linux must be “crap” to quote an acquaintance because it is free and Windows 7 must be best because it’s expensive.

      Past illegal practices have helped Microsoft gain it’s huge worth and yes it has lobbied many people, most recently I read of how they were a huge ‘contributor’ (if you could call it that) to the US government to renew a Windows powered system in a state.

      Thanks for you comment, Sandy

  9. KenP May 31, 2010 at 3:46 am #

    My 5 year-old is more comfortable with KDE and unless you have tested students’ response to a GNOME-based desktop and it has been positive. My exprience with friends and family has been that new, as in just coming over from Windows/MAC, users take more readily to KDE interface than to a GNOME one.

    In short:
    1. Let us not thrust an opinion (especially on kids) simply because you love a particular distro or desktop. I have always offered my friends both Ubuntu and Kubuntu CDs. They inevitably end up installing Kubuntu.

    2. User-friendly has been the most abused phrase in recent times. It is being used to push everything down our throats including autocracy, as with Apple products.

    The only choices I agree with you are OpenOffice (is there really another option?) and Chromium/Chrome.

    Media Player etc are once again dictated by the desktop, more or less.

  10. rwm May 31, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    As mentioned in other responses, the primary obstruction to this plan is from the administrative staff and teachers themselves. They don’t care about “saving money”, it’s not THEIR money that’s being saved. What they like is having the free access to expensive commercial software for their own use. It’s the same problem with many businesses. You will find that most of the employees of any organization will get free access to the licensed software to use on their personal computers at home. For example, pretty much all the teachers and staff will have MS Office on their own private computers which they got for “free” from the software available at work. In their minds they are getting hundreds of dollars worth of software for free. What your proposing will take that “benny” away. Of course, that’s not the argument that any of them will use in opposing a move to FOSS, they will cite issues like “training the children on software currently used in the real world”, etc. And will also get a lot of support from many parents who will complain that this will negatively impact their children’s education (blah, blah, blah…). Please don’t take this comment as any sort of opposition to trying, there will be many schools that will take advantage of the idea and work past the opposition. Just be aware that the real opposition is not really based on logical or rational reasons, but rather personal and selfish.

    • Michael June 1, 2010 at 2:54 am #

      I find that when you tell parents that they can have OpenOffice.org for free and the children can then do their homework on the same software at home as they have at school then the parent issue goes away.

      • linuxandall June 1, 2010 at 3:27 am #

        Yes thats a very good point.

  11. Michael June 1, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    One word: K12LTSP

  12. ffxxfv October 11, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    This article reads like it was written by a 12 year old. The idea about only having 2 local accounts per computer is the most retarded thing I’ve ever read. Have you ever heard of client-server networking and roaming profiles? God help anyone who is foolish enough to employ your services.

    I am waging a guess that your interest in schools is founded in the fact that you are still a student of one. Keep your ideas realistic and modest for now son and one day you might have a chance at earning some big money.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Gadget Newz - May 29, 2010

    [...] How to Sell Linux to Schools [...]

  2. Links 1/6/2010: Salix Live 13.0 and Parsix GNU/Linux 3.5r0 Are Out | Techrights - June 1, 2010

    [...] How to Sell Linux to Schools In my earlier post ‘How to Sell Linux’ I looked at three different ways how to popularize Linux and make it more mainstream as well as a household name. In the post I will look specifically at how I would sell Linux to schools, examining all the aspects of such a deployment and how I would do it and what distro and software I would use. [...]

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