How to Sell Linux to Schools- Part 2

31 May

Building on the last post, I welcome the opportunity to share some of my experiences with deploying Linux in schools. It is a very broad topic however I will stay with the previous outline. First of all, it is a matter of migrating schools to Linux, not selling them.  Second, the approach is different based on whether the school in located in a developing country, the EU or North America.

Before I speak to the  suggested list of considerations, which I have reordered based on feedback from my deployments and numerous other sources,I want to say that’ the single most factor for any migration plan to be successful is to is to manage the ‘human factor’ of resistance to change.  Effective training and support are critical while technical and functional problems are marginal’ This is where FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) comes into play and is heavily leveraged by proponents of proprietary software.

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

The Incentive

While we initially leverage the ‘free cost’ aspect of Open Source, IT managers have as a first priority, the smooth efficient running of their IT infrastructure as well as any possible productivity loss.

Cost cannot be the only driving factor for the adoption of OSS.  What is needed is a ‘mixed’ argument summarizing the benefits of OSS, of which ‘no cost’ is an important one.

Factors which acted as drivers for adoption included security, adaptability,  and avoidance of restrictive software licensing schemes.

However, on a social level, to quote 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. They will not give discounts to these students once they’ve grown up and graduated. “

The Cost

When looking to migrate a school to Linux, here is one of the biggest stumbling blocks, when mainly pitching the zero cost aspect to administration.  They are hooked by MS licensing requirements.

MS Educational Licensing Overview

  • Microsoft licensing can be complex, and schools have two main options if they wish to license Microsoft products. They can acquire perpetual licences, giving the school the right to use the software permanently.


  • Microsoft also offers schools a subscription licensing option (the School Agreement Subscription) which gives them the right to “rent” Microsoft software for a fixed period of time (eg for 1 year or 3 years). At the end of the rental period, if the school still wishes to use the rented Microsoft software it has the ability to extend the rental period or convert to a perpetual licence via a buyout payment. The buyout payment can be substantial.

All or Nothing Approach for Computer Real Estate

  • While subscription licensing usually has the lowest cost of entry of the various Microsoft licensing options, it is an “all or nothing” approach which can have the effect of requiring schools to pay Microsoft licences fees for computers that aren’t actually running any of Microsoft’s software. This is because the subscription licensing cost is based on the total number of computers in the school. This has meant that if a school is using Microsoft’s subscription licensing, fees need to be paid to Microsoft for Apple Mac or Linux computers, and indeed those computers running
  • Additionally, even when many of the school’s computers could not run Microsoft Vista schools would still have been required to include those systems in their Microsoft licence count and pay the appropriate licence fees

As mentioned in the comments in the previous post (J.S), there are costs related to migrating and training, which  can still be substantially lower in cost compared to software licenses if approached in a coordinated manner which includes hands on training, a good knowledge base, and easy to use manuals.

There are several cost-effective ways for schools to leverage their existing hardware with Linux including LTSP and desktop virtualization

User Adaptability

Again, this comes down to a properly managed migration.  To leave on Friday with Windows on your desktop and return Monday to discover that the IT department has loaded Linux can be a shock.  Instead a gradual introduction of key open source alternatives such as Open Office, Thunderbird, and Firefox or Chrome can help overcome the resistance to change.  Taking a software inventory of required or currently used software and then finding open source equivalents or methods of running the software (virtualbox) is one of the first steps in the migration process.

Once the user becomes comfortable with the new features of say Open Office (the PDF function is usually very popular) they will soon realize that the OS is like the transmission in a car and it doesn’t matter so much, as long as you can drive the car or perform your work. Providing easy to use reference guides such as or a manual that outlines standard tasks in Ubuntu such as printing, network connections, sound devices, CD burning, file management etc will take the edge of the uncertainty of a new operating system.

The Software

This will depend on the grade level you are working with and their needs.  There are many good resources to find, download and test open source programs, including the previously mentioned  or ( I like their software directory).

The Ministry of Education may also have requirements for curriculum which will dictate required software or access to online portals.  Applications such as Google Earth being requested more often.

As well, there are a host of applications available for staff and administration, such as iTALC (my personal favorite), OpenAdmin, or School Tool

The ability for students and staff to make copies of the software and take it home to freely use on their own PC’s reflects another indirect cost savings.

The required software may also dictate the choice of Linux operating system.

The Distro

In my personal experience there are 2 distros that stand out in the Educational sector.  Edubuntu and KDE  I have deployed these 2 distros globally with great success.

Edubuntu’s motto is “Linux for Young Human Beings”  It is a complete operating system that includes an office suite, web browser, many educational applications, and much more.

KDE’s primary focus is on schoolchildren aged 3 to 18, and the specialized user interface needs of young users. However, it also has programs to aid teachers in planning lessons, and others that are of interest to university students and anyone else with a desire to learn!

Here is an example of Brazil’s custom Linux Educational, which is based on KDE and deployed on close to 1 million workstations in 5,560 school districts.  A combination of Linux and desktop virtualization has helped with providing access to ICT to all students, both rural and urban.

On a final note, I wanted to share a few photos of Ubuntu/Edubuntu in use around the globe….the photo album is a work in progress….however once we have true government commitment to the adoption of open source, it allow countries to contribute towards technology development rather than just remain mere users of technology produced by others.  To hear interesting interviews with people around the globe who are using open source to make a difference, visit

May I just say a thank you to my new friend Darlene Parker for her amazing guest post! Thanks Darlene

12 Responses to “How to Sell Linux to Schools- Part 2”

  1. Ryan McCoskrie June 1, 2010 at 3:24 am #

    In New Zealand Microsoft has got a particularly strong hold on schools. Several years ago they settled a deal in which the government pays for all of the computers in public schools (Note to people in the UK our public/private convention is the reverse of yours) regardless of whether or not those schools have a single Windows installation.

    Also to pass the NCEA computing standard you have to promise to do exactly what the big computer companies say. This is labelled “Ethics”.

  2. Ridcully June 1, 2010 at 4:11 am #

    In Queensland Australia, there is absolutely NO chance of getting Linux into state schools at any level. Microsoft rules the IT section of the state government (in fact one member of the IT section became the state director for Microsoft after he resigned from Govt. service and after helping draft the next contract committment with Redmond). The schools have no money to spend on software themselves, it is all done by a central office which also controls all software on a network. I am informted that the state government has forbidden schools to put anything except Microsoft software on school computers and quite frankly, Microsoft has put a concrete blast wall around Queensland computer thinking.

    You cannot even reach the politicians. Before you do that, they get briefed by their IT section……and of course they will be advised to run with the status quo of Microsoft. Ah..Queensland, the land of those who are unable to see the savings and potential for the future by moving their children onto Linux…..And how do you deal with this one ? Microsoft has it locked and the politicians have thrown away the key.

    • linuxandall June 1, 2010 at 10:37 am #

      Isn’t that in breach of countless laws? And yes Microsoft seem to be doing this around the world and we need a politician to stop it.

      • neilm9999 June 1, 2010 at 9:24 pm #

        I suspect it will need more than a (good) politician to stop it! It will surely need real people power. suggests that windoze in all its varieties still enjoys >90% market share which is pretty sad. Monopolistic (or at least oligopolistic) power is generally to no-one’s benefit and one would suggest that in the market you are discussing is to everyone’s detriment.

        BTW google “The SS Politician” and read the book / watch the film it links to. It’s a true story. Completely OT but good fun nonetheless!

        (There is a copy of the book in Kilmoluaig)

      • linuxandall June 1, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

        Suppose, and yea I’ll read it when I’m there this summer. Might watch the film before though.

        Also we really should start talking in reality rather than you commenting on my blog and me replying 😀

  3. jeff g. June 1, 2010 at 4:32 am #

    I think you are a bit confused in the “Distro” section of your post. KDE is not a distro. It stands for K Desktop Environment and is the DE of choice of many linux distributions, just like Gnome is the DE of choice of most Ubuntu distributions (among others). Having said that, I hope linux in schools gains some much deserved traction, so thanks for writing about it. I think the case for linux in libraries can easily be made as well.
    Here’s the wikipedia entry for KDE:

    • linuxandall June 1, 2010 at 10:29 am #

      I’m sure Darlene knows that. However, thanks for the comment- it’s always great to have readers teaching the authors.

  4. Crabby July 4, 2010 at 8:39 am #

    Yes it will take a fair bit of people power to topple microsoft from a dominant position in IT in our schools. A first thing we could do is ask a question of our school boards (respectfully). we could ask do they want freedom in our schools or do they want bondage to the Corporates. Gnu/Linux is the perfect way to not just be free of the corporates but it can introduce other subjects into the curriculum. Programming, netadmin, systemadmin to name just 3. Just my 2 cents worth. PS. you wouldn’t need to upgrade your computers either because Gnu/Linux is generally a smaller footprint!! Catch ya.

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  1. 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- Part 2 Building on the last post, I welcome the opportunity to share some of my experiences with deploying Linux in schools. It is a very broad topic however I will stay with the previous outline. First of all, it is a matter of migrating schools to Linux, not selling them. Second, the approach is different based on whether the school in located in a developing country, the EU or North America. […]

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