23,000 Linux PCs forge education revolution in Philippines

Linux still cheaper than heavily-subsidized Microsoft products

Providing high school students with PCs is seen as a first step to preparing them for a technology-literate future, but in the Philippines many schools cannot afford to provide computing facilities so after a successful deployment of 13,000 Fedora Linux systems from a government grant, plans are underway to roll out another 10,000 based on Ubuntu.

Visiting Australia to discuss Linux and open source software in education at this year's linux.conf.au in Melbourne, independent open source consultant Ricardo Gonzalez, said there were a number of factors that led to Linux being chosen over the venerable Microsoft Windows.

Gonzalez, based in Manila, told Computerworld Linux became popular in the Philippines soon after the 1997 Asian financial crisis when open source was investigated for its value proposition to organizations.

"Open source was a viable business alternative because no one was doing it commercially," Gonzalez said.

While Gonzalez was teaching the IT dealer network how to profit from open source, Microsoft launched its anti-piracy policy in the Philippines, so he told the government there was an alternative.

Also at the time, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Education launched the PCPS program, or PCs for Public Schools with the aim of providing one PC for each of the 10,000 public high schools in the country.

With funding from the Japanese government, the PCPS program started around the 2000 timeframe when the contractors installed Windows PCs, but five years later it was discovered a lot of the computers were not being used because nobody knew how to use them.

A company by the name of Advanced Solutions Inc (ASI) asked Gonzalez to come on board as a consultant as it was preparing to do bids for 1000 schools. However, this time it would not be only desktops, but one server, 10 desktops, and Internet connectivity in every school.

"We wanted to use Fedora 5 and it went all the way to office of [the Filipino] President and they kept passing it around saying 'why would they offer something for free, and how would they support and teach it'," Gonzalez said. "The project dragged on for four to five months to a point where Microsoft matched the price by offering Windows XP for $US20 a copy and throwing in Office for $US30, but we still came out cheaper. Microsoft was also providing free training to high school teachers."

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