Despite a lacklustre policy towards Linux in schools, the NSW Department of Education will be dealing with more open source desktops as pilot projects begin across the state.
This month, Homebush Boys High School in Sydney will trial Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 on 11 computers in the library, dual-booting them with Windows XP.
If the trial is successful, the school will look at doing the same for its entire fleet of about 250 desktops.
The school's desktop and server systems administrator Ryan Chadwick said the computers in the library are used for Internet searching and basic office work, so it "seems like a nice place" to trial SLED 10.
Novell support personnel will also go to the school to help set up the pilot project.
"Authentication and basic apps like OpenOffice and Firefox [will be used], but printing is something we are trying to figure out at the moment," Chadwick said. "Ideally we would like Linux so students won't play [Windows] games, which is an added bonus."
The trial will be deemed a success if teachers and staff can see everything working "smoothly", especially office documents opening in Linux and Windows.
Chadwick said another consideration is that the students can figure out how to use the Linux desktop appropriately.
"We are keen to get Novell's fancy new interface working, but will students be able to use it?" he said. "But we see it as a key area to say Windows isn't the only environment out there."
After a virus "took out" all the school's Windows machines a few years ago, Chadwick said the manageability of Linux is likely to be better as viruses and spyware "doesn't exist" on the platform.
Regarding cost, Chadwick said this is not a concern because the department pays for a Windows XP site licence anyway.
"If we're running the dual environment I expect the management cost to be more, but it should be minimal if everything works as it's supposed to," he said.
The school won't be upgrading to Windows Vista as soon as it is available, because "it doesn't seem to offer us any major advantages".
"It's meant to be more stable, but once you lock XP down there is no real advantage," he said. "In a school where a majority of machines are one year old it's not like we can just drop Vista on our machines anyway."
A source familiar with the department's IT strategy, who requested anonymity, said a lot of Linux desktop work is being done "under the radar" with the hope successful implementations can be "sold to others".
"We will work together to see how Linux could be used in education and training," he said. "Then use that as a lighthouse, but it goes against corporate regulations."
While Linux is a big part of NSW government, on the desktop it is still an "unknown quantity", the source said.