School districts serve up lessons in Linux

School districts in the US and Canada find Linux and open source offers better support, cheaper setup costs, and improved educational value

Windows may boast the lion's share of the desktop education market, but the economic and technical benefits of open source software has seen many schools and education institutions implement various flavours of Linux across their desktops and server back-ends.

In a two-part series, Computerworld investigates the role of Linux and open source software in education institutions in Australia and North America. In this, Part 1, the technology co-ordinator and network support technician from two large school districts in Canada and the US explain why Linux and other open source software is the plat du jour on their education menu. The institutions Computerworld spoke to are linked through School Forge, an open forum that unifies independent organisations that advocate, use, and develop open resources for education.

British Columbia's School District #73 opts for Debian Linux

Kamloops Thompson School District #73 is comprised of 55 elementary and secondary schools in British Columbia, Canada. The district opted for a majority of open source software as it is easier to maintain and in their experience offers better access to support.

Approximately 30-60 diskless Linux workstations are used in the computer labs and libraries of every school in the district, in addition to 2-5 Windows workstations in special needs rooms. The largest Linux implementation is running close to 200 diskless clients in a single school.

In 15 minutes I can update OpenOffice on thousands of diskless workstations. This beats ghosting Windows hard drives

The district's elementary schools were the first to receive modified LTSP computers which initially ran on Red Hat. In mid 2006 it moved over to Debian because it is significantly easier to keep up-to-date.

The district completely rebuilt its server model for the high schools, starting at Barriere Secondary School where students, teachers andl office admin staff switched to diskless Linux desktops.

"It was successful and the rest of the schools started lining up to get the new Linux system. Now the elementary schools are moving to Linux as well. The image is based on Debian because the deb packaging system makes it very easy to upgrade the software," said Dean Montgomery, network support technician and programmer for District #73.

"Diskless only requires updating the server and the entire school gets the update. I can also cluster the servers and issue the update. In 15 minutes I can update OpenOffice on thousands of diskless workstations. This beats ghosting Windows hard drives," he said.

Montgomery said the district uses considerably more open source than proprietary software.

"We get better support with open source software: online wiki's, forums, mailing lists etc are much faster and better to get support than phoning up Microsoft and listening to someone read off answers from flash cards."

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