Red Hat: Schools could learn from Linux

The cash-strapped U.S. education system could benefit from adopting the Linux operating system over proprietary software and help boost the open-source software's share of the computing market along the way, a top Linux executive said Thursday during the final keynote presentation at The LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco.

Mathew Szulik, president and chief executive officer of Red Hat Inc., argued that Linux's battle with its nemesis -- what he called the "proprietary" software industry led in his view by Microsoft Corp. -- should be fought through education and campaign stumping.

"Open source is going to have to move to the classroom; it's going to have to move to the floors of (the U.S.) Congress," Szulik said.

As other speakers and executives at LinuxWorld have done, Szulik preached to developers the idea that Linux is fighting a war for customers and recognition against an industry controlled by a monopoly software maker.

Szulik called on Linux companies to help reform the process schools must go through to procure new software, which he said is controlled by an outdated bidding process that is partial to vendors he describes as proprietary companies. He also urged attendees to press lawmakers to keep the open-source software model in mind when drafting bills that affect the software industry.

Despite a growing interest among major hardware and software vendors to support the Linux operating system, its success will be continually challenged by laws and market conditions, the executive said. "The success of open source ... will no doubt bring about great interest and further pressure from the proprietary software industry," Szulik said.

One place that is apparent, he said, is in the kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms. Schools throughout the world are being held hostage by the proprietary software industry led by Microsoft, Szulik said. Lawmakers and school districts lack the information about alternatives to Microsoft's Windows operating system, and strict licensing agreements have made it difficult for many schools to maintain working computer systems, he said.

"We can wheel out success stories, but if you go to the places I've been ... at schools where they have only three computers... I wonder what opportunity do these students have?" he said. "We're leaving an awful lot of people behind."

Despite Linux's fledging success in the corporate market, breaking through this perceived dependency on Microsoft's operating system and its dominance on the desktop will be a hard thing to overcome, some attendees noted following Szulik's keynote address. Linux companies have yet to create a viable alternative to Microsoft's desktop products and those such as Red Hat's distribution of the operating system are still to complex, said one programmer Thursday.

"I agree with him. It certainly would be great to get Linux into the classroom," said Ron Scheinhaus, a Linux programmer based in San Francisco. "I do see some kind of logistical problems with it though.

"Getting Linux to someone who doesn't know much about computers is not going to be easy," said Scheinhaus, who works closely with Red Hat's distribution of Linux. "The documentation to explain Linux to a user is just not available."

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