As many schools have begun rolling out Windows 7, an operating system that I actually like quite a bit and that has considerable traction just about everywhere, the arguments against Windows 7 began coming down to only cost and the occasional religious debate. Add in Windows Multipoint Server, easy remote desktop/multiuser environments enabled in Windows Server 2008, and a variety of multiuser and VDI scenarios from third parties that leverage Microsoft technologies and you have some pretty compelling arguments in favor of Microsoft operating systems in schools.
But then there's Ubuntu. There are plenty of other Linux distributions with the whole FREE thing going for them, but Ubuntu is fast, powerful, easy, flexible, and particularly well-suited to education. And the release candidate for the latest versions of Ubuntu and Edubuntu (their education-centered version of Ubuntu) is just plain awesome. Unless you're 100% wedded (for either religious or technical reasons) to Windows or OS X, it's hard not to like Ubuntu//Edubuntu with their huge array of free software, snappy performance, elegant interface, fast installations, and ultra-fast boot times.
As if that weren't enough, there's a robust server version, a newly-redesigned netbook/tablet-optimized interface, 32- and 64-bit support, and the chance to support a great community-driven, quintessential 21st-century project. Whether you need a web server, an LDAP server, a snappy interface for those netbooks running Windows XP Home, or a desktop upgrade from Windows XP without the price of Windows 7, Ubuntu can provide not only a viable alternative, but a really competitive OS.
With this release, Edubuntu also more carefully integrates the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP). This turns your Edubuntu PC into a multi-user environment that scales to classroom levels easily and is available on install. The Edubuntu install, by the way, is now fully graphical and, as with all of the *buntu installs, collects user information at the same time as it copies files and does other background installation tasks, making the whole process very speedy, even on single-processor machines (I tested on single and dual-core virtual machines with 1 and 2 gigabytes of RAM respectively).
And besides, the release data is 10-10-10. In binary, that's 42, an homage to Douglas Adams. For that reason alone it's worth a look.
Ubuntu is not for everyone, nor is it perfect. Without using LTSP, it is difficult to create role-based policies and Deep Freeze-style lab lockdowns. However, similar technologies do exist within Edubuntu/Ubuntu, even if they aren't as mature as their Windows brethren. More importantly, though, as a desktop OS, Ubuntu excels in everything from price to ease of use to ease of installation. As a server OS, Ubuntu has a well-deserved reputation for stability and reliability and, again, the price is certainly right.
The year is still young and you're bound to have some intrepid students or teachers who are tired of their XP or Vista desktops. Or maybe you've been thinking about rolling out a new web server. Your budget administrator will thank you for at least giving Ubuntu a look. It's better than ever, with 10.10 introducing important evolutionary features, performance enhancements, and bug fixes.