To Linux or not to Linux?

To Linux or not to Linux?

Summary: One request that actually made it past the budget gods for FY10 was 60 convertible Classmate PCs (30 for each of two schools). These will replace aging stationary labs in the schools, freeing up needed space and allowing for redeployment of the older computers for individual classroom and student use.


One request that actually made it past the budget gods for FY10 was 60 convertible Classmate PCs (30 for each of two schools). These will replace aging stationary labs in the schools, freeing up needed space and allowing for redeployment of the older computers for individual classroom and student use. This leaves me with a question to answer, though: Do I use Windows XP Home or Edubuntu?

The teachers largely favor Windows. It's familiar and they'll have enough to do learning the new applications and integrating the tablets in class, let alone learning a new operating system (or so they say). Yet Intel has assured me that there will be an equivalent software stack between the two operating systems, I've found that our RTI software runs quite well under Wine, and Edubuntu itself has quite a body of educational software available in its repositories.

I have yet to test Edubuntu on the Classmate. That will be happening soon and obviously I need to put it through its paces before I make a decision. We know that XP is pretty snappy on the little machines, though, and new firewalls with some pretty heavy duty gateway anti-malware should keep them running safely without performance-sapping client-side anti-virus (we, unfortunately, won't be able to send them home, meaning that the firewall and weekly scans with ClamWin should do the trick).

On the other hand, XP Home is remarkably dated and Windows 7 will not be available by the time we purchase the netbooks. Windows 7 would carry its own learning curve anyway, making it less attractive by the teachers' original argument. Edubuntu, particularly as based on Canonical's Netbook Remix, is new and shiny, inherently secure, and quite mature.

Something important to remember, however, is that *buntu is about as easy as Linux gets. In fact, it's about as easy as desktop computing gets. The students won't have an issue no matter what I put in front of them. I think the teachers will be pleasantly surprised at the usability and features in Edubuntu.

Barring any unforeseen problems in testing, it's going to be Edubuntu in kids' hands. The convertible Classmate really represents a whole new way of integrating computers into classroom instruction. As we train teachers to utilize all of its capabilities, we'll ensure that they are comfortable with the new OS as well.

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Linux, Microsoft, Networking, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Ubuntu for the kids

    Increasingly open source free software is making in roads in the schools. Not just because it's free but because it works. In my child's board they've not made the jump to Linux but have other free open source software.

    The kids will get *buntu. Teachers always need to be dragged into something different. At the end of the day the concepts are what counts. These are the same reardless of the OS.

    The hard part of where do I click my mouse to make what I want happen will always be an issue for some.

    Enjoy :)

    • It is the NEXT generation of teachers that will force major change

      Good points raised here. I am an ex-science highschool teacher and I keep abreast of what is happening in the teaching world.

      The current generation of teachers have been raised in a Windows world, and most of them know and understand little else - it is where they are "comfy with a computer". Similarly, their administrative masters (who so often make overriding choices on software in schools) have also been taught that "nothing exists outside of Windows software". Indeed, recent evidence on the net suggested strongly that some of these people know so little about the IT they administrate that they even considered it illegal to put anything except Windows software onto a computer.

      But the children of today are something else and they are growing and moving in a world of choice that can even preclude the use of Microsoft products. An increasing percentage are using Linux and its OS "flavours" such as Fedora, Ubuntu, SUSE, Debian, Mandriva and so on and they are the future teachers. When they reach the teaching arena, look to see the move to Linux increase rapidly. Quite simply, it will happen. It is already taking place in third world countries at an accelerating rate partly because Linux is free and those countries are poor, but also because the administrators see the advantages of having software that can be modified in any way by the user and therefore adapted to local requirements precisely. Linux is the way forward. The OS already dominates the internet and Windows use Linux everyday whether they know it or not in embedded devices, mobiles, Google, etc. Our children need to know the Linux OS (just as they need to know what Windows can and cannot do) if only to use the increasing numbers of netbooks that employ Linux.
      • Hey Science Teacher...

        What's your evidence that *children* need to know any OS?

        Children need to know how to read and write and do at least basic math, not how to use an OS that, at the level they will be using it, is much like any other.

        Oh, yes, they need to know how to push on the right picture to take them to the right flashy website so they can be good mindless consumers.

        I helped start the first computer class in my highschool, my junior year. Even won an award for it, God forgive me. But computers are ubiquitous now (for those of you who went to school with computers, you can Google "ubiquitous". The rest of us learned it in junior high or earlier).

        No one would dream of providing every grade school student with a car to teach them driving. No one would dream of providing every gradeschool student with a gun to teach them how to handle one (even though the Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms but not computers...)

        Adults need to know what Windows and Linux can or cannot do. Children need to learn why Van Buren failed of re-election. What a dangling participle is. How to extract the cube root of 87.* Knowing how to set your desktop wallpaper to the latest supermodel image just isn't on the same level of importance.

        *(to paraphrase R. A. Heinlein)
        • I'm of the opinion that...

          [i]"Children need to learn why Van Buren failed of re-election."[/i]

 was because of his handling of the Caroline Affair, US propaganda exposed as such after the retaliation. Now Millard Fillmore, there was a president! ;-)
        • You have taken my points to the absurdity...and lost the plot

          My intent was NOT, repeat NOT to indicate that these children should learn how the OS itself operates (although some DO......) but rather that they should know that other Operating Systems apart from Microsoft Windows do exist !! In any event, you CANNOT learn how the WinOS works - the source code is never revealed. And that is quite deliberate on Microsoft's part and leads to quite nasty problems in suppression of innovation - but that is another story for another day.

          One point you make is valid: the kids need to learn which buttons to push. Right !! However, at the moment, all they are learning is which Windows buttons to push, therefore, they grow up knowing ONLY Windows buttons.....To use your car analogy, it is as if our children were only ever allowed to sit in a Ford car and their teachers informed them ONLY of how the Ford car controls worked and refused to even acknowledge that other brands existed.....So which car brand will the child implicitly choose as an adult ? And yet there definitely ARE other cars which may be a better choice for at least some of the adults for their particular situations.

          Extend that logic to operating systems and you begin to see the dreadful situation that Microsoft has created by setting up its monopoly circumstances and why Microsoft CEO emails exist which state that under no circumstances is any Microsoft representative to allow Linux to be taught in schools and to do anything, repeat ANYTHING, except allow this to happen. This isn't just greed, this is suppression of knowledge - an IT equivalent of burning books. Children should be encouraged to explore. Right now a majority of our schools discourage that by ensuring that only one choice, Microsoft, is available - that is definitely not a valid choice situation.

          All the rest of your argument about Van Buren and cube roots is irrelevant..... :-)
    • The Teachers need to be dragged kicking and screaming

      Because on any college campus, the Elementary Education School has the LOWEST entrance requirements of any department on campus -- even lower than fine arts departments.
  • A safe choice

    And, more importantly, a good choice for your users' needs. Which they will agree with soon enough.
  • RE: To Linux or not to Linux?

    I have read articles about Linux but yey to have seen anything that shows what it looks like and the pros and cons about it over XP. Does anyone know where I cna look on the web to see a vidoe or info that shows in detail about Linux so I can make an inteligenant desion.
    • Linux screenshots

      Maybe start with If you're really ambitious, google "linux screenshots" or "linux video" or "linux tutorial".
    • Just do a YouTube search

      on the Linux distro you are most interested in. For first timers I'd recommend any flavor of Ubuntu or OpenSuSE.

      And better yet, if you want a hands-on demo without destroying your hard drive, you could download any Ubuntu distro, because the installer is actually a LiveCD, a real working environment with the most popular applications already installed. It'll run straight from your CD-ROM without touching your hard drive (unless you let it). Keep in mind it will run slowly (boot time will be especially long) because a CD-ROM is inherently slower than a hard drive, but it'll give you an idea as to whether it will discover all of your hardware (including peripherals) and whether the applications are up to your personal standards.
      Michael Kelly
    • More than a look, have a test drive!

      You can burn a Live CD which will boot to the CD without affecting the hard disk at all. Note that because of the slower speeds associated with a CD ROM compared to a hard disk it will run slower than an installed system would.

      These live CDs double as install CDs when you are ready to take the plunge. I recommend Fedora10 available at but look at the others. Each version of Linux has it's strengths, look and feel. Use what works for you.

      Did we mention it's free?
    • Try the OS he is talking about right here.

      That is a link to Ubuntu which is the basis for Edubuntu being discussed here. As noted in the reply above it is free to download and use. You can also test it without erasing your current OS by using the LiveCD. Simply leave the disk you burned in your drive and reboot. You'll be given the option to try it from the CD provided your computer is set to boot from CDROM.
    • an oldie but goodie
      none none
    • Google

      You won't have any trouble finding what any version of Linux can or can't do. How it looks, or operates. You can go to many forums and ask any technical question, and low and behold, you will get an answer. The fact that it is not just open source, but open information. If you want to find out how it operates, they will help you. If you want to make your own programs, they will help you.

      Try to get the source code for Windows or Mac so you can make a great program for it. See how much fun you can have getting any information. Now try to get tech information on Vista just so you can see how it operates. Microsoft will glady help you free of chanrge, right?
    • Linux Most Like XP

      I have read, and more recently experienced the fact that Mandriva 2008.1 looks most like Windows XP. However, any Linux version is reasonably similar. They are all free downloads. Any version of Mandriva can be downloaded here: The two menus at the top left let you go to and download almost any version of any Linux distribution.

      Mandriva, Ubuntu, or several others are best if you want things to set up automatically and work without tweaking. Rarely a specific computer will have hardware that isn't supported without some tweaking. If that happens, switch Linux versions to find a version that does support your computer. That is one of the big advantages of booting from a Linux CD or DVD before installing. Don't install until you find a version that works the way you like, looks the way you like, and supports everything automatically.
      • Install Linux WITH Windows

        I forgot to mention that you can install Linux on the same machine as Windows and then it lets you choose which operating system you want to use when you boot. You don't lose Windows when you install Linux (unless you want to).
        • for a real easy installation with windows...

          ...try Wubi, the Windows installer for Ubuntu. It installs Ubuntu in dual-boot mode with your Windows installation in 3 mouse clicks (and about a half-hour).

  • "The teachers largely favor Windows"

    There's your answer.
    Sleeper Service
    • Well

      [i]"The teachers largely favor Windows" There's your answer.[/i]

      While that is certainly the easy answer, it may not be the right answer for his situation.

      Though, I don't believe there was any [i]real[/i] question about which way he was going to go to begin with.
      • Perception is often mistaken for reality

        As many of us Vista-lovers have bitterly witnessed. Perception, no matter how wrong, can dictate an outcome.

        The wise IT employee will be fully aware of who he works for and what his true role is in the organization.