Ole-Bjørn Tuftedal, the city's chief technology officer, claims that it will, at the earliest, start migrating to Linux on school PCs in the second half of next year. This rollout will eventually lead to 32,000 pupils and 4,000 teachers using Linux at 100 schools across Bergen.
Before deciding to migrate to the open source OS, Bergen carried out tests at three schools comparing Linux with Windows. The computers were set up with Windows 2000 and MS Office 2000, or with SuSE Linux 8.2, open source desktop KDE 3.1 and OpenOffice.org 1.0.
From these tests Bergen found that both operating systems could be used in the schools, but that there were various advantages to using Linux including lower cost, improved security and usability, according to Tuftedal. He says the software and hardware costs of using Linux on the desktop are "significantly lower" and that it is more secure against vandalism, user errors and virus attacks.
As part of the test comparing Linux and Windows, pupils were challenged to break the set-up of the PCs running either of the two operating systems. A consultancy firm was brought in to harden the Windows desktop by modifying the registry settings, while Linux was used in a standard set-up, says Tuftedal. Despite the more resistant Windows set-up the pupils managed to crack into it while the Linux system proved impervious.
Usability is an area where Linux has traditionally trailed behind Windows, but Tuftedal says that without training the pupils were able to use both desktops, and actually preferred the open source set-up.
"The pupils didn't get any kind of instructions before the tests, we simply said 'These are Windows, these are Linux -- just try them'," says Tuftedal. "They preferred the Linux desktop -- they liked the look of KDE and said it was more fun to use than Windows."
The fact that Linux is open source and uses non-proprietary data formats makes it extremely useful for teaching pupils about exactly how computers operate, says Tuftedal.
"Linux has open data formats and open source code - this helps in a pedagogical environment as you can let the students learn about the formats and the tools by letting them experiment with them," says Tuftedal. "It is the same in engineering classes - if you are not allowed to open the hood and see how and why the motor isn't working you can't do much experimentation or make improvements."
Since last year, when the tests were carried out, there have been numerous improvements to the Linux operating system and the open source software that it runs, says Tuftedal.
"Since doing the initial tests, there has been an incredible speed of development on the Linux desktop," he adds. "The current version of OpenOffice, and the KDE desktop, is very much improved from what we tested -- with extra features, increased ergonomics, more tools for the users and for administration, and better internationalisation."