Will the NSW Govt put Linux in schools?

Will the NSW Govt put Linux in schools?

Summary: The NSW Government's release this week of an expressions of interest tender to give low-cost laptops to every senior public school student in NSW is a big step, but will these systems be Windows or Linux?

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The NSW Government's release this week of an expressions of interest tender to give low-cost laptops to every senior public school student in NSW is a big step, but will these systems be Windows or Linux?

Rolling out from 2009 onwards, the program will mean a whole generation of students will be a great deal more technically literate, which can only be a good thing. However, the cost per device (only $500) is going to be a challenge for vendors to meet.

At this price point, there is little ambiguity about the fact that the devices will be netbooks. This leaves an obvious question: will these netbooks run Windows XP or Linux?

In the rough IT environment which is public schools, Linux has a lot going for it.

In the rough IT environment which is public schools, Linux has a lot going for it. Firstly, with only $500 a computer to spend, not having to fork out for an XP or Vista licence will give vendors significantly more scope to spend on support, additional hardware, or network equipment.

Another hidden, but significant saving, will be a reduction in malware, spyware and viruses. Supplying Windows-based systems will mean costly subscriptions to security vendors, and all the support work that comes from endlessly killing malware that slips through the net. Malware for Linux, on the other hand, is a drop in the ocean by comparison. This is a big deal, as wirelessly networked schools are potentially a festering pit of malware.

Linux has reduced compatibility, but given that the Department of Education and Training wants to strictly lock down the netbooks, this may be an advantage. Teachers would not doubt be relieved that Linux-based systems won't be able to play the vast majority of games (other than internet-based Java or Flash games and a few others), meaning school machines will be left mostly for school work.

The use of Linux-based systems, combined with other open-source options like Open Office 3 also means no licence auditing, a huge potential headache for stretched school IT administrators. Given that the devices will be uniform, drivers shouldn't be a big issue. Open source also opens up a possibility of creating school-specific Linux distributions which suits the needs of the classroom.

If the government does decide to make its new "learning devices" Linux-based, the implications for open source in Australia could be huge.

Fancy a copy of "Sydney Public School Linux", anyone?

On the flip side, a Windows XP-based system has several disadvantages, beginning with the mass of malware out there for Windows-based machines. Putting that aside, there is also the problem that a Windows XP licence limits the specifications of the device.

Microsoft has previously said it would only continue to supply Windows XP for low cost "netbooks" as long as they could limit the specifications of the device, to stop competition with Vista. This is why netbooks have close to uniform specs, and specifically never more than 1GB of RAM. Thus Windows XP limits the ability of school administrators to future-proof or upgrade the netbooks.

Given this, it seems to me that Linux would be the natural choice. If the government does decide to make its new "learning devices" Linux-based, the implications for open source in Australia could be huge.

Giving every student who pass through the public school system a Linux system would be a huge boost to the OS and open source — and competition is always a good thing.

What do you think?

Topics: Open Source, Government, Government AU, Linux, Malware

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168 comments
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  • Windows v's non-Windows

    "Giving every student who pass through the public school system a Linux system would be a huge boost to the OS and open source � and competition is always a good thing."

    What it won't do is prepare the student for the mainstream business OS - Windows. No matter what OS you like to bat for Windows is used more often in more worplaces than any other. Yes there are specialised environments where a unix-like OS suck as Linux, OSX, FreeBSD will be a preferred choice but on a corporate network where e-mail, web, publishing, conferencing and BMS applications are employed then Windows is the operating system in use, both in the server room and in the office. Even hardcore applications like medical imaging and patient monitoring in hospitals you will find being run on a Windows server(s) these days.
    anonymous
  • Linux

    Edubuntu is the way to go: free, with support, designed for educational purposes and not Windows.

    The NSW government would be mad not to contact Canonical about this.
    anonymous
  • Windows for better compatibility

    Given that there are lots more off-the-shelf applications that runs on Windows, as a parent I would want a Windows computer for my kids.
    anonymous
  • Dual Boot

    Since Linux is free, at the very least the laptops should come with a dual boot environment. Then let the students choose what they want to use. The only reason I can see for Windows is some software can only run on windows (e.g. AutoCAD).

    But if they don't come with linux I guess people can just install it themselves anyway... although a lot won't realise what they are missing out on unless you give them linux pre-installed.
    anonymous
  • Photo

    Alex - get your photo changed. It makes you look an arrogant prick.
    anonymous
  • Learning concepts, not products

    I've been speaking to educators a lot about Open Source versus Windows, and one of the things that they really like about Open Source tools and Linux is it gives students more ways to learn concepts. Rather than learning Dreamweaver, they learn about website development. Rather than learning Office 2007, they learn about office productivity. Rather than learn VB they learn programming. I think people who are concerned that students won't learn tools that are used in "the workplace" are both misunderstanding that the products students learn likely will be out of date by the time they get into the workplace anyway, and that learning only one product limits the students exposure to the conceptual learning which they would be able to apply to _any_ product/application.

    Another value of Linux and Open Source tools is that the student has either a moral or financial debt in future to participate in technology and the market (which might be their own business) using tools that are free and that they can innovate with. In fact considering pretty much every emerging business model based on Web 2.0 is based on Linux and Open Source, I would suggest it is _vital_ that all students are learning Linux.

    Anyone can easily apply Linux skills to Windows, but Windows unfortunately dumbs down computing such that people are completely disempowered by the tools they use, and the version they run.
    anonymous
  • typo

    I meant students have neither, not either :)
    anonymous
  • See what DET catches?

    If you go fishing with a big lure, as DET NSW has with this tender, it will be fascinating to see what may bite.
    The 2 tenders, one for learning devices, one for wireless, although separate, are linked and must support each other. New consortiums are expected to form and screw the price down to never before seen levels, witness Dell with their fleet managemnt win for the last mega DET tender, who would have thought that low price was possible?

    With Tim Anderson still in charge at DET ICT we may just see the $500 windows full featured laptop result from this fishing expedition. I'll be very interested to see what they pull in.
    anonymous
  • Linux will disadvantage public school students

    Executives talking to HR about job applications: "Please cull all the applicants that went to a public school - we just can't afford to be teaching them Windows and Office, just as we can't afford to teach applicants reading, writing and basic mathematics. They are all essential."
    anonymous
  • Linux will disadvantage public school students

    Yes, indeed. Because none of these kids use Windows at home do they?

    and sorry I forgot, when you learn French you forget English...

    Pity your company that turns away multi skilled people...
    anonymous
  • Windows for better compatibility

    As a publically provided asset (lets not forget that) it is DESIRABLE for it to be a managed system so that kids cannot install any old virus or software. The idea is that it is for learning at school isnt it?

    I certainly hope that the government is not using tax money for PC's that kids can install limewire on!
    anonymous
  • Linux will disadvantage public school students

    If they have Linux netbooks, they will be using those for "office skill" analogues as they do their school work.
    Sure they'll continue to run games, listen to music, watch video and surf FaceBook on their Windows machines at home.
    Can't see 'em using Office, though.
    Also, in my considerable experience, many individuals have difficulty being comfortable with only one operating system, method of clicking the mouse, location of menu items, set of shortcut keys, etc. Just as many individuals have difficulty learning even their first language well enough to not be cut from consideration for a position because their resume grammar is poor.
    I love *nix. I can word process in vi, for Pete's sake.
    But I still see Linux as a way for the liberal elite (small "l" - many Labor voters in Australia I would see as liberals) to maintain class separation - it's "good enough" for the working class and allows us to tick the political box, but it's strong Windows and Office skills that will get you a higher-paying job.
    Come to think of it, perhaps a large proportion of public school students will not have access to a Windows machine at home at all. Funny that I agreed prima facie with that assumption!
    anonymous
  • Reality?

    ...and I look forward to seeing the pixies at the bottom of the flower garden... What IS this rubbish? "Moral or financial debt", "Disempowered by the tools they run?"- what the hell are you talking about? Methinks you are mixing politics into this conversation. We seem to be drifting into fantasy land here.
    anonymous
  • Parents

    So - did anyone bother asking parents what they want their children to be using? Or is DET traking the usual 'we know best" approach. On this - they clearly don't know best. My child will not be running some cut price heap of garbage. She will be getting a Windows PC with all the fruit. End of story.
    anonymous
  • Netbooks

    If these computers are sub $500 then they will be never be a replacement for a Windows PC at home. You seem to be ignorant that when your kids grow up the PC will be well and truly dead.

    I believe that these sub $500 netbooks, whether running windows or linux, will be the closest experience to the future of computing.
    anonymous
  • A simple falicy

    Hmm I used the AcornOS at school and AmigaOS at home and I had no problem coming out and doing windows support within a year of leaving school. It is so important as learning to use an OS as it is learning to use a computer. Standard troubleshooting, and text editing is pretty uniform across all os'es. Besides who is to say when these students get out of school windows will be the major os.
    True IT professionals know how to hack away at least 2 OS'es in my opinion.
    As the saying goes, Learn windows and you know windows. Learn Unix and you know the World.
    anonymous
  • Actually

    No, I am familiar with that bulldust about the PC being being a dead duck. Heard it before. Will hear it again. Anyone who thinks things are going 100% cloud is deluded. Or selling it. Like most things in life, the outcome will be somewhere in the middle. I'm in the industry bud. Ignorant? Don't think so.

    Either way, time will tell.
    anonymous
  • Re: Windows v's non-Windows

    So by this thinking if someone were to sit you (or a recently graduated NSW student) down in front of a Mac you couldn't do anything productive? You couldn't figure out how to open a spreadsheet or browser - instead you'd sit there and say "It's not what I know, I can't do anything...".

    Students need to know what computers and their applications can do - what sort of thing spreadsheets or word processing programs are capable of. Once you know what's possible anyone with any smarts can jump into any spreadsheet application and within 5 minutes get it to do what they need it to.

    We're not talking about training Windows SysAdmins, we're talking about computer users, and Linux and it's offerings (OpenOffice etc) are so similar to what Windows offers I refuse to accept your claim that it won't prepare a student for the real world.
    anonymous
  • Parents

    Good to see we all have $1000+ to purchase a notebook for our kids to throw around the playground. Can you go and buy a couple for my two kids while your at it Ms Parent.

    You should go look at what OLPC are doing at http://www.laptop.org/en/. Robust laptops powered by linux to enable all the children of the world to be able to collaberate. These units are being priced at $250USD.
    anonymous
  • Let's Teach Kids on ISO Standard Products

    The other big issue not covered yet in comments is the issue of 'standards'. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) recently selected OpenOffice's 'open document' format as the ISO standard format for word processing documents for the next 50+ years. I object to teaching kids any multi-national's proprietary wares, as it sets us up for more licence fees downstream, both as apps are purchased beyond the first $500 piece of hardware, and for later when using home computers or work computers. If we train kids on Open Source (as most developing countries are using) then we will have an 'open door' policy for extra apps. My daughter's school has lots of Photoshop and other $600-800 apps, whereas with Open Source, any kid interested in such work can download Scribus and do design work, without a Photoshop licence. Any kid interested in CAD can download a free CAD application. I think the real costs are in the 'extra apps' no one is pricing in at present. Even Premier Rees in a letter-to-ed to SMH yesterday claimed that the increase from $500 for laptop to $2300 overall costs was in wireless and IT support.... but he forgot to mention the cost of extra apps and the resultant extra admin they bring.

    Also, a good Linux distro does not 'date' like a commercial OS, because it is being updated all the time - compare this to the commercial model, where an OS is allowed to intentionally go 'stale' so you will fork out the dollars for the next version.

    I've posted some related issues on this previously in ZDnet forums at
    http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2370940.htm
    and copied this onto the ABC's blog on the subject at:
    http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2370940.htm
    and some of the similar issues are covered in my comments on Linux vs XP vs Vista at:
    http://www.zdnet.com.au/blogs/dont-fall-for-it/soa/Microsoft-Don-t-kill-our-old-friend-XP/0,2001084681,339288615,00.htm
    http://www.zdnet.com.au/news/software/soa/Vista-shunned-in-business-survey/0,130061733,339292397,00.htm and http://www.zdnet.com.au/news/hardware/soa/Rudd-wants-computer-cooperation/0,130061702,339292316,00.htm and http://www.zdnet.com.au/news/hardware/soa/Linux-teething-problems-affect-netbook-returns/0,130061702,339292575,00.htm
    anonymous