Lately, I've been so enamored of OS X and so busy plotting what I can do for my wife to convince her that a new MacBook Pro really is a good investment that I haven't taken much time for Linux. Overall, our Windows network is working well, my Mac is the best computer I've ever used, and my oldest son is perfectly content with his Vista machine.
When I first started writing for this blog, I couldn't get enough Linux. It was just starting to come into its own as a desktop OS and it was free at a time when new hardware was completely out of reach. I had some moderate success with Linux in the classroom and actually became a full-time user of Ubuntu. Then I discovered OS 10.5 and I was hooked.
Don't get me wrong...I still steer students on a budget to Linux. They can buy cheap laptops running Vista Basic and then install Ubuntu or one of the other mainstream distros and have themselves a perfectly nice machine. I just found that I spent a lot less time fiddling and a lot more time working with my Mac.
Now, though, my wife has a laptop running Vista Home Premium. She's been perfectly happy with it and I got it for less than $500, so for web surfing and office productivity it's been fine. Several Vista updates later and some annoying driver problems (an HP printer that needs reinstallation every time she wants to print and wireless networking that's a bit too flaky) add up to a slow machine with too many quirks.
I finally told her tonight to kiss Vista goodbye and asked her if she wanted me to install OpenSUSE or Ubuntu. She, of course, had no idea what I was talking about, but said that OpenSUSE sounded cuter (yes, she really said that), so off I went and downloaded the full 4.3GB DVD via Bittorrent in about 2 hours (gotta love P2P, eh?).
Not surprisingly, the install went without a hitch. SUSE, Fedora, and Ubuntu are pretty vanilla installs. Now to see what she thinks when she fires it up in the morning. I'll report back.
At the same time, one of my kids is badly in need of a basic word processing machine. I set him up with Xubuntu on a 5-year old Dell Latitude ultraportable. I certainly never expected it to be zippy, but it was pretty sluggish (certainly more so than expected with half a gig of RAM and a 1.3GHz Pentium M). A month ago, the wireless crapped out and performance became intolerable. I'm actually thinking that a major system component is done for, but I'm cheap (and haven't convinced the wife that he should really get my MacBook), so I figured I'd try a fresh Ubuntu install. The system is updating as I write this; we'll see if it stays stable, but is certainly more usable than it was.
So am I just writing yet another Linux install piece? No, of course not. There's relevance here for Ed Tech. The vast majority of our teachers, administrators, secretaries, and staff (unless you work in the rare school that places really serious emphasis on professional development in technology) are a lot like my wife. When they turn on their computers, they expect them to work, no muss, no fuss, no fiddling, with everything where they expect it to be. Printers are just supposed to work, the Internet is just supposed to work...you get the idea.
The question is, while modern Linux distros may meet the needs of our fearless students, do they meet the needs of our less intrepid staff (or our less intrepid wives, or the kids of us cheap admins)? I'll get back to you on that one.