Back to Windows?

So I've lived with a Linux lab in a largely Windows enterprise for a while...Here's why I'm thinking about going back.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor
Another oldie, but goodie...check back Monday for more new posts.

Last year, a student spent a semester looking at the various Linux distributions available and concluded that a Linux-based lab would be difficult to support (given current levels of expertise in the school), difficult to run and install (given the current dismal state of hardware in the building), and otherwise a bad choice in our environment. If you've been reading this blog, you know that, with these caveats in mind, I went ahead and implemented a Linux lab for my computer science courses anyway. So I've lived with Linux lab in a largely Windows enterprise for a while...Here's why I'm thinking about going back.

I like Linux.  I really do.  In all its flavors, in all its non-Microsoftness, I really do like Linux.  In the last 6 months of living with a Linux lab (largely running Kubuntu, but experimenting with Edubuntu, Ubuntu, Fedora Core 4, and SUSE Linux), I haven't had a single malware problem.  Most of my students have become accustomed to the OS and many like it for the wide variety of freely available applications, especially cool little addicting games. Quite a few have hit me up for disk images so they can install it on their own computers.

Unfortunately, my students do not represent an accurate cross-section of the student body here.  Having registered for computing, web design, and programming courses, they tend to be a bit more savvy and technologically adventurous  than the average AIM-loving, Myspace-building teenager.  My lab, used for only half the periods of the day for my own classes, is increasingly needed to host other classes who need research and word processing space.  The look on one of our special education teacher's face when I told her she was welcome to use the lab, but that the computers weren't running Windows was priceless.  However, the 80 minutes I spent proctoring the class and helping her students with basic tasks ("Mr. Dawson, where's the Internet?" "Mr. Dawson, where do I type?" "OpenOffice what?") were just painful.

Part of the problem also lies with me.  I can muddle my way around just about any operating system you put in front of me and I still maintain that, in many ways, given spiffy GUIs and the right support, your choice of OS is a religious issue more than a technical or practical matter. However, I, like most of my students and 95% of the staff I support, was raised with Windows and can most efficiently troubleshoot and fix Windows computers.  Someone who was truly proficient in Unix/Linux could keep my lab in tip-top shape and really leverage the power of Linux.  If nothing else, this exercise has reinforced a point that both Marc Wagner and I have made in previous posts: Linux is great, but certainly no better than Windows absent appropriate support. I'm a card-carrying geek, but very unfortunately don't have time to develop real skill in Linux administration.

Another related problem lies with the hardware in my lab.  This entire experience may have been different with newer hardware less prone to failure (and therefore with fewer support needs calling upon my meager Linux skills).  However, these computers are old, and, while Linux may run faster on them than Windows will, they prove the point that a mere switch to Linux is hardly a panacea for aging hardware.  Aging hardware still breaks, still hits incompatibilities with leading edge software (like most modern Linux distros), and still needs to be replaced.  I still have every intention of installing Fedora Core 5 on my new laptop.  Like I said, I really like Linux.  This setting is just not the place (at least for now).

So I'm going back.  Back to Windows. With a heavy heart, I'm bring Redmond back to a small converted wood shop in the middle of Massachusetts.  Then I'll hide in my office playing cool Linux games on my laptop.

Editorial standards