A reader of a recent post ("How much does credibility matter for Microsoft in Ed Tech?") made some fairly strong points in favor of offering students a wide range of computing experiences by deploying several operating systems via multiboot (I've condensed from the original a bit to save space, but the arguments remain the same):
Any school who offers only one OS is doing their students a disservice. Frankly people need to remember that an operating system is NOT a religion, it is simply a tool. Out here, in the real world, differing systems co-exist and we real-world IT technicians and analysts must support them. Any student who only knows Windows (or only OS-X, or only Linux, etc...) is at a distinct disadvantage. Furthermore, with budgets being tight, we hire personnel with as wide a range of knowledge as possible. Multiple OS exposure is a major advantage in securing a job.
Within the school's budgetary restrictions it should be possible to offer many options. Since many of these options are available for free (or even near free installation at educational facilities) there really is no excuse for not making them available to the students.
Perhaps the PC lab should support Windows, Fedora, and Solaris? One comes on the PC when you buy it and the other two are available for free on x86 platforms. A more affluent school could buy x86-based Macintoshes and offer OS-X, Windows, and Linux experience.
It isn't really hard to do, and can be done for little or no more money, yet provides the student with a major competitive advantage once they move out of the academic world and start looking for work in the real one...And really, isn't that what a school is supposed to be doing for it's students?
Of course, he's not the one supporting and deploying 3-4 times the number of hard disk images, providing training and application support, etc. He's spot on about versatility, but are students gaining enough in the scenarios he envisions to justify the effort for support staff?
I wish I could give a better answer than maybe. I know that my students most interested in pursuing analytical and computing careers have benefited distinctly from exposure to Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms in our school (the latter two are deployed in small labs and are also available to students on an individual basis). However, deployment of 3-4 operating systems on a larger scale when most students will only be end users is tough to justify.
Would I do it in a dedicated computer science lab? Absolutely. Would I consider adoption of a single non-Windows OS throughout the school? Most definitely. The teachers and students I support can teach/learn programming, web design, file structures, data structures, and algorithms on whatever computer might be sitting in front of them (especially the students). Mainstream students and teachers can surf the web and word process on OpenSUSE as easily as they can on Vista.
This goes back to the point that has been raised repeatedly in this blog: teach the fundamentals of computing (whether from an end user or developer perspective, depending on the students) and it won't matter which OS (or how many) you support. Students will be ready for the diverse real-world environments the reader discussed above. If that can be done securely, freely, and openly, then all the more power to us.