Last week, when I asked "Are you sure you don't just want to use Ubuntu?" I received a record number of talkbacks, good, bad, and in between. One of the more interesting, though, came from reader ksheppard, who responded with a challenge:
...Here's a challenge to you: Make a list of everything - absolutely everything - a hypothetical school superintendent would be required to do to switch his personal laptop (which he uses at work and at home) from XP to Ubuntu, while maintaining, as much as possible, his usual behavior. Allow your blog followers to critique and refine the list until you think it is reasonably complete. Then have the research staff at ZDNet assign time and money expense to each item on the list. Allow your blog followers to help you critique and refine those figures.
I think I wish we had research staff here at ZDNet, but I also think that it's a really useful exercise to undertake. I think our district represents a good starting point for the exercise since we don't actually use any applications in the superintendent's office on the desktop that don't have an open source alternative. As ksheppard pointed out, some districts may have bus routing applications, for example, that are Windows only.
Server-side, as well, we're a Windows shop due to payroll and budgeting applications that are Windows only (these are accessed via RDP, so the desktop platform is irrelevant). However, on the desktop, where we, spend most of our resources and my users in the superintendent's office spend most of their time, we have very few barriers to adoption. This is also where I spend most of my support resources; as readers have pointed out, while Linux is not necessarily more secure than Windows, it is far more immune to attack right now than Windows (or even Mac) platforms, simply by virtue of market share.
I'd like to turn this into a series of posts, ultimately asking what it takes to switch to desktop Linux in education. Starting small, though, I'd like to answer ksheppard's question. What is required to switch my superintendent to Linux on his desktop?
Here's my initial list. Keeping the caveats above in mind, take ksheppard's challenge with me and critique the list in the talkbacks.
- Know how to access Windows shares on the network
- Have a rudimentary understanding of the file system to ensure that he could copy, paste, and otherwise move around his files, including how to make backups
- Understand how to save documents in PDF, ODF, and Office formats
- Understand the differences in interface between OpenOffice and Office 2003 (the current system used in the superintendent's office)
These are all free. Because our desktop deployments (keep in mind that I'm not talking about server deployments yet) are quite simple in this office, I'm seeing very little downside and very little cost. This will obviously become far more complicated as I start to look enterprise-wide, where do have some Mac/Windows only software. In this office, though, the only concerns my users have are,
- Where are my files?
- How do I access the budgeting software?
- How do I access the student information system (web-based)?
- How do I communicate (email and chat systems are currently web-based)?
What am I missing (just for this microcosm - we'll get into the other environments later this week)?
See also: Just what does it take to switch to desktop Linux (part 2)?