Frankly, I'm skeptical about the claims made in Indiana high schools save state $1m by running Linux. Not that Linspire (or the other two unnamed Linux distributions) are not suitable for deployment in high schools in Indiana (or anywhere else) but I doubt that the State of Indiana is going to save $1M by providing 25 high-schools with Linux instead of Windows.
I've written until I am blue in the face about the misleading claims that Linux workstations offer significantly different TCO than the a Windows-based solution (see Windows vs. Linux? It's Apples and oranges). This is no different. If you think like an IT-savvy consumer who is not afraid to install an OS on his/her own, your first impression is probably the same as that of Mr Huffman, of the state's Department of Education when he said:
"If we add Microsoft [Windows] and everything else, we're looking at close to $100 a machine, Huffman said. "When you're comparing $100 to 50 cents, that's a dramatic difference."
Is this based upon a quote from Microsoft for Windows XP on 10,000 workstations identical to his Linux hardware configuration or is it mere speculation?
Never mind that a 'free' Linux distribution comes with no support whatsoever and that most Linux distributions are sold to consumers with 90-day support for around $40 to $50. I'll bet Microsoft charges it's OEMs less than that (it charges its employees $35 for XP Pro) -- and after all, this is a large project that includes OEM hardware.
In single unit quantities, annual support for Linux runs about $180 -- remarkably close to the full the retail price of Windows XP Pro, which includes free upgrades and support for several years.
As soon as the educator stops thinking like a consumer and starts thinking like a CIO the perspective changes somewhat. The CIO would say,
'Let's ask Microsoft how much they would charge us for 10,000 copies of Windows destined for new machines to be deployed our high schools?' 'Hey, let's ask Linspire the same question' Which OEMs would deliver each OS pre-installed -- and for how much?
I wonder if the state's CIO was even consulted on this project?
Of course, for a deployment of this size, whether it's Microsoft or Linspire, Red Hat or Sun, any serious vendor will attempt to make a competitive offer. Does that mean that Microsoft will be the least expensive solution? Or even the most desirable solution? Not necessarily. In reality, it depends in large part upon the hardware vendor, not the OS vendor -- be it Windows or Linux!
But, it also depends upon how hungry the OS vendor happens to be. For instance, Linspire could benefit a great deal from having one or more states commit to their platform in large quantities. Conversely, Microsoft stands to lose a great deal if states start buying open-source solutions en masse.
I find it interesting that the Indiana project is aimed squarely at the high schools. Why not at K-8 as well? And what are the goals of the project? How will the decision to chose Linux impact the curriculum of the participating schools? (And by what criteria were these schools chosen?)
If these computers are to be used for personal productivity exclusively (word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications), either choice is no harm, no foul.
If the goal is to teach tech savvy kids about the inner workings of an OS, Linux (or UNIX) is an excellent choice! (Besides, any high school graduate so inclined can get certification training from Microsoft on their own -- this is not necessarily so for Linux.)
But, if the curriculum is to focus on skills the bulk of your students will use after they graduate, or if that curriculum is to focus on certain specialized software applications which your students are likely to encounter after graduation, then perhaps Windows (or Macintosh) would offer a better all-around solution -- even if the cost per seat were higher!
And, of course, one must consider how well prepared your faculty are to develop course material utilizing Linux instead of Windows. Will they have to be trained to use Linux instead of Windows. (Kids learn differently than adults.)
Large state-wide projects like this one need to be viewed from a different perspective than that of the schools IT-support person (who must find a way to make a short budget go a long way), or even the district's central IT department (who decides which school gets how big a piece of a small pie).
The buying power of the state dramatically broadens the possibilities for offering a variety of choices at the classroom level -- but those leading these projects must be prepared to take a broader view than just dollars and cents -- based upon what may be false assumptions drawn from the perspective of the consumer.