Will Vista kill Linux for Ed Tech?

If Vista is actually as good as it seems, then should we care about Linux on the desktop anymore?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

So my latest post on another reason to steer clear of Vista for a while actually generated a fair amount of consternation.  While this was perceived as Microsoft bashing and Vista "fear mongering" (in fairness to George Ou, he was referring to the entire DNS issue and not just my post), it was actually intended as a caution from the trenches of underfunded Ed Tech.  As I've already noted, I'm slowly becoming an actual supporter of Microsoft and, while I hardly view Redmond through rosy glasses, I have to give Microsoft credit for the ease with which its products allow one to build enterprise information systems.

I've sold my Mac, I've converted my test Linux lab at the high school to XP, I'm pushing to standardize my district to a Microsoft platform, and I'm about to buy a new laptop on which I'm just a little too excited to install 64-bit Windows.  So a routine Windows basher I am no longer.

That's not to say, though, that I don't still like Linux in its many flavors.  I really do, and the laptop I'm so eagerly awaiting will have it's very own little partition for dual-booting Kubuntu (again, 64-bit - My inner geek is getting chills).

However, I'm afraid that my inner CIO just can't get as worked up anymore about Linux as it used to.

Indiana claims to be saving about 1 million dollars by rolling out Linux at 25 high schools (see Million Dollar Linux), but we have yet to see any information on end user experiences, long-term support and training issues, and, most importantly, total cost of ownership.  I even gave Linux a shot, attempting to save Windows licensing costs on a bunch of donated computers, but ran into enough hurdles that $70/machine (roughly what we're paying per seat for XP pro) seemed a small price to pay for easy network integration and minimal training for students and teachers (see Back to Windows?).

To me, this seems to be the real sticking point for Linux on the desktop: while that inner geek of mine loves to play with a really powerful operating system, switching desktop environments and testing out the latest open source goodies, I'm a teacher and Ed Tech administrator first and foremost.  My job is to ensure that computer technology is an easy, powerful tool for my students and fellow teachers.  My job is also to save money and time wherever possible.  As it stands right now, Windows-certified techs are a lot cheaper and more plentiful than Linux gurus.  Of course in K-12 Ed Tech, I'm satisfied with uncertified users who just have a clue about the operating system they're looking at, let alone certified technicians.

Thus, schools with tiny budgets have machines that don't really run a user-friendly version of Linux very well and they certainly don't have the cash to train users.  Districts with big budgets might be able to successfully roll out Linux (or OS X, or Vista, or any other operating system, for that matter), but these districts also have a real obligation to look at TCO.

So in steps Windows Vista.  By most accounts, Microsoft has actually created a fairly secure, stable operating system that looks and feels like, well, Windows (albeit a little prettier with the right graphics card).  As the price for a Vista upgrade license starts to approach what we're paying now for XP, it becomes very hard to argue against sticking with a Windows environment.  We know that the TCO will be relatively low, enterprise management will be even easier than it is in XP, and Redmond is finally getting security together.  More importantly, for our end users, a familiar interface on the desktop saves time and headaches (and money in the long-run).
So where does this leave Linux?  I'm not sure.  I haven't given up on it.  We'll hopefully be recycling a whole lot of old iMacs soon.  They all still run and I hate to just surplus them, but I can't see any utility in running OS 9 for anything.  There are a few Linux distros out there designed to keep these candy-colored little guys running and useful.  Maybe a cybercafe in the lunchroom or an extra net lab.  Linux also has countless applications in the server room where it can make a Jim Dandy router, firewall, backup appliance, web server, etc.  I just can't see it on the desktop, when most of us have stable builds of XP running just fine and when the last few entries (and their associated Talkbacks) in this column have firmly established that Vista is on its way, in all its glory.

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