Will your students be using Linux in 2007?

Will you be? More importantly, should you be? The short answer, IMHO, is probably not.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

I'm writing this post using Fedora Core 6 on my new laptop.  I've been running some flavor of Linux for a while now and I think I've finally settled on Fedora Core since it's doing such a nice job with both multimedia and office productivity tasks.  Overall, it seems more stable and mature than the various 'buntus and the wide variety of free software is just plain cool.  Whether I'm running Xfce, Gnome, or KDE (KDE is my current favorite), the interface is slick and the whole system is quite usable (and really fast).  Of course, I couldn't let my Core 2 Duo go to waste, so I had to install 64-bit Linux.  Suffice to say, Java and Flash are a pain and some 32-bit applications aren't entirely stable (and yes, I know there are workarounds for Java and Flash, but gosh darnit, if I'm using 64-bit Linux, I want to be using 64-bit Firefox!), but it's working quite well for me overall.  When all else fails, I have an extra partition with Windows installed so I can dual boot.  Eventually I'll figure out Wine and virtualization when I have the time, so I can dump Windows entirely.

So what's this in my tagline about how you probably won't and/or shouldn't be running Linux in your Ed Tech enterprise?  Here's the thing: Everything I wrote above is Greek to most of my users, students and staff alike.  I'm not just trying to stir up a hornet's nest here.  Quite honestly, every line of my first paragraph would be lost on 95% of the users in my district, if not more.  The 5% on whom it would not be lost probably took one of my computing classes.

This certainly isn't the case everywhere.  There are many districts (or at least schools) who have made this work, whether through LTSP or a larger-scale rollout.  These districts deserve our applause and I wish them the best of luck.  However, this blog asks the question, will 2007 be the year that Linux breaks the Windows (and sort of Mac) stronghold on Educational Technology.  All signs that I'm seeing simply point to No. Quite frankly, Linux remains a powerful tool for the server room and a really cool toy for enthusiasts.  Businesses who have successfully made the switch to Linux often have a culture that caters to said enthusiasts and/or have dumped enough effort into training to get users up to speed.  It simply isn't effortless enough to make a dent in the educational market, though, particularly when Vista promises stability and security and the Mac OS just keeps getting spiffier (and easier).  

On a geekiness scale of 1 to 10, where a 1 is my 80-year-old grandmother in North Dakota, and a 10 is Stephen Hawking, I'm about a 6.5.  I'm perfectly happy to stay up until all hours getting my Linux laptop running just so and then blogging about it (OK, maybe I'm a 7).  However, even I didn't bother trying to configure Wine to run IE (I still need IE for some intranet apps and I hit more problems with the 64-bit issues than I wanted to deal with, so I gave up and dual booted).  I'm still not running Flash or Java, because I just got Firefox 2.0 (64-bit) installed and can't be bothered running 2 versions.  Now imagine the average user in a school setting.  Even most IM-sending, MySpace-posting teenagers only hit about a 2 or 3 on the geek scale.  Computers are tools for these folks and should work out of the box, not be a great project to lose sleep over.

As Marc Wagner has said, give me a first-tier vendor that starts selling a turnkey Linux distro, pre-installed and tested on OEM hardware (at a significantly reduced cost since software licensing will be a non-issue), and we might see my prediction blown out of the water.  Until then, I'll be a geek in my basement with Fedora Core, inconspicuously distribute Ubuntu and Fedora CDs to the same folks I invite to Gmail, and watch Vista dominate Ed Tech in 2007.

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