The FOSSed conference was certainly very interesting and although the heat was almost unbearable, the sleeping and presentation rooms un-air-conditioned at least the event fed us well (a little too well as I note by budda belly this morning) and we got to talk with some very interesting people with a different take on Ubuntu and FOSS.
First of all there are plenty of people using Ubuntu, both strait up and as a basis for educational distributions. But almost everyone at this conference was using an Apple Mac, it’s something a lot of schools have invested in. I maintain that the bastards are going to be Apple in this and upper-middle class residential markets.
One sys-admin was explaining to me how their school is ditching Ubuntu in favour of Apple Macs because he (as a sysadmin) is not paid enough to do his job properly and just doesn’t want any more work to deal with. Of course far be it from me to suggest that doing a job at all is worth doing right, but I can’t imagine how a fleet of rented Apple Macs could be easier to manage even on a larger scale. I chalk this one up to professional folly and lack of imagination.
There were plenty of positive thinkers too, lots of people really wanted to learn some of the available programs in depth so they could go off and teach other people. this is great and it’s certainly something we should be doing more of. I know Inkscape has really good how-tos and guides available to download in manual format.
In the end though we got to talk a lot about all the challenges, politics, dumb decisions and rotten thinking that goes on in education. There was certainly a lot to complain about, most of the time it didn’t seem like it was malicious, just that old problem of pushing incompetent people further up stack into management instead of firing them. Of course I also remember being told: “No one likes being their own boss, because suddenly it’s hard to tell yourself just what a dumb boss you really are to yourself”
Here at FOSSed one of the great project on show is the Open 1:1 project which is an Ubuntu based distribution specially designed for large middle and high school deployments of netbooks for students. It’s currently deployed in a number of large schools and is on it’s second year of refinement.
It’s currently got the netbook interface and a set of education software specially picked for inclusion based on the needs of American schools much like Edubuntu for a specific region. The system is fast and responsive even on older ASUS netbooks and the install is very easy.
They’re currently moving from 9.10 to 10.04. The current plan is to create a new version once per year based on the spring release. This should allow for Open 1:1 to base it’s distro on the LTS releases and one STS release in the general Ubuntu cadence and it means that the people involved in the project are focused on delivering the distro in the summer in time for deployment for the next school year in the USA.
Right now the distro is being deployed and configured using a file-imaging system which installs by wiping out the machine and installing the distro on it. There is a plan to move to something more manageable with packages and a desire to be involved further with the Ubuntu community to make sure tweaks are in sync and going upstream and educational software is available ready to use.
I know what the first reaction will be to the news I hear on the grape vine that VT are pushing for Open Source. VT isn’t a normal state, the people there are much more sensible than the rest of the country. After all they elected Bernie Sanders, a self declared socialist as Senator.
But I’d argue that schools up and down the USA are much like each other, facing the same problems and generally with the same kinds of pressures from parents, teachers, government and big businesses. So to see Burlington School District issue this information (as part of a general update) on Open Source was surprising:
This year we are beginning our large-scale testing of open source software. Both the City Council and the School Board have requested this as part of ways to save costs. In addition to our web services, which have been running open source for several years, we have moved our main storage and printing systems to an open source operatins system. On all replacement computers we are using Open Office instead of Microsoft Office, and Open Office is available on all district computers. Although this is a small step, it represents a saving of 10% per new computer, or about $20,000 this year. In addition, Open Office is freely available to any home that wants it, so all of our students can have it, which is a saving of over $200 per copy for the parents. Of course, the savings would be irrelevant if the software wasn’t useful, but Open Office has virtually all of the functionality of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and can open any of those Microsoft files (even docx). Stay tuned for more information on using OpenOffice.
If we read this right it means there is real local government preference for Open Source. Now right now they’re going into because of costs instead of control, but I think a taste of freedom tends to stick around once you’ve deployed a FOSS solution and it’ll be more difficult for Microsoft or even IBM, Novell etc to get back in without offering serious concessions.
I also like that they are informing people that students can take advantage of OpenOffice, because it’s free too and supports all the same formats. That’s very good news as it’s an aspect of Free Software in schools which is often overlooked (that what is taught can be taken home without pressuring poor students to buy expensive software).
I’ll keep my ears open for any other news, because they are looking at a whole bunch of things as part of the review.