[clug] Linux on new school computers

Paul Wayper paul.wayper at anu.edu.au
Tue Nov 27 23:43:17 GMT 2007

Daniel Rose wrote:
> I'm not trying to stir up trouble, but if you've never seen windows, does this make you more or less employable as a receptionist or other office staff?  What about in other roles? The push in schools is for job readiness; nobody in the media is talking about the real purpose and value of education, only employment, skills and money.  If you want to get in on the action, you can't use (valid) philosophical, moral or ethical arguments, it won't wash with the beaurocrats, the pollies or the public.

This may be true, but it's a self-defeating argument.  What's the point
of learning Shakespeare if you're not going to act on the stage?  What's
the point of learning History if you're not going to be a historian? 
The answer is easy: because school still actually aims to give everyone
a broad spectrum of knowledge.  Up until the end of Secondary school
there is nothing taught that is useful only to one profession, and no
tool taught exclusively to others.  Do schools teach only linear
differentiation?  Do they only teach one language?  Do they only teach
how to write job proposals?  No.  Why should the issue of what software
is used imply any form of 'teaching' or training for the future?

Looked at another way, when I was a student there was no requirement to
use any one software package to do ones assignments.  I used an Amstrad
CPC6128 with a variety of software whose titles I can't remember to
write my assignments and to do graphs.  Did anyone say "you must use a
Commodore 64 with such-and-such word processor"? No.  Did anyone say
"you must use an IBM PC with Word Perfect," which would be the standard
for word processing for the first three years of my university days? 
No.  Why all of a sudden is anyone talking about Microsoft Windows and
Microsoft Office being a 'standard' that 'everyone' has to learn?

The paranoid answer, of course, is that this is Microsoft's own
rhetoric, bolstering their own position.  It is hardly an argument.

I'd also add that it seems to me that one of the key things we _should_
be teaching, if we're not teaching it implicitly in the methods of
setting assignments and exams, is flexibility.  There should be no
difference between the dichotomy of using Open Office at home and
Microsoft Office at school, and the dichotomy of wearing one set of
clothes and calling teachers "Sir" and "Miss" at school and another set
of clothes and patronyms at home.  Why all of a sudden is it so
complicated for a child to use different software packages?

> If the PCs are 2nd hand ex-gov as indicated elsewhere (hearsay from my missus) then they will already have a Windows licence, so it's not cheaper.

However, that license is non-transferrable and illegal to reuse.  So
you'd have to purchase a new license.  But given that that's given at an
'academic discount' we can consider this point moot.

> Financial arguments won't work well either I reckon, even if they are true.  You push purchase price, they show either existing licences, software assurance or massive volume discount.  You show lower TCO, they show training costs.  You show rock-solid properly researched 100% certain savings of 75%; they say that you can't put a price on the future of our nation and say that our children deserver the best we can give them, whatever the cost.

Never mind the cost, feel the quality, eh?  That's a poor argument at
the best of times, especially when it's quite convincing to argue that
the best - and in terms of security provably the safest - is Open
Source.  Other people have talked about cost not being an issue in the
education sector.  I see that as fallacious on two counts.  Firstly, the
money comes from somewhere, and that somewhere may be from other
services that are impinged, or by raising taxes which depresses the
economy.  Secondly, it ignores the hidden cost of the parents keeping up
with the requirements of a school.  It might be amusing for a school to
buy a site license for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, but is it
going to pay for a license that includes a copy on every student's
computer at home?  On the other hand, is it right to expect that people
will pay for, or pirate, software in order to give their kids the same
software their school uses?  The costs of this 'free education' are
continually rising.  Why add another burden.  A school can hand out
unlimited copies of The Open CD to everyone - parents, children,
friends, strangers, passers-by - and still be perfectly legal.

Keep in mind that this problem also extends beyond Microsoft.  Try doing
a graphic design course without using Adobe Photoshop on Microsoft
Windows these days.  There are lots of industries

> Now the parents can't help much if the computer goes wonky, and the teachers will mostly know windows better than linux, so the same goes for them really.

Now, don't get fixated on "Linux" being the One True Way here.  Sure,
it's better to have the whole package.  But "Free, Open Source Software"
isn't just Linux.  There are plenty of packages for everyday use that
run on Windows and OS-X.

> Having said all that, at some stage someone will ask: "What about when the kids use nessus and metasploit and other Linux-friendly tools to mess with the school's network?"
> For that particular question, I have no good answer, because it will happen, and it's easier on Linux than windows.

So let's "improve" the school's "security" by installing expensive
proprietary clients?  Sounds like a stupid idea to me.  Some kid with
some smarts sets his laptop up dual-boot or uses a Live CD and USB key
to use the same exploits and you're back to square one.  Are you
providing a Wireless network for all these machines?  You're back to
square one.  Security by obscurity is ineffective at best.  Security by
pretending the problem doesn't exist is ludicrous.

As a non-sequitur to the above paragraph, I have, oh, more than a
hundred Open CDs still sitting around on my desk.  Maybe we can post
them out to all the ministers in the new Rudd government with a form
letter that tells them about FOSS and why this might be useful to try
out.  They're no good sitting here :-)  There's probably enough left
over to send the rest to schools in the ACT.  Thoughts?

Have fun,


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