Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What Does It take to switch to desktop Linux in Schools?

As a school Administrator, I always try to find ways to economize in a lot of things but not sacrificing quality, I came across my favourite Zdnet Blogger Christopher Dawson on “Just what does it take to switch to desktop Linux “ and I saw that indeed the article was worth reading and commenting. According to dawson the following are the parameters needed to be considered when considering on wWhat is required to switch teachers to Linux on his desktop?

Here’s Christopher Dawson's initial list.

  • Know how to access Windows shares on the network

  • Have a rudimentary understanding of the file system to ensure that he could copy, paste, and otherwise move around his files, including how to make backups

  • Understand how to save documents in PDF, ODF, and Office formats

  • Understand the differences in interface between OpenOffice and Office 2003 (the current system used in the superintendent’s office)

These are all free. In addition to these, Dawson also includes the following issues for users:

  1. Where are their files kept ?

  2. How does one access the budgeting software?

  3. How does one access the student information system (web-based)?

  4. How do one communicate (email and chat systems are currently web-based)?

Here are some additional important considerations. None of these seem to be deal breakers, but they certainly need to be part of a well-planned and successful conversion if schools at elementary and high school grades are to decide to head down that road:

  • Printing: Does all of the printers users access have Linux drivers? Although there is a trend of keeping files digitized and lessening the usage of paper to help the environment, the superintendents,administrator's and registrar’s office, perhaps more than any other administrative unit, must produce printed documents.

  • Backup: With Windows machines, one can redirect desktops and user folders to a regularly backed-up server; Vista does a particularly nice (if slow) job of dealing with offline file synchronization. There are plenty of ways to handle this in Linux, but as far as I know, there isn’t anything quite as slick as either group policies in Windows for the redirects or the similar functionality enabled in OS X server .

  • Replacing group policy and domain/enterprise levels of control in general: as noted above, while AD may have its share of issues, it makes pushing updates, enforcing policies, etc., really easy. Anyone have a good “Linux administration for dummies” link that covers good ways to handle policy for workstations across a network?

  • Remote access: There are plenty of remote access solutions that will work quite well with Linux, but any existing infrastructure needs to be tested for compatibility.

  • Complex Excel files: Compatibility between OpenOffice 3 and Microsoft Office is generally quite good. However, since the super’s office also handles budget administration, there are most likely some fairly complicated spreadsheets floating around. A period of testing should certainly go on with, but a more important consideration may actually be the impact on productivity for budget admins who are extremely proficient in Excel.

  • “Extracurricular crap”: (something like what the regular Joe's use to “enhance their productivity by making them relaxed) “Check out any extra curricular software they may have, iTunes, Skype, etc. Yes these are silly but if users are pissed off you took away music they’ll be more likely to resist and sabotage.” another power user comments that : “In my experience it’s not the mainstream applications that prevent a switch but rather the myriad of smaller programs which have no OSS replacements. Be sure to identify and factor these programs into any migration strategy.”

With these things in mind, I'd like to acknowledge the immense help accorded by Sir Chris to us non-techie school managers. Hope that his advice would also work well for you.

His full length article can be accessed at: and

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