Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More On Education

I listened to a recent podcast by The Linux Link Tech Show, and the show hosts discussed some of the financial impact of Information Technology costs in school. They also talked about how and why Apple had such a stranglehold on schools in the late 80's and early 90's, and why Microsoft has such a hold on schools from the late 90's to present.

Saving money even on something as simple as the Microsoft Office license for school would put as much as $40,000 more dollars into just one school. Microsoft doesn't even charge very much for the educational license, but if schools went with OpenOffice, they'd save a bunch of money. And, if they went with older equipment, used Linux, they'd not only save more money, they could get more computers. Maybe even a computer in the home of every child. So many companies discard their equipment, sometimes simply sending it to a recycling.

From the initial observation, one might concluded that education IT might be corupt -taking bribes from the Big Boy companies; Microsoft, Apple, Dell, HP. I don't think it happens that much. These companies have a vested interest in selling their products at greatly reduced costs, even at a loss if necessary. Business use Windows. Parents want their kids ready for the business world when the get out of school. Parents insist their kids learn Windows in school. End of story. Almost.

Windows has to run on something in school, but Dell, HP, and others aren't really going to create brand loyalty in a school. What equipment the students uses doesn't really matter. But, students need to use the latest, greatest hardware in school, and government has big pockets. Do you really think the CIO (Chief Information Officer) of education really worries about saving money? Or, is it more important for him to 'set the budget' for next year?

The educational system currently has 'vendor lock-in'. They are stuck with long contracts, license fees, but worse - outdated thinking. By getting the educational department locked in with long term contracts, the big hardware companies keep a lucrative business going.

Things are changing. Bit by bit -or byte by byte. Some government agencies are rethinking the Windows situation. Many are opting-out of Windows Vista. They just don't see the need to upgrade their systems to use Vista, when most of their computers are used for one or two tasks. They see no reason to change. Some are even looking into Linux solutions. The Linux desktop is becoming easier to use, and the Linux support business have grown in size, competency, and effectiveness.

Edubuntu is a specific Ubuntu Linux version designed for education. Even the moniker; Linux for YOUNG Human Beings give you an idea of what the system is about. With Edubuntu, a school doesn't even need much hardware at all. With older computers, Edubuntu can use Thin Client technology to administer the system out to many terminals in a class room. A teacher can see and control all the terminals from just one computer. Many private schools that might not be able to afford new computer systems with Windows are taking advantage of Edubuntu, and glad for it. They are discovering huge savings, enhanced security, and tons of free educational software.

If all the schools changed to Linux next year, it would be a bad thing. While it would save billions (yes, billions!), the overall economic impact might not be a good thing. Jobs would be lost, hardware progress might even be stalled. IT for education is big business. But, if Linux is adopted slowly, the economy would have time to adjust, adapt, and change.

I hope, one day, I can be part of that change, and the vision I have of the future of education.

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