School switches to Linux, hopes to keep MS funds

Complete switch to Linux has been approved by the Ministry of Education

Warrington School, in Otago, has decided to jump ship and deploy the GNU/Linux operating system with free software across the board by a target date of 2010, says the school’s principal, Nathan Parker.

The complete switch to Linux has been approved by the Ministry of Education, and Parker is now hoping that a portion of the money that would normally be paid to Microsoft for software licences will continue to be paid to the school. Parker says he would use the money to employ a local technician and further develop the Linux environment.

“Otherwise we are being disadvantaged,” he says.

In addition, that money would be used locally instead of going out of the country, he says.

The Ministry of Education has yet to respond to this proposal.

Two years ago, Parker installed Linux on a couple of computers that were no longer supported by Microsoft. As Parker, who doesn’t have a technical background, found the operating system easy to install and use, the school gradually moved over to the open source platform. A parent of one the pupils has helped with the Linux project and has been “a mentor for myself”, says Parker. Other than that, the school does not have a technician on staff. For maintenance, the school uses an IT consultant on a contract basis.

But there have been very few issues, says Parker. Warrington School is now running GNU/Linux — primarily the Ubuntu and Edubuntu operating systems — on all the teachers’ laptops, as well as most desktops, he says. Of 25 computers, 18 run Linux.

“This system is costing the school nothing. That is a huge benefit,” he says.

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The freedom also spills over to the ability to alter and change things such as formats, or switching between operating systems, he says. The children can play with the software and make these changes themselves.

Another benefit for the school is that the GNU/Linux operating system requires little space and can be run on lower-spec machines, he says. This means the school can use donated computers and keep turn-over of computers to a minimum. Surplus machines can be loaned to children that don’t have computers at home. At the moment, the school has six computers out in the community, says Parker.

Parker would definitely recommend using Linux to other schools. “There is a third way,” he says. “There is Apple, Microsoft and there is GNU/Linux.”

In past, there has been the perception that Linux is something that only computer experts use, but that is not true, says Parker. For Warrington School, the switch to Linux has been an easy process. “It all just runs,” he says.

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