Education sector puts Linux to the test

The Ministry of Education is considering the possible widespread use of Linux software in New Zealand schools.

The Ministry of Education is considering the possible widespread use of Linux software in New Zealand schools.

Both schools and the government are showing interest in the Windows alternative, which is set to grow further this year when studies at Auckland University result in a CD Rom of free open source software.

This month, Education Ministry officials will meet Pakuranga College maths teacher Karyn Woodruffe, who is carrying out the study. The study is aimed at easing school and college access to the free software.

"It will be optimised for the Corel Linux distribution as this is not too difficult to install and is available in New Zealand," she says. "Other programs include a basic word processor, spreadsheet, presentation package, function plotter and image manipulation."

Education Minister Trevor Mallard confirms his officials are looking into the scheme. "Schools and the government are interested in anything that can enhance classroom teaching, especially if it reduces teacher workload and saves them money," he says.

Microsoft says it is not concerned about the possible threat to its sales. Commercial distributors for Linux have operated for several years, it says.

"Customers have a choice. They can buy or get the products that best serve their needs," says spokesperson Guy Haycock.

Microsoft offers schools discounted products through Edcom, a division of Multi Serve Education Trust, which reports growing interest in Linux.

Edcom South Island Managare Douglas Harre says Linux is used in servers but needs more applications before it becomes generally accepted in desktops. However, the increasingly complex programs, such as Windows 2000, are making Linux more attractive to schools.

"We sell a lot of Microsoft gear. [However], at a conference last year everybody was talking NT or Novell. Three days ago, everybody was talking about Linux," Harre says.

Woodruffe began working on the scheme with Linux analyst Dr Paul Bonnington in February as part of a year-long teaching fellowship, funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand. The trial lab of 15 computers in the mathematics department of Pakuranga College is, she says, working well.

"The aim of the CD is to make it easy to set up a computer and to solve classroom security problems," says Woodruffe.

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