Monday, May 4, 2009

5 Reasons Linux Belongs in Schools

It seems that whenever someone I know replaces their old computer, it ends up down in my basement. My wife jokingly refers to it as the place where computers go to die. Admittedly many are in some state of disassembly or simply don't even start, but toying around with them is a fun hobby that costs nothing. And I haven't started the house on fire yet.

Every computer but one is running some flavor of Linux operating system. Linux is in distant 3rd place behind Mac and Windows operating systems, but it works great on my project computers because they are usually outdated with limited resources. Just mentioning the word Vista around them would cause them to turn to dust, so an Linux operating system that is under 50mb is the obvious alternative.

The other day I was working on installing the newest version of Ubuntu on a Dell laptop, and I was thinking about all the possibilities that Linux has over Windows. It prompted this tweet:

I use my laptop running Xandros Linux at school every day and it never fails me. I can do more with it than the Windows machines that live in my classroom. My Twitter message was supposed to reflect this, but 140 characters must not have been enough, because I immediately received this response from @jerridkruse:

So here is my belated (and >140 character response) answer to Jerrid's question.

Linux is Free
Linux is free to download, distribute, and use. Every application for Linux is free of charge and open source. Imagine the amount of money a district would save by trimming Microsoft from its budget. It is also free to upgrade (a distribution like Ubuntu guarantees new versions every few months) so a district would never have to worry about obsolescence.

Linux is Secure
While there are free anti-virus programs for Linux, they're pretty irrelevant because there are hardly any viruses for Linux. In two years' time, I have never been infected by a virus on a Linux machine, while an unprotected Windows machine gets hit within about 40 minutes of going online.

Linux is Versatile
Not only is Linux free as in no cost, it is also free as in freedom. The source code for the Linux kernel is freely available (unlike Windows or Mac that keeps their inner-workings top secret), which means schools could customize Linux to fit their specific needs and resources. In fact, many universities – University at Buffalo for one – already do this.

Linux is Capable
Many Linux nay-sayers complain that there aren't enough resources. It's true that Windows software does not work on Linux, but it's also true that for virtually every piece of Windows software, there's at least one free, open source alternative for Linux. Microsoft Office? Use OpenOffice. Photoshop? Use Gimp. Publisher? Use Scribus. Inspiration? Use Freemind. They're all excellent. And besides, a little diversity is good for students. After all, shouldn't we be teaching the process instead of the program used?

Linux is the Future
Plain and simple, Linux is not going away, and it's continually growing in popularity. Major companies are now offering computers shipped with Linux. Cell phones, ATMs, even Ebay – all run on Linux. Every school mission statement says something about preparing for the future. It is likely that these kids will someday be put in a job where they will need to work alongside Linux.


One thing needs to be made clear - Linux is not the same as Windows, and there's much more to it than what I wrote here. But if you are comfortable Googling answers to any Linux questions this post leaves you with, then you will probably be comfortable giving Linux a spin. Let me know if you need a hand.
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