Solution Finds A Problem

The Chromebook, essentially a browser built into a thin-ish client, has not been wildly successful in the marketplace because many people find it limiting compared to thick clients but there are exceptions. Education has some unique requirements:

  • Young people are young and inexperienced so a limited environment is a perfect way to protect them from themselves as well as a lot of other dangers in an anything-goes environment.
  • Schools and educators are not IT experts but need to serve in the place of parents when children are at school.
  • Students don’t need the latest version of every feature-bloated app. In fact, it’s much easier to teach the important principles of IT using stripped-down minimal software. The important uses of IT in education are efficiently finding, creating, modifying, storing and presenting information. A thin client can do those things better than a thick client because servers can be beefier than thick clients and still fit the budget (and just about everything is in RAM except users’ data).
  • Oh, yes. Thin clients like Chromebooks cost less to acquire and cost less to maintain simply because they have fewer parts.
  • Students have wide ranges of ability and a client system that is simpler will be usable by just about every one.
  • Schools can set up their own servers or web portals as start-pages and make every web application and database in the school system easy to find.
  • Using thin clients means schools have fewer machines to configure/maintain/upgrade. That costs much less, performs more reliably and is much more secure.

Google has expressed surprise that Chromebooks are popular with schools. I’m not surprised. I’ve been there and done that. Thin clients work in education. A bonus for everyone is that the software is based on Linux so it works for the users/owners and not M$ which provides software to schools to lock-in students and keep revenue flowing, something that is not part of an educational system’s mandate.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
This entry was posted in Linux in Education, technology. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Solution Finds A Problem

  1. oldman wrote, “There is no need to cripple computing just because of misbehaved kids.”

    Of course, oldman equates using other technology as crippling IT. That’s a rather poor attempt at “reductio ad absurdum“. It totally neglects the fact that almost any IT is absolutely wonderful compared to none, which is about the only alternative parents have. Parents can barely manage their own IT let alone their kids. That’ why things like openDNS exist, so parents can use a whitelist. Is that “crippled IT”? Nope, just well-managed IT. There’s also my favourite, DansGuardian, so those who want can manage their own whitelists/filtering behaviours.

    Calling any technology, other than their favourite, “crippled” is a remnant of M$’s “Technological Evangelism“.

    “Evangelism’s goal is to put the final nail into the competing technology’s coffin, and bury it in the burning depths of the earth. Ideally, use of the competing technology becomes associated with mental deficiency, as in, “he believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and OS/2.” Just keep rubbing it in, via the press, analysts, newsgroups, whatever. Make the complete failure of the competition’s technology part of the mythology of the computer industry. We want to place selection pressure on those companies and individuals that show a genetic weakness for competitors’ technologies, to make the industry increasingly resistant to such unhealthy strains, over time.”

  2. oldman says:

    “Dr Loser lock down against brats.”

    the best lockdown against the corner case of brats is to hold their parents responsible for the little darlings damage.

    There is no need to cripple computing just because of misbehaved kids.

  3. oiaohm says:

    Dr Loser lock down against brats. Depends on the tablet anything with a TPM chip can be quite locked down by Linux. Thing is since the local admin is in control you don’t have third party sourced software working. Yes debian can be locked to one repo only the one the admin downloads and signs the binaries for tpm usage. Anything non signed does not run in the network.

    Chromebook current ones are about the same number because they do include a 16 G solid state drive that is replaceable. With anything other than chromeos installed you will be wasting 30 sec each boot up and have to say no each time to restoring to chromeos.

    Schools like Chromebooks for the same reason they like OLPC. They are simple to reset for sure to clean slate. Windows 8 reset to clean slate is not 100 percent sure that it will be. OLPC and Chromebooks are using firmware termination of currently installed OS. So machine will be 100 percent right also both include hardware diagnostics on OS reinstall. With only writeable firmware by the firmware. These are secuirty strong devices and only take a few mins to clean up from what ever the brat has done to fully operational again.

    Chromebooks can restore OS from USB key just like the OLPC can. Even better OLPC images can be on the same USB key as the Chromebooks. Each one will only load the image setup for it. USB keys with a write protect switch is great with these devices.

    OLPC schools can choose to deploy there own custom OS images without causing the machine to have 30sec slow boot. Can you place chromeos on OLPC yep you can.

    These are basically two Linux systems fighting out for space. Both have valid reasons. Both can be restored to full function without using external Internet connection.

    So when you have kids that are not Internet ready you don’t have to let them on the Internet with either device just so the OS works. Or run some other tricky auth servers. Windows activation is a big problem with deploying windows in schools some machines need never connect to the internet.

  4. Dr Loser says:

    @Robert:

    “Thin clients like Chromebooks cost less to acquire and cost less to maintain simply because they have fewer parts.”

    I see you are adding production engineering, industrial distribution and logistics, and purchasing department operations to your already fabled list of mathematical, statistical, and accountancy expertise.

    Fewer parts? Leaving aside the question of whether a Chromebook has fewer parts than any other tablet (which I would beg to doubt), or even a laptop (OK, one more part for a laptop: a hard disk), hasn’t it occurred to you that not all parts are created equal? And that there is consequently no such thing as a unit cost per part?

    All very entertaining, this stuff.

    And, to follow on from Hanson, why aren’t you promoting GNU/Debian on tablets? You can lock it down for those untrustworthy brats. It doesn’t have to be Google branded.

    Heck, you could even buy them an Amazon Kindle Fire, which does the same thing, is half the price, is subsidised by Amazon (for nefarious commercial purposes) and even gives them a back library of several tens of thousands of e-books to read.

    Sometimes I find your arguments hard to fathom, even given your own axioms.

  5. Hanson says:

    I forgot: you can, of course, install Debian on them after those three years. That’s a sure win then. Even though you could’ve spent considerably less in the first place by buying normal and more powerful computers, even with this dreadful “Windows tax” included. But apparently the cost these days is much higher with Debian installations, so you have to buy Chromebooks. It’s a pity that not every school has a dedicated teacher who can dabble in the dark arts of Linux.

  6. Hanson says:

    I excuse in advance for another tedious post, but here goes:

    “Young people are young and inexperienced so a limited environment is a perfect way to protect them from themselves as well as a lot of other dangers in an anything-goes environment.”

    Why don’t we read again in your post about “Really small cheap computers in education” from May 6th, 2011? It’s about the Raspberry Pi and the goals of its inventors.

    “An organization has developed a prototype of a small cheap computer on a USB stick that could bring back the enthusiasm of young people for IT that they had in the 1980s with the Ohio Scientific Superboard, and other inexpensive PCs for ordinary people.”

    “The speaker makes the point that ‘using a PC’ stifles the creativity of young people who are curious and want to understand how things work rather than what others want you them to do with a PC. A lot of the vitriol on this blog is about that. Some folks think it is just fine to use M$’s software and no other. Others think we should cast off such limitations.”

    “Vitriol”, “cast off such limitations”.

    It seems to me that a Chromebook is perfect for NOT doing that. But suddenly, because it’s the Chromebook by your buddies from Google, you have not a problem anymore with “stifling the creativity of young people”.

    “A bonus for everyone is that the software is based on Linux so it works for the users/owners and not M$ which provides software to schools to lock-in students and keep revenue flowing, something that is not part of an educational system’s mandate.”

    Right, a glorified browser on top of Linux which is only usable in conjunction with Google is a top choice for education. Because you don’t have any kind of lock-in whatsoever.

    But you know what’s best for education? After three years you can keep your leased-from-Google Chromebooks. After you’ve spent at least $20 x 12 x 3 = $720 on them. You now have lame, three year old computers, which were never strong to begin with, with non-standard keyboards which are missing such things as meta-keys (for example, many Linux desktops nowadays use this pesky “Windows” key for crucial functions). Great deal!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>