Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Posts Categorized / Linux in Education

  • Feb 20 / 2014
  • 2
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Disastrous Donation Of 1800 GNU/Linux Notebooks To Schools May Have A Silver Lining

A business donated 1800 GNU/Linux notebooks to Romanian schools but they remain largely unused. Some have had that other OS installed. According to one principal, “It is impossible for teachers to teach using two different programs.”

That shows a spectacular lack of initiative and planning. It happens. Not every teacher and principal is a hero. Still, there is a silver lining. Having this debacle in the news will educate teachers. Clearly, they don’t understand that proper IT in schools is a powerful tool that should be optimally used regardless of software. If they didn’t know how to use the machines, they should have turned them over to students. Problem solved.

This is a problem from top to bottom in education. If FLOSS is not on the radar for planning, procurement, daily use and future development, schools will continue to have only feeble use of IT for education because M$ and “partners” care only about revenue and profit, not education. That keeps prices high and usability low. Crippled by the EULA and the need to force users to constantly upgrade, M$’s software is far from optimal for schools. GNU/Linux worked for every school where I showed it to folks and the problems of a different user-interface were tiny.

How much training did these teachers require to learn to use their Android/Linux smartphones? A brief introduction? That’s all that was missing here. The rest could easily have been supplied with a bit of imagination and creativity.

See Teachers Romania oblivious about open source.

  • Feb 18 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Digital Strategy

In a white paper recommending that organizations large and small have a digital strategy, IBM leads with these ideas:

  • “As of June 30, 2012, more than 2.4 billion people were Internet users.”
  • “By 2017, it is estimated that there will be more than 3.9 billion global mobile subscribers.”
  • “In a Pew Research Center study conducted in August and September 2012, nearly half of American adults (45 percent) and two-thirds of young adults (66 percent) reported that they own a smartphone”

Clearly a big shift is happening rather quickly. The adoption of the legacy PC and the use of legacy PCs to access the Internet were rather tame in comparison as M$ and Intel sought to tax adoption at every stage over decades. They restricted use at first only to business and the wealthy. Now small cheap computers are allowing the next couple of billion humans to become connected in real time in the space of a couple of years. The power of this shift is due to the comparatively low cost of production of ARMed small cheap computers running FLOSS and Moore’s Law bringing the cost of servers and clients down to acceptable levels. There are still billions of humans who cannot yet afford the new technology but it is everywhere so it is at least within reach.

This is all good for humanity. We are stronger and more capable together rather than divided. This is all good for consumers as they get a lot more for their money and investments in hardware and software. This is all good for producers as they don’t have to partner with a powerful monopoly holding them back. Organizations and individuals need to understand the new technology to see how it works for them.

When I was a teacher, I helped schools form a digital strategy limited only by the imaginations of staff and students rather than restrictive EULAs and budgets. Thanks to FLOSS schools were able to use their existing hardware to do far more: databases, internal websites, collaborative tools, search engines and the like, stuff they could not afford from M$’s “partners”. It was all $0 and took just a few minutes to install and an hour or so to configure for real needs. Instead of being a bottleneck and source of frustration the personal computers in the schools became powerful, reliable learning and collaborative tools.

IBM’s vision is much more complex and outward-looking but it’s the same idea. Use software and hardware for maximum benefit, not what M$ and “partners” offer. In this vision, Wintel is just a quaint memory unable to keep up with the pace of development and outrageously expensive.

See IBM Creating a digital strategy to provide exceptional digital experiences.

  • Feb 09 / 2014
  • 10
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

A Bunch Of Reasons Why I Use The GNU/Linux Operating System

I just read a trollish/clickbaitish article, you know, one of those “umpteen reasons to use that other OS…” things. It was sickening. All the usual arguments evanglists of M$ use wrapped in a “user-friendliness” package with a ribbon were there. I won’t even link to it. It was just too far gone. I will write my own such article based on real experiences in the real world.

I used to put up with that other OS when it crashed a dozen times a day. I saved files early and often… When almost every PC on Earth shipped with that, what was the choice? I knew about UNIX but the last time I checked folks wanted $1000 for permission to use it. I had never heard of Minix and I though GNU/Linux was just for computergeeks or huge companies. I had seen a guy attempt to install GNU/Linux just once. It was a disaster and lead to a CLI (commandline interface) that was foreign. I had used DOS a lot but this was different. Nevertheless, I was in the Arctic with five PCs running that other OS, Lose ’95 flavour, and one or another crashed almost hourly. What I had tolerated as an individual user for years was intolerable to me when I was a paid professional teacher in charge of the futures of two dozen real human beings entrusted to me by their parents.

I read that GNU/Linux didn’t crash and I had to have it. It took 10 days of nights and weekends at dial-up speed to get one CD of Caldera e-Desktop. I had never installed an OS before except copying DOS to a hard drive, but I figured it out and the installation was flawless, except I couldn’t get the GUI to run. I needed to look up data for our five different monitors and put the sweep frequencies into a file. So, a day or two later I had five PCs that didn’t crash. They ran six months without a single crash. I was sold.

M$ had been able to sell that crap because they had exclusive deals with OEMs, retailers, ISV’s (not so Independent Software Vendors) and had extended the monopoly granted by IBM to the ends of the Earth. IBM had adopted GNU/Linux a year or so before I discovered it so M$ had to change but GNU/Linux was far ahead in the stability department. I was amazed that a dying application could not lock up the OS. I learned about “Xkill” and carried on. We had an office suite, StarOffice, and a browser, Netscape, that did everything I knew how to do on a PC about education. I and my students were free of M$.

No student complained that GNU/Linux was not that other OS or that some list of applications would not run on it or that other OS was prettier. No one cared. The PCs loved it. The students loved it except for a couple whose parents thought more than 15 minutes per day was excessive use of a PC. My students were getting more than 60 minutes per day. It was like having another teacher in the room. I worked out lessons for students and distributed documents or papers to those PCs and the students took care of the rest. Vocabularies improved. Writing skills improved. I was able to give more attention to the rest of the class. What’s not to love about GNU/Linux?

Since then, the things I was able to get GNU/Linux to do for me multiplied greatly. I learned about file-sharing and printing and X and openSSH so I could control one or a hundred computers as if they were one bringing more computing power to each user as needed. The use of the hardware was only limited by my imagination and the imaginations of students and teachers, not some stupid EULA…

Let me tell you about M$’s EULA (End User Licence Agreement). First off, it’s not an agreement. You are forced to say you agree to it if you want to use your PC. That’s not an agreement. That’s extortion. Pay us if you want to stay in business… Further, the “agreement” is unconscionable. You have to agree not to connect more than X PCs together. Yep. A school with 100 XP machines on a LAN would be in violation if they shared files or ran thin clients. M$ wants you to cripple your PCs so they can sell you a “server” licence with a per-seat charge. Then there’s the thing about not studying the OS. You are not legally able to study M$’s OS and figure out what it’s doing to you. M$ also wants you to agree that M$ should be able to install whatever malware it wants on your computer. M$ wants to use the hardware you own to work for M$. For agreeing to this enslavement, they also charge a fee. That’s insane.

GNU/Linux on the other hand runs on FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) licences. The common theme is that you can run the software any way you want on as many computers as you want making as many copies as you want and you may study the software including source code and/or modify it… Oh… Vive la difference…

That’s Software Freedom, actually freedom for developers and users to make the best use of IT. If you are a developer you will like the fact that you can start a huge project from scratch and reuse and modify all the software you can get legally and without a fee in most cases. That enables anyone to start a huge project that could go far for very little cost. That’s perfect for students, young folk and start-ups as well as individuals and organizations. It doesn’t get any better than that. If you’re a user, you can use your hardware to full advantage with few restrictions, very little cost and no organization can tell you what to do with your hardware. It doesn’t get any better than that.

GNU/Linux largely uses open standards so whatever applications and computers you have can all talk to each other and speak the same languages. That allows you to turn a lab or a school into a super-computer as needed. That allows you to set up as many databases, search engines, web-servers, clients thick (resourceful) and thin (using resources of a server), as you need, want or can afford. Basically, you don’t need a brand new PC to get great performance if you can connect to another powerful computer running the software you need. GNU/Linux lets you do that transparently.

Let me give you an example. I like the application, GNUmeric, for doing spreadsheets. It makes the lovely graphs I display on my blog. They are SVG so they scale nicely no matter what size your screen. They take just a few seconds for me to set up from templates and they are infinitely customisable. The latest version of GNUmeric does not run directly on the version of GNU/Linux I have on my main PC, Beast. It wants the latest version of GNU/Linux. So, I set up another PC, a virtual one, that runs on Beast, installed the latest version of GNU/Linux from the Debian organization, and interact with it as if it were installed on Beast in the usual way by creating an icon that runs this simple command, ssh -Y jessie “gnumeric”. The “ssh” part runs a remote secure shell on the other computer, jessie. The “gnumeric” part runs GNUmeric for me on the other PC and the -Y part connect the application to my PC in a transparent fashion, a window automatically appears in front of me and I’m off. I also share the directories where I download and keep my documents so the apparent file-structure on Jessie is identical to my normal one. It’s all transparent to me, the user. I basically get to use two PCs as if they were one. If necessary, I could make Jessie some powerful super-computer and get better performance, or I could run more applications simultaneously by having more RAM on two systems than I could on one or… See? It’s only limited by my imagination, not some crazy EULA designed to sell more licences to remove crippling. The city of Largo in Florida does this for all their major applications. There are a bunch of powerful servers running their pet application for hundreds of users who access the application from small cheap computers on their desks. This is the lowest cost and the highest performing system you can have. Essentially, you don’t need a noisy, bulky heat-source in your working environment. It can be cool and quiet and serene thanks to GNU/Linux. M$? They charge extra for that and you still have all the other problems of that other OS: malware, re-re-reboots and the damned EULA.

So, we’ve covered reliability and flexibility and freedom. What about the actual design of the software? GNU/Linux has many parts. The GNU part is an ancient imitation of the UNIX OS from the olden days. The Linux part is a kernel that knows just about every bit of hardware you can connect to a PC and a benevolent dictator, Linus Torvalds, herds the Linux developers/cats in good directions, keeping things from breaking as much as possible and always trying to improve performance and security. On the other hand, M$ is anxious to sell as many licences as possible by every trick in the book including breaking things so a new licence will fix things until M$ needs more money, inviting malware in so computers slow down or “fail” and they are not above installing stuff that slows down your computer so you constantly feel the need to buy a new one, hoping faster hardware would save you from M$. M$ is run by salesmen. GNU/Linux is a product of the world which can and does make its own software to work for us not against us.

Have I missed anything? Probably. I will finish with some of the fabulous software I use in my home doing the computing that I do. There’s no lack of valuable software available from the Debian GNU/Linux repositories and I can install any of it in a few minutes by typing simple commands or clicking a mouse a few times.

  • Gnumeric, which I have described above,
  • LibreOffice, a general office suite which does almost everything perfectly for me except huge documents and the graphs in spreadsheets,
  • Lyx is what I like to create huge documents like books. It allows the writer to concentrate on content rather than formatting,
  • Inkscape is a programme designed to create and modify SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) images,
  • FireFox web browser,
  • ImageMagick, a toolbox for handling image files,
  • Gimp, a complex image editor, capable of almost anything for images used on the web or computer screen,
  • VLC, a video viewer/streamer/convertor,
  • Mplayer, a video player,
  • OpenShot video editor,
  • SoX, audio toolbox,
  • Audacity, audio editor,
  • Apache web server,
  • MySQL/MariaDB database,
  • PostgreSQL database,
  • Swish-e search engine,
  • Recoll search engine,
  • AutoKey, which inserts various strings in my texts by typing simple “hot keys”,
  • APT software packaging system,
  • and thousand of others

Notice that several of these are usually found on servers, not PCs, like Apache or MySQL. That’s OK. GNU/Linux doesn’t limit your freedom to run whatever you want wherever you want. Remember? Some trolls might mention that most of these can run on that other OS but if I don’t have to sell my soul to use my PC, why should I run that other OS? I don’t owe M$ a living. I don’t own M$ anything. If anything, I should send M$ a bill for the thousands of re-re-reboots they inflicted on me over the years.

There, I’m done. There are no good reasons for me to run that other OS and plenty for me to run Debian GNU/Linux. You should too unless you’re a slave and want to remain a slave.

  • Feb 06 / 2014
  • 2
Linux in Education, technology

Smartphones And Other Small Cheap Computers Can Do it All?

Display Search has a blog entry about the future of computing.

  • “How will the smartphone differentiate itself from mobile PCs and tablets, aside from screen size?”
  • “What are smartphone makers working on to advance the smartphone revolution? How does the industry visualize the future of smartphones?”
  • “When will we start to see mobile PCs, tablet PCs, and smartphones converge, if ever?”
  • “Are there any smartphone characteristics that mobile PCs and tablets will never be able to emulate?”

They ask how much of IT will be about the smartphone. Some elements:

I think the future is now for consumers. The smartphone is the first line of computing for them. Consumers carry smartphones in pocket, purse, and holster, ready for anything from finding a route to travel, checking prices, taking photos, recording audio and video, and of course, talking. Many young people can type just as fast on a smartphone as they can on a real keyboard. It’s not that fast but it’s plenty good enough for the vast majority of users. I commented:
“Convergence is the key. Consumers have already decided a smartphone is a small cheap computer they can use for almost anything. Tablets, notebooks and desktops will all have to fight for share in the new universe of devices. I expect to see monitors, keyboard, mice and projectors that work with smartphones just as well as tablets, notebooks and desktops. I expect that most consumers will be able to choose their computer on price/performance from any style. I expect that businesses, governments, schools and organizations will all follow that lead. Unlike monopoly which stifles innovation, choice in the market will now eliminate all barriers to computing whether it is on price, performance, portability, size, complexity or maintainability. We are witnessing the personal computing revolution that was hijacked by Microsoft now free to evolve naturally, with the fittest surviving. The future of IT will be about diversity, not a small set of narrowly defined options.”

Look at it this way. The tiny mammals out-lasted the dinosaurs because they could reproduce faster and adapt better to changing conditions. The small cheap computers are kicking butt.

via Can the Smartphone Do it All?.

  • Feb 05 / 2014
  • 3
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Schools Allowing Drug-Dealers To Operate In The Parking Lots

No, not literally, but figuratively, the generosity of many IT-companies to “help” schools afford IT is more about enslaving students to use and be locked-in to those companies’ products rather than choosing what works best for the students and teachers. I am surprised that M$ is not on the list…

  • “Apple’s pledging $100 million in iPads, Macbooks, products and teacher training.”
  • “AT&T is giving $100 million in mobile broadband for 3 years to middle schools and for teacher development.”
  • “The Verizon Foundation is giving $100 million to educate teachers, with the Verizon Innovative Leading Schools program, among other initiatives.”
  • “Autodesk will offer free design software to every secondary school.”

Sigh… No one should have to donate software for schools because FLOSS is already ~$0. They can use it for the price of a download. Training? Just use it. Most software can be figured out in a few minutes of poke-and-click. The web is full of collaborative sites that require little or no training. Know a school for FaceBook? GMail? The concept of requiring training in schools is silly. That’s just a euphemism for allowing salesmen into schools. Just turn the students loose on it and they will put it to good use within the first hour. The benefits are only limited by imaginations of users, not the agreements companies force on schools.

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux for schools. I have worked in dozens of schools where clients and servers just hummed on the LAN, trouble-free and fast with tons of FLOSS. Put a start-page on the browsers and stand back. Learning will happen. It will be hard to prevent. I have set up Moodle course management system in schools and local copies of Wikipedia, all for $0 and a few minutes of my time.

The high-speed Internet access is welcome, but how about cabling and wireless in the schools? How about gigabit/s to servers and multimedia stations? Is it there? What about thin clients? Is this “help” limited to expensive thick clients or to the optimal solution, thin client/server, for most tasks in education? Will students be able to learn anything beyond dependence on some monopolists?

See Apple And Others Fund $750 Million In Education Gadgets And Internet Broadband.

  • Feb 02 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, technology

Letter From Cyberspace

Out of the blue I received an e-mail:
“Dear sir,
20140202 Thanks for your website. I much enjoyed it.
Due to link from a Linux User Group, I visited your website. May I thank you for your informative reports on Linux use in schools. While I dual boot or use Linux (OpenSUSE13.1)in Virtual machine on my work machine (Windows 7 with MS Office as base OS) as I need to be compatible with the company I consult to as they are rigidly an MS set up; and unfortunately Linux does not have a FOSS UK VAT ( GSTax) program so I do my company books on Windows with Quickbooks.
I noted your comments that some programs interact only with Windows because of proprietary programs only working on Windows. Here In UK and European Union there is at least a movement away to FOSS software for government use. Germany some towns (Munich, in France the Customs set up and Gendarme forces, and in Norway of course they use SkolLinux.
Thanks for your reports and my greetings to you. I lived in Calgary for many years and my wife taught in Saskatchewan before we returned to UK.”

I thanked the correspondent and made this reply:
“The world can and does make its own software and because we are in a hole we dug with tools from M$ is no reason not to fill in the hole. Monopoly does none of us any good. What efficiency is gained by using common methods is lost through high prices and inflexibility. In schools where I worked there was much less lock-in and students and teachers thrived on great performance from old computers thanks to Debian GNU/Linux.”

The letter does describe reality for many individuals and organizations large and small. M$ created a monopoly with many lock-ins, layers of them, but it’s still worthwhile to break out. Gaining freedom is a one-time cost with infinite future benefits. From time to time the benefits may change but they are huge and real. For me, the first benefit was performance and I recouped all my effort in the first week of use. Organizations that are severely locked in may take years to recoup the investment to migrate to GNU/Linux but they will break even and laugh all the way to the bank and with an improved competitive position in their own activity.

  • Jan 31 / 2014
  • 4
Linux in Education, technology

Schools and Public Libraries

When I was young, public libraries played a huge role in my education. Schools had tiny libraries, barely usable and overwhelmed by numbers of users. We just could not afford to buy a ton of books beyond a few door-to-door encyclopedia, magazines and newspapers. The nearest public libraries were great places to borrow the books we needed and to do serious research. Now, in the Internet Age, libraries must change.

Carolyn Fox: “Public libraries (and public schools) have a critical role to play with improving the dearth of diversity in coding and open source.”

Internet access are today’s books, mail and messaging. It’s time libraries did more than lip-service. If businesses won’t serve the needs of the people, governments and charities should. Any community without widely available and affordable wireless access should at least provide good access in schools and libraries with no quotas. That takes money for hardware and service but they’re not spending as much on dead trees, so…

I suggest schools and libraries use recycled PCs running GNU/Linux. That will cost them little for hardware and software. I did just that for years when I was a teacher and my schools had the most wonderful resources at minimal cost: databases, search engines, filing systems, collaboration suites and all kinds of education utilities just for the cost of downloading. By keeping resources on local servers, our Internet connection did not bog down.

  • Jan 28 / 2014
  • 2
Linux in Education, technology

Finnish Schools Save Big With FLOSS

“Municipalities in Finland that have switched their schools to Linux and other open source solutions are saving millions of euro. Typically, our centrally managed open source computers are at least 40 percent cheaper than the proprietary alternative. The total savings could be 10 million.” This is what I have been writing about all these years. Using FLOSS and GNU/Linux in schools saves a bundle. There are the licensing costs straight up and then there is the flexibility of the GPL versus the restrictions of the EULA. Configuration and operation are trivial by comparison with FLOSS, because you can do whatever you want immediately. I’ve seen it repeatedly. New systems cost half as much and migrating old systems costs a fraction of that. The saving in money is important but so is the saving in time. In a typical school the effort could drop from many hours per week to minutes.

See Finnish schools using open source reap savings.

  • Jan 27 / 2014
  • 1
Linux in Education, technology

A Fine Example Of FLOSS, Students and Teachers Working Well

“Many school 1:1 programs restrict what students may do and learn with their devices. Installation or modification of software is typically restricted, often draconically, to IT personnel. This common practice cripples learning and dishonors students’ autonomy. In contrast, our program begins with a deep level of trust; student accounts are given sudo privileges and granted the liberty to install programs, spin configuration knobs, and freely experiment with the universe of open source software. Novice and accomplished students are welcomed and encouraged to learn the art of computing and pursue personal passions and interests. By starting the conversation with "We trust you," and providing an open platform for learning, we set in motion a train of student inquiry and discovery.” When I was a teacher, I trusted my students and was rarely disappointed. Students thrive when they own the educational experience. That’s true whether it’s mathematics, science or information technology that is the subject matter. The school in TFA article is allowing students to build operating systems, set up PCs and roll-out software. Good for them. I’ve turned students loose on PCs with screwdrivers and vacuum cleaners with no breakage. Students became adept at disassembling and reassembling ATX PCs. Installing software was easy. Even girls who, in high school, may have chosen non-computer-geek paths, can get into it and put to shame the computer-savvy boys who may not have as good an eye for detail and fine manual dexterity. It’s all good.

See Educators to jump on board with open source once they learn to trust.

See also Welcome to the Laptop Machine, where they describe the factory where students roll out the systems. It’s FLOSS throughout. No need for that other OS, budgets or severe lockdown to hold students back.

  • Jan 23 / 2014
  • 3
Linux in Education, technology

APEC Legacy PC Market Shrinks by 10% in 2013

“IDC’s preliminary results show that the Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) PC market declined 10% in full year 2013 to reach 108 million units.”So much for an expectation of good news tomorrow in M$’s quarterly report… Asia is the biggest growth centre for IT and the legacy PC is not part of that growth. Further, IDC predicts that in Philippines the rampant growth of tablets, and the resulting negative feedback on legacy PCs, will continue in 2014. About the only bright spot for legacy PCs was in India where the government is stuffing them into schools, often with GNU/Linux [1][2][3]

See Asia/Pacific PC Market Shrinks by 10% in 2013; Marks Region's First Annual Double Digit Decline.

  • Jan 22 / 2014
  • 5
Linux in Education, technology

FLOSS Works – Flexibility, Performance and Price in IT

You just can’t beat FLOSS for flexibility, performance and price. FLOSS licences allow users to run, examine, modify and distribute the code. What else could you do with it? Nothing. It just works for users. Because their are no secrets about FLOSS the performance is as good as anyone wants. Otherwise they would improve it further. The price? $0, usually, plus a little installation and maintenance. It’s all gravy.
“Oslo Library’s Digital Services team explains on its website that it selected KOHA after having considered purchasing proprietary alternatives and developing one of their own. Decision criteria included the possibility to adapt the system to future needs, the potential for integrating it with other systems and the costs involved in procurement and operations.”

See More libraries switch to KOHA catalogue system.

The same choices could be made for any FLOSS, from the GNU/Linux OS to desktop and server applications. The world can and does make its own software and it’s hard to beat.

Check out Debian GNU/Linux and Koha, two of my favourite packages of FLOSS. You don’t have to be a large organization to use either. Even a single user on a single PC can benefit from using either.

  • Jan 20 / 2014
  • 5
Linux in Education, technology

The Price Of IT These Days

I am glad I have lived to see the day. Today, consumers are paying what IT costs plus a bit for the profit of designing, making, distributing, servicing and selling of the devices. Gone are the days when folks like M$ and Intel just wrote zeroes into the price, what they could get away with given the Wintel monopoly on retail shelves. Today, we wouldn’t pay $1 for a screw that costs 1 just because M$ or anyone else has a monopoly on screws sold retail. That’s just as silly for software and hardware as it was for Wintel personal computers.

“The average BOM cost for a white-box tablet – most of which adopted a dual-core processors – stood at about US$25 as of the fourth quarter of 2013. Dual-core processor pricing could not drop any furrther, as their average prices came to about US$4, only less than US$1 higher than that of a single-core one.”

The result is likely that billions more human beings will be able to join the human race of IT-users. That’s good for all of us as communication bridges barriers and has potential to make us all more harmonious and friendly. At the same time businesses and organizations large and small will really be able to act locally while thinking globally. This is important for individuals, education, government, business, and all the daily things we do.

I see this commoditisation of hardware also being a boon for software freedom, the licensing of software with permission to run, examine, modify and distribute software with no strings attached because it delivers software at the lowest cost through re-use, reducing duplication, and recycling software and the ideas it represents. It’s all good. This stimulates creativity everywhere in every way because the cost of entry into the software business is least and the number of users accessible to a developer is maximized.

See China white-box makers add extra value to tablets as cost reduction is no longer possible.

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