Monoculture in Education

I was browsing this morning and came upon an advertisement for system administrator for a small northern Canadian school division. I was surprised to see that there was not a single mention of a GNU/Linux product involved, not even on servers. They were locked in securely to the Wintel world, even in their virtual machines.

I have worked in places like that a decade ago, but thought them totally obsolete by now. Even the most staid organizations see that GNU/Linux has its place, particularly in servers. I was working in one such place and was encouraged to give a presentation to all the IT people about rolling out a GNU/Linux server in each school. That was 2004. Eight years later, to still find M$-only shops still exist is surprising.

Since that time I have had very little push-back when I proposed complete or partial migration to GNU/Linux. It just makes so much sense in schools:

  • no per-unit licensing costs,
  • freedom to run the code on anything, and to distribute the code to everyone connected with the school, including students,
  • huge repositories of software for every application in education from file/print to sophisticated databases and collaboration applications installable in minutes,
  • no need to track “certificates of authenticity” or to allow software to “phone home”, and
  • complete control over every aspect of IT in the schools making the best use of hardware.

Why would any school make itself dependent on a monopoly bent on making money instead of educating students?

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux for schools. It’s the right way to do IT. Some examples of tools available in a few minutes on any server or PC in a GNU/Linux system:

GNU/Linux is so easy to set up in a school and it just works trouble-free for years unlike that other OS which requires constant updates and anti-virus to keep running and needs periodic re-installations. With GNU/Linux you will not be forced to upgrade your hardware and you can run it until it dies. That is really good for the budget and the taxpayers. In short there are no good reasons to use that other OS and plenty of good reasons to use GNU/Linux in education.

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. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Monoculture in Education

  1. oiaohm says:

    oldman
    “And this is fine, because most commercial NAS servers are also administer-able using standard windows tools as well.”
    That is a feature of the later ones in the samba 3 series.

    oldman
    “SAMBA 4 is still not out the door in production code This being handed the protocol and being helped by microsoft. Even when it does, its going to be one to two years before it is stable enough and trusted enough to make its way into the commercial products that are going to guarantee its spread. even THEN is is highly doubtful that anyone is going to trust for any advanced functions for quite some time.”

    This is what is called head in sand problem. Samba 4 doing ADS is already in some commercial NAS products. Funny enough the major delay with Samba 4 is not ADS. Its doing the newer file sharing so group policies work perfectly that is the delay.

    Problem is
    “And if they are not going to trust SAMBA 4, why should they trust openchange 1.0 and zpush?”

    z-push is already used by a lot of commercial bodies it also appears in some NAS boxes already. Yes the ones with a mail server option that allows mobiles to connect. You don’t need samba 4 to run z-push.

    The problem here oldman are Linux based Nas boxes perfect replacements for Windows. Answer is no. Are they good enough todo the roles answer for lots of cases yes.

    openchange 1.0 to be correct is exactly like z-push it does not store anything. z-push takes active-sync protocol and splits it into rfc standard protocols to go into other back ends. openchange also does not store email takes mapi and breaks it into rfc protocols.

    Neither of them are really risking your data. They remove the need to install connectors into devices. Storage used behind both of them can have more years of testing than exchange. So really why should I trust something like exchange that has had less testing.

    In fact a lot of business use this http://www.openchange.org/images/openchange/conferences/download/openchange_courses_002_understanding_mapiproxy.pdf already to reduce VPN stress. openchange 1.0 is just a step up from this allowing the proxy to connect to a non exchange servers. Just needs ADS to pull this off. You can use openchange 1.0 with with a MS ADS server so you don’t need exchange right now.

    oldman if you have many locations using a vpn or equal to connect central copy of exchange somewhere and you are not using mapiproxy from openchange to reduce the traffic you should be shot.

    This is the problem oldman I am not talking about introduction of techs that have not been in enterprise for quite some time. I am talking about those items being able to operate without the MS product.

    Neither of z-push or openchange is 100 percent dependant on Samba 4. z-push is in fact not at all.

    Openchange is dependant to the point if you want to run without an exchange server somewhere and without paying a Windows license you need a samba 4 or using some of its really advanced functions. Even so with a Samba4 this can still expand its function if you keep on using exchange.

    Yes Samba 4 with Openchange can reduce a site to requiring only 1 device Cal per site on the Exchange server if you remain using Exchange. Since only 1 device is connecting to the exchange server the device running Openchange and Samba 4.

    Also this makes controlling vpn traffic simpler.

    Openchange 1.0 you can choose to remain Exhchange or use a different group-ware servers.

    If you go threw the slides notice at end that you can scan the traffic at each vpn point for infections. So slowing network spread back and know what section of your network its coming from.

    oldman I am not making assumption based on the idea businesses will have to add this tech. I am making assumption since business are already using this tech they will expand its usage to reduce there costs. Cutting exchange to 1 device call per location or less. is a hell of a income cut.

    You are out of touch oldman. Coming out with the idea businesses would have to grow trust for it. Lot of businesses already trust openchange. This is a house of cards thing. MS cannot simply break compatibility with it.

  2. Clarence Moon says:

    There are so many restrictions, the thing is pretty well useless as an application server

    Incredible, Mr. Pogson! I guess the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on web service generation and client level consumption via smart phones, tablets, and personal computers is a totally lost cause and some Simple Simon file sharing scheme added to a terminal/server architecture is the real way to go after all.

    Can you find any phone app or tablet app of any level of successful acceptance that is not either a completely stand-alone app on the device or does not involve a focused web service either over the internet or a local intranet for networked functions?

  3. oldman says:

    “As oldman and Clarence Moon stated end users don’t care as long as it acts as a Windows machine so MS is doomed in the server room as Linux gets able to be more and more like a windows machine.”

    Actually all I said was that a NAS appliance that mimic’ed a windows file server would work well in a situation where cost and east of use was key. And this is fine, because most commercial NAS servers are also administer-able using standard windows tools as well.

    But you may have a point When I can manage a linux host remotely using powershell or windows system administrator tools so that it looks no different that a windows box, then you would have something.

    But of you think that that level of function and feature is coming any time soon for your vaunted community, you are just IMHO clueless and incompetent.

  4. oldman says:

    “No its not a interesting factoid. NAS boxes running Linux can do more than NAS in a lot of cases.”

    Most people buy NAS boxes for what they do – provide a windows compliant file share without the hassle of managing a windows server. The fact that you personally can hack them into doing something else is irrelevant. If people don’t want the hassle of a windows server (or any server) they IMHO more than likely aren’t going to buy into using some hacked up appliance whose stability has been compromised by the hacking.

    SAMBA 4 is still not out the door in production code This being handed the protocol and being helped by microsoft. Even when it does, its going to be one to two years before it is stable enough and trusted enough to make its way into the commercial products that are going to guarantee its spread. even THEN is is highly doubtful that anyone is going to trust for any advanced functions for quite some time.

    And if they are not going to trust SAMBA 4, why should they trust openchange 1.0 and zpush?

    Incompetence on your part to make such an assumption IMHO.

  5. oiaohm says:

    oldman
    “The fact that the NAS solution in question is running linux is nothing more than a factoid – It acts like a windows device and that all that counts.”
    No its not a interesting factoid. NAS boxes running Linux can do more than NAS in a lot of cases.

    Clarence Moon I also would have thought you would have used some brains here. No Windows license sold No MS.
    “Sure the stand-alone storage devices and printers, too, probably have some form of Linux or similar firmware embedded inside and no one gives a hoot, Mr. O. It is just part of the hardware as far as anyone actually cares.”
    Ok who pays for most of the Linux kernel and Samba development. End users don’t the largest investment is the embedded devices.

    Clarence Moon
    “The answer, of course, is when you want to run Exchange, SharePoint, or SQL Server. That is what modern companies do.”

    Answer is not at all in a very short time. Exchange is highly ADS dependant. Openchange(Mapi outlook) and Zpush(active sync mobile devices) that replaces Exchange is waiting on Samba 4 ADS. So NAS servers will be able todo Exchange equal.

    SharePoint there is Alfresco. SQL Server really do you think that is going to be enough.

    Exchange, SharePoint are provided by Microsoft as cloud services if you trust them.

    As oldman and Clarence Moon stated end users don’t care as long as it acts as a Windows machine so MS is doomed in the server room as Linux gets able to be more and more like a windows machine.

    Really both of you oldman and Clarence moon just stated exactly what I suspected you don’t care if server room is Windows only that it work and is cheep. Funny that the anti-linux camp is stating exactly why Windows is stuffed.

  6. oldman wrote, “The Web Server edition of windows can host web applications without needs for CAL’s avoid the need for CAL’s by using a Windows compliant NAS box.”

    Chuckle. oldman doesn’t do maths very well.

    Web server edition = half the price, but
    “Windows Web Server 2008 R2 FAQs
    Q: Can Windows Web Server 2008 R2 be used as a file server or an application server?
    A: No. Windows Web Server 2008 R2 can be used solely to deploy Internet-facing webpages, websites, web applications, web services,
    and POP3 mail serving.
    Q: When using Windows Web Server 2008 R2, are customers restricted to running only non-enterprise­level database application
    software with the server software?
    A: No. With Windows Web Server 2008 R2, customers may run any level of enterprise or non-enterprise database application software
    with the server software.
    Q: Can database software running on Windows Web Server 2008 R2 support external applications running on other servers?
    A: No. The database software may support only applications that are running on the same local instance of Windows Web Server 2008
    R2.”

    There are so many restrictions, the thing is pretty well useless as an application server. Do you want world+uncle accessing company data without authentication.

    “Is access through the Internet and user/device anonymous?
    Yes to both
    No CAL required.”

    see Pricing and Licensing Guide

  7. Clarence Moon says:

    So yes there is server participation just happens to be in a form you are not seeing as existing.

    So what? The issue was about needing CAL licenses when one has Windows based servers and that is a straw man, bugbear that doesn’t exist in the modern world. Sure the stand-alone storage devices and printers, too, probably have some form of Linux or similar firmware embedded inside and no one gives a hoot, Mr. O. It is just part of the hardware as far as anyone actually cares.

    So there is a big question when do you need a traditional server at all

    Now you’re getting down to the brass tack, Mr. O! That is truly an accomplishment for you! The answer, of course, is when you want to run Exchange, SharePoint, or SQL Server. That is what modern companies do.

  8. oldman says:

    “So there is a big question when do you need a traditional server at all.”

    I believe the point being made was that one can minimize costs without having to resort to using Linux at all. The Web Server edition of windows can host web applications without needs for CAL’s avoid the need for CAL’s by using a Windows compliant NAS box.

    The fact that the NAS solution in question is running linux is nothing more than a factoid – It acts like a windows device and that all that counts.

    “Linux” in the sense of the classical linux server that Pog is arguing for is effectively nowhere in the picture, and the result is easier for a teacher to manage than any agglomeration of service running on a classical linux box.

  9. oiaohm says:

    Clarence Moon “Here too, the stores are full of multiple terabyte drives with built-in wi-fi access and files may be shared over any network without any such server participation.”

    Pardon learn to look a little more than skin deep.

    Lot of those “multiple terabyte drives with built-in wi-fi access” are Linux Servers running Samba. So yes there is server participation just happens to be in a form you are not seeing as existing.

    That one day will be Linux Servers running Samba providing ADS from NAS boxes.

    Linux is in a lot of shops inside NAS boxes and the like. Entered the market by stealth.

    You will find windows machines without a server will go nuts once there are too many clients. Of course the server could be a Linux NAS box so making Windows scale larger. So why you have more than 10 machines in a network might be because that little Linux box NAS that you have in your network. If its only 1 and it fails. Things can turn really bad as you network turns nuts.

    “If you absolutely had to have a server involved in the traditional sense, then use a Linux server to do so. Ditto for printing. No big deal, eh?”

    That is the problem most people don’t notice the Linux Boxes. They are small they are cheep and they are productive. Lot of NAS boxes do printer as well.

    So there is a big question when do you need a traditional server at all.

  10. Clarence Moon says:

    CALs are still required for file/print sharing on the LAN.

    I don’t actually know that is true, Mr. Pogson, but I will stipulate that to be the case simply to put it to rest. File/Print servers are rather passe’ in case you haven’t noticed. Every printer in our building can accessed directly from one’s workstation via wi-fi connection and no server is needed. One can buy a suitable printer at any local big box store for well under $100. I have one in my house.

    Similarly there may be a CAL charge for Windows file sharing, although that itself is also rather trivial undertaking. Here too, the stores are full of multiple terabyte drives with built-in wi-fi access and files may be shared over any network without any such server participation. If you absolutely had to have a server involved in the traditional sense, then use a Linux server to do so. Ditto for printing. No big deal, eh?

    You seem to be locked in the Stone Age of computing infrastructure, Mr. Pogson, and need to update your views on things.

  11. Clarence Moon wrote, “Such common usage is not burdened by the CAL issues of the past wherein the old-style client/server architecture was used”.

    CALs are still required for file/print sharing on the LAN. It is rather stupid to require an extra GNU/Linux server just to provide those services as well as an IIS server on that other OS… That’s the big problem with that other OS on the server. The EULA (M$’s need) dictates the layout of the resources rather than the needs of the organization. Think CALs don’t matter? Consider a typical small school with 100 PCs. 100 CALs cost ~$4K about the cost of a suitable server that could run the whole system. So, to run IIS web service on that other OS and file/print one way or another could cost three times as much capital as one GNU/Linux server which could provide all needed services. Do the maths.

  12. Clarence Moon says:

    Not so with FLOSS because there is no per-seat licence/EULA/CAL

    These are murkey waters, indeed, Mr. Pogson, but they are not the horrible state of affairs that you suggest. In business situations, which are somewhat analogous to what might be used in a classroom, the modern model, using java or .NET both, is to access a web service that aggregates and stages information that a client program uses by consuming that web service. Such common usage is not burdened by the CAL issues of the past wherein the old-style client/server architecture was used or else the so-called “thin client” architecture of which you are so fond.

    In a nutshell:

    Q: I am using Windows Web Server 2008 to deploy Internet facing web services. Is a Windows Server CAL required if access to the servers is authenticated?

    A: No. Windows Web Server 2008 is licensed with a server license only and no CALs are required even if the access is authenticated.

    See Specialty Server section.

  13. iLia wrote, “It doesn’t seams to me that all children need databases”.

    Human minds are somewhat like computers. The memory units need databases. A motivated student can acquire knowledge at a much faster rate than libraries of paper books or a school full of teachers can supply. The modern database connected to an HTML web application can keep up with the fire in a student. More than supporting the education of individuals, databases have important characteristics to support cultural and linguistic identity of the community of a school. For example, in many isolated northern communities in Canada, much of the culture is preserved anecdotally by the elders’ telling of stories. Putting that information in databases accessible by web-applications ensures the survival and growth of culture. The same goes for the esprit du corps of schools. Students who can see what students and teachers of earlier years did will be inspired to do more both in teaching and learning. Databases in schools are a neglected element in some schools because those things have a serious extra cost with that other OS which is widely in use. Not so with FLOSS because there is no per-seat licence/EULA/CAL.

  14. iLia says:

    Children need good education software. This is missing on Linux.

    Maybe there is some good educational software for toddlers on Linux, but what about good software for learning foreign languages?

    I don’t mean some flash-card applications or “fill the content yourself”, but something serious, with a lot of texts, exercises written by professionals, system to write dictations, build-in dictionary, a lot of audio files? On Windows there is such software, and it is not very costly, at least in Russia.

    For older students, educational apps are less important.

    YouDontNeedThat ™.

    Mr.Pogson, just admit it, such software is not less important, but simply nonexistent on Linux.

    LAMP provides great tools for collaboration and building and accessing databases.

    It doesn’t seams to me that all children need databases, actually some teens can be interested in such things, but not all of them.

    You looks like this guy from One Hundred Years of Solitude who sends some pieces of old furniture to children instead of real gifts.

  15. kozmcrae says:

    Tar wrote:

    “Children need good education software. This is missing on Linux.”

    This seems to be a common problem with the Cult of Microsoft. You should definitely see your proctologist about your problem. Your ass-hole is doing way too much talking for you.

  16. Tar wrote, “Children do not need LAMP stack! Children need good education apps.”

    As a professional educator, allow me to disagree. LAMP provides great tools for collaboration and building and accessing databases. These tools are great for having children accumulate a body of knowledge and passing it on to future students. This is highly motivational. Without motivation education is very ineffective.

    For example, students in particular communities may visit Wikipedia.org and find nothing about their local heroes or their community. They could edit Wikipedia and put that knowledge out there but that is subject to all kinds of external forces such as arbitrary modification by outsiders. A school is a community and should have its own wiki so that members of the community have a growing, accurate and personal reflection of their community. This is also highly efficient in providing a single point of access to much of the production, textually, graphically, in audio and video, of the whole school, teachers, students and parents. Done right this has advantages all around: inspiring student, teachers and parents to make education better, preserving knowledge, and teaching valuable skills. As a teacher I can say that inspiring students to write and to create is fundamental. Students will do those more if their work is preserved and shared more widely instead of just going home and becoming clutter.

    The same things result when a school uses and Integrated Library System to document, manage and add to the collection of resources in a school. KOHA and some others are first-rate ILS.

    So, children do need LAMP just as they need IT of any kind. It’s the best way to do a lot of things in education.

    GCOMPRIS is world-class educational software created by teachers for students. For older students, educational apps are less important. The tools of IT are general-purpose and definitely aid in education. GNU/Linux is filled with tools of IT. I moved to GNU/Linux because of performance but flexibility and usability would have been sufficient reasons to use GNU/Linux in education.

  17. Tar says:

    Children need good education software. This is missing on Linux.

    Only good education software is on Windows and Mac.

    Children do not need LAMP stack! Children need good education apps.

    Operating system is not that much to do with it.

  18. iLia wrote, “So no need of Linux.”

    The same can be said of that other OS. However some of us actually want PCs and servers to be useful so an OS is nearly essential unless we go back to the bad old days of stand-alone software.

    iLia also quoted PTsecurity about the security of PHP. They are a partner of M$. Enough said…

    The potential vulnerabilities in PHP scripts are well known (2001) but the language has been constantly improved and best practices make it quite useful and secure.
    “PHP is a popular target of hackers who exploit vulnerable applications written in PHP. Software vulnerabilities related to PHP are identified among the CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) records, available from the National Vulnerability Database. The proportion of vulnerabilities related to PHP, out of the total of all common vulnerabilities, amounted to: 12% in 2003, 20% in 2004, 28% in 2005, 43% in 2006, 36% in 2007, and 33.8% for the first quarter of 2008. More than a quarter of all software vulnerabilities listed in this database are related to PHP, and more than a third of vulnerabilities listed recently. Most of these vulnerabilities can be exploited remotely, that is without being logged on the computer hosting the vulnerable application.[28] Such exploitation is made possible due to poor programming habits, such as failing to check data before entering it into a database, and features of the language such as
    register_globals
    , which is now deprecated.[22] These result in code injection, cross-site scripting and other application security issues. It’s important to note that none of these attacks are exclusive to PHP and all are avoidable by following proper coding techniques and principles.”

    see here

    Security was one of the reasons WhiteHouse.gov switched to Drupal CMS, a PHP script.

  19. iLia says:

    LAMP stacks: Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, a good basis for web applications accessible by any PC on the LAN or on the Internet

    Extremely unsecure in comparison with ASP.Net:

    The study found that PHP, the
    most popular web application
    programming language (63% of
    tested resources) is the most
    vulnerable. We compare securi-
    ty of sites on PHP, ASP.NET and
    Java by vulnerabilities caused by
    the software implementation.
    The study showed that 81%
    of sites in PHP contained
    critical security vulnerabili-
    ties, and 91% medium-risk vul-
    nerability. The least common
    critical vulnerabilities are on
    sites written in ASP.NET: оnly
    26% of them contain high-risk
    vulnerabilities that is significant-
    ly lower than that of PHP (81%)
    and Java (59%)
    .

    tools like ffmpeg and ImageMagick for scripting multimedia processes

    — Don’t forget about youtube-dl. If you want to watch a youtube video with sound use youtube-dl to download it, then convert it to mp4 with ffmpeg, all it using console interface.

    Learning by heart a huge amount of one-two letters options is extremely educative 🙂

    applications for terminal servers and thick clients: GIMP image editor, LibreOffice office suite, FireFox web browser, Audacity audio editor, Pitivi video editor, vlc media player, and Gcompris a suite of educational games for younger students

    You have forgotten to include Blender, Inkscape, Calligra Suite and many other free application with crappy interface (if any) or/and lacking some essential functionality, which make them useful. Or having the level of functionality that proprietary competitors had 10-15 years ago.

    But Open Source is extremely good to teach how to work in console 🙂

    for teaching students how to create their own software, programming language tools of many kinds

    Actually all popular languages can be used on Windows. And all popular open source (apart of Calligra Office) works on Windows. So no need of Linux.

  20. Chris Weig lied when he wrote, “I (Pogson) haven’t touched Windows in 10 years”.

    That’s utterly false. I was using that other OS in class and I restored XP to full function (updates, professional anti-malware, and backups) to the best of my ability only two years ago. We finally gave up and installed GNU/Linux which hummed. I even touched a couple of “7” machines but they were pathetically slow even compared to XP which was slow compared to GNU/Linux.

  21. Chris Weig says:

    I was browsing this morning and came upon an advertisement for system administrator for a small northern Canadian school division. And once again I realized that another job would go by me, as I haven’t touched Windows in 10 years.

    Fixed that for you, Mr. Pogson.

  22. Clarence Moon says:

    Eight years later, to still find M$-only shops still exist is surprising.

    No “feet on the street”, no results, Mr. Pogson, it should not be a surprise. Who is up there pitching Linux solutions other than maybe Microsoft? IBM? Novell took a flyer on Linux, but it wasn’t enough to keep them whole, so its back as SUSE and they aren’t wasting any manpower in the Canadian wilds. Same way with Red Hat, they’re just spread too thin to win.

    From your description of the circumstances of those schools, namely that they are grubbing around with old hardware and not much of that, IBM isn’t going to run up there and put on a pitch, so they are left with what the wind blows in, which is Windows.

Leave a Reply