Yet Another School Goes To GNU/Linux

For years I converted labs and schools to GNU/Linux for many practical reasons. Here are some from a school in UK:

  • “It was my idea to move the students’ PCs to Linux as it was becoming increasingly obvious that with the size, cost and complexity of IT increasing seemingly exponentially, ultimately something had to give and professional pride would not let it be the quality of the systems we support.”
  • “Once you actually take a step back from the misconception that computers = Windows and actually seriously think about it, the pros clearly outweigh the cons. The world is changing very quickly. There is a survey that reports in 2000, 97% of computing devices had Windows installed, but now with tablets and phones, etc., Windows is only on 20% of computing devices, and in the world of big iron, Linux reigns supreme. We specialize in science and engineering and want our students to go on to do great things like start the next Google or collapse the universe at CERN. In those environments, they will certainly need to know Linux.”
  • “The usual merry-go-round of replacing 400 student machines every 3 or 4 years is a horrendous cost. Many schools just simply can’t afford that in these days of austerity. With the performance we have now, I intend to run these machines until they fall to bits!”

see A Year of the Linux Desktop

Amen! GNU/Linux is so right for education and all that goodness flows from the licence, mostly GPL, which permits schools to run the software any way they want, examine the code if they want, even modify it and to distribute software to staff, students, parents, the world, etc. When schools set up an IT-system with performance in mind and the EULA is not getting in the way of what they do with the software, they can do more with less.

There really is no downside. GNU/Linux is a good OS. It works well and there is more than enough software available for creating, finding, storing and presenting information, all that schools need done to support the education of students.

I give as an example to illustrate this a recipe to convert a computer lab or small school to GNU/Linux:

  • Migrate one good machine (200MB RAM per client PC, 100MHz core-MHz per client PC) running that other OS by visiting Typically this might be the teacher’s computer or a server. Download and run an executable and reboot to start the installation of Debian GNU/Linux. In the unlikely event that this fails, try again with a bootable CD or USB drive image from Debian. Do the bare minimum installation, not even a desktop environment… You should end with a PC that boots to a login: prompt in about 15 minutes.
  • While the installation proceeds open the BIOS configuration of the other PCs and set them to boot “PXE” or “over the network”. That takes a minute or so per PC, perhaps half an hour for a lab.
  • If the teacher’s PC has only one ethernet connection, add a second one to serve the lab through a network switch.LTSP_setup
  • Log in to the teacher’s machine or server as “root” and give the “root password” chosen during installation. Type a few commands:
    • apt-get update;apt-get upgrade
    • apt-get install ltsp-docs ltsp-server-standalone
    • ltsp-build-client
    • apt-get install xfce4 xfce4-goodies xfwm4 lightdm libreoffice gimp ktouch dia vlc mplayer chromium-browser inkscape synaptic
  • reboot the client PCs

This all takes a bit over an hour, perhaps less if you practise. It can take several hours to create user-accounts, adjust desktop themes and choose additional applications. You can even add web-sites and databases for every student and teacher… Compare that with what little you get with the work of installing that other OS and it takes more time to enter the damned “authentication code” and agree to the obscenely uneducational EULA.

The result is a powerful system that requires configuring software on only a single PC and a single command can update the operating system and all applications. That’s priceless.

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.
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