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[K12OSN] Beyond awareness... moving towards migration!

Hello Folks,

It's been a week since Eric and I went up to the ACPE conference. We
spoke with tech coordinators from 25 large Oregon and Washington school
districts being audited by Microsoft for software licensing compliance.
It's time for an update and some reflection.

All of the districts received a letter from Microsoft demanding a
software audit. Steve Duin, a Portland columnist wrote about it in his
(long url, you may need to paste it together...)

Before Steve's column schools were calling MS and asking for extensions.
They reported that MS was less than friendly and responsive. AFTER the
column several things happened.

The Portland Public School switchboard was jammed for two days with
calls from Linux users volunteering to come to PDX from all over the
west coast to help with software migration. 

MS was hit with many angry calls from all over the place. I can only
imagine the content of those conversations. Having Duin's column posted
on Slashdot.org certainly helped get the word out about what MS was

The Slashdot post came out on Monday. Later that week most of the
technology folks from OR and WA were heading to a conference on Thursday
and Friday. MS agreed to come and present a special session on the audit
and MS licensing on Thursday afternoon. Many of the impacted schools met
the night before. There was much solidarity and a realization that if
they all stuck together they would have more clout when dealing with MS.
There was also a common understanding that this audit would cost
districts money and time. Two things in short supply these days.
Portland Public schools will devote two FTE to the audit. That's over
$100k of money that could go to classrooms and teachers. Needless to say
the relationship between these schools and Microsoft had been changed in
a fundamental way. No one was talking about using software without
paying for it. It's just that when they came face to face with the power
an EULA gives MS, they saw things in a different light. MS software in
schools was seen as a logistical and financial liability when compared
with GPL licensed alternatives.

Now we get to alternatives. There was actually discussion of mass
migrations to Linux. The interesting thing is that with current desktops
and K12LTSP, it really is an option now. If MS was not willing to flex
on demands, several of districts were ready to dump MS software.

On Thursday MS came in with a team to do some damage control. I've never
seen anyone more worried or concerned. Quoting, "We never had any idea
that there would be a reaction like this. Our two words for today are
friendly and flexible." And they were... They said a lot about
understanding the hardships schools face and how we were hurting for
funding. They let us know that the audits were meant to be helpful and
that this was not a BSA audit (yet...). They said that they would meet
with schools one on one to extend deadlines and be flexible. I have to
admit that they were just as they promised to be, friendly and flexible.
They did a great job of disarming the most worried school folks and then
hosted an open bar for the rest of the afternoon.

I underestimated the ability of MS to react so well and do such a good
job. The most effective motivation for change is pain. MS did EVERYTHING
they could that day to make sure we would not feel any pain. ;-^)

Friday morning Eric and I did a session on using GPL software in
schools. Eric did a good job on covering what's going on with the server
end of things and I did a demonstration with our Linux Toaster. We like
to stress that in many ways, software is now generic. You don't need to
license or even worry about what kind of toaster oven you have at home.
The same thing should be true of your word processor and email client.

I was still disturbed about the MS show we saw on Thursday until we
started hearing more and more questions about migration. It seems like
schools were taking the extra time given them by MS and using it to good
advantage. We spent ALL of the Q&A time on migration paths to free
software. Eric comes from the business world. I'm an educator. He
pointed out to me that the WORST thing that could have come from all of
this was a forced, overnight migration to Linux. Having time to do it
right is much better. We've been talking with folks now for a couple of
weeks and there is a lot happening.

I can't share everything that is in the works right now but there are
two areas where we need to focus our efforts for schools in terms of

1. Support and training...  They need someone to call for help and they
ALL need training. This is the #1 issue keeping schools from using free
software. They just don't know how to do it and keep it running in a
production environment. Anything we do to promote training will result
in an increased use of Linux in schools. The good news in this area is
that we've moved beyond the awareness level in many schools. 

The bottom line is that schools see others using Linux and saving money
while providing superior service to classrooms. They want to go in that
direction but they just don't know how.

2. End user, ease of use issues... The #2 fear facing schools is the
thought that teachers will not be able to use the software. No one is
worried about the kids. Eric is now working on a classroom kiosk version
of K12Linux. We're hoping to produce a simplistic desktop with few
options and just a few icons for basic applications. There are a bunch
of desktop improvements that are part of RH 7.3. The Linux desktop is
really coming along. Teachers however equate choices with complexity and
that is something to fear. We think a classroom kiosk using KDE is
something that might be useful in these instances.

More good news... I'm starting to hear from more major vendors who have
been getting requests for Linux in school solutions. We're getting
quotes from Micron, Dell and IBM for the 65 K12LTSP workstations we're
about to purchase for a new high school. Before we had to build
everything ourselves.

More to do...  Our greatest resource is our local user group. We need to
help schools and LUGs around the country make connections. Towards this
end we're going to start promoting a July 4th. software freedom day.
Sponsored by LUGs all over America, this event will bring together
Unix/Linux experts and schools to establish local support connections
for training and migration to GPL software.

I'll send out more on the software freedom day later. I hope you'll help
get your LUGs and schools together.

;-) Paul
Paul Nelson............................... pnelson riverdale k12 or us
Riverdale School..............11733 SW Breyman Ave. Portland, OR 97219
(503)636-4511......fax(503)635-6342.... http://www.riverdale.k12.or.us


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