[K12OSN] Article on K12LTSP and OpenSource in Education Week

David Trask dtrask at vcs.u52.k12.me.us
Wed Sep 29 15:47:47 UTC 2004

Hi all!

Paul Nelson, Scott Robinson, and myself are featured in this week's
edition of Education Week in an Open Source/Linux article.  I don't have a
copy, but my understanding is that my ugly mug (NOW you know what I look
like....so much for the anonymity) is on the front page as well!   The
article is below, but you can also view it online at 
http://www.edweek.org   or read the print version.  Speaking of
which....if any of you subscribe or know someone who does....I'd like a
few hard copies for my family and my scrapbook...etc.  (my Mom really
wants one)   If you have any you can part with could you let me know
(off-list) and send them to me at

David Trask
Vassalboro Community School
1116 Webber Pond Rd.
Vassalboro, ME  04989

I'd really appreciate it....



Education Week
American Education's Newspaper of Record 

[ http://www.edweek.org/ew/gallery/spacer.gif ]»
September 29, 2004

Software Solution Saves Dollars

By Andrew Trotter
Education Week

A growing number of cost-conscious school districts are finding budget
relief in low-cost computer software known as "open source" that can do
everything from manage school Web sites to equip classrooms for learning.

Administrators cite open-source-related savings of hundreds of dollars per
new computer, plus benefits such as reduced exposure to computer viruses
and to copyright violations. 

Open source refers to software distributed with a proviso that gives
anyone the right to dissect, modify, and redistribute or even resell it,
on the condition that the people receiving it have the same right. 

The software typically is developed through online collaborations between
programmers and users that can reach across the world. The software is
usually created for the open-source operating system Linux, but can also
be designed to run on Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh operating

David N. Trask, the technology coordinator for the 600-student Vassalboro
Community School in central Maine, stumbled into the open-source world
four years ago after he mistyped student login data on the K-8 school’s
main computer. The Windows-based system crashed, wasting nearly two days
of labor. And it happened just a few days before the start of the school

"I was a dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft user," Mr. Trask said. 

Because of his frustration, he took a tip from an online forum and
downloaded a free, Linux- based program called "SME server." 

"Eighteen minutes later, I had a fully functioning server," he said. 

Then another school technology coordinator e- mailed him a Linux program
that transferred the 600 student names from a text file and completed the
logins in less than an hour, something he couldn’t do with Windows. "I was
blown away by that," he said. 

As he tested other open- source products, he realized they were just what
he needed. 

"[Software] licensing was killing us," Mr. Trask said. "For my Windows
server, I was paying 5,400 bucks annually to do a school my size, for just
the software site license." After balancing the pros and cons with his
principal, Mr. Trask said they concluded that "the pros on the Linux side
of the list were very long; on the Windows side, the list was very short." 

As a consequence, the school gradually shifted to open-source software in
most of its administrative functions and many instructional ones as well.
The school has reduced its Windows license to fewer functions, halving the
cost per computer. 

Now Mr. Trask is something of an apostle for open-source computing in his

So far, Maine has at least 40 school districts using Linux and open-source
software, he said. An all-day seminar for educators on open source held in
Bethel, Maine, during the past two summers sold out its 50 seats both


Technology Terms

Open Source is used to describe software that is developed and distributed
under a type of license, called a general public license, that allows
anyone to make changes to the software and redistribute it without being

Linux is an operating system—a basic set of programs that allows other
software to work on a computer—that was developed under a general public
license that makes its underlying code available to everyone for free.
Linux has won popularity in the open-source community and among commercial
software developers because of its robustness and availability. Some large
banks, airlines, and online retailers use it to run their operations; it
can also be used on personal desktop computers.

Experts say a national move to open source is gathering steam. 

In Oregon, Scott Robinson, the chief technology officer for the
55,000-student Portland schools, said he got started using Linux after
receiving a letter that Microsoft sent to Oregon and Washington school
districts in 2002. 

The letter, which many educators considered high-handed, demanded that the
districts audit all their computers within 60 days to remove illegal
copies of Microsoft software. 

Yet the Microsoft letter also included a brochure with information about
the company’s latest campuswide licenses, which it said could help schools
avoid illegal use of software. 

"I said, ‘Go ahead and audit us, and I’ll just erase the computers and use
them for Linux,’" he said. 

Paul Nelson, the technology coordinator for the nearby 550-student
Riverdale, Ore., schools, said an online forum of school Linux enthusiasts
that he moderates has more than 1,000 members from the United States and

Nationwide, 19 percent of districts use Linux, according to a new survey
by Denver-based Quality Education Data, a market research firm owned by
Scholastic Inc. But those districts may use other operating systems as

The open-source movement in schools, Mr. Nelson said, is "at the-
snowball-at-the-top-of-the-hill stage." 

Saving Money

That snowball may get its first big push from the K-12 Linux Terminal
Server Project, the focus of the online forum. 

The project offers free packages of school-oriented Linux software that
works on inexpensive workstations, called dumb terminals or "thin
clients." The method relies on linking the workstations using a network to
computer servers, which do the processing chores and store users’ work. 

The setup can give classrooms and computer labs the capabilities of costly
PCs at a small fraction of the cost. 

Mr. Trask in Maine, for example, converts into thin- client workstations
the old and donated computers that cannot handle current Windows
applications. He has added three workstations to each of his school’s 23
classrooms, which otherwise would have only one computer each. 

Oregon’s Portland schools—one of the first large, urban districts to
plunge into open- source—bought 800 new computer terminals over the past
two years to create Linux labs in its 20 middle schools and five high
schools, according to Mr. Robinson. 

Each terminal cost $300, hundreds less than a computer equipped with a
hard drive and proprietary software. That saved the district $500,000 on
computer labs over two years "purely on labs alone," Mr. Robinson

Plus, the simplicity of the terminals and the fact that the software is
maintained centrally lower the cost of upkeep, he said. 

The productivity software—such as office and graphics applications and Web
browsers—tends to mimic popular Windows or Macintosh titles, and saves
work files in formats that can be opened in any of the systems. 

Microsoft Speaks

Microsoft Corp. acknowledges that open source may appeal to schools. 

"The initial attraction for a lot of folks is free access to software,"
said Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s general manager for education, 

But, he argued, open-source is not a long-term advantage for schools. In
the long run, products by Microsoft and its education partners offer
better performance "out of the box," he said. 

In addition, the Redmond, Wash.-based company believes its products work
together more smoothly and are more secure, more upgradable, and easier to
maintain than open-source software. 

Mr. Salcito also cited the software discounts and site licenses that
Microsoft offers to schools as well as a program that allows donated
computers to receive legal Windows operating systems. 

And Microsoft office tools are the ones that families are likely to have
on their home computers, he pointed out. 

Maine’s Mr. Trask, however, simply lets students take home the school’s
office applications on a CD-ROM, which is perfectly legal. 

He and other open- source advocates dispute Microsoft’s claims of
technical superiority and raise the ante by pointing out that legions of
virus writers specifically target the company’s Internet Explorer Web

Still, open-source advocates acknowledge drawbacks, such as the fairly
bare cupboard of the drill-and- practice software programs that schools
commonly use in the lower grades. 

For that reason, open-source schools often maintain some Windows and Mac

Experts also say that, in some areas, it is still hard for districts to
find or hire technicians with experience in Linux. 

Another problem is districts’ existing libraries of software that run only
on Windows. That hurdle proved too high for the Clear Creek Independent
School District in Texas, which recently investigated the possibility of
using a Linux system. 

The 33,000-student district decided to stay with Windows, said Nancy
Keese, Clear Creek’s technology director. She said the large collection of
Windows software programs the district already owns "is what continues to
keep us tied to the Microsoft solution." 

‘The Right Pressure’

Open source veterans underscore the value of discussing their technical
problems in the online open-source forums, such as the Schoolforge
Coalition, which involves more than 80 groups internationally, and the
K-12 Linux Terminal Server Project, which is supported by Red Hat Inc., a
Linux developer in Raleigh, N.C. 

"When I describe to them what my problem is, they refer me to the right
piece of open-source software, or if one doesn’t exist they sometimes
create it for me," Mr. Trask said of other participants in such forums. 

Such collaboration is an essential substitute for the help-lines that big
software companies offer, and users pay for, to support conventional

Software companies are also springing up that specialize in open source,
adapting products to users’ specific needs while charging only for their

Sharon Betts, the technology director of the 2,450-student Kennebunk
public schools in Maine, works with NPV Inc., a small technology company
based in Newton, Mass. 

The company first developed Linux-based student-tracking software for the
district from scratch. It also adapted an open-source digital portfolio
system and an online course management system to fit the needs of
Kennebunk and 10 other Maine districts, which split the cost. 

Although open-source proponents enjoy shooting barbs at Microsoft,
educators in the movement say they don’t expect to abandon the giant
company’s dominant Windows operating system altogether. 

For example, the Portland schools, in addition to their Linux labs, have
Windows and Macintosh labs for brand-name professional software that is
available only for those systems. 

The Oregon district’s Mr. Robinson advises adding open source to a
district’s technology mix to gain leverage in the marketplace, if for no
other reason. 

"Having a variety of [software] environments," he said, "provides the
right pressure—incentive, if you will—for your vendors to be responsive to

Coverage of technology is supported in part by the William and Flora
Hewlett Foundation. 

On the Web

The [ http://www.k12ltsp.org/ ]K-12 Linux in Schools Project, which offers
[ http://k12linux.org/contents.html ]resources, as well as an open-source
[ http://k12os.org/ ]discussion forum. 

[ http://schoolforge.net/ ]SchoolForge, an open source advocate, lists a
series of [ http://casestudy.seul.org/ ]case studies on the implementation
of the Linux operating system in schools. 

Read [ http://www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=6349 ]"Linux from
Kindergarten to High School," a February 2003 article from [
http://www.linuxjournal.com/ ]Linux Journal. 

[ http://www.microsoft.com/ ]Microsoft Corp. describes its productions and
services for [ http://www.microsoft.com/Education/Schools.aspx ]schools. 


PHOTOS: David N. Trask, the technology coordinator for the K-8 Vassalboro
Community School in Maine, is an advocate for “open source” computing, in
part because it is cheaper than conventional technologies. 
Maine educator David N. Trask believes “open source” computing offers many
—Herb Swanson for Education Week 

2003 Editorial Projects in Education [
http://www.edweek.org/ew/gallery/spacer.gif ]» Vol. 24, number 05, page

David N. Trask
Technology Teacher/Coordinator
Vassalboro Community School
dtrask at vcs.u52.k12.me.us

David N. Trask
Technology Teacher/Coordinator
Vassalboro Community School
dtrask at vcs.u52.k12.me.us

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