[K12OSN] Microsoft's insidious domination in Australian schools

Gavin Chester sales at ecosolutions.com.au
Thu May 4 09:10:53 UTC 2006

(This email is written with many concepts explained that may already be
familiar to you because I am sending this as an open letter to readers from
a wide range of backgrounds and interest groups).

I write with heavy heart and a good dose of old-fashioned rage at the
injustice meted out to the next generation.  Okay, that's maybe a bit over
the top, but I encountered a ludicrous situation that came to a head today
at my local government primary school of around 75 students (K-7), located
in a rural area of Western Australia.  It's under-funded and
under-resourced, as you would imagine.

Through contacts I have in the local Linux user group (PLUG), I had tapped
into a supply of up to 15 PII PCs about to be cast-off by a large company.
They were more than happy to donate the lot, plus spares, and deliver them
more than 100km to our school.  These PCs are useless for running any recent
version of Microsoft, but they are great for running Linux.  I presented a
proposal to our school Principal of the concept of making use of these
computers in a teaching lab, utilising one or two of their high-end desktops
as a server.  The latter part of the concept was a short-term solution and I
aimed to beg, borrow or steal a purpose-built server once I got the lab up
and running, and proven.  I also was going to donate my time to setup the
system and administer it and asked nothing of the school staff in this

Underpinning the concept was that it was to be a K12LTSP lab, since I have
been following the project for about three years and run a small setup at
home for my kids.  For those who don't know, K12LTSP is an offshoot of the
LTS Project that allows low-end PCs to be used as thin (i.e., no hard drive)
clients running off a central Linux server.  Another, similar Linux project
is 'Edubuntu', which is based on Ubuntu Linux, itself based on Debian Linux.
Those of you in the know will realise that there are other projects out
there that do similar things and also are tailored for an educational
setting, but K12LTSP is the one with which I am most familiar.  The beauty
of any of these projects is that all the software is very worthy and it is
FREE and you get to recycle old PCs, which not only saves them from
polluting at landfill but also means that the hardware is usually FREE.
Moreover, you can run a large PC lab (30 or more PCs, or clients) with only
one server to administer instead of lots of separate PCs with their own
operating system.  See these links for more information if you're not
already familiar with these software projects:

Despite being cash-strapped, the school did have some cash to spare for
incidentals so I was going to be able to buy some missing bits, like basic
networking gear.  I was even prepared that the lab be isolated from the rest
of their system with no access to their existing server and internet link
(the reason for this will be soon be apparent).  Well, today I was told that
thanks, but no thanks.  Apparently, higher powers in head office dictate
that every computer located in any government school across the whole State
MUST run Microsoft - even if the hardware on which it runs is donated.
Also, every computer in the school must be powerful enough to run XP.  It
simplifies administration and help-desk support, you see.  That's despite
the fact that no one from head office ever comes near the school's PCs, and
despite the fact that the school can't afford to have more than about one
working PC for every six students in the school because of the hardware
requirements of XP.  I should point out that the ratio is an estimate, since
I've only anecdotal evidence of how many PCs are used regularly in the
school.  If I've erred, I believe I've been generous regarding the ratio of
students per PC.

As you would imagine, I was aghast at being told this today.  I
incredulously stated to the Principal and the school administrator that "it
is our responsibility to teach our children computing, not Microsoft".  But
my pleas fell on deaf ears because they are bound by head office policy,
apparently.  I don't write this open letter to serve as a means to 'vent my
spleen' and rant like some Linux zealot at a ridiculous situation.  Instead,
I ask that recipients consider the implications of it and then act.  If you
are able to contact someone who may have some influence, or know someone who
knows someone else who may have influence, I want to see if we might effect
a change in education policy to stop this happening in West Australian
government schools.  Just where are our tax dollars being spent in
education?  Into the pockets of Microsoft and Intel, I think.

I see the use of free software and recycled hardware as another opportunity
to better our next generation, yet it is being shot down by FUD (fear,
uncertainty and doubt) emanating from the halls of (educational) power.  The
teachers here at the 'coal face' don't seem to mind too much because "we
don't have to pay any licensing fees out of our budget - head office pays".
I was dumbfounded that such an attitude can exist.  Contact me if you have
any ideas or similar sad stories to relate.


	Gavin Chester

	962 Williams Rd (PO Box 62), Dwellingup, Western Australia.  6213.
	Tel: (08) 9538 1102
	E-mail#1: mailto:sales at ecosolutions.com.au
	E-mail#2: mailto:gc at gwchester.com

More information about the K12OSN mailing list