[K12OSN] Linux for High School students?

James P. Kinney III jkinney at localnetsolutions.com
Tue Mar 11 02:47:10 UTC 2008

Hi Chuck!

You have a pile of valid concerns and I'll try to answer them as best I
On Mon, 2008-03-10 at 15:09 -0700, Chuck Kollars wrote:
> This is a general Linux-in-education question, not
> really a K12LTSP question nor even a thin client
> question. Hopefully this isn't too far off topic, as I
> don't know where else to post--
> My general environment is a high school (which is very
> different from lower grades) with something like one
> computer per four students (plentiful but not assigned
> to individuals). The computers are in classrooms
> (including "study hall") and the library, not in
> "labs", so adult supervison is spotty. Students use
> the computers in kiosk fashion, except with access to
> their own network "home directory". Use is mainly for
> web access, presentations, and word processing (use of
> other applications is very very low). 
> I'm looking into deploying Linux workstations into
> this environment. Security, maintainability, and
> usability are paramount issues: Is bootup fast enough
> for impatient students?
Systems should not need to be rebooted. Students should logout only.
Edit the /etc/inittab file and comment out the 
ca::ctrlaltdel:/sbin/shutdown -t3 -r now
 to read 
# ca::ctrlaltdel:/sbin/shutdown -t3 -r now

Also remove the ability to power off the machine for non-admin users
with the gui under the system menu using saybayon

>  Will computers resist breakin
> attempts by students for ten minutes until a teacher
> comes by?

Under most circumstances, yes. If not 1. keep an eye on that student and
2. hire them to help out.
>  Is IT automatically notified of repeated
> breakin attempts (indicating the need to move the
> computer to a better location)? 

Not by default but scripts can be generated to look for events that flag
for help.
> Can computers be
> "unlocked" fairly quickly by IT staff for maintenance?
No. These are *NIX systems that provide for most all maintenance by
remote access over a fully encrypted, secure channel. These are not like
legacy windows machines that require much support to be local. That
said, Linux (like all UNIX-based systems) are designed for teams of
support people. By placing users in the "wheel" group and/or providing
sudo capabilities, the designated people can administer the machines.
> Do systems react gracefully to impatient students
> pounding on keyboards and mice?  
No better or worse than any other system. That said, because Linux
systems were designed from the ground up to be multi-user,
multi-tasking, network-centric systems they don't typically exhibit the
symptoms that cause impatience.

> Do disks never ever
> fill up? 
?? Of course they do. But in a school environment, the users space is on
a central server and only application binaries are on the "client"
machines. So migrating to a larger set of drives is done at a single
locations (Segate make a 1TB drive).

> Do systems react gracefully to "forgotten"
> CDs still in the drive? 
CD's and USB memory sticks are handled differently than they are in
Microsoft land. The CD will not just pop out when you press the button
on the tray. The "eject" must be used (right click on the CD icon on the
desktop and select "eject". If the CD is in use, and I mean any file is
open, the eject will gripe out an error). The same is true fo USB memory
sticks. They can be pulled out but that can scramble the data on them.
That is a problem with any system as there is no locking process.

> Can system configuration files
> never be trashed?
Not by normal users without them doing something malicious and
deliberate to circumvent the by-design security (i.e. users are not
allowed to break anything but their own stuff).

>  Are all peripherals (CD, USB sticks,
> sound) usable by all students? 
If the system is configured for multiple users, once logged in, each
user can use the CD, sound, USB stuff.

> Do systems react
> gracefully to repeated abrupt power-offs? 
The short answer is no system will take kindly to that. Long version:
Linux systems are quite robust. The journaling file systems (ext3) are
rather good at recovering from a bozo-user event. But any system can be
damaged by repeated abuse. If you want abuse-proof (nearly) systems, go
all thin client. They don't have hard drives to get scrambled.

> Will abused
> systems restore themselves to usefulness without
> manual IT intervention? 
In most cases, yes. If no admin after student that should be banished to
pencil and paper yanks the power cord out repeatedly is a requirement,
go thin client.

There are other ways to force boot things but they require some serious
> I've been surprised that even distributions
> specifically aimed at education don't seem to address
> the concerns of this environment all that well. I
> expected to just follow a HowTo; instead, I've found
> myself "rolling my own" solution too many times. Is
> there a cache of useful information or a better
> specialized distribution I'm unaware of? 
> Am I missing
> the forest for the trees? 
Yep. Linux for the most part "Just Works". My kids have grown up using
Linux. My 17 year really comes in grousing about the crappy windows
machines at her school. Her school system is experimenting with Linux
but the decision makers are still in "no one gets fired for using
Windows" mentality. That will change. 
> Is Linux really as new to
> the semi-anonymous high school environment as it
> seems? 
Yes and no. Linux is relatively new to the K12 arena. Colleges and
research facilities have been using it for the past 15 years. K12 is
_always_ slow and usually gets the most expensive and worst quality
stuff because they just can't attract the high-end of the tech crowd ("I
run the servers for a middle school" is just nowhere near as cool as "I
run servers at Google" :)  so they are easy prey for the technology
sales reps. If you want tank-like setup, use thin clients. That reduces
the user system maintenance to "does it have power and networking?".
> Has anybody else had a similar experience? 
> thanks!
> -Chuck Kollars
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James P. Kinney III          
CEO & Director of Engineering 
Local Net Solutions,LLC        

GPG ID: 829C6CA7 James P. Kinney III (M.S. Physics)
<jkinney at localnetsolutions.com>
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