[K12OSN] Linux for High School students?

"Terrell Prudé Jr." microman at cmosnetworks.com
Tue Mar 11 05:36:42 UTC 2008

OK, I'll take a stab at this.

Linux in *any* school is a good idea, for so many reasons.  Easier
maintenance is just one of them.

What you describe sounds like a great application for LTSP and thin
clients--some might even say "the canonical case if ever there was
one."  Here's why:

1.)  If the kids physically beat up on the thin clients, no problem;
just swap out an old PC that PXE-boots.  Done.  Very inexpensive fix.

2.)  You only install the apps that you want.  If you don't want to give
them, say, OpenOffice.org, then don't install it.  You want them to have
basically only Firefox, then you can do that.

3.)  If you've got the LTSP server locked away (yes, you always need
physical security!), then the kids can't mess with the server and get root.

4.)  If you're worried about power outages, then just put the LTSP
server on an UPS.  APCUPSD, which comes with most GNU/Linux
distributions, will execute a clean shutdown of the server if the power
outage goes for too long and the UPS batteries start getting low.  Much
like PowerChute Plus.

5.)  Relating to #4, the thin clients won't ever have filesystem
corruption.  They're thin clients--no hard disk to corrupt!  :-)

6.)  You don't need to "unlock" the system (I assume you mean similar to
Deep Freeze on MS Windows here).  IT staff are the only ones who should
have root.  You just become root, and the system's unlocked--FOR
YOU--until you exit out of root mode.

7.)  A GNU/Linux system is by nature considerably more resistant to
attempted break-ins than one running, say, MS Windows.  It's just built
better.  It will certainly last the 10 minutes that you mentioned
below.  That said, *NO SYSTEM* remains that way unless you do your
regular security updates.  Nor will any system resist break-in attempts
well if you just configure it to be wide-open, obviously.

8.)  Should you get cracked, 0wn3d, or whatever term you prefer, then
yes, IT staff definitely will need to get involved.  Big time.  Again,
that's with *any* system, be it MS Windows, Novell NetWare, GNU/Linux,
OpenBSD--even the IBM Mainframe z/OS.  No system that I know of
automatically "heals itself" once it's been compromised.

9.)  Hard disks will, sooner or later, *always* fill up.  Again, any
system.  However, another big issue, disk fragmentation, tends to be
handled a lot better with GNU/Linux than with Microsoft's NTFS.  Not
that the NTFS is "bad", necessarily; it was a most welcome improvement
over FAT.  But ext3 simply does it better.

Now, for your question about "does the USB stuff work," that depends on
whether you're in a "thick client" or LTSP environment.  Those answers

With GNU/Linux thick clients, I can tell you that every USB device that
*I* have personally tried has worked with no problem.  That includes USB
thumb drives, portable hard disks, digital cameras, and HP OfficeJets. 
I've not had a sound card "not work" for many years.  However, if your
machine uses Broadcom wireless, then that takes a small amount of
tweaking to make work.  That's only an issue with wireless laptops,
really.  But you should know about it.

With thin clients, remember that, in an LTSP environment, everything
runs on the server, not the thin client.  Despite that, YES, you can
save to certain local storage media on the thin client.  The LTSP
development team did some very clever hackery to make that work!  I've
done this with floppies many times.  I also read that USB thumb drives
have been supported since K12LTSP 4.4.1 (there's a Wiki entry on how to
make this work).  Presumably that would include any other kind of
"normal" USB storage medium, such as a USB portable hard disk or digital

Hopefully this helps.  I could easily put more in here, but it's
probably already too long.

Do you GNU <http://www.gnu.org>?
Microsoft Free since 2003 <http://www.cmosnetworks.com>--the ultimate
antivirus protection!

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? Will computers resist breakin
> attempts by students for ten minutes until a teacher
> comes by? Is IT automatically notified of repeated
> breakin attempts (indicating the need to move the
> computer to a better location)? Can computers be
> "unlocked" fairly quickly by IT staff for maintenance?
> Do systems react gracefully to impatient students
> pounding on keyboards and mice?  Do disks never ever
> fill up? Do systems react gracefully to "forgotten"
> CDs still in the drive? Can system configuration files
> never be trashed? Are all peripherals (CD, USB sticks,
> sound) usable by all students? Do systems react
> gracefully to repeated abrupt power-offs? Will abused
> systems restore themselves to usefulness without
> manual IT intervention? 
> 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? Is Linux really as new to
> the semi-anonymous high school environment as it
> seems? Has anybody else had a similar experience? 
> thanks!
> -Chuck Kollars
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