After reading the recent Mike Cassidy column titled “Linux Could Ease Schools’ Tech Crunch” on SiliconValley.com, I couldn’t help reminiscing about the long-held fantasy of rolling Linux into schools.
In spite of the sad economic climate, prompting the ever-present “using what you already have” rhetoric, I just don’t see it ever happening. Three things lead me to this conclusion:
1. Businesses have never fallen all over themselves to embrace the Penguin. It’s just reality, even though you and I know Linux is exceedingly capable, robust, and reliable…not to mention freely available on the Web. I’ve tried repeatedly, over the last few years to promote a sponsored “Intro To Linux” seminar for businesses in the Central Florida area. The last attempt was in partner with a nationally known tech contracting shop. The company sent out email blasts, mentioned it when meeting with clients, and even published an article I wrote extolling the benefits of using Linux.
The result? Nothing! Not a single client took us up on the offer for the one-hour workshop. We were even going to cater the food and drink!
2. Linux is a mature technology. Linux on the desktop never really happened. For a while it flashed onto the scene via Netbooks. Now, everybody says it will be the OS of choice in the up-and-coming mobile embedded space. Ah…riiiiiight!
I think Linux will continue to slip in where smart innovators strategically see that it makes sense. In other words, either the ROI can be soundly proven on paper or the business leader is so far out on the curve (and can command that it gets don), that his gut says it’s the right OS to use. That group will always be a very small percentage of the population.
Linux will certainly NOT be embraced anywhere that is steeped in bureaucracy or political maneuvering. Linux is made for people that forge their own paths and make their own decisions. Adopting Linux simply has too many intangibles, unknowns, and takes too much mental work for your average bureaucrat. It just isn’t happening.
Not only that, ubiquitous networks, cloud computing, and always-connected phone devices will shortly make knowledge of the OS mute.
3. Linux can salvage your old hardware. Of course it can, if you can live with the slow performance and have a lot of spares. Old (2 to 5 year) hardware is certainly available. Performance on older hardware is OK or perhaps better (read more reliable) than Windows (XP, Vista, etc.).
The real killer is time. Will a school fund the time it takes for a teacher to come up to speed on Linux? Is a teacher going to dive into swapping boards or power supplies? Will they learn the networking and server concepts well enough to support 30 or 40 laptops in a lab? They better be a special person, if they plan on going the Linux route.
They are also going to need quite a collection of spares and assorted parts, as well. From experience, I know that a typical notebook hard drive will last about 30,000 hours. That’s about 3-1/2 years of continuous operation. What teacher is going to be able to fund 40 new notebook hard drives for their 4 year-old machines? A new drive is $100, while a new cheapo notebook is $400. School systems will cite the cost of cheapo notebook and resist spending 1/4 of the price for drives. Of course, they would never buy $400 notebooks for their school, because they need “better” equipment. They’ll end up buying nothing or it will take so long to get approval, that another solution will surely appear from the ether.
Bottom line, old machines are not snappy enough and will require too much effort to keep running…in addition to the perceived “Linux” learning curve. The school leaders and administrators just won’t want to go to the trouble to make it work.
Perhaps the titans of Silicon Valley might put their efforts into getting freedom and free market-oriented leaders in Washington. Lack of growth in the United States economy, job market, and manufacturing/tech sectors are completely negating the need for computers in schools, anyway. Increased taxes and regulations are killing America. Create the environment and need for good equipment and incentives to learn the hard subjects.
I think schools should leave Linux to the adventure seekers, rugged individuals, innovators, and DIYers that have the guts, brains, and committment to make it work.