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September 6, 2003

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Gaël Duval, Joe Eckert, Randy Plessor, Jeremy White, and Mike Angelo Discuss Linux and Open-Source Software in Schools and Colleges

Young People Are The Future of Linux

MozillaQuest Opinion-Editorial

Mike Angelo -- 6 September 2003 (C) -- Page 1

Article Index

A Canadian college student joined #Office on EFNet IRC (Internet Relay Chat) recently and was asking some questions about MS Excel. So I suggested that he use the open-source comparables such as KOffice and OpenOffice -- also AbiWord for word processing. That naturally led to a discussion of using GNU/Linux, open-source software, and free software.

Turns out the fellow is a college senior at a Canadian college majoring in computer science. What piqued my interest then, and piques it now, is that here is a computer science major, in his senior year, that did not seem all that familiar with Linux and open-source software.

His chatting sounded as though his college teaches courses in MS Office products but does not cover the comparable open-source software and free software products such as AbiWord, KOffice, and OpenOffice. It seems that someone ought not be able to get a degree in computer science without having taken a course in open-source office/productivity software in general regardless of platform and in particular using the GNU/Linux operating system.

Additionally, this college student seemed to be familiar with command-line Linux and using some Linux servers such as e-mail and FTP servers. However, he seemed to be unfamiliar with desktop Linux and desktop Linux applications. It seems that someone ought not be able to get a degree in computer science without having taken a course about desktop Linux and desktop Linux applications.

Of course, when chatting with strangers on IRC, one cannot be all that sure of who the strangers are or of the truth and accuracy of what they say. Nevertheless and disregarding those caveats, let's for the sake of today's discussion take the above described IRC conversation at face value -- because it does raise some interesting issues.

Importance of Getting Linux into Schools and Colleges

That said, it is important to get schools, including elementary and secondary schools plus colleges and universities, to deploy and use Linux for their own use as well as for instructional use. That's particularly important because getting young people to learn and use Linux is critical for the growth, development, and deployment of Linux.

All in all, people do not make operating system purchases based on what's under the hood of an OS so much as they do on whether a computer system lets them do what they want to do -- completely, effectively, easily, and efficiently. In large part that means people will select an OS, and the applications which run on that OS, on the basis of how well they know how to use the OS and its applications collection.

This is why having schools and colleges train their students to use the GNU/Linux operating system and the set of applications that run on GNU/Linux is so important. If people learn to use Linux and Linux applications when they are youngsters, they are more likely to adopt and deploy Linux as adults.

The same thing goes for open-source and free software. An important element here is that much of the free and open-source software runs on both the GNU/Linux and MS Windows platforms -- some also runs on Macs and/or Unix too. AbiWord, The GIMP, Mozilla, and OpenOffice are a few examples of free and open-source applications that run on both the GNU/Linux and MS Windows platforms.

Desktop Linux Is Important for Server/Enterprise Linux Too

If you are one of those people that is more interested in getting GNU/Linux adopted and deployed in the server/enterprise arena, pay attention to desktop Linux and getting the schools to use and teach desktop Linux. Those school children and youngsters now will mature into the future IT/IS managers, corporate buyers, and captains of industry and commerce that will be making the operating system selection decisions for their businesses, companies, organizations, and institutions. Likely if they get sold on GNU/Linux, open-source software, and free software, now as young people, that is what they will decide to adopt and deploy when they are making those corporate and institutional IT/IS decisions later on.

It is important that the GNU/Linux that gets into the schools and colleges is a good desktop Linux rather than merely a server Linux. Actually, it's likely that at the elementary and secondary school levels the ideal Linux there is a very good desktop Linux. In the colleges and universities, it is important to get a very good server/enterprise grade Linux and a very good desktop Linux adopted and deployed there.

Mandrake's Gaël Duval

I was discussing the Linux in schools and colleges issues with Mandrake Linux founder Gaël Duval via e-mail. He stressed the importance of applications stating:

I think that the only current show-stopper for widespread Linux adoption is . . . the relative lack of end user applications compared to the Windows world.

MozillaQuest Magazine: It is important that what gets into the schools and colleges is a good desktop Linux rather than merely a server Linux.

Gaël Duval: Agreed . . . I think that there is a big momentum towards Linux in schools, and this really is something we'd love to support. Anyway, the tradition of using Windows is sometimes stronger than the reality of things, and once again end-user applications are missing. But things are getting better and there are schools and universities using Mandrake, and when they want to deal with us, we offer them good prices on products and support. Difficult to do more for now.

Some of those good deals from Mandrake get pretty darn good. For example, Gaël Duval mentioned:

we have several programs to have Mandrake Linux installed in schools, including one interesting program in California where PCs are shipped with Mandrake Linux in many schools.

MozillaQuest Magazine: Is Mandrake providing the Mandrake Linux to these people at no charge (free)?

Gaël Duval: Yes.

Prices do not get much better than free. Gaël Duval called our attention to a nice story about this project, California prison program offers Mandrake Linux to schools by DesktopLinux.com's Jill Ratkevic. Please check the Resources section at the end of this story for a link to Jill Ratkevic's article.

MozillaQuest Magazine: It seems to me that Mandrake Linux, especially your new, even-more end-user friendly, Mandrake 9.2 would be a very good choice for schools and colleges. Would Mandrake be willing to make any version of Mandrake Linux freely available to schools and/or colleges?

Gaël Duval: I suggest they download it . . . Three ISOs that contains a robust OS with everything to read and write MS Office documents . . . . After that, if they want more (support, services...) they contact us. That's the way we do our business.

Choices -- Download or Boxed Set

That of course leads to an interesting point -- and one of which regular Linux users are well aware. The basic GNU/Linux can be downloaded at no charge -- free.

However, we believe that it is better for new-to-Linux people to get boxed product. Moreover, it's rather likely that people that know how to download a Linux distribution, burn the ISOs to CDs, and install Linux from such download methods already know how to use Linux and already are using Linux.

Of course, under the GNU GPL (General Public License) if one purchases a GNU/Linux distribution boxed set, that one boxed set can be used to install GNU/Linux on an unlimited number of computers without further charge.

Mandrake Linux is easy to use and easy to install. Moreover it is very reasonably priced. Schools and students that are new to Linux ought to be able to afford buying at least one boxed-set of Mandrake Linux.

Applications, Applications, Applications and Crossover Office

Gaël Duval is on mark with his concerns about the applications available to GNU/Linux users. There are many good end-user applications for GNU/Linux. Nevertheless, it does often seem that there are more and better end-user applications for MS Windows than for GNU/Linux.

CodeWeaver's CrossOver Office, a commercial version of Wine, is designed to let some MS Windows applications run on GNU/Linux. It seems Wine and/or CrossOver Office are important and perhaps essential parts of a good desktop Linux system. That's so that people that are use to using, and own copies of, software such as the MS Office applications, Adobe PhotoShop, and so forth can run those MS Windows applications within their GNU/Linux-based computer systems.

Wine is free software and is included with most GNU/Linux distributions. CrossOver Office is a commercial version of Wine that you have to buy. However, CrossOver Office seems to work better than Wine. CrossOver Office is included with some desktop Linux distributions such as the SuSE Desktop Linux products.

Jeremy White is the founder and CEO of CodeWeavers, Inc. Jeremy was asked what programs does CodeWeavers have for getting CrossOver Office into schools and colleges and for students? He replied:

I just think schools are such a great place for Linux. In fact, one of my personal goals is to extend Wine so that my kids can eventually run all of their school software on Linux. Further, Universities are our very best customer group (maybe it's the 20% educational discount we offer to anyone in an educational role.

MozillaQuest Magazine: How are you involved with Wine?

Jeremy White: I like to say that we're the main corporate sponsor of the Wine project.

MozillaQuest Magazine: I notice you write it as "Wine" rather than "WINE" -- which is the more correct form?

Jeremy White: We're now pushing Wine. WINE is the old form. . . . Wine stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. It's an implementation of the Windows API that lets you run Windows programs on Linux.

MozillaQuest Magazine: In a paragraph, can you explain why CrossOver Office is better than Wine and what the difference is between Wine and CrossOver Office?

Jeremy White: The main differences are support and polish. CrossOver just works, and if it doesn't we'll make it work. We try not to accentuate the differences, though, because our overall goal is to help Wine grow.

The distinction that Wine is Not an Emulator but rather an implementation of the Windows API (Application Programming Interface) is not trivial. When using a Windows emulator, you must have an MS Windows license. However, since Wine (and therefore CrossOver Office) simply provide MS Windows-like APIs rather than emulate MS Windows, there is no need to have a MS Windows license in order to run MS Windows applications under Wine or Crossover Office on a GNU/Linux-based computer.

On the subject of requiring courses in GNU/Linux, open-source software, and free software for degrees in computer science, Jeremy White noted: Well, I think you've raised a very interesting point. I'm always nervous, though, about telling someone they 'should' do something (i.e. a CS grad should have exposure to Linux). The more important question is figuring out why his school didn't want that, in this day and age.

Finding out why some colleges and universities do not offer GNU/Linux, open-source software, and free software or require them for completing degrees in computer science is an important point that Jeremy White raises. Once it is known why these learning institutions are not GNU/Linux, open-source software, and free software oriented, people can then go about making GNU/Linux, open-source software, and free software more attractive to them, if appropriate.


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