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Linux In School

School BusTwo IBM colleagues, John Boutross and Craig Fellenstein, are helping out as volunteers in a program called the IT Leadership Academy. The program is sponsored by the Governor of Connecticut and is designed to bring 180 public High School students together to work on IT related projects during the school year. The participating high schools include both suburban and urban. The Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, CT is the host for the sessions. I was fortunate to be guest speaker this morning.

Michael Mino is the director of the IT Leadership Academy and has organized the program. The students selected have been identified as leaders and I was very impressed with their knowledge and interest. They worked in small groups on their projects after my talk and I was able to go around and look over their shoulders, talk with them about their projects, and answer some questions. The students are very knowledgeable about Windows and some about the Mac but almost none about Linux.

Michael Mino has acquired a dozen or so refurbished PC’s on which they are going to install Linux and place one with each of the student groups in the IT Leadership Academy. Linux for students makes so much sense. The WiFi network in the cafeteria where the students had their lab exercises was shut down today because a virus had struck their email system and the school administrators at the state level ordered the wireless LANs shut down. We all know what operating system the viruses target. One of the teachers told me that one of their IT challenges is insuring compliance with the binder full of Microsoft license agreements and that adding more systems is a budgetary challenge because of the Microsoft licensing cost.

What is holding Linux back in the educational system? My conclusion is that it is a simple matter of awareness. Is Linux harder to use on the desktop than Windows? Any rational analysis would say that Windows is somewhat easier and that there are more device drivers available. Could students, who have mastered highly complex mind-boggling Nintendo games, figure out how to install Linux, find the drivers they need, download a plethora of useful applications, and share how they did it with other students? With freedom from licensing agreements, could some creative high school, college or university create a Linux installation image complete with an educational application portfolio that could be shared among large numbers of schools around the world to help them get started? I suspect all this and more will happen sooner rather than later.