Linux in education

Okay, this is the re-new thing, using Linux. I tried this years ago, then again a year ago, and I’m, gulp, possibly going to try it again. According to Ed Moltzen’s article, Linux is back and raring for a slice of the education pie of profit…or not.  Linux is free, right? Unless it’s easy to use right out of the box.  In this case, he’s tried putting his 10-year old in front of a PC running Xandros Professional 4 (which happens to cost $99) and loaded the browser with her favorite email account as a homepage, plus added a Google Docs link, and let her go for 30 minutes. Upon returning, she’s still sitting there happy.

The nice part about this article is that he doesn’t recommend it to everyone in the education world. He just makes the point of how easy it is to use and understand–improved intuitive control (even a 10-year old can use it!). What he also says is that the reason we continue with Windows as adults is because a) it’s what we’re used to and b) we can get support from each other for it. I’d agree with that, not everyone is interested in solving problems by themselves, they just want to get their work done.

The leap for many of us is unfamiliarity. I can tell my mom that Linux is a hundred times more stable, will work on a basic machine, and do everything that Windows can do but it requires her to learn OpenOffice and Thunderbird. Where her Contacts list is and how the interface of Word looks is very important to her, and losing that is worth the extra $250 for her ease of use.

That’s another point…M$ has gone through incredible lengths to make its user experience the easiest and most integrated possible. I can pick any piece of software off the shelf or off the Internet and 99% will work on the M$ machine. Not true for Linux. Even though most major softwares have a Linux alternative (Photoshop for free = Gimp), they are not integrated to the point that they play well together (try setting up a Linux home network using Samba without knowing some code). And what about connecting those popular devices like iPods or the new PDA/cellphone?

But the generation gap here is worth mentioning–teaching our younger age folk using Linux at least presents the option of separation. I’m thinking the old Apple v. PC discussion here. It’s an educational opportunity and a way out of the box. Of course, having support and a teacher to help through the difficult times is the key to any education, so if either of those are absent, then ease of use and good old fashioned $$$ will do.

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