Ubuntu for our Schools: Part 1

This spring, Penn Manor will replace our now ancient fleet of elementary school Apple iBooks. The iBook fleet is a curious mash up of  multiple Apple G3 and G4 laptops. Many units are approaching 8 years old, which in computer years, roughly equates to medieval times. Beyond the poor health of rapidly aging hardware, the escalating system requirements of modern web browsers struck the final blow. Lack of support for the latest versions of Firefox, Safari and Chrome has relegated the remaining machines to word processing duty in elementary classrooms.

Large scale laptop fleet replacements are no small project. Given the harsh climate of PA public school funding, our challenge is to provide high-impact, forward-looking classroom technology at a price our budgets can afford and, most importantly, sustain. Plus, school technology resources must be reliable, easy-to-use and flexible enough to support the dynamic demands of evolving curriculum. Enter Linux, namely Ubuntu.

Meet Tux: the Linux mascot.

Linux is a free, community-developed operating system similar to Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OS X. Linux may not receive the same press enjoyed by Apple or Microsoft, but it is far from a fringe operating system. Originally released in 1991, Linux has matured into the platform of choice for thousands of worldwide schools, businesses and organizations. Some of the most demanding commercial environments run on Linux. It also serves as the primary computer platform for millions of global students. For a nice sampling of Linux installations, check out “50 Places Running Linux You Might Not Expect.”

Our new student laptops will run Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system tuned specifically for desktop use. Ubuntu (pronounced oo-bun-too) is a high-quality, reliable operating system with thousands of developers and supporters.

From a financial standpoint, adopting Ubuntu on student laptops helps save the district considerable dollars. Avoiding the licensing costs of both an operating system (Windows) and a word-processing suite (Microsoft Office) dramatically reduces software spending. Technology cost-savings can, in-turn, be  applied to student programs, staff and other district classroom needs.

Licensing costs for anti-virus software may also be avoided. Like Mac OS X, Ubuntu is immune to the thousands of virus and malware apps common to Microsoft Windows. Of course, no software platform is perfectly secure and free from security issues; therefore, Penn Manor IT staff will regularly update our Ubuntu laptops with necessary security patches and continue to mitigate potential security breaches via industry standard network procedures.

While new to Penn Manor, Ubuntu is not new to many global schools. Successful large-scale installations both in the U.S. and abroad demonstrate that Ubuntu is an exceptional choice for classroom technology. In the coming months, I’ll continue documenting our Ubuntu deployments. Check back for more updates as we roll out this exciting new platform to our classrooms.

10 Replies to “Ubuntu for our Schools: Part 1”

  1. We have extended the life of some older laptops using Ubuntu on a small scale basis.

    A few questions come to mind:
    Will you purchase laptops with no OS? How much will this save?
    Are your IT staff self-trained?

    This will likely complicate any requests to run software provided with textbooks. Will you not support that or will you insist on web-based resources?

    We’ll be following along as you outline your plan.

    K. Paccio
    Northampton Area Schools

  2. @Kurt I do expect to purchase machines without Windows preloaded. We’re still deciding on a laptop make/model so exact OS savings vary by vendor. At the elementary level, we currently have no textbooks with app requirements- everything is browser based. Should that change, the WINE emulator will prove useful. As for my team- I’m fortunate to have outstanding, multi-platform technology wizards!

  3. This is a great idea.
    Ubuntu is extremely simple and takes barely any processing power to run. It will be great for the Elementary kids. Why didn’t we do this for the high school? With the overpriced Macs that the school has, we could have had a plethora of Linux based computers compared to the limited amount of MacBooks that we currently have. We also wouldn’t have the compatibility errors that we do now.

  4. @Ryan The elementary school deployment compliments our existing middle school Ubuntu desktops. As we explore low-cost, high-value technology solutions, Ubuntu will also be making an appearance at Penn Manor High School.

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