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The Case for Linux in the Classroom

12 June 2008 4 Comments

A lot of people tend to shy away at the mention of even the word Linux, myself included. Being raised on a Windows machine, and pampered by an easy visual interface, I was nervous about trying out something that used so much of the command line. I like clicking, scrolling, and buttons that flash. Using a command line made me nervous. The one thing that didn’t make me nervous though, was the price tag(free). With the mindset of being technology savvy, and having nothing to lose, I decided to give it a whirl. Since then I have not only been opened up to a very good operating system, but have learned that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad option for the education  community. Let me explain…

Before I begin outlining a very brief overview on the case for Linux in the classroom, let me say that my worries about not getting all of the visual interface that Windows offers have subsided. There is plenty of scrolling, buttons, etc… and I find myself only using the command line when I want to, for the sake of learning. As a matter of fact, not only are the casual uses of Linux found to run in a fashion similar to what I might expect from something like Windows, but even the more complex tasks are just as easy. Great!

Now for my case…

It’s free folks. Windows and OSX cost money. For every machine you have in a school you are charged a certain amount for it to run an operating system like Windows or OSX. Not Linux. The whole idea surrounding the Linux movement is “Free”. It means that you are free to use it, free to change it to suit your needs, free to do with it what you please. This in itself could save schools a lot of money. Not to mention that the majority of software is free as well. As a matter of fact, there are Linux alternatives to just about any made-for-profit software that you would purchase for Windows. Considering that office software like PowerPoint, Word, and Excel cost quite a bit, there is a lot to be said about the free Linux alternative.

It’s easy to use and find what you are looking for. Granted, if you type educational software into google, you will probably end up finding mainly products for Windows and OSX. But they will, again, cost you money. Usually. Typically though, if you find what you are looking for and search for the Linux alternative you will usually end up happier and richer due to the lack of a price tag.

Linux comes in several flavors, since many people have decided to build on such a great core system. Ubuntu happens to be my flavor of choice, and with it comes a way to install programs easily through a searchable directory, and one click installs. (And no, you don’t have to restart your computer after installing.)

Linux is the only OS designed and equipped with Education in mind. Edubuntu, a flavor of Linux, is designed with the classroom in mind. It comes preinstalled with education software and applications that suit students of all grade levels, and even has some handy applications for the teacher too.

I know these three points aren’t enough to sway most readers, and to be honest, they wouldn’t have swayed me either. It took a test drive and seeing it before I was a believer. The good news is that anyone can try it out(for free, of course) without any harm being done to their current computer setup. As a matter of fact the operating system disk that is used to install it can be used to run it as well. Granted every time you start Linux up on the CD, it will be back to the way it was before. But it is great for a test drive.

If you are interested in giving it a test drive you can download it here. The file you download is an ISO file.  This file is meant to be burned onto a CD. You can do this in CDBurnerXP by choosing a data cd from the options menu, then going to File>Create Disc from ISO. Once the burn is complete, just reboot with the disk in, and you will be provided a screen to install or Run Ubuntu.


  • Richard Chapman said:

    Microsoft was given the keys to the Kingdom when they were allowed to make exclusive and perpetual deals with manufactures to pre-install their OS on every computer. Now a generation calls it the best operating system, not realizing their logic is based on the experience of only one operating system. Of course it’s the best. Backing up that boast requires more mangled logic like the famous popularity breeds security vulnerabilities or security through obscurity as it is sometimes called. My favorite one is that the Package Managers that come with most Linux distros are more difficult to use and not as good as the Add/Remove Programs in XP. Any Linux user who used to be a Windows user, that is to say nearly every one, will laugh at such nonsense. The package management system is one of best things to come along in operating system development. Too bad it will never be implemented by Microsoft, maybe by Apple but not as well as Linux does it. It’s not a technical issue but a political and commercial one.

  • Scott Walker (author) said:

    Much agreed, Richard. When Windows’ Add/Remove starts to list a multitude of free add-ons, as does Synaptics, and then has the intuition to tell what else needs to be installed to make a certain program run correctly, my tune may change a little.
    It is indeed a political/commercial issue. I’ve noticed some stories lately about schools moving towards open-source. Maybe the tide will change with younger generations learning that there is indeed an alternative.

  • docsmartz said:

    Great to hear about more teachers getting into free(dom) software.

    I think you have got only one of the advantages of free(dom) software: the cost!

    These are the points you need to be aware of…

    Free Software gives you the right to:

    USE – you can use the software however you like. You are not restricted by the vendor through EULAs for example.

    STUDY – you can see under the hood and look at the code that makes the program work. This means you can find bugs or malicious code or just learn how to make your own programs. Even if you don’t want to study the code, at least you can rest easy knowing that there are other people who will have studied/peer reviewed the code.

    MODIFY – you have the right to modify the code. Fix bugs, add features, translate into other languages. Again, if you don’t want to do this you can hire someone to do it or take advantage of the modifications other people make. Look at the Firefox browser and all of its massive number of extensions for example.

    SHARE – this is the free as in cost part. You have the right to share the code with anyone and everyone. Helping your friends and neighbors.

    Education and academia used to be all about these values too. Helping people, educating, peer-review, etc. These are things that free software and academia have in common. Software was originally free. Academics created it and gave it to their peers so that that they could use it in their studies. Back then it only came in (pre-compiled)code form so modifications could be made and integrated back into the original program.

    Teachers can take advantage of free courseware applications as shown in this article:


    Teachers can collaborate in creating courses. There are lots of free(dom) ones you can download to get you started or you can create your own and share them with the community too.

    Enjoy your freedom.

  • Martin said:

    You should take a look at this (written 6 years ago!): http://www.aful.org/ressources/institutions/rescon_en