I'm a sixth grade teacher, working in a K-8 school, about 260 students. We're a "Mac school".

Truth in advertising, I love Macs. However, with declining enrollments and a tight economy I have doubts about the sustainability of remaining a Mac school due to the cost of the machines. I also wonder if we need machines that powerful, since we're, slowly, moving in a cloud computing direction.

This summer I acquired a number of used PCs from local vendors for my classroom. The laptops in our wing's mobile lab are so ill-functioning they're not worth the time. Additionally, teachers are increasingly running into scheduling conflicts for the computer lab.

Unfortunately, my administrator won't allow me to use them because he fears viruses, and what content might be on the machines. The machines had no hard drives. I was prepared to purchase and install hard drives. I was planning on running Ubuntu (Linux) on them. Still, no go.

That said, our bookkeeper (in house) uses a PC. Also, our custodian has all information pertaining to the facility on a PC. Most of our school board members run PCs during meetings. Our Assistant Principal uses a Mac and netbook for various tasks. I have a netbook, running Linux, in my classroom. A few staff members run netbooks in the building as well. To my knowledge, there's been no problems with wireless connectivity, viruses, etc.

Recently, I emailed the staff about considering moving from Macs for the following reasons.

* there are netbooks and cheaper refurbished machines that will enable us to put more machines in the hands of more kids
* we're moving in the direction of cloud computing, and don't need machines as powerful as Macs
* there's free, high quality antivirus software that can be installed on the machines.

My school's IT person is against the move for many reasons. Here are a few.

* "you have to spend years in professional development for the staff (learning a new OS)"
* (We'd need to) "increasing the budget or decreasing the present classroom or specials staff and adding another tech person"
* "There are so many other hidden costs as well as other problems."

Would years of PD be needed? Teachers don't need to learn operating systems. They need to learn the applications that run on the operating systems. Would running a new OS interfere with a teacher's understanding of Google Apps, Voicethread, Animoto, etc? I don't see it. As long as the teacher can turn on the machine and click on a web browser I don't see any need for fretting about learning a new OS.

As for the cost, we can buy at least three netbooks for every Mac. That, along with moving much of our computing to the cloud will be where we realize savings.

As for "hidden costs as well as other problems", what might they be?

I've attached copies of my email, and my IT's email for your consideration. Text in black means names (school,people) have been changed.

Any feedback will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Tags: linux, mac, operating, pc, systems

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You're a hero. I'd love to do what you are doing.

My struggle is the time needed to learn about servers, LAN drops, configuring servers, etc. One, obvious, reason I'd like to learn is to set something up like you have. Another reason is so I can understand the language of IT people.

A couple of points you make interest me greatly. Would you tell me more about the server in your classroom? Is it a telephone booth sized machine I see in our computer lab?

Also, you said any computer can be a server. Does this mean that one machine is literally wired to the internet, and the others are feeding off it?

Lastly, you mentioned you began this a year and a half ago. It sounds like I'm at a similar knowledge base as you were, when you began. What resources did you find to help you learn?

Thank you.

Yes! Thank you Indigo. Your statement is definitely true; love your analogy and will keep it in mind while trying to explain the concept to others. Often, when trying to explain something that works for you, details like this can be left out. The small desktop "Honda Civic" server that I set up in another classroom handles 4 computers, "inflatable boat trailer", including itself very comfortably. The beauty of this setup is that you can set up more than one server to handle more clients. In fact, you can link the servers in a series. However, I have not experimented with this. Hmm... maybe this can be another project. Or... I can try another cluster option. My mottoes: Use what is available to you to its fullest potential. Improvise and do it yourself when your district is unable to provide resources. Desire is more than half the battle when trying to accomplish a goal.

Just returned from picking up an old iMac somebody donated.

Joel, great minds most definitely think alike, in the sense we both use weebly for our class websites.

Mine is http://fbus6.weebly.com

I visited your Linux lab page, and bookmarked it, as I'm certain the information provided on it will help tremendously.

I'll need a few days to digest all the helpful information everyone has provided, and will have questions shortly as I dig deeper.

I'm impressed by what you've set up, and plan on giving it a try.

If anyone is ever in Vermont give me a call. I'll treat you to a day at the mountain for some skiing & boarding.

Charlie, I'll try to answer your questions the best that I can. I have a few images on our 5th grade website. Like my lab, this website was created last year. I needed a place for my students to go once they had daily access to technology. Here it is. The site is always changing. http://hawaiianfifthgrade.weebly.com/

1. Would you tell me more about the server in your classroom? Is it a telephone booth sized machine I see in our computer lab?

It is a tower server slightly larger than a desktop computer. Here is a picture: http://hawaiianfifthgrade.weebly.com/linux_lab.html
HP Proliant ML150, G2 Used, purchased for $900 (was $700, but I added more memory etc.)
4 GB ECC RAM (Originally had 2 GB)
2 x 3.0 GHz Xeon Processors (Originally had 1)
2 x Ethernet Cards 10/100/1000 (Originally had 1)
2 x SCSI Hardrives
Raid 1
1 CD ROM, 1 Floppy, no sound card (I just recently added a sound card from a discarded computer from a local high school.)

2. Also, you said any computer can be a server. Does this mean that one machine is literally wired to the internet, and the others are feeding off it?

That is exactly what I am saying. The Linux Terminal Server, ideally, will have two ethernet gigabit cards. One ethernet port will be connected to the outside world, the internet or to your school server if you desire. The other will be connected to a gigabit switch. This is the one I use: Trendnet TEG-S224: 26 port 10/100/1000 Copper Gigabit Switch ($80). I have 14 computers connected to this switch, thin clients, including hard drives, not being used. I figure if my server goes down we would still be in business because each computer has either Ubuntu or Windows XP installed. These particular thin clients are a special case. I can go into greater detail about them at a later time. The most important thing you need when converting a computer into a server is memory and speed, I have been successful with at least 2 gigs of RAM and at least a 2.4 GHz to 3GHz. processor. LTSP is memory hungry. 8-) The more RAM and speed, the better off you will be.

3. Lastly, you mentioned you began this a year and a half ago. It sounds like I'm at a similar knowledge base as you were, when you began. What resources did you find to help you learn?

I was fortunate that I saw this type of lab at the CUE conference. I took notes and diagrammed the whole system piece by piece. I would be happy to do the same for you. I happened to find a very small Linux network shop and the guy there, Alex, explained a few things to me. First thing he said to do was not to buy anything. Linux will work on anything. He is right! This is what you do:
1. Find two computers to experiment with, the newer the better. I ended up buying a $200 P4 computer from Alex who spent a couple of hours out of his work day to talk to me. My other computer was a donated Evo laptop.
2. Buy the Linux Bible, read and experiment with the live disks. They will work on practically any machine. Follow directions on how to burn your own ISO images from the internet so you can try any Linux flavor that you desire. (a two month process)
3. If you have an XP machine, download infrarecorder , Open Source software to burn your images.
4. Download Edubuntu LTSP Alternate version to your computer. Then burn a disc.
5. Install the operating system on one of the computers and get two computers to talk. One of your computers will need two ethernet ports, one should be a gigabit ethernet card.

Once you have reached this point, experiment with switches and add computers. It took me about 4 months beginning in April to experiment, read, write my donation letters, and put together my first lab. You will find that your knowledge will increase exponentially and your confidence will build as you begin to cut the strings of proprietary hell. You will be the master of your destiny.

These sites are also helpful:
1. http://edubuntu.org/
2. http://www.ltsp.org/
3. http://doc.ubuntu.com/edubuntu/edubuntu/handbook/C/server.html
4. http://www.k12ltsp.org/contents.html
5. http://reallylinux.com/docs/linuxclassroom.shtml

and... Linux Journal, The Official Ubuntu book
Hi Joel,

I shared the link to your Linux lab with the staff. The only response I got was from the tech coordinator. Here it is.

"Looks like he is getting by with a little help from his friends;-)
6 techies and 2 companies for one lab!"

She then cited the list of people of people you thank for sponsorship and technical support.

This is what I'm dealing with:(

Hope you're well.

Hey indigo,.

I appreciate you comment, but I'm struggling to infer a message from it.

Sorry, I've had a long, but (student) productive day.

Hope to hear from you.

Charlie let me break down how these people helped me.

Charles Williams: donations and technical support. Charles really just put the donated computers in one place for me to pick up, gave me some background information about the computers, and signed them out to me.

Kerri Murray: donations and technical support. Kerri gave me permission to take the computers and showed me her lab at the adult school.

Alex at AMS Advanced Micro Systems: guidance and technical support. Alex owns a very small computer store that supports Linux networking. He talked to me for a couple of hours about Linux technology.

Steve Hargadon: providing a model for high quality, low cost technology in the classroom for schools without a budget. We had a short discussion and I diagrammed his lab.

Manuel Garcia: lab preparation and trouble shooting. My dad, very little technology knowledge, just wanted to help. He thought what I was doing was cool.

Jesse Mendez: lab preparation and trouble shooting. My 16 year old nephew, newly indoctrinated into Linux, who is now miles ahead of me and is beginning to teach his teachers at San Pedro High School all about Linux security and networking.

I gave these people credit for supporting me because they really supported me whether they knew about Linux or not. They believed in the dream of creating something new from vintage technology. They were excited about what I was doing. I was on fire and determined to succeed. So, really, I am getting by with the help of my friends. What is interesting about this is that because of what I am doing, I am making more friends. People are wanting to help the school that can make those old computers work like new. Since I have started, this is what our amateur Linux team of three teachers has received in technology for our school.

2 HP tower servers
30 Compaq Deskpro
13 HP thin clients
12 HP P4 Desktops
4 G4 Apple towers
17 White G4 Apples
3 projectors
5 varied XP desktops Dell, Compaq, HP
3 laptops
Live Broadcasting Camera
If I knew how to use it, I could have had a SUN tower server the size of a refrigerator, overkill!

Yes, I do have friends. They believe in the cause of educating our young people,especially if you can do it with what we have. My effort is lean and green. What is great about all this is that you do not need to be a heavy technology guru. At least I haven't had any problems I couldn't solve. I just Google for answers. My friends are mostly like me, interested in learning something new, and wanting to provide students with technology they can use. It is so important to be thankful and appreciative to those who help you. I am truly thankful and I want the world to know.

I am well. In fact, I have just converted a Dell desktop into a server and am presently installing Ubuntu LTSP server on it, should be done in the next 20 minutes. We'll see how it works.
So many people here have made good points for making a switch or simply being OS agnostic. I teach computer classes full time to elementary students on Windows machines and I run a Mac OSX at home full time. I am also a part time IT tech at a private school where I run a Windows and Ubuntu server.Realistically all of the modern incarnations of these operating systems are very, very good.

Since windows machines are commodity priced, you will easily be able to make your tech budget stretch farther. You could spend the extra money on Elmos, or LCD projectors or other document cameras.

Teachers aren't known for their dazzling salaries, so it's possible that many of the staff purchased sensibly priced windows computers for their homes. You might find they already have a good handle on working with Microsoft products.

As far as hidden costs, I'd say from experience that there are more hidden "savings" when you switch to windows. Free programs are plentiful. Free office packages, free antivirus, free paint, image editors and drawing programs, free screen capture, screen recorders, audio recorders, learning games, and so on.

As far as "other problems", the tech person now has get up to speed on windows operating system configurations, cloning solutions, backup solutions, network config, printer setups and the like. If there are no servers needed, then it's really not too much to learn to do basic windows admin tasks. (install programs, configure network and printers) You could basically buy whole pile of cheapie desktops or netbooks with windows 7 home edition and be happy. If you're going the server route with a local domain controller and creating a file server for the campus or lab(s) a tech with limited windows administration skills will be in for a tough year or two if not more. Becoming a competent windows system administrator is not a trivial thing. Just take a look at the edugeek.net school IT admin forums for a taste of the complexity.

I'd also add that most school techs have their hands full and adding another completely different platform to have to support doesn't make their days any easier.
indigo, you're awesome. Does your school need an elementary school teacher? I might be available.

Understanding this might be the world's largest softball I'm tossing to you, what are your thoughts regarding technicians who don't understand the underlying mechanisms involved in making an OS switch?
Thanks for your help. I'm close to certain my school is going the server route, with the local domain controller, etc.

I understand the person bearing the responsibility, and resultant problems switching operating systems is the IT person. I accept it'll take a year, maybe longer to make the transition.

In short, I have no doubt the person facing the greatest challenge in this endeavor will be the IT person.

However, it's not about the IT person. It's not about the staff. It's about giving students what they need to be successful learners, and contributors in 21st Century society. Additionally, considering the tight economy, and more emphasis being placed on project based learning, teaching digital literacies, etc more machines are needed. Bottom line, the high cost of Macs in schools are unsustainable.

That said, a year or longer of discomfort, largely for the adults, is a small investment for the long-term benefit of the community.

Again, thanks for your insight.
Stay with the Mac as much as you can. Initial cost is high but TCO is comperable mostly because Macs stay useful longer. Having said that, if you want to go 1:1 it's hard to argue against Netbooks. Keep in mind your needs. Macs are awesome but sometimes overkill.

If you're thinking desktops look into a product from NComputing that allows one computer to be turned into upto 11 stations at a cost of $70 per seat.

I just got a demo unit and plan to set up a
Linux system this week.
Thanks for the tip on NComputing. I'll look into it. I'd appreciate it if you'd keep me posted on the demo unit.




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