Home News Featured Blogs Libby Clark Pennsylvania High School Rolls Out 1,700 Linux Laptops to Students

Pennsylvania High School Rolls Out 1,700 Linux Laptops to Students

A few weeks before Penn Manor High School gave Linux laptops to every student, stacks of the unboxed machines filled a cafeteria. There the Lancaster, Pa. district's IT staff, high school apprentices and volunteers spent winter break configuring and testing all 1,725 laptops in assembly-line fashion, in preparation for the start of the second semester.

Penn Manor students unboxing laptopsWhen they were done, every student, grades 9-12, came away with an Acer TravelMate laptop pre-loaded with Ubuntu 13.10. Then after a roughly 5-minute orientation, students were let loose with sudo access and a mission to tinker, study, and create to their hearts' delight.

“We encourage our students to install software and lift the hood of the system to better understand what makes it tick,” said Charlie Reisinger, the district's technology director. “I hope our students run local webservers, toy with Python or simply explore graphics programs such as GIMP. Linux offers so many opportunities to explore computing, programming, and the arts.”

Switching to Open Source

Linux has been the backbone of the Penn Manor School District's IT infrastructure for a decade – powering servers and providing the platform for its websites, storage, and learning management systems. So when the district set out to give every student a laptop, installing Linux was a natural choice for the IT staff.

Reisinger also did some personal soul-searching on the role of technology in the classroom, he says, and realized that many of the “fad” devices embraced by other schools didn't align with his educational goals for computing. (See his full rationale in his recent blog post on

“It concerns me that we tend to chase the new silver tech bullet without thinking philosophically about what we want our students doing, or the freedom we want to give them with the device,” he said. “My fear is we're losing the art of computing. Then we lose a generation of engineers.”

Linux allows a level of exploration and control that other closed devices don't, he said. The cost savings in switching to all open source software is an added benefit. Reisinger estimates the district will save at least $360,000 in licensing fees on the high school's 1:1 laptop program alone.

Three years ago, the district set out to replace all of its classroom Windows and Mac machines with Linux and open source software. Elementary and middle school computer labs and classroom computers were the first to run Linux. And this month marked the end of the transition with the launch of the high school's 1:1 laptop program.

laptops ready to distribute

Getting Students Involved

Beyond giving out new laptops, the program set out to teach open source principles and introduce a culture shift. IT staff led evening “tech camps” for parents in the district and training sessions for teachers to help them become more familiar with the installed applications as well as the concept of open source software.

“Many parents think open source is some nefarious plot; they misunderstand that free in principle isn't a sub plot to take over their computer,” said Andrew Lobos, one of four seniors at Penn Manor High who has spent the last several summers interning with the IT team. “We see that with parents and students, there's a lot of misunderstanding about what free and open source software is.”

The group of seniors was brought in as help desk apprentices to do web design, hardware testing, and deployment. They also helped facilitate the laptop training sessions and runs an IT support desk for other students during the school day.

student crew To help automate the Linux installation, Lobos developed his own software toolkit (on Git Hub) out of open source components including BusyBox and Udpcast. Ben Thomas built the ticketing system for the student help desk (also on Git Hub). And Nick Joniec and Collin Enders have been doing hardware support.

All four seniors said they plan to go on to careers in system administration or engineering. But for now they're happy to see more of their peers using open source software.

“Even if they're not really aware it's using Linux hopefully they gain a little more computer or tech knowledge from using it,” said Lobos, who first used Linux in the fifth grade to build a web server on a Pentium III he found in his basement. “And in the classroom I think it will be a great learning tool. My greatest hope is it will inspire someone to start coding.”

Visit the Penn Manor Technology Blog for more information on the school's open source education programs.

For more photos of the roll out see the slideshow, below.



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  • Grayson Peddie Said:

    What an incredible article! I am typing this in Ubuntu 14.04 development branch. It is wonderful to see students using Linux. But so many jobs require Windows and even Microsoft Office. How will they fit in if students only learn Linux for what computing is all about?

  • Brian Beck Said:

    Just had this conversation a few minutes ago. They use to call them Digital Natives, now we call them Digital Zombies! All they know how to do is what Microsoft/Mac's tell them and keep on paying. Students have lost problem solving and critical thinking skills. Bold is Bold, Margins are Margins we can teach them that with LibreOffice. I'd love to do an experiment with their computer class aka Microsoft Office.... All year they use Microsoft Office, their final is in LibreOffice. I'd rather hire someone bring me Linux and Open Source skills over Microsoft.

  • Adam McNutt Said:

    I have to use Windows in my work environment, however I RDC into anything I need towork on. I'm primarily Fedora here, Ubuntu 12.04 in a VM, and a MAC to support other users. I am the only IT guy running Linux, so it is possible. :-) I use LibreOffice without any issues here. I have to admin the Exchange server, but it's RDC for that, and I am working on replacing it with something more standards-based. There are several other businesses here in Boise just like it. Remote in to what you HAVE to and use what you want for the rest.

  • Roger T. Imai Said:

    I've been an Ubuntu user since 2007, and I'd like to echo support for the previous respondents. It's estimated that 80% of the internet is run on Linux. Microsoft influence is on the decline. Germany, France, Spain, the UK are all transitioning to Linux, and saving millions of Euro in licensing fees. Microsoft does not provide access to their proprietary code, but instead an Application Programming Interface (API, do this to get this result, but we won't tell you how it works.) Linux, otoh, exposes all of the programming, down to the source code used to create the software. Contrary to popular expectations, open source allows the programming community to respond to and block threats much quicker than proprietary development systems. When a new exploit is detected, fixes are often pushed out to all users within hours, not weeks as is typical of Microsoft updates. I've been using OpenOffice, now LibreOffice, and have had zero difficulties working with my company documents, and Chromium and Firefox on Linux with no access problems. Besides, my company is transitioning much of its collaborative work to the web. Much less work is being performed on local installations of Office.

  • Leslie Satenstein Said:

    In the business world, the advent of browser standards and html standards has meant that a vendor can provide software to run on the server, and the browser will take care of formatting, be the enduser system, Linux, Mac, or Windows. So, if the end-user software can run on any platform, who needs the costly client software that many companies oblige you to buy and install for your system. The example has been software written for XP that cannot run on Windows 7, 8, 8.1 or other.

  • Dave Frandin Said:

    I wonder why they didn't go with 12.04LTS, it has a 5 year support window, vs 13.10 and its 18 month window.. They'll just have to a dist-upgrade WAY before they would have had they used an LTS...

  • nordine Said:

    "Open software" allow students to have open mind. When a children learn to use open software he is able instinctively to use proprietary software. The opposite is not true.


    I use linux for all my schoolwork too and it serves me pretty well(Typing in a Ubuntu 13.10 box). I am the only one running Linux fulltime in my class and so far i haven't had any serious compatibilty issues. There are several other computers in the computer lab which run Linux and Windows eXPired. In my opinion, open source software is one of the few remaining portals to creative thinking and a real show of open mindedness

  • Andrew Porter Said:

    How liberating! Traditionally users are given completely locked down Windows machines - we're asking them to open their minds whilst putting them in confinement. This is the future of computing.

  • hughetorrance Said:

    Everything I found out about windo$e and how it works I learned from using Linux... I am posting this from a Salix system. (Slackware)

  • balin' Said:

    I like the Linux, it just lacks third party support and plug and play, once these drivers are introduced there is still a need for Windoze.

  • Adam McNutt Said:

    My Linux system is 100% plug and play and I have 3rd party support as well. Where are you not seeing plug and play and 3rd party support?

  • JNoble43 Said:

    Mostly in DRM focused software - no iTunes, no Netflix, and few games. Nothing I'd really worry about not having on school computers.

  • Ty Said:

    This is awesome! I'm not a fan of Ubuntu though. They don't represent the ideals of Linux :\ Linux Mint or even straight up Debian. (LMDE both?) Anyways.. My college is all Windows... Is there some way to convince schools to switch over to Linux?

  • sagar Said:

    i like linux os. from last 4 month i m using linux based os SLAX, and it is one of the unique operating system that i had ever seen. and i wanna to be a part of linux org but how i could be?

  • toyotabedzrock Said:

    Tell them if they can hack into the school server they can change their grade.

  • Linux Said:

    Learning a new skill can be a challenge, especially when the topic seems so vast. I visit this website and it's very good website

  • Paul Brighton Said:

    Nice to find your blog with valuable information.

  • Jeroen Mathon Said:

    Great development i wish my school was the same.

  • Carling Said:

    Quote :- i wanna to be a part of linux org but how i could be? Answer :- go to website and join there

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