March 2, 2001

Linux in Schools

Author: JT Smith

By: Jeff Field
NewsForge Reporter

For Linux to break into the desktop market, it has to become something
people understand. Most people "understand" Windows, in that they know
what Windows is and have a rough idea how it works it's "magic". When you
tell the average PC user that you don't run Windows, they will be quite
amazed that there is anything but Windows you can use. One of the ways to
combat that ignorance is by exposing people to Linux.At the University I attend, three of the computer labs we use have Linux
installed on them. Mostly, this is targetted towards computer science
students, but it raises an interesting point - isn't perhaps the best way
to get Linux into the real world by exposing it to the programmers, IT
managers and business exectives of tommorow?

Many people who I have talked to, once they learn that Linux does not
have to be used like DOS, but rather has a fully capable GUI, are very
interested in learning Linux. I think if perhaps universities deployed
Linux on a larger scale, which would save them money and time as they
would not have to worry about students messing with the Windows machines
and breaking them, which is a big problem, and they would no longer have
to pay Microsoft exhorbitant fees for their software.

If Linux is to take the desktop, people have to see it. Joe User, for
the most part, is never going to go out and get Linux. This is because
Joe does not know what Linux is, or how to use it. And that makes perfect
sense. You would not buy a car without first test driving it, so why
would you change your operating system without first sitting down and
using it?

This is why I think that the best way in for Linux is through
education. Perhaps colleges could offer transitional courses that teach
people how to use AbiWord and Gnumeric instead of Word and Excel, and
that teach the basic functions of GNOME or KDE. This doesn't just have to
apply to colleges and universities either, it could happen in elementary
schools. If taught to use Linux and the Internet at a young age, these
skills will stick. I'm not saying abandon Windows in schools - obviously,
despite the dreams of many a Linux user, Windows skills are still very
needed in todays world. But perhaps if Linux gets a little time in the
spotlight where people can see it, it will help it catch on.

As a side note, I'm interested in hearing about how Linux is being used
in your schools, be they colleges, elementary schools, or anything
else. Drop me a line at jfield@newsforge.com.

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