For as long as I can remember I have been a Windows user. I vaguely remember my parents having Windows 3.1 when I was in high school and my first computer came with a shiny new copy of Windows 95. After many years of Windows 95, 98, ME (yes, it was awful), and finally XP I succumbed to the lure of a shiny new Macbook three years ago. Since then I have been dual platform. Kelly also joined the party by giving up his Windows-based video editing system for a MacPro for his documentary production hobby. Now we have two offices in our house affectionately called the “Mac lab” and the “Windows lab.” I like using both operating systems for different tasks and as someone who often helps friends, colleagues, and students with technology projects and professional development I feel is important for me to understand both platforms.
Using that same logic over the weekend I spent some time checking out Linux or more specifically the Linux based operating system, Ubuntu. Why Linux? Why now? Well, I mentioned in an earlier post that last week had the opportunity to check out an Eee PC running a customized version of Linux while at the ILC Conference. I have to say I was pretty impressed. While this version of Linux is certainly not as pretty as the Mac OSX operating system, nor as ubiquitous as Windows XP it works and it works well. Any average Mac or Windows user would feel right at home with this operating system.
Since a Linux version of the Eee PC costs around $300 this may be a great product for schools looking to implement a 1:1 program. The Macbooks used at my current school cost about $2,000 and the Gateways at my previous school retailed in the neighborhood of $1,500. It doesn’t take a brainiac to figure out that 5-6 students could have Eee PCs for the cost of providing a traditional laptop to just one student. Realize, there are other trade-offs besides operating system being made to create the Eee PC’s rock bottom price including a small solid-state hard drive, no optical drive, and a small over all size. However, do student laptops really need optical drives? I know a school district in the neighboring town that actually bans students from using them. Large hard drives are also becoming less necessary with cloud computing and other web 2.0 products becoming more common. As I have mentioned in previous posts there is a cost associated with using name brand software (like $14,000 just to have Microsoft Office licenses for all of our student laptops this year). Even an Eee PC with Windows is $30-50 more than one with Linux. Since schools have finite funds, shouldn’t we at least take a look at free, open source alternatives? Just look at all the open source programs available for Mac users!
So as I mentioned I spent part of the weekend checking out Ubuntu. I was surprised to find out there are different “flavors” of Ubuntu including education (Edubuntu) multimedia design (Ubuntu Studio) versions. I think a mini laptop running Linux or Ubuntu may be coming to my home soon. I’d like to give it a whirl and see if it really is the future of education.