Hardware & Software

Cutting the High School IT Budget with Linux

April 15, 2014

Guest Author

Parents and citizens worry that public school administrators throw away thousands of dollars, if not more, on pointless and pricey technology that students and teachers do not need. In this post, let’s address the drastic benefits of cutting the high school IT budget with Linux adoption rather than relying on Microsoft Windows or Mac iOS.

Not every administrator, teacher, or tech advocate may find this view point suitable to their given situation, but it’s still relevant to explore the option, especially if a school of 1,700 students saved over $360,000 initially by switching to Linux for their student body.

Penn Manor High School and Linux

We do not need to look far for a local example outlining the benefits of Linux OS adoption within an educational setting. In Lancaster, PA, 1,700 students at the Penn Manor High School now work with Ubuntu at home and in school on Acer laptops issued by the school.

Charlie Reisinger, the Head of IT for Penn Manor, spoke with me after the story gained attention earlier this year. In our brief phone conversation, he broke down the costs associated with the total adoption, the time frame for preparing the laptops, and the transition to Linux with the students.

Saving $360,000 by saying Adieu to Microsoft

This fact alone should grab any high school principal or administrator’s attention. Perhaps money saved from switching to Linux would fund greater resources and essential projects for schools. For example, the larger public schools in Maryland continually struggle with enormous class sizes.

How do you expect one teacher to give each student enough attention when forty plus students sit in the classroom? How do you find a reasonable balance between the disproportionate ratio of teachers to students? The only solution in sight for concerned parents involves enrolling their children in smaller and insanely expensive private schools.

Educational professionals who specifically deal with these types of financial and educational structural issues cannot ignore this story.

According to Reisinger, they arrived at $360,000 by breaking down the cost per individual student and laptop. They considered the cost of licences for Microsoft Windows 8, Professional Suite, Microsoft Office, Antivirus software, and other software or programs necessary for Windows.

After considering the cost of those factors, they estimated the cost per machine at $200.00. Even with 1,700 students receiving a brand new Acer laptop, they still save at least $360,000 by saying good bye to Microsoft Windows.

The learning curve after leaving Windows

Most Windows or Mac users want to play deaf to the words of Linux advocates. Who wants to experience the hardship of learning an entirely new operating system when they don’t have to? Those naysayers can rest assured that their criticism and opposition isn’t new. The transition and learning curve isn’t as steep as you might expect.

Most of the more developed and user-friendly Linux systems, such as Ubuntu, provide few speed bumps when learning the basic functions and differences from Windows or even Mac.  So, stop making excuses with this issue. Learning how to use Ubuntu may take a little time, but once you adapt you’ll soon forget those days using Windows. With the end of support for ancient Windows XP, there is no better time to make the switch. Don’t forget the fact that the Linux Foundation will now offer their “Introduction to Linux” course for free on edX. The available resources make the option harder to ignore.

If you need advice regarding the installation process, reach out to our resident instructor Jonathan Jenkins by tweeting at him @TheKernelKid. He’s a huge Linux proponent and more than willing to field any questions.

Is this story an exception?

After reading the initial story about Penn Manor High School, you may think there’s a minute chance this approach will work elsewhere, especially in a major high school in Howard or Prince George’s County. The student population, size of classes, resources, and IT departments draw a major contrast to a high school located in Lancaster, PA.

These factors only serve as excuses to ignore the growing Linux noise and popularity. As a teacher or educational professional you can easily classify this example as an exception not achievable at your school, or you can start reaching out and promoting such a move. The Howard County Library switched to Linux years ago.

When reviewing the budget for IT, don’t throw money blindly away at purchasing iPads for the classrooms and Microsoft licences, consider the cost effective alternative.

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