Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part III
K12 Linux may be the mecca of open-source success. As school districts represent a part of state and local government, one has to wonder how their many case studies are practically unknown. As other sectors of state and local governments struggle with budget deficits, political pressure and uncertainty, Linux school projects represent tangible progress and offer empirical evidence of success.
If one wanted to find information about the use of Linux in state government, where would one go? The first thought would be an Internet search engine. Any combination of search terms for state government, though, return a chaotic mess.
If one wants to find information about Linux in schools, a search engine would take you to cyber foundries such as SchoolForge. Once there, you would find the information, tools and materials necessary to forge or make a school and all its parts. If such sites existed for government, we could see more tangible progress and empirical evidence of success for the entire Open Source community.
State and local governments need software applications for numerous tasks, including administration, finance, public works, law enforcement, courts, regulatory compliance, record management, facilities and transportation. The catalog of application requirements might surprise even the most sophisticated consultants. In most government units, facilities exist for services and communication between 1) government and citizens, 2) government and businesses and 3) government and other governments.
To gain perspective on the broad scope and complexity of government processes, you can use the federal Management Agenda Document. Start at section 5.3 in the document's appendix and continue toward the end. From these pages, you can get an idea of the applications required to run at the federal level. Scale each of those down to the state, county and city levels, and the functional requirements still remain large. For example, consider a searchable land deed database at the county level. Add a marriage database and another one for divorces, one for driving infractions, one for birth certificates and another for tax assessments, and you can begin to understand the scope.
Let's change the picture for a moment; imagine a web site for government applications. Instead of building one from scratch, we can put up a LAMP application for each government function that others can download. Suddenly, you have a resource center. If someone needs a 911-call center application, they probably could choose from several.
In the K12Linux domain, if you need an application, you probably would stop at SchoolForge and then click the link to the Seul/Edu Educational Application Index to discover a repository of applications. Here you can find 80 administrative applications that one can download, plus 98 language programs and more. The site contains 612 open-source applications in 23 categories, such as courseware, math and library applications. And that's only one of several K12Linux web sites.
Imagine such a collection of government software somewhere. If we added a news site and resource center, a mailing list and Faq-O-Matic, we would create a community of interest. Linux people already know what community-of-interest web sites accomplish.
If you haven't looked at the K12 web sites, you might have a difficult time visualizing how much Linux has grown. You should want to dig deeply into the sites, as they provide rich content. To begin, the SchoolForge members' page provides an impressive list of people working in the Linux school projects.
Once you've visited this SchoolForge site, you might have a confusing moment when you visit the other Schoolforge site. The URLs are different, but the names have only a slight difference. The second site's full name is Schoolforge News and Journal; notice the lowercase f in this name. The SchoolForge site appears to exist in New York state, and the registrant is Teachers Internet Pages. The Schoolforge site appears to be based in Canada under the name of members.iteachnet.org. The two sites do share content.
One has to wonder if Northwest school districts took ostrich lessons; they must represent the biggest secret in the Linux community. If their successes occurred in New York, Microsoft would be fighting for 5% of the PC desktop share.
In Portland, Oregon Riverdale School began using Linux servers in 1995. In turn, it influenced a number of other Oregon schools to migrate to Linux. I learned of Riverdale whiling leading an article about Linux migration for Centennial Schools, in late 1999.
We discovered that several large districts in Oregon followed Riverdale's example. Those districts include Beaverton Schools, the Multnomah County ESD, Linn-Benton-Lincoln ESD, Lane ESD, Parkrose Schools, Portland Public Schools, Tigard-Tualatin Schools and Umatilla-Morrow ESD. In a recent survey conducted by the North West Regional Educational Laboratory, 79% of the sixty-four educational agencies responding used Linux as a server operating system.
During the Centennial migration, we also learned of a case involving the Multnomah County Education Service District (MESD). MESD provides Internet connectivity for seven school serving 100,000 students in Multnomah County, Oregon. MESD network administrators tested free software in 1998. They installed Linux web proxy servers, realized savings from reduced bandwidth utilization and had a positive ROI within six months. Even with costs of bandwidth dropping since 1998, MESD continues to save $10,000 annually.
MESD also replaced back office services with Linux. The replacement applications included file, print, web, mail and domain name services. The district report savings of $150,000 annually due to reductions in software licenses, maintenance and reduced personnel.
In addition, MESD migrated to an open-source web filtering solution called SquidGuard and added a Linux firewall, for savings of over $15,000 per year. Estimated overall savings run about $2 per student, or $200,000.
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