Linux for the Long Haul
As the system administrator, a real thorn in my side has been hardware compatibility. I've had little problem installing Linux on a variety of computers, but peripherals such as printers, scanners and Webcams can be a serious pain in the neck. Too many hours have been wasted trying to get unsupported hardware to work. However, the lesson here is to buy only from vendors who support Linux with drivers and/or detailed specifications. As more organizations adopt Linux, vendors either will have to support Linux or lose their business to those who do.
Something I find as irritating as the giant Maine mosquito is the use of proprietary protocols, standards and codecs that exclude Linux users from certain parts of the Internet. The Internet was built on open protocols, and it probably wouldn't exist in any meaningful way today if it had been locked up with proprietary standards owned by individual companies. Yet, there still are Web sites and services using closed protocols. It is highly frustrating when we cannot access on-line content because we don't have a proprietary plugin, such as ActiveX or Adobe Shockwave. For example, our school wants to use an on-line education tool to enhance our curriculum, but the company that offers this tool relies on Shockwave. So we are “locked out” because of this one missing piece.
Finally, a lack of key commercial software is a real issue. Some good people in the Free Software community don't want commercial software on Linux, but I have to be more pragmatic. When there is a fine open-source alternative to a key commercial product (such as with OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office), I am happy to use it. Unfortunately, not all proprietary software has a good open-source equivalent. Until there is, the solution isn't eloquent. GHCA has a single Windows machine in our office for the sole purpose of running Intuit's QuickBooks. I suppose we could use Wine, but that brings its own headaches.
Despite these pitfalls, I have no regrets. Let's look at those big questions again. Is Linux ready for the desktop? Yes. Our teachers and students have been using Linux on the desktop successfully for the last five years. What about TCO? Every organization is unique, but Linux has saved us many thousands of dollars, and we're a small school! Have users adjusted? Absolutely. Was it worth the switch? There is no doubt in my mind. That's not to say there haven't been bumps in the road, but to quote Robert Frost, “I took the [road] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I look forward to where this road we call Linux will lead us in the future.
Linux from Kindergarten to High School: www.linuxjournal.com/article/6349
Making the Switch to Open Source Software: www.thejournal.com/articles/16448
Harnessing the Power of Open Source Software: video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7860580137648446279
GHCA's Computer Lab: www.ghca.com/computers
Michael Surran is the head of GHCA's Computer Science department. He is responsible for building and maintaining GHCA's Linux network, and he teaches Computer Programming, Computer Technology, Research and Presentation, and the CS electives. Surran promotes open source in education both locally and regionally through newscasts and seminars.
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